The Golden Bachelor shows me his dink. The pickleball shot — in which you lift your paddle in a compact underhand stroke so the ball drops right over the net — is deceptively challenging for one’s opponent to return, rewarding finesse over brute strength. I don’t have the slightest idea how to play pickleball. Lucky for me, Gerry Turner is a great teacher. But unlike with most instructors, he appeared to me the night before, while I was watching a video explaining the game, in an ad for his new prime-time TV show, one that has been sold as the latest (partial) rebranding of traditional dating-show dictates.
In theory, The Bachelor franchise is a factory for fairy tales with each season’s star meant to pluck his future spouse from a symmetrical-faced, white-teethed lineup of generally 20-something romantic prospects. In reality, those fairy tales have ended less commonly in a true happily ever after than in the would-be bride selling hair gummies on Instagram. But then the Disney-ABC powers that be decided to look outside their usual Future Influencers of America demographic. The casting call for Golden Bachelor was originally issued in early 2020; immediately, showrunner Jason Ehrlich knew the type of man he didn’t want: a convertible-driving, country-club-frequenting “silver fox” with “gobs of money” and a preference for younger women. They needed someone genuine, someone “rootable.” Like a tan, charming needle in a haystack, he was finally found: a now-72-year-old widower living in northern Indiana who, by the way, pronounces his name as “Gary.” Turner’s submission caught the casting team’s attention in the first week of reviewing applications. “Every minute we spent with Gerry, we liked him more and more. He was just so kind and sweet and obviously handsome,” Ehrlich says. “Everyone who met him, we just thought, We’ve got to do this for him.”
Retired from the restaurant and food-distribution industries, Turner plays pickleball ten hours a week, on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, when he isn’t otherwise occupied with wooing a mansionful (the same Agoura Hills mansion as always, bunk beds and all) of 22 bachelorettes ages 60 to 75 — though for what it’s worth, they did manage to fit in a pickleball group date. It’s not as easy as it looks, at least not for me. But days out from his September series debut, on a rainy Monday at the CityPickle indoor pickleball club in Long Island City, the first-ever Golden Bachelor has no doubt that I am “going to get it.” It becomes his personal mission to get me to slam the ball — to smack it as hard as I can right out of the air. He wants me to know what it feels like. “Just whack it,” he mouths from across the court, swinging his paddle like a bludgeon in demonstration. It takes a few tries, but — I do it, sort of! He kicks one leg in the air in excitement: “Yeah!” His enthusiasm is infectious to the point that I find myself believing him. I am going to get it.
By the time we head to breakfast, I am thoroughly sweaty. Turner, more than twice my age, is fresh as a daisy. He leads the way out into the gray drizzle sans umbrella. “Giddyup, let’s go,” he says, jumping a puddle at the curb.
If you had a bagel date with Gerry Turner, here are some things you might learn. He’s a Leo, though he’s “not really astrologically in tune.” His favorite flavor of ice cream is chocolate cherry. If he were having you over for dinner, and wanted to impress you, he’d probably make blackened chicken Alfredo. Celebrity crushes include Helen Mirren (“very elegant”), Sandra Bullock (“good character”), and Penelope Cruz (“she’s just … hot”). He doesn’t care much for California or for rap. He loves the Bulls and the Bears, but he’s a St. Louis Cardinals fan — he was born in Missouri, you see. When left to his own devices, he goes to bed at 9:30, reads for an hour (he likes Lee Child and legal thrillers), and wakes up at 6:30.
During filming, Turner had to make some tweaks to his lifestyle for the sake of the series (namely, his bedtime sometimes got pushed to midnight or later), but the formidable Bachelor-industrial complex had to adapt to him, too. Turner bristled at producers’ prompts for what he might say at rose ceremonies, to their consternation. Host Jesse Palmer stepped in on his behalf. “He goes, ‘Look, guys. He’s doing it better than anybody we’ve ever had, so let him go,’” Turner recalls.
Exhibit A: Gerry Turner opening the rose ceremony in episode two. “A few days ago, we all met,” he said. “We were strangers. We didn’t know anything about each other. And today, I look at this group of women and you’re all my friends.”
The producers relented. Turner didn’t get additional guidance on his remarks until the very last episode — and those pointers, he admitted, were “very good.” Also rebelliously, he let the close friends who compose his pickleball group in on his casting before the season even taped, far sooner than the network would have liked. “The ABC people would go, ‘Oh my God, you can’t talk about it!’” he says. “But you don’t realize, when you get to 70, people know how to keep a secret.”
By 70, Turner had already experienced both deep love and loss. He was happily married for 43 years to his high-school sweetheart, Toni, with whom he shared two daughters and two granddaughters. She died just weeks after retiring in 2017, following a short illness. When the time felt right, before television came calling, Gerry did try online dating. It was not especially successful. He had two rules: Please be over the age of 60, and please live within 60 miles. (He reneged on that second stipulation for the show.) One woman persuaded him to bend on the latter requirement, so he drove 90 miles to pick her up for their date. She turned out to be a catfish who had been using photos of her younger sister for her profile. He took her out to dinner anyway.
Turner wasn’t much of a reality-TV person (and still isn’t; at one point, he refers to Love Is Blind as “that show where the people don’t get to see each other,” which, fair) when his two adult daughters introduced him to The Bachelor franchise in 2020. “They got me going on it so I could text back and forth with them and make fun of the cast,” he says. But after a couple of seasons, he found he’d really gotten “involved.” When he saw that producers were soliciting applications from potential contestants over the age of 65, he couldn’t resist.
The average age of the titular Bachelor — the regular, non-Golden one — is just under 31. (Joey Graziadei, 28, will ascend the throne for season 28 in 2024.) That was more than half of Turner’s life ago. What advice would he give himself at that age? “Oh geez,” he says, sighing. Gerry at 31 was not a good listener; he was more of a “friggin’ hard-charging bastard,” determined and demanding to a fault. Present-day Gerry, though, is a very good listener, a pro at eye contact, and altogether pleasant company. Plenty of headlines have been written about how “wholesome” he seems, and the effect is no different in person, never more so than when he pauses apologetically mid-sentence to wipe a small blob of errant cream cheese off his nose. In a way, that wholesomeness — and the optimism and general good cheer — was hard-earned. Turner describes his late mother as an alcoholic and a drug abuser. His dad (now 93) “hung in there” until she died about 14 years ago, but his parents’ marriage was not, in his estimation, a happy one. “My mom was a bitter person,” Turner says. “That’s the way it was. So I said, No, I’m not going to be like that. I’m going to consciously decide to be happy.”
For a two-decades-old franchise in need of a facelift, The Golden Bachelor seems to have delivered: The premiere drew in 45 percent more viewers than the first episode of the most recent season of The Bachelor, according to Nielsen. But the gimmicky, garish trappings — rose ceremonies, costumed limo entrances, participation-mandatory competitive group dates — are largely the same. Though they may be older, all on-camera parties are nevertheless among the fittest and most conventionally attractive of their demographics. That said, they are also vastly more self-assured than their younger predecessors and delve with admirable clarity into deeper conversations about their pasts, their priorities, and their hopes for the future. It certainly seems as though Turner and the women are, as they say, here for the right reasons. And for once, it feels surprisingly plausible that a person could indeed find lasting love over four weeks of shooting a television show.
Turner is coy about how his season will end, in accordance with the universal tenets of reality-dating-show law. But considering the number of playful, grinning uses of the word hypothetically he drops when describing his future, a betting woman would wager he did find a very special someone. Could it be Faith, the Washington-based radio host who rode up to the mansion on a motorcycle and won the first-impression rose? Or what about Leslie, the fitness instructor from Minneapolis who supposedly inspired the Prince song “Sexy Dancer”? In the meantime, he’s not ready for it to be over anytime soon. Some midwestern septuagenarians — some people, period — would find having a galactic laser beam of attention suddenly turned on them a little jarring. Not Turner. “I love that part,” he tells me.
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