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The Golden Bachelor: For Better and, Sadly, For Worse

Our media critic Barbara Lippert, a "silver single" herself, prepared to cringe at the Golden Bachelor. She got lots of that—and something unexpected.

Given that reality shows are fake (duh) and that I myself qualify as a “silver single” (ugh), I couldn’t imagine how watching the Golden Bachelor would not be an excruciating experience.

On TV, actual older people are rarely depicted in the “romance space,” never mind having the extended make-out sessions that are standard Bachelor fare.

I was bracing for how young producers would approach older flesh. Because no matter what it looks like on the outside, in my reality, you still get reduced to feeling like an eighth grader who just found out that the cute new boy in school likes you. What’s more, just because by now you’ve navigated some very painful life experiences (widowhood or divorce), doesn’t mean you ever get good at it.

Producers have Hollywoodized him, turning this Golden Bachelor literally golden—like an Oscar trophy, with an orangey-gold fake spray tan and gold-ish hair.

The contestants were all introduced ahead of time, and there’s a wide range of relatable people. The women go by many titles, including “co-pickleball captain.” The Bachelor man is 72, the women are in their 50s, 60s, and 70s, and I actually started feeling protective of them because it’s the nature of reality shows to make the players look dumb

Not to worry. Even before the show’s debut, we got a lightning strike of dumbness. In revealing the Golden Bachelor’s identity, it seemed that the producers had already Hollywoodized him, turning this Golden Bachelor literally golden—like an Oscar trophy, with an orangey-gold fake spray tan and gold-ish hair.

We didn’t need this hokeyness as a brand promotion. No one’s looking for Apollo.

Finding a “Human Man”

Golden Bachelor contestants

May the best (?) woman win. Would you go on a show like this?

It turns out that Gerry (pronounced “Gary”) Turner is no Greek god, but a retired restaurateur from Northern Indiana. And despite the tan and amazingly thick hair, hetall, thin, with blue twinkly eyeshappens to be a naturally charismatic and good-lookin’ guy.

One contestant called him “hot and handsome, but down to earth and warm.” It’s true.

Miraculously, this time the casting gods got it right.

From the throwback photos they showed in the intro, starting with his marriage to his high school sweetheart at age 21, he seems to have gone from extreme early 1970s dorkdom (bad hair, bad glasses, bad clothes) to a much more pleasing visual state, growing into his looks.

Miraculously, this time the casting gods got it right.

They managed to find a “human man,” as one of the contestants called him, with a heart. Most importantly, so far, he’s no gold-mansplainer.  He actually listens.

We watch him affixing his hearing aids as we see a little liver spot on his hand in the promo. (Two of the women wear the “ear candy” as well.) And he broke down telling the story about his life, his 45-year marriage to his wife, Toni, and her sudden, untimely death, just as they had moved into their dream retirement house on a lake.

The treatment was respectful, while tear-inducing. And he seemed genuine. By huge contrast to the rest of the Bachelor franchise, this kind of storytelling felt as though the producers were going for something more elevated and relevant.

But just as in dating, hopes get dashed.

A Porn Version of Romance

All smiles now, but…

Because despite trying to resurrect the ratings by making an extreme demographic switcheroo (and the first two episodes did well), the producers are locked into a 21-year old franchise, built with shaky and outdated scaffolding. Nothing much has changed since Mike Fleiss, the creator and producer, told Vanity Fair back in 2003, “I want to feel a little bit dangerous, a tiny bit irresponsible…that’s sort of my stock-in-trade.”

Even then, his stock-in-trade amounted to a regressive, stereotypical view of “the battle of the sexes,” always weighted toward the boys.

For instance, he had to be forced, kicking, and screaming, by those wild-eyed feminists in ABC corporate, to do a bachelorette version because viewers were clamoring for it.

You have people here 60, 70 and above. Do the rose ceremony in chairs.

According to Bachelor Nation author Amy Kaufman, Fleiss loved to stand around the editing bays during production demanding “more T-and-A.”

And of course, the overall structure, 22 women competing rabidly for the approval of one guy, is ridiculous. As is the idea that these women must buy into the “rescue” fantasythat validation only comes from a man.

And the many touches of “romance”—the long-stemmed roses, Champagne, limos, hot tubs, etc. seem to come courtesy of old porno movies, but they’re still here.

Not shockingly, after recurring accusations of racism and sexism, Fleiss left the franchise last year. Might this allow for some more enlightened team members to succeed him?

Not so quickly. Sadly, on the “same as it ever was” curve, there were several terrific women of color in this group; two had been sent home by the end of the first episode (one left on her own accord). Natascha, a “love coach” bursting with energy, was hilarious and wonderful and left the show speaking to the camera. “Do the rose ceremony in chairs” she said. (This key ceremony is notorious for being liquor-fueled and filmed late into the night.) “You have people here 60, 70 and above. Do the rose ceremony in chairs.”

Her advice underlined how few thoughtful accommodations seemed to be made for the group. We find out later that several of the mansion rooms have bunk beds, which are hard on the knees and back. I guess they stand as an eternal reminder that Bachelorette life is temporary.

Stack ‘em up.

The Tuxedo and Limo—Still?

As ever, the premiere starts with Gerry in a tuxedo standing in the driveway of the classic Bachelor mansion. This edifice could also use a tune-up. Some of the “ladies” as they are called in Bachelor parlance, seem very excited to be at “the maaansion,” as they arrive individually in their limos. But to me a bit of the Hai Karate/Brut cologne funk from the Playboy mansion hangs over the place.

Worst of all are the tropes having to do with “getting a rose,” meaning that you’ve won one more day, till the next Rose Ceremony with The Bachelor.

A bit of the Hai Karate/Brut cologne funk from the Playboy mansion hangs over the place.

I had forgotten, while watching some of the women turn themselves into human pretzels in bad costumes to make themselves memorable, that the whole point of the opener is to nab that “First Impression Rose.”

So that’s why April, a seemingly bright therapist from Florida, showed up clucking like a chicken, carrying a basket of huevos, proclaiming that her eggs “are still very fresh.”

And poor Renee from Michigan came in a cheerleader outfit (in this case a sweat suit) complete with sad sack pom poms, and a not-so-rousing cheer.

Faith rode in on a motorcycle, removing her helmet and swinging her long hair, like a shampoo commercial, or that classic image of a librarian taking off her glasses and letting her hair down. Faith also strummed her guitar, with heart stickers on it, and sang in a lovely voice to Gerry. And they made out. Gerry, who seems to be a Make-Out King, locked lips with an additional woman, but Faith, the guitar-strumming biker, got the first rose. Unfortunately, she’s shown in coming attractions feeling left out and crying.

Kissing and Telling

Golden Bachelor Theresa

Theresa leans in for the win.

The other woman Gerry kissed was Theresa, a 70-year-old “securities professional” from New Jersey, who told The Batch that since it was her birthday, she came in her “birthday suit,: opening her dress to flash flesh colored underwear.

Apparently, she too made an impression, because they later kissed over a birthday cupcake, and Theresa got the first date in the following episode.

And the first date was the biggest compendium of Bachelor-cheese imaginable. They have Gerry show up to the mansion in some sporty convertible. Is the idea that these  “kids” get in their “roadster” and go to the malt shop? As far as I know, we’ve seen this only in Archie comics.

Despite the monument to cringe that the producers built, these two shared some real feelings.

But before we know it, with Gerry driving on the freeway, it looks like they’re headed for hell. Seriously, he says that his headlights aren’t working and it’s getting dark. It’s harrowing. He’s never driven on a California freeway, and he can’t see the directions or the signs. Meanwhile, Theresa’s hair is getting whipped. But she tries to be a steadying force, and puts her hand on his shoulder. This means a lot to Gerry.

I don’t know if the producers stepped in to allay certain death at this point, but next we see couple in a fake Disney-type diner, sharing a malt with two straws, which only reinforced the Disney “spaghetti kiss” of the dogs in Lady and the Tramp. (By the way, Disney owns ABC, the Bachelor network.)

Then the fake diners and servers turn into a really crooked flash mob, and they dance to the jukebox song, “Don’t Stop Believing,” which allows for another mad makeout.

So where do we begin with the irony of using the final song for The Sopranos before a cut to black, signifying Tony’s death? And an ending that passionate fans hated that changed the meaning of the song forever?

But the lesson here is despite the monument to cringe that the producers built, these two shared some real feelings. It turns out that Theresa got married at 18, and also recently lost her husband after a long and happy marriage. “Theresa’s story was so similar to mine,” Gerry said. “My emotions about my loss felt so different. I didn’t feel like I was breaking down and crying for once. I felt understood.”

A Second Date?

The show is this weird combination of touching and cringe-making, with too much of the heavy production machinery showing. But somehow human emotions manage to flow. The coming attractions show many women crying to Gerry, which is hard to watch.

Is Gerry really a good guy? We don’t know yet.

Despite my misgivings, I’ll keep tuning in. It’s like agreeing to a second date because we knew the guy was nervous. And hey, for better or worse, nobody’s perfect.

By Barbara Lippert


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