Is The Bachelor a Psychological Hunger Games?

After watching what happened to Peter, Hannah Ann, and Madison in this season's The Bachelor, I began to see similarities between The Bachelor and The Hunger Games. The more I thought about it, the more disturbed I became.

If readers of The Hunger Games think about the relationship between the tributes, the victors, and the Capitol and consider those relationships as they parallel aspects of The Bachelor (and The Bachelorette), they might just find themselves horrified by the similarities.

Obviously, no one dies in The Bachelor. But the psychological trauma that Katniss, Peeta, and the other tributes experience in Suzanne Collins's trilogy can be seen, to a lesser degree, in the contestants of Chris Harrison's reality TV show. Even more unsettling is the notion that we viewers of Bachelor Nation are very much like the audience in the Capitol who watch with amusement, emotion, and horror as the games unfold on the screens.

Let's think about this bit by bit, starting with the contestants.

Although most of the tributes in The Hunger Games are selected via a lottery, the "Careers," or tributes from districts one and two, volunteer. Our Bachelor contestants are more like the "Careers." They've been raised (groomed) in a society that values sensational entertainment, and they see an opportunity to earn money and status for them and their families (districts).

Let's face it, the odds of winning are not in their favor, since each season involves competition between thirty suitors for one bachelor or bachelorette. Are they truly driven by a desire to find love, or does their participation hinge on something else, such as hope for better economic opportunities? If not for economic opportunities, do these young people feel compelled to get married because our society expects it of them? How "free" are the contestants? And how "groomed" are they for reality tv?

If you accept my premise that contestants volunteer less by choice and more because of economic and societal pressures, then the resemblance between them and the career tributes becomes clear. The tributes fight because the Capitol demands it. Do our Bachelor contestants fight for love because Capitalism and its society (us) demands it?

Even if you don't accept my premise that the contestants aren't purely volunteers, there is no denying the other similarities, including the psychological trauma they endure on the show. Why would anyone in their right mind voluntarily put themselves through such a horrific struggle? Yes, they get to go to amazing destinations and eat and drink fine foods and beverages (like Katniss and Peeta). Yes, they meet with their "stylists" for hair, make-up, and wardrobe to be camera-ready (like Katniss and Peeta). And, yes, they are paraded on social media and are interviewed on television (again, like Katniss and Peeta and the other tributes). But most of them are humilated, betrayed, or brokenhearted by the end of it. Like the tributes, they are manipulated by producers into saying and doing certain things for dramatic effect (consider champagne gate) with the needs of the show put ahead of the needs of the contestants. The producers can introduce a strategic date card or perhaps a two-on-one date to stimulate conflict and drama in the same way the producers of The Hunger Games introduce fire, wind, poisonous gas, and other threats.

Many of the contestants feel crushed, in the end, and suffer a metaphorical death.

In a recent live final rose episode, Chris Harrison invited Rachel Lindsay, a bachelorette from a previous season (and a "victor"--but more on that later), to describe the hate messages contestants receive via social media from their "fans" in the Capitol--ahem, I mean Bachelor Nation. The emotional rollercoaster doesn't end with the games. Just ask Jed Wyatt, who's been crucified by the media and fans of Bachelor Nation for having a girl friend before he left for the show.

(Talk about double standards: It was okay for Hannah B. to date thirty men at the same time, but Jed is condemned for having two girl friends. And, as much as I respect Rachel Lindsay, I thought it hypocritical of her to send DeMario off the show when it was revealed that he had been dating someone right before becoming a contestant. The bachelorette or bachelor is expected to date thirty people and sleep with three, but the contestants must be monogamous, be there for the right reasons, and be there for the bachelor/bachelorette only. Given the odds of "winning," why would anyone cut other suitors out of their lives?)

But I digress. Before I move on to talk about the "victors," I want to point out one more similarity between the tributes and the contestants on The Bachelor: Only one contestant can "win," which causes players to come up with strategies. Like the tributes, some contestants form alliances, some decide that "all is fair in love and war" and don't consider the feelings of the other contestants, and some try a mix between the two (whichever most profits them at the time). Just like Katniss, who forms an alliance with Peeta and Rue, contestants on The Bachelor know that, ultimately, if they are to win, their allies will be hurt by it. The alliance can only take them so far.

As they stand beside their allies during each rose ceremony, each contestant is hoping the other will be killed off the show.

And just as Katniss and Peeta defy the Capitol by forcing two victors in The Hunger Games, some bachelors, such as Peter and Arie, have chosen one victor only to change their minds to choose another, making it unclear who has really won.

Speaking of victors: The victors in The Hunger Games are brought back to comment on the current games in Caesar Flickerman's show and are given nice houses to live in the "Victors' Village"--the wealthiest areas of each district. Similarly, the winners of Bachelor Nation continue to earn dollars, fame, and prestige in the media spotlight after the show. And, like the victors, they are sometimes called back to make appearances on the show. And if The Bachelor winners break up, they can come back for a "Quarter Quell" and try again.

And speaking of Caesar Flickerman, let's take a look at Chris Harrison. I like Chris. I think he cares for the contestants. But doesn't Caesar also seem brokenhearted over Katniss and Peeta's plight? Just like Caesar, Chris Harrison is motivated by show ratings and entertaining the people of Bachelor Nation. For proof, consider how he handled Peter's dilemma in the most reason season of The Bachelor. Without consulting Peter, Chris went to Madison and told her Peter had feelings for her. Then he put them together to talk it out on camera without warning Peter. This made for great television but couldn't have been easy for Peter, who had been trying to grieve his relationship with Madison and to move on. The personal lives of the contestants are secondary to the entertainment of the masses.

We are the masses. And, like the citizens of the Capitol, we of Bachelor Nation eat it up. We love the drama. It gives us something to do, something to talk about, something to feel about. We enjoy watching the contestants get their hearts broken. Their suffering is our pleasure. We have huge parties with lots of food and beverages and great fun as we watch the drama in the lives of real people unfold before us on the screen. Like the citizens of the Capitol, sometimes we even wear outlandish costumes. Consider those who dressed as pilots to celebrate Peter in this most recent season. We are pleased for the winner. We feel their joy. We want a happily-ever-after to satisfy our own needs. Just ask Peter. He knows what we want. Hannah Ann can rebuke him on national television as much as she likes, but we know, deep down inside, that Peter proposed to her for us.

What do you think?

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© 2021 by Eva Pohler