I recently stumbled across one of those “secrets from ‘The Bachelor’” articles and two particular points caught my eye–contestants are not allowed contact with the outside world nor are they permitted any sort of entertainment. I am far from an expert on brainwashing, but I know my cult basics and these two rules rang some serious alarm bells.
A cult is defined as a system of religious veneration and devotion directed toward a particular figure or object. A cult differs from a regular religious group or practice as it aims to wholly encompass the and control the life of the participant. Cults are often successful in convincing followers to take part in strange or dangerous practices which may harm themselves or others. Oftentimes, cult members who partake in these activities were normal people before being corrupted and falling victim to the group’s objectives. Cults have developed strategies to brainwash their members and while the specifics may differ, the basics remain the same–and bear disturbing similarities to what The Bachelor franchise puts their contestants through.
The relationships on The Bachelor and its counterparts move alarmingly fast. By the third or even second date contestants are often proclaiming their love for the bachelor while viewers are left wondering–how can you really love someone you just met? ABC knows how–brainwashing through isolation. The contestants are placed in isolation with a single objective–get the bachelor or bachelorette to choose them. When you are cut off from reality to such an extreme, your worldview narrows and elements of your life that may not have seemed so critical (such as who gets a date card) begin to feel virtually life-and-death. Contestants are not able to contact friends or family–who will likely ask them to slow it down and reorient their now-skewed worldview. Contestants are only informed of outside news in limited or extreme cases–such as the Orlando shooting or the attacks of September 11, 2001.
Therefore, something that may keep their perspective in check, such as national disasters, politics or the lives of their loved ones become distant or even obsolete. This narrowed perspective contributes to the feeling of despair contestants often demonstrate when they believe they are falling behind or become eliminated. This is one of the reasons breathtakingly beautiful 20-somethings break down sobbing that they will “never find love” when eliminated– through this isolation the contest has become their entire universe.
This strategy of isolation allows for the only feedback contestants receive to come from within their new shrunken world–allowing for producers and other contestants to amplify this unhealthy drive and desire to find “true love.” Producers and interviewers manipulate contestants through directing their actions and asking them leading questions–either to amp up their infatuation or to stir up drama. Additionally, the contestants are surrounded by their competition with one exception–the bachelor or bachelorette. This single individual presents the opportunity for a sort of oasis or release from the stress presented by the secluded and close-quartered living situation. The object of their affection is the only person they are not at odds with–amplifying the bond the contestant feels for the bachelor.
Furthermore, the bachelor or bachelorette provides the contestants with escape from the mansion and fantastic experiences (shall we recall the classic helicopter ride date). This feeling of closeness can even be viewed as what cult experts call “love bombing.” This strategy is employed when someone first enters a cult. Members create a sense of familiarity through touch, shared thoughts, feelings and overall emotional bonding. You feel so touched by their kindness that you want to stay and return the affection. Therefore, contestants are plopped into an overwhelming, isolated and hostile environment with their chief escape being a kind and attractive individual–of course, they fall in love with them.
The franchise’s goal of making the bachelor or bachelorette seem like the ultimate mate is further aided through basic boredom. Contestants are not permitted phones, music, television or any sort of reading material. Through depriving contestants any and all entertainment, the world of the contestants is further reduced. The contestants are left to occupy themselves in the mansion–which they are not permitted to leave on their own. This lends itself to a multitude of conversations about the bachelor as well as leads to increased irritability and ramps up the potential for contestant vs. contestant drama.
Furthermore, air conditioning is not permitted in the mansion as it leads to white noise which interferes with the microphones for filming–so everyone is not only bored but also sweaty. Think about how quickly you fight with your siblings on a road trip now take away your phones, books, the radio, and air conditioning. Now add some stress by constantly being on camera. That sounds like actual hell–and reality television gold.
Two other simple tricks the show uses to cloud judgment–lack of sleep and alcohol. Sleep deprivation is a favorite tactic of interrogators or brainwashers due to its tendency to leave its victim vulnerable and distorted. It has been said that contestants are deprived of rest three days a week and only receive three hours of sleep a night during these times. Group dates can take up to 15 hours long and rose ceremonies often last from afternoon well into the next morning. This leaves contestants both emotionally and physically wrung out and is crucial in keeping tensions running high and tears flowing.
And then there is the alcohol. Alcohol almost never helps any stressful situations and The Bachelor makes sure it makes everything worse for contestants by providing plenty. Someone always ends up hammered and in the pool on the first night and this is no mistake on the part of the producers.
The show purposefully offers too little food and tons of booze. This ups the emotional states of the contestants, leaving them vulnerable as well as susceptible to embarrassing drunken mishaps These added factors further cloud contestant’s sense of judgment as their worldview narrows to only contain the objective of the competition–to be the one the bachelor or bachelorette selects.
It is impossible to fully understand what someone on reality television or in a cult experience without having been in that position yourself. Yet, these frightening similarities between The Bachelor franchise and cults help to explain the actions of many contestants that are judged by millions. Whether it is declaring their love for a virtual stranger, taking a drunken header onto the pool deck or acting startlingly mean–contestants are faced with a major mental undertaking of which they are often not fully aware. These tactics produce a systematic breaking down of one’s sense of self, leaving the individual vulnerable to manipulation–which may include falling in love with someone they just met or becoming the ultimate reality TV villain.