Is 'The Bachelorette' Rigged?

by Ramin Setoodeh

"I've been through all the ups and downs I can possibly imagine," said a weepy Jillian Harris last night on The Bachelorette, and she wasn't joking. This season of the ABC reality show had so many twists and turns--the evil dude (Wes) with a secret girlfriend back home, the workaholic dude (Ed) who quit the show so he wouldn't be fired from his job, the pilot dude (Jake) who came back after elimination to spill the beans about Wes's girlfriend, the surprise return of workaholic dude (more Ed), and the even more surprising proposal at the altar from another dropped dude (Reid) we haven't even mentioned--it was almost like the show was scripted. Scripted, you say!? Do you think it was?

We never really know how much reality there is in reality TV. But after last spring's tabloid-making Bachelor finale, where the show's eligible (and unstable) star dumped the winning girl for the runner-up, this year's The Bachelorette felt about as real as The Hills. Consider: the eventual groom whom Jillian selected, Ed, was the same guy who packed up and left in the middle of the season because he didn't love her as much as he loved his job as a technology consultant. And he's also the same guy who had trouble seducing Jillian during their night together in the fantasy suite (i.e., un-hubba, un-hubba). At best, Jillian is more forgiving than Hillary Clinton when it comes to men. At worst, the producers of the show rigged these scenes to toy with our emotions. This isn't a new problem in the world of reality TV, of course. I just can't think of another time it was done so blatantly and so repeatedly.

It can backfire, too. One of the reasons why Bruno might have tanked at the box office: we learned that Sacha Baron Cohen's run in with Eminem at the MTV Movie Awards was faked, so the whole movie might well have been (and maybe it was). ABC will try to answer some of your questions in a Behind the Rose special airing Tuesday night. But you can't really blame the Bachelorette folks for any of Jillian's maybe-fake tears. This was one of the most entertaining seasons of the show ever, and that says a lot, coming at the end of--can you believe it?--13 Bachelors and four other Bachelorettes. If Desperate Housewives was this unpredictable, I'd still be watching.

But it raises another question. OK, two questions, and none of them involve an engagement ring. As reality TV hit its ceiling, are the shows adding their own fake drama to get us to tune in? And does it matter? In other words, would The Bachelorette still captivate if we knew that a rose was not a rose was not a rose....

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