A couple of years ago when Emily tried to get me to watch The Bachelor, ABC’s trashy reality dating show, I scoffed, but today I gleefully await the announcement of the new contestants, the limo reveals, and the house drama. Recently, I watched an old episode of Survivor on a whim. And then another. And then a few more. And then an entire season.
Spoilers for Survivor: Gabon The Last Eden to follow. It’s been out for about 10 years, but maybe you want to go back and watch it anew, too. Also some slight Bachelor spoilers in the form of Corinne.
Without further ado, enjoy the top five things I learned about these reality shows as illustrated by Corinne and Corinne.
There are heroes and villains everywhere—and the edit matters.
Something both of these shows love is a hero narrative—and a villain narrative. Reality shows thrive on this sort of thing, and editing can go a long way. I heard Emily say several times during my first season of The Bachelor, “Oh, she’s going to get a villain edit.” I wasn’t entirely sure what that meant until I saw Corinne Olympios in action. Throughout Nick’s season of The Bachelor, Corinne got a villain edit. She stole Nick from other contestants, she flirted, she took naps, she had a bad attitude. Yet during the “Women Tell All” episode, the girls seemed to think Corinne was a total sweetheart. Enter the villain edit. All of the girls on The Bachelor are much closer than the cameras let it seem. They spend all day in a house together with little to no access to the outside world, so it’s inevitable that they become friends. Friendship isn’t as interesting as enemies, though, so the editors play games with the hours and hours of footage they receive from production and make a story as they see fit.
Survivor is no different, though I suspect there’s more rivalry there than on The Bachelor (a million dollars is a lot more desirable than a bland dude, after all). Sometimes (in my one season of experience), information and context seem to be missing. It’s impossible to see everything that happens on the show, 24 hours a day. This isn’t Love Island, after all. Conversations happen all the time, and we unfortunately don’t get to see them all. What’s left out is part of a strategic edit to craft certain narratives. For example, at the end of Survivor: Gabon, Matty looks at Sugar and asks, “Is there anything truly evil you’ve done this season?” She says no, but Matty seems to distrust that, seems to have evidence that says otherwise. There’s not way to know for sure that Matty knew something Sugar didn’t, but I bet there’s some missing context there. What Survivor loves more than anything is a hero narrative. Jeff Probst frequently makes a story out of nothing, a hero out of a bland dude who hasn’t made waves at camp. It’s annoying sometimes, but most of the time I just choose to ignore Jeff.
Of course, this can also go the complete opposite way. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, and a jerk is just a jerk. On Arie’s season of The Bachelor, the women of the show seemed to hate Krystal. From her baby voice to her refusals to talk about her dates with Arie to her bad attitude, Krystal seemed to be getting the villain edit for the season. On the “Women Tell All” episode, Krystal’s housemates seemed to genuinely dislike her, and even called her out on her baby voice that she used all season. Sometimes folks are just awful to be around. Similarly, Corinne of Survivor: Gabon was a self-identified bitch, complaining and attempting to backstab her way to a million dollars. After she was eliminated, Corinne let her personality fully outand…she was worse than I even thought. During her jury speech, Corinne said to Susie, “Susie, I have one question for you, and if you can answer yes to this question I will give you my million dollar vote. If you get the money, will you agree to get your vocal chords removed?” Rude.
2. Playing dumb can get you pretty far.
It’s always surprising and infuriating when someone plays dumb in order to win at something, especially when you know they’re not actually dumb. This frustrates and confuses me the most on The Bachelor, where girls are working every feminine charm they have in order to win over a dude, since that’s the game. Girls like Corinne aren’t as dumb as they let on, but playing dumb allows them to be more quotable (“Platinum vagine,” anyone?), more memorable, and therefore more likely to be invited back for Bachelor in Paradise, or The Bachelorette, and therefore continue their career of reality TV. It makes sense, but it’s still annoying.
On Survivor, playing dumb has different advantages, but advantages nonetheless. In Survivor: Gabon, Sugar—introduced as a “retro pinup model”—pretended to be innocent and stupid, but ultimately pulled off some of the most impressive social engineering of the season (Note: I’m told that other seasons of Survivor are much more scheming, but I haven’t gotten there yet). In the end, Sugar made it to the final three through luck, but also through clever alliances and strategies.
3. Pushing people to physical extremes yields drama.
On Survivor, contestants are pushed to their physical limits by starvation and dehydration, but people get pushed to their limits on The Bachelor, too. Sure, the women of The Bachelor aren’t stuck in a tropical climate without food or water (or, very little food and water), but they are given an almost unlimited supply of alcohol and told to have at it. Physical extremes make for more drama. Get too hungry and you’ll snap, yelling at someone for no god reason. Drink too much alcohol and the same just might happen. This is more prominent, of course, on BIP, where the alcohol is REALLY flowing.
4. Everyone loves a hometown visit.
I don’t know if this is entirely true—maybe I haven’t watched enough of either show to really know—but I especially enjoy hometown dates on The Bachelor. There’s something intimate about seeing where a loved one lives, where they grew up, meeting their family. On The Bachelor, even if I don’t watch all of the season, I at least tune back in for hometowns.
Survivor doesn’t send people home, but it does bring loved ones to whatever tropical locale they’re at. I almost cried when the sweetest contestant, Bob, got to reunite with his wife Peggy. They yelled with their perfect Maine accents in excitement, and it felt like a huge reunion. When the rest of the cast got to meet their loved ones, who had been secretly flown in, it was even more exciting. I never once stopped to question how they missed everyone after only about 20 days or so. I got swept up in the drama.
Reality shows that can manipulate your emotions are comforting in a weird way. It’s cathartic to watch people experience such heightened emotions while they’re being pushed to their limits, even if those limits are how long they can stay in a house with a bunch of other women.
5. Sponsorships are weird, y’all.
Reality shows need sponsorships, or if they don’t need them they want them. It’s always rubbed me the wrong way that The Bachelor tries to shoehorn in weird performances by no-name bands and singer-songwriters, just like Survivor does this thing where sometimes a reward is sponsored. In Season 18 of Survivor (yes, I continued watching after Gabon), contestants are treated to a reward of pastries, coffee, and a working toilet…sponsored by Charmin. Because presumably they’ll have to poop? I’m unclear on this, but it was weird. Product placement is never seamless, but it’s especially bad in reality TV shows.
As always, these are just my observations. I’d love to hear if other people watch both Survivor and The Bachelor and what similarities they’ve found too! Drop us a line and let me know!