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This Season of “The Bachelorette” Is Missing Something…

PHOTO: Jacob Lund/Shutterstock

And it’s not drama.

When Clare Crawley was announced as ABC’s next Bachelorette in early March, fans of the show were excited; Crawley, at 39 years old, would be the show’s oldest Bachelorette. Producers and viewers alike saw this as an opportunity for the show to get back to its roots. Crawley wasn’t an Instagram influencer looking to further her ad-revenue outreach, she was there, in Bachelor terms, “for the right reasons.”

Fast-forward a few short weeks and we were all in lockdown. Our dreams of a Clare Crawley Bachelorette for the summer months were thrown out the window and replaced with reruns of fan-favorite seasons. They were messy, they were fun, but, ultimately, we’d already seen them. Knowing that the people at home needed a little something more than previous seasons to get them through month after month of quarantine, ABC told Chris Harrison and Crawley to pack their bags because nothing, not even global pandemic, could stop this single from finding love.

While the show might be back in full swing, things look different. Typically, the reality series starts with our star meeting their hopefuls at the Bachelor mansion where they’ll attempt to decide which group of strangers they’ll take around the world with them–because there’s no better way to learn about how you work with someone than through travel. This year, however, Crawley and her gaggle of men were in lockdown in Palm Springs, where they would (presumably) stay the rest of the season.

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So, what happens when a show where travel plays an integral role has to adapt to a no-travel time? Well, simply put: chaos.

What we have this season is a vacation fling looking to become the real deal.

This season of the Bachelorette started like any other. Kind of. Hopeful singles arrived to meet the woman that stole their heart many seasons ago and vie for her first impression rose. The competition is present, the romance is in the air, but the general atmosphere is off. After months of lockdown and self-isolation, this group of singles is more desperate than ever to be in a romance. While we typically wait until late November for cuffing season’s arrival—a time to give someone our heart so as not to spend the cold months alone—these men and Crawley are willing to jump right in right now because, as they make clear, quarantine isn’t fun alone.

The sudden need for companionship, seemingly now more than ever, isn’t the only factor contributing to a season of such chaos—they’re also at a physical standstill, stuck in Palm Springs for the duration of their short-lived romances.

While travel has never been the main theme of The Bachelor franchise, it’s that added bonus that makes even the dull episodes more exciting. As true love inches closer and closer and drama has been thrown to the side, viewers at home have sightseeing to help them through those serious, heartfelt, sleep-inducing conversations. Will Brad finally be able to get over his fear of commitment for Regina? Who cares? (But probably not.) We’re looking at the beautiful, lily pad-clad river they’re floating down, longing for our next vacation (where hopefully this conversation can be avoided).

But travel doesn’t just make the show more enjoyable for you and me, it seemingly keeps the contestants more sane.

But travel doesn’t just make the show more enjoyable for you and me, it seemingly keeps the contestants more sane.

For contestants, Crawley, and Chris Harrison Palm Spring’s La Quinta Resort was home. They got their own space, nature around them to behold, but no real ability for movement outside of date nights. Like everyone else, they’re locking it down—but while you and I might be able to visit our pandemic-pods, these contestants are spending their time alone or with strangers who, friendly as they might be, are dating the person they’re wanting to be monogamous with.

Travel gives contestants a chance to separate themselves from the show and recharge. What’s more, it means their time being boyfriend number 11 wasn’t wasted, because they got to explore places they may have otherwise never gotten the chance to see. Without travel and on lockdown, season 16 created the perfect environment for chaos.

Bachelor Nation knew this season would be dramatic before the first commercial ever aired, with reports of a mid-season change up. The drama to unfold became clear in episode one as Clare announced Dale her future husband–which, maybe she wasn’t so wrong about.

Look, sometimes people get a feeling. A feeling they’re so sure of but that might subside as time passes or, say, you learn you have nothing in common with the person in question. Clare got that feeling, but never had a chance to learn commonalities or interests outside of this resort—what we have this season is a vacation fling looking to become the real deal.

Without leaving The Bachelorette resort, these couplings may never know what their life outside of the camera crew could look like. And sure, a regular season might not give them the exact sense of reality, but it does give them the chance to see the world and experience new cultures together, not to mention more privacy than 10 yards and a door. Without the travel and after spending months in isolation, Crawley, the person we expected to bring a turning point to the franchise–namely, maturity–found herself head-over-heals in an instant.

And while she’s mad for Dale, everyone else was simply mad. These contestants left behind the safety of their homes and pods to attempt to find love with someone unwilling to look past one contestant’s (admittedly) dreamy smile. While these two came closer and closer to just up-and-leaving together, other contestants spent their time inside lonely hotel rooms or brooding poolside. And it’s easy for things to get dramatic when leaving isn’t a possibility, just look at other reality shows—from CBS’ Big Brother to MTV’s Are You the One—that get viewers for that reason alone.

So, while the show has always forgone drama for sanity, allowing contestants the freedom to travel and move about the world (with limitations of course), this season is showing viewers what this show can be without it—and it just might not work. In the words of Chris Harrison, Crawley had the potential to blow up The Bachelorette.

Taking this newest season of The Bachelorette and a slew of other drama-filled reality shows that make you think “this can’t be real” as a case study, it’s clear what travel does for the brain, and it’s good. Based on my scientific research (also known as binging every bit of drama I can get my hands on): getting out of your house makes you less inclined to do things like declare a stranger your husband or throw fists at the first sign of conflict.

If this season of The Bachelorette shows us anything, it’s the connection between drama and travel–as isolation increases, the ability to make thoughtful decisions decreases. Shall these men unionize, as one Twitter user suggests, and get out while they can?