Watching “The Bachelor” with former Bachelors: Almost too meta to handle — but also, and oddly, an exciting thrill. On Monday night (March 13), at the revamped Hollywood Park Casino in Inglewood, CA, BRANDed PR threw an official viewing party for Season 21’s finale — and in attendance to watch Nick Viall break Raven’s heart and propose to Vanessa Grimaldi were 2015 Bachelor Chris Soules, Jojo suitor Robby Hayes, and Andi suitor (and “Paradise” star, and Nick’s nemesis) Josh Murray.
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The Bachelor Nation family is known for traveling in packs, so it was neat to see Jojo suitor Alex Woytkiw join the guys on stage for the Q & A session… But the unadvertised shock of seeing Jef With One F from Season 8 sends the room into a tailspin. Is Emily Maynard’s ex-fiancé trying to make a comeback? Throw out his name for “Bachelor in Paradise”? Maybe he’s just there to support his pals — dressed in all black, hanging in the back — but the moment he’s spotted, everyone starts screaming!
Save for two men — one being the event’s hired photographer — the entire room is filled with women, so that’s… A lot of screaming. Dolled up in heels, wearing full make-up as if they are all contestants themselves, these ladies ease the nerves from being so close to their TV crushes by knocking back the booze like it’s going out of style. The buzzing energy is infectious, and it’s easy to get caught up in it.
“Hey Robby,” shouts a 50+ year old lady from the half-filled audience. “Would you ever consider dating an older woman?” And if there’s any ambiguity as to whether she’s just asking in general, out of curiosity, or inquiring for herself is um, laid to rest when she starts making sexual noises into the microphone — until our host gently pries it out of her hands. This is probably the moment everyone in the room realized that tonight was going to be awesome.
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Sipping wine in the back of the room near Jef With One F, this reporter was just trying to soak it all in. It’s most reminiscent of, say, a smaller scale “Twilight” fandom. Everyone has forgotten there’s a finale airing on the TVs, they don’t even seem to notice the sound’s been turned off — or if they do, clearly they don’t care. It’s the West coast airing, after all: Everyone either already knows who wins, or they’re DVRing it at home, and either way, the real show is right here.
Looking for some visuals for this story, and feeling an urgent need to document what is happening, I get close enough to Alex, Chris, Josh and Robby during a commercial break that I can see the rows of empty shot glasses. Cramming them in around me for a photo, it’s not exactly a surprise when Chris cracks a “bag of d’s” joke, but it’s not that upsetting either. One time a monkey at the zoo flipped me off and I thought it was weird, but I didn’t feel aggressed.
The guys are hammered, they’re here to get hammered and they’re nailing it, and it results in some amazing behavior. Clink and drink.
If Bachelor Nation Comic-Con existed, this is what it would be like: Reality stars surrounded by women who unabashedly love everything “Bachelor,” and zero-shame obsessive fans of themselves? Every party here is in heaven.
It’s impressive how Robby, Chris, Josh and Alex don’t seem to tire from answering the same questions over and over. When your life is being a media object, your life is media training: They could talk to reporters, fans, pose for photos — all while holding a bustle of those iconic red roses, which here are disturbingly, Disneyland perfect and Disney color-vivid — until the sun comes up.
As someone who has written a fair amount about Bachelor Nation contestants, and tries my best to be authentic in life, it crossed my mind a few times that one or another of them might have me escorted out of the press line, and I couldn’t even blame them. But here in this situation, I get a new perspective: The scrutiny these people are under is intense, not just as public figures but as people and as men, and they’ve accepted that as part of the package. Why on Earth would they single anyone out, when everything coming their way is personal attention, at volume ten, from a million directions?
My respect for that — for swimming with sharks in any way, and surviving — isn’t even grudging. It’s a legitimate skillset.
“I have no room to say anything,” Josh admits, while walking the red carpet before the event started, “Because I’ve been engaged twice, and it hasn’t work out twice. But I wasn’t in it for any other reason — I just think nowadays people are in it for a little extra stuff.”
And by “people,” we assume and we know correctly, he means Nick. By definition, of course, but also by implication.
“I’m not sure what his intentions are,” Josh says. “I hope they’re genuine. I guess only time will tell.”
And even though the entire purpose of this event is to catch the finale — something not one person in the room even tries to accomplish — Josh says he hasn’t watched any of this current season, because there’s no point: Nick instantly jumping into “Dancing with the Stars” says it all.
“[But] I wish him the best in achieving all the success and fame he wants,” Josh says. “hopefully that makes him happy.” When asked if he thinks Nick and Vanessa will eventually get married, he reacted as if we’d suggested he eat his own arm: Without even the slightest doubt, he delivers a firm negatory.
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During the fan Q & A — now just happening continuously, a runaway mine train, commercial breaks be damned — the host asks the “Bachelor” boys to talk about their craziest fan experience. Chris mentions a woman who lurked outside his grandma’s house for “multiple days.” After his mother gave her the boot, “she then sent me a 12-page letter about how much she loves me!” Chris exclaims, still incredulous…
“…But I’ve had much more weird sh*t happen.” he says, before taking another shot and passing the mic. It’s quite a moment.
Robby, however, has missed the memo that it’s funny storytime.
“So I’ve moved in with Chase [McNary, his fellow Season 12 standout],” he begins — deliberately, or maybe not entirely, fueling the “Is it just a bromance, or are they a couple?” rumors — “In Denver, we had this really sweet girl who lived in the neighborhood. She brought her four best friends over. They’re all like 15, and one of them has cancer. She’s bald with one arm — super sweet girl. And her best friend, who lived on the street, reached out and said she’s not doing well. Can you write her a letter and send it to the hospital?’”
The request wasn’t made verbally — apparently it came via Twitter: “And without sounding conceited,” Robby says, “Your DM’s kinda get clouded. It’s hard to keep up with everything that comes in. So, we see it a week and a half later…” Robby continues, audience wrapped around his finely manicured finger; everyone on the edge of our seats, waiting for the punchline of this feel-good story.
“We both write letters, and it takes like three days to get there. But unfortunately she passed away before the letters got there. It was super sad. But her mom took it upon herself to write a letter back us saying how much they appreciated the letters we wrote. That was one of the best experiences from a fan.”
Sometimes a room goes so still that you can hear the electricity buzzing in the walls, have you ever noticed that sound?
In moments the crowd has split into two vague factions — the forced “awws” that indicate Pied Piper Robby’s somehow mesmerized some of us into whatever dimension that answer teleported in from, and the larger “I know I’ve had a lot to drink, but did he really just say that?” group. Of course, you know what he was going for — but it’s the most tragic story ever told, and the tender spin he put on it…
It’s a weird enough moment to break the spell, as it turns out: Between one moment and the next, even the tipsiest young twentysomethings are packing up their things and (fingers crossed) taking a Lyft home. I swiftly followed suit.
Now, this “Bachelor” world is insane, it’s totally bizarre. No question. How could it be? Even the premise of the show is insane, how could the entire cargo cult/tent city that’s built up around it since 2002 possibly not be that much weirder? But having said that, if you want to join the party, if you truly want to embrace it — you’ll be welcomed with open arms. And it’s also a hell of a lot of fun.
At least until the Red Band Society shows up. But even that’s just a strong reminder that all parties have to end eventually.
“The Bachelorette” returns Monday, May 22, at 9 p.m. ET/PT. “Bachelor in Paradise” traditionally begins the first week in August.
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