For years—nearly a decade, it turns out—I have been a Bachelor Nation ride or die. The Bachelor and The Bachelorette have, I say with only slight exaggeration, been somewhat of a lifeblood for a reality-TV superfan like me. But I have had an awakening. Experienced an enlightenment. When it comes to dating series, I am anew.
I have discovered a new reality TV obsession, one that stands in stark contrast to The Bachelor and its spinoffs, which I now see are the equivalent to Cher Horowitz in the genre: virgins who can't drive . It is a major revelation, and I owe it all to this series I've been so gleefully bingeing: You mean this whole time everyone could have been having sex?
Back in June, a group of infamously dubbed sexy singles entered t he Love Island U.K. villa —and the hearts of millions of viewers—to compete in what would become the summer's hottest reality TV dating competition.
Love Island has been airing in the U.K. for eight seasons, but with episodes streaming on Hulu (each released two weeks after the U.K. air date), it's only gained popularity in the U.S. in recent years. This summer in particular, it feels as though everyone and their mother has been tuning in to watch these attractive, drama-prone twentysomethings flirt and make each other cry—and to learn fun British slang like "snog" and "mugged off" along the way.
The premise of Love Island U.K. is your standard reality dating show fare: 10 single Islanders live together in a villa in Mallorca, where they couple up, break up, work out in their bikinis, and have slow-motion dance parties. Very common, normal, relatable activities.
"Bombshells," or new contestants, enter the villa every few days to shake up the existing relationships, and each week there are recouplings and eliminations based on public votes. Once the Islanders have been trimmed down to a few couples at the end of eight weeks, viewers vote for their favorite, and the winning couple receives 50,000 pounds (plus the priceless collateral prize of about 2 million Instagram followers each).
Oh, and for some reason, they all bunk together even though the mansion they're housed in clearly has roughly 750 rooms. (That reason is for our leering, thirsty voyeurism.)
All of that is secondary, however, because it's the patently absurd "challenges" that make Love Island U.K. so amusing. "Challenges" is the loosely applied word that in Love Island U.K. lexicon means "opportunities to dress up hot people like sexy flight attendants or postal workers and make them spray each other with champagne." They're basically themed obstacle courses, but they involve activities like bouncing up and down on a tiny trampoline while tightly clutching the person you're coupled up with. The "challenge" of these incredibly horny challenges is, apparently, to not get too aroused in front of an ITV camera crew.
That unabashed horniness! The silliness! The newfound knowledge of what a Swansea accent sounds like! These are just a few theories as to why Love Island UK feels so refreshing compared to the comparatively snoozy reality TV landscape stateside. Though newer streaming offerings like Love is Blind and FBoy Island take a more exciting, modern approach to dating series, the most prominent example of the genre in the U.S. remains the brutally outdated and scandal-plagued Bachelor franchise.
One of the many reasons The Bachelor franchise has become such a drag to watch compared to shows like Love Island U.K. and FBoy Island? The Bachelor is afraid of sex.
For a series about someone dating 30 people at once, The Bachelor is oddly prudish. It's not that The Bachelor doesn't talk about sex. It's the way that it does. There are the cringey euphemisms reminiscent of a conservative older relative referring to genitalia with cutesy nicknames, lest they let on that they have heard the word "vagina" before. "Fantasy Suites," for instance, sounds like a Disney World attraction, not the nickname for a reality TV event in which people who have been dating for weeks are finally permitted by their producer overlords to bone in a hotel room in Mexico.
Of course, the differences in how these reality shows address sex can partially be chalked up to logistics. The Bachelor and The Bachelorette are network TV shows, meaning they're subject to stricter FCC broadcasting rules that prohibit "obscene content" at all times and "indecent and profane content" before 10 pm (Bachelor Nation shows are broadcast on ABC during the 8 p.m. time slot.) ITV, the British network on which Love Island airs, does not have such tight regulations restricting language and the depiction of sex.
You'll notice, for example, that f-bombs are as common as spray tans and bad tattoos in the Love Island villa. While Love Island contestants gleefully regale each other with gossip about what base they got to in bed the night before (in the room they share with everyone else, mind you!), our Bachelors and Bachelorettes blush over cocktail party kisses.
But, FCC regulations aside, the Bachelor franchise has a long history of stigmatizing the sexuality of its contestants—especially the Bachelorettes. In 2015, Kaitlyn Bristowe endured a disgraceful onslaught of slut-shaming after she had sex with Nick Viall prior to the Fantasy Suites episode, which is the only time that premarital sex is (barely) sanctioned in the world of Bachelor Nation. Rather than adequately supporting her, the show milked the sexist controversy for drama and had Chris Harrison read aloud on national television some examples of the death threats and vicious names that were tweeted at Bristowe.
A few years later, in 2019, Bachelorette Hannah Brown also faced unwarranted social media backlash for proudly declaring on the show that she had sex with contestant Jedd Wyatt in a windmill four times and Jesus still loves her regardless. It was an iconic moment for Brown, but one that exposed that not much had changed since Bristowe's tenure.
Fans are still reeling from the disaster that was Clayton Echard's season of The Bachelor , which aired its finale this past March. Echard will surely go down in history as one of the worst Bachelors of all time for telling all three of his finalists–Rachel Recchia, Gabby Windey, and Susie Evans–that he was in love with them and then demonstrating record levels of douchebaggery when the women attempted to hold him accountable for the emotional distress he caused.
But for all of his legitimate offenses, the fact that Clayton slept with both Rachel and Gabby during Fantasy Suites is not one of them, and that was the event that sparked much of the late season drama. While it is completely valid that Susie was uncomfortable proceeding in a relationship with someone who had been intimate with two other women, she did not express this boundary to Clayton ahead of time.
What Clayton did wrong in this situation was respond to Susie's revelation with a petulant, defensive outburst . And yeah, it was wrong for him to tell each of the three women he loved them without being honest that he felt the same way about multiple contestants. But it was not wrong of him to have consensual sex with two women with whom he was in serious relationships, and that's what so many people focused on.
Which brings us to the current season of The Bachelorette, featuring Rachel and Gabby from Clayton's season as co-leads. With the Clayton trainwreck still apparently on everyone's minds, it took only one-and-a-half episodes for Fantasy Suites drama to arise. During week two, a short-lived contestant named Chris started ranting to the other contestants about how if either Bachelorette were intimate with other men during Fantasy Suites, he would not want to be with her.
First of all, who even asked you, Chris? And second of all, do you know what show you're on? Rachel and Gabby promptly sent Chris packing for his presumptuous, slut-shaming behavior, but the whole fiasco was further proof that Bachelor Nation cannot seem to shake its stigma surrounding sex.
Ultimately, The Bachelor hinges on both viewers and contestants buying into the outdated, exclusionary tradition of monogamous marriage between a man and woman, with the end goal being a sparkling Neil Lane engagement ring. Though the folks at ABC seem to be making some overdue efforts to embrace a more empowered approach to sex, thanks largely to the excellent female leads of recent seasons, puritanical views of love and marriage are still the DNA of the franchise.
As long as that continues to be the case, Bachelor Nation will never truly be sex positive, no matter how many hottub makeout sessions, vibrator-themed limo entrances , and girl power speeches they throw at us.
And that, again, is why I've become an evangelist for Love Island U.K . It's the anti- Bachelor is almost every way, from the unapologetic embrace of the fact hot people living in close quarters with other hot people have sex to the fact that is actually… fun. The finale of the most recent season will be available in the U.S. on Aug. 16. Get with the program, people!
Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go watch the FBoy Island season finale .
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