The saga of Arie Luyendyk Jr. on ABC’s 22nd season of “The Bachelor” ended in a two-part finale, stretched agonizingly over two nights. On the first night, viewers watched Mr. Luyendyk choose Becca Kufrin as his wife and then, after several weeks of coupledom, break up with her in horror-film-like real-time footage to pursue the show’s runner-up, Lauren Burnham. On the second night, he proposed to Ms. Burnham before a live studio audience. She accepted, they were hurried offstage, and the wronged woman, Ms. Kufrin, was anointed as the next star of the dual franchise. She accepted the awkward live praise of a cavalcade of men who will woo her for our benefit this spring on “The Bachelorette” — should we choose to watch.
Here, The Times’s Bonnie Wertheim, Carla Correa, Lindsey Underwood and Jon Caramanica dig into the treacheries and satisfactions of the show’s “most dramatic finale ever.”
Bonnie: Last fall, when ABC announced that Arie Luyendyk Jr., a long-ago former contestant on “The Bachelorette,” would be the next Bachelor and everyone said “who?” we knew the show might be bland, but I didn’t think he’d be cruel.
That “unedited and uncut” (say it one more time, Chris Harrison) footage of Arie’s breakup with Becca K. was hard to watch, or at least much harder to watch than the routinely infuriating stuff on “The Bachelor.”
I’ve only watched a few seasons and don’t claim to be any kind of expert. But everything I’ve seen relies on train wreck theatrics that make it hard to look away. The “we didn’t know our contestant had Nazi tweets” problem from Rachel’s season. The murky “Bachelor in Paradise” sexual assault production scandal. And now, the public humiliation of Becca K. I think the franchise would stop short of serious violence, but there’s seemingly little the producers won’t do for good TV.
Carla: The breakup was not the problem. The problem was that Arie blindsided Becca and ambushed her with cameras and then refused to leave when she politely asked him to do so — seemingly because he wanted her to absolve him of his guilt. Producers be damned, he should have split with her off-camera.
Lindsey: I actually appreciated the “unedited and uncut” footage. For once, Chris Harrison didn’t lie to us. It was unlike what we normally see on “The Bachelor” and on reality TV in general. It also made many viewers truly uncomfortable, probably because we saw a lot of the real emotions that we’re normally shielded from. We’re used to seeing contestants cry. But we don’t normally see them truly wronged.
Many of the scenes in the first part of finale, and the cuts to Chris Harrison staring at the camera with the studio audience sitting in stunned silence, were jarring. It felt really icky that someone’s pain was shown for our entertainment. But the way it was shown wasn’t highly manipulated for once.
Jon: I would argue that this is the exact point of the show — to remind you that happiness comes with a price, and not always the one you expect. Naturally, there is going to be a backlash against Arie, who proposed and then recanted and then proposed again. But to me, it’s more interesting that the default position about the show has, over the years, shifted from skepticism — “Can you believe these people are getting married?” — to credulousness that can be fractured — “I can’t believe he dishonored his proposal!” That tells you loads about how popular perception of “The Bachelor,” and reality television in general, has evolved.
Bonnie: Sitting on that couch talking to Chris Harrison, Becca put it plainly: “I signed up for this.” If she can live with that, I think we can too.
Lindsey: Right, and by the end of last night’s episode, my roommate and I were grinning at the TV as Becca met her new suitors. We fell for the whole redemption charade.
Carla: The second night was a smart move by producers. Here’s why: The season was flat. Ratings were down. Arie was the wrong choice for the lead. Then he proved to be the ambivalent man that sleuthing viewers (well, Reality Steve) had revealed him to be. There was no good way to end this season unless ABC split the show in two and incorporated fans’ ardent reactions to his betrayal on social media in the second part of the episode.
The PR machine was hard at work last night. Women from earlier in the season chimed in. Chris Harrison was able to show fan engagement — most incredibly, that some paid to put up anti-Arie billboards, and other bought drinks for Becca by sending her money on Venmo. (Becca then said she’ll donate the thousands of dollars to charity, and Harrison said the show would match it. What a public relations win!) Then Becca was announced as Bachelorette. Once again, ABC has a beloved lead for its hit reality show and viewers will tune in for next season.
Jon: Arie had been without a personality for so long that it came as something of a relief that he finally secured one: villain.
In truth, Arie did what many people have done. He made a poor choice, then tried to make it right. This is not radical stuff. It takes on extra dimension because it’s the gasoline for a network television reality-competition franchise, loved and reviled by millions. But while you can quibble with how he handled things, especially by not leaving the room when Becca persistently asked him to after he dumped her, he was — or was presented as — a reasonably stand-up guy.
Lindsey: But that’s the thing with The Bachelor that gets to me. We learn so little about the people on the show, that it’s hard to see why they even like each other beyond the physical. I loved when Arie asked Lauren a “tough question” about what she imagined a day in their life would look like outside of the show. She said they’d wake up and have coffee, walk their dogs, go to work, come home, make dinner and drink some wine. He agreed. What a unique life, so glad they found each other! If that’s not a connection, I don’t know what is!
Carla: Early on, viewers saw Lauren say to Arie: “I know you want someone who has a flexible schedule, but what else are you looking for?” A flexible schedule? How romantic.
Bonnie: I went into Monday night’s episode expecting Arie to walk away single, based on his apparent indecision and the hyperbolic promos. But that quick turn from melodrama to “everything is fine!” repeats itself every season in some fashion, and we keep falling for it.
Jon: By the end of the two-night spectacle, Becca had been raised high and given a new chance at love; Arie had been redeemed, then erased; and Lauren was rescued from her couch and given a new, albeit imperfect, romantic fantasy.
It was hard not to feel bad for Lauren last night — not because she’s choosing a life with Arie, but because her proposal came in rushed fashion, in front of a studio audience skeptical of her man, and with Becca in the green room, waiting to come back out and steal the narrative back.
The innovation this season was the choice to split-screen the breakup, and to present it without editing — that’s a nod to the intensity of the raw footage. In the just-released book “Bachelor Nation,” the journalist Amy Kaufman details the production and editing chicanery that goes into making the show’s emotional arcs so effective.
But it turns out that the show had one more trick to deploy: letting the feelings speak for themselves.
Lindsey: Here’s one positive thing I have to say about this season: I was glad that they mostly returned to having rose ceremonies at the end of each episode rather than cliffhangers all the time. It’s brutal to sit through a two-hour-long episodes where nothing gets resolved.