VERY FAR AWAY, NOT NEAR ANYTHING, New York. — Security in the Hell’s Kitchen club where I have come to observe and participate in the filming of an upcoming episode of The Bachelorette is as lax as the code of conduct in the show’s “Fantasy Suite”—the magniloquent name applied to an anonymous hotel room where, in the final episodes of every season, producers offer that cycle’s Bachelorette the chance to hold a private audience with (AKA the penis of) each of her remaining suitors, out of view of ABC’s peeping cameras.
The production assistant who checks me in does not want to see my RSVP, even though I received an email the night before instructing me, in capital letters, to keep a printed-out copy on my person. "We trust you!" he chirps. Following a command from the same email (“Plan to leave your cell phone and/or camera at home or in your vehicle. Electronic devices will not be allowed past security.”), I have left my iPhone 45 minutes away, locked safely in my apartment. The production assistant tells me it’s totally fine if I have my phone, as long as I don't take photos inside the taping. Oh.
Now that The Bachelorette has demonstrated its late-onset faith in me, it’s time for me to show I trust The Bachelorette: The PA hands me a release form to sign that will allow ABC and NZK Productions, Inc. to make me look like a total B-I-T-C-H on camera, should the storyline demand it.
"I UNDERSTAND AND AGREE THAT THE PROGRAM MAY INVOLVE THE ELEMENT OF SURPRISE," it reads. "I ACKNOWLEDGE AND AGREE THAT I HAVE BEEN INFORMED AND UNDERSTAND THAT MY APPEARANCE, DEPICTION AND/OR PORTRAYAL IN THE PROGRAM MAY BE DISPARAGING, DEFAMATORY, EMBARASSING [sic] OR OF AN OTHERWISE UNFAVORABLE NATURE WHICH MAY EXPOSE ME TO PUBLIC RIDICULE, HUMILIATION, OR CONDEMNATION..."
After signing, I survey the other people who have come here, like me, to watch a taping of The Bachelorette at 3 p.m. on a Wednesday. Only about 100 civilians in total show up to the event, despite increasingly desperate calls on Twitter and Instagram from mega-popular Bachelorette producer Elan Gale exhorting for fans to "hurry up and get down [to] 605 W 48th Street."
NYC. 4pm. Stage 48. 605 W. 48th street. 18+. Come see #TheBachelorette live taping. Bring friends. Don't be insane— elan gale (@theyearofelan) March 25, 2015
Gale is offering devotees a rare chance to experience the romance and magic of The Bachelorette as it really is: "dating" that takes place at midday on what is, essentially, a soundstage.
While The Bachelor and its fiancée The Bachelorette have been anchor programs on ABC for 13 years, the franchise has had good seasons and bad seasons. The last go-round, with doltish farmer Chris Soules as the Bachelor, was dead boring from start to finish—its March finale hit an all-time ratings low for the franchise. Maybe that's why today’s turnout (overwhelmingly female; overwhelmingly white; a tsunami of “beachy waves”) is so low. Or maybe most Bachelor fans just have jobs.
A rainy outdoor check-in threatens to dampen our collective spirits, until a troupe of brunettes carrying nearly identical Lilly Pulitzer umbrellas spots a horse-drawn carriage down the street. "I bet they went on a carriage ride!" gasps one. I bet they did too. Put it all on red, the color of love. About 20 minutes later, more production assistants usher the lot of us—70 so far, though some stragglers eventually trickle in—up to a holding room on the club's roof level. It's decorated with stained, Nickelodeon-orange furniture and smells wet, like someone forgot to close the retractable roof earlier before it rained. No one seems bothered by this.
After she introduces herself to the group, Jen announces, "People always tell me I should be the Bachelorette."
"This is going to be SO fun," says a 30-something woman wearing fake eyelashes, as she takes a seat across from me on a worn-looking couch. This lady has, she declares to those of us who happen to be within earshot, traveled all the way from New Jersey for today’s event with her friend. I’ll call her friend “Jen.”
Let me tell you something right now: Jen is here, at a taping of The Bachelorette in the middle of the day, to start some drama.
After she introduces herself to the group, Jen announces, "People always tell me I should be the Bachelorette." A 40-something woman wearing a Pandora jewelry set on my right nods solemnly.
Jen goes on: "I'm 26—the perfect age." (The perfect age for...marriage? Being on a reality TV show? Killing the real Bachelorette and making it look like an accident? Jen never elaborates.) She talks up her relationship with Elan Gale, the aforementioned popular Bachelorette producer. "We're basically best friends," she says, which I later confirm to be a false statement. (In her defense, Elan does seem friendly. He pops in and out of the holding room at various intervals, always obliging those women who run up to have their photos taken with him.)
After watching Jen reapply her lip gloss no less than three times, I strike up a conversation with two women on my right, who, like me, appear to have come to the Bachelorette taping alone. One is an accountant from Minnesota, in town on business. The other explains she's a resident uptown.
"A resident...of New York?" I ask.
"A surgical resident," she responds. If we were being filmed, the resident would be right to turn to the camera at this point and make a comment about me being slower than the other girls. We're not, she doesn't, and thankfully we're all distracted by the arrival of a real-live celebrity—recent Bachelor contestant Ashley Iaconetti.
Ashley—you may know her from the show as "Ashley I."—glides into the holding room with two equally attractive, TV-ready girlfriends. She was in town and thought she'd come watch the taping, I overhear her telling Elan later. Why she has to hang out in the plebeian pen with the rest of us never becomes clear to me, but she seems to enjoy the experience. A group of girls runs up to her minutes after she arrives. They admit they are members of the same high school swim team while taking selfies with her. (Also from the email: “It is preferred All audience members must be 18 years of age or older. If you're are under the age of 18, a legal guardian must be present.”)
"We have Bachelor and wine nights," one says, and another backs her up: "Yeah, we drink wine."
I drink wine too, but you don’t see me bragging about it. The team's boasts are interrupted by another producer, who announces to the room that the taping will begin presently. "Can you guess what's going to happen?" he asks. "Group date!" someone yells. He nods and adds that the date will have a "rapping" theme. "Can anyone here rap?"
Seizing opportunity, Jen rushes up to him, and explains that she can rap, and that she's prepared a rap just in case they need someone to rap on The Bachelorette who is not the Bachelorette.
His question is met with scattered, half-hearted whoops from the crowd. Jen's friend wonders aloud if there will be alcohol provided. Jen, however, has moved on from such trivial concerns. She whips out a notebook and pen from her bag and starts furiously writing notes.
Notes about a rap.
About 20 minutes later, we are still trapped in the holding room. To pass the time, the Minnesotan accountant attempts to recite for me every Bachelor and Bachelorette in history, which she does almost flawlessly. We are becoming fast friends—she's got the trivia down, and I can tell her things about New York City, baby. "It's crazy here," I hear myself saying to her three or four times.
Elan is back now, wandering around the room. He also promises that we'll get started soon. Seizing opportunity, Jen rushes up to him, and explains that she can rap, and that she's prepared a rap just in case they need someone to rap on The Bachelorette who is not the Bachelorette. Taking a single breath, she then proceeds to perform said rap, which has the fun, flirty feel of a sorority rush skit. The gist of it is that she will happily date the real Bachelorette's cast-off suitors. A good name for this rap might be “Failing into Bed With Me.”
Elan smiles at her when she finishes, but he does not offer her a job as the Bachelorette.
Thirty or so minutes later (about two hours have passed since our rain-soaked arrival) we are finally ushered downstairs to the part of the club where the taping will take place. It is a small, dark barroom with a modest stage at the front and V.I.P. tables in the back. Ashley I. and a couple other past Bachelor/Bachelorette contestants—Nick Viall and Sharleen Joynt—settle in at the tables, while the lot of us immediately rush up to the stage, only to realize that still, nothing is happening.
The room is outfitted with multiple smoke machines, and there are 90s-style lightning graphics projected onto a screen behind the stage. The Minnesotan accountant and I see a few women checking out a bar in the back. We look at each other wordlessly and make a beeline for it.
Plastic cups of Mondavi Chardonnay in hand, my friend and I try to pick the best spot to stand in front of the stage. It turns out that every spot is a pretty good spot, because the whole crowd only makes up four or five loose rows. I look around and notice that cameramen have their lenses trained on us from every angle. "I think we could definitely get on TV," she remarks. "There's barely anyone here."
I think this gal is right.
While we will have to wait until this episode airs sometime in May to know for sure, I'm going to tell you something very important: Do not assume that the reactions you see my accountant or me exhibit on camera to be authentic. Before the Bachelorette even arrives, a producer leads us through about five rounds of reaction takes to "get us ready." We say "ooh," "ahh," and applaud in unison for the camera many times over.
After this exercise, an older African American gentleman wearing a newsboy cap and an orange sweater that matches the rooftop couches takes the stage and begins dancing to "Blurred Lines." It is LA Sunshine from pioneering hip hop group the Treacherous Three? I'm still not sure how this happened, but it did. He is there to "pump us up," he says. And he does! LA Sunshine teaches us how to two-step to "Uptown Funk." The crowd really gets going, however, when the DJ gives in and plays "All About That Bass," by Megan Trainor. I'm sorry, LA Sunshine!!!!
Jen somehow finagles a mic from one of the producers and performs her rap again, but she is not permitted to get on stage.
At this point, my personal financial advisor and I decide we should chug our Chardonnays and get fresh ones, just in case.
The actual filming of the "date" we've all been waiting for, pumping up for, and prematurely reacting to, takes less than 20 minutes. The set up is this: Eight of the Bachelorette's suitors "rap battle" each other on stage, while the Bachelorette watches (also on stage). Rapper Doug E. Fresh hosts the competition (why not?), while LA Sunshine DJs. We, the audience, judge the one-on-one battles by screaming for whom we like best.
There is some excitement when one J.J. raps that another J.J. looks like a rapist. I'm pretty sure the exact line was, "You look like a rapist."
All of the suitors look like G.I. Joes, if G.I. Joes wore flannel shirts and expensive sneakers. I would love to reveal their names to you now, but I can't remember them. They are all named J.J., I think.
They are not good at rapping. There is some excitement, however, when one J.J. raps that another J.J. looks like a rapist. I'm pretty sure the exact line was, "You look like a rapist."
"Ooohhh," we say in unison. The Bachelorette looks blank.
Later, a different J.J. tells yet another J.J., "You look like Ryan Gosling with down syndrome." My literal best friend and I are like, "Aaahhh!"
And then Doug E. Fresh wraps (raps!) it up. No rap battle winner is announced—it's not clear if this is because the Bachelorette gets to pick a winner later, or because the producers decided no one could be considered a winner in this competition.
Before heading to a cocktail party with the J.J.s, the Bachelorette walks into the crowd to pose for photos with her fans. Out of respect for the true shocking and surprising spirit of The Bachelorette, I won't reveal her identity, as the "twist" this season is that two Bachelorettes compete on the first night to become the one true Bachelorette. I will say that she is tiny, and I am afraid the swim team is going to crush her. Still, she graciously hangs around for about 15 minutes before a producer and a security guard yank her out into a hallway. My soul sister and I decide it's time to leave.
When we emerge from the club, it's still light out. Tipsy off of our brush with fame, and also just regular tipsy, we finally land on the conversation topic that truly concerns all Bachelorette fans: Love.
"Do you have a boyfriend here?" she asks as we walk to the train. She tells me that she's seeing a guy in Minneapolis, but it's "off and on." I tell her that is so New York. She says she really can't imagine dating here—as I have told her many times: it’s crazy here—and we both agree we can't imagine dating on a reality TV show. We definitely would not do it, no way. Still, I get her email address just in case we end up on TV together.