Hi, Jewish fans of The Bachelor and The Bachelorette. Maybe you, like me, watched last night’s season premiere of The Bachelor and actively cringed when Matt James walked into the room and said, “I had so long to think about what I’m going to say to you all, and, um, I’m gonna take a different approach: If everybody could just bow really quick, I’m gonna pray for everybody.” Maybe you, like me, recoiled when the room of female contestants awwwwed and James began, “Dear Heavenly Father…” with some “amens” from the ladies thrown in. Maybe you, like me, are kind of tired of the most prominent reality dating show in America consistently acting as if every single person is Christian.
— The Bachelor (@BachelorABC) January 3, 2021
Or maybe not. But while it seems that every contestant was super cool with Matt asking them to bow their heads and let him pray for them (or at least every contestant that they showed a reaction from), the reactions on my corner of Twitter were decidedly less enthusiastic. (Note that a quick search for “Matt James prayer” actually brings up much enthusiasm from the Christian girls of Twitter, which, good for them!)
Ha. Hahahaha. The Bachelor prayed for everyone. To the Christian god. Because obviously everyone is a Christian! Obviously! Hahaha. Haha. Ha. I'm tired. #TheBachelor
— Ilana Masad (@ilanaslightly) January 5, 2021
— Brett S. Vergara (@BrettSVergara) January 5, 2021
Ok but…are any of those women in the group Jewish? Because that would make me slightly uncomfortable. Prayer with no choice of whether to partake? #TheBachelor
— Jaclyn Swartz (@JaclynSwartz) January 5, 2021
Let me start by saying that of course it’s great and fun and cool that Matt James — the first-ever Black lead of The Bachelor! — is Christian. Not great and fun and cool? Assuming everyone else is, too.
I completely and fully understand that religion is something that is clearly important to Matt, 29. He likely wants to marry someone who shares those beliefs. Again: great! Faith is something that’s very important to discuss when planning a future with someone, and many past leads on the dating reality TV show have been open about it. Yet, in recent seasons, it seems as if the producers have leaned into the devout-Christian-lead, in turn seeking out devout-Christian-contestants, thus leaving many of their viewers searching for any representation. Because while it’s sincerely great that ABC has finally taken up the charge to ensure the cast is racially diverse, religious diversity matters, too.
Amy Kaufman, author of Bachelor Nation: Inside the World of America’s Guilty Pleasure, told Alma in 2018, “You tend not to hear about a religious background unless it has to do with sex — like with Sean Lowe or Emily Maynard, who said they didn’t want to participate in the Fantasy Suites because of their religious beliefs.” This has obviously since changed.
Tayshia Adams, the last lead of The Bachelorette — who led a fantastic season, full of mature discussions and a genuinely romantic proposal from Zac Clark — broke up with one of her final three, Ivan Hall, because of religious differences. That conversation was never actually shown on screen, but Ivan went on Kaitlyn Bristowe’s “Off the Vine” podcast to discuss how he had told Tayshia he’s agnostic, but he wouldn’t mind if she would’ve wanted to take their kids to church. However, Tayshia obviously went in a different direction, as faith was something very important to her. Again: that makes total sense for Tayshia! But it’s frustrating to see yet another contestant sent home simply because they are not a practicing Christian.
It wasn’t always this way. Before the recent string of religious Bachelor and Bachelorette leads, there were actually a decent amount of Jewish contestants.
My second-ever article for Alma was a tongue-in-cheek discussion of all the Jews on Bachelor in Paradise season 4. I wrote about how we can at least be grateful for the worst pick-up line of all time: “Obviously you’re Jewish” (can you imagine hearing that on the show today?!) and how the short season — there were less than two weeks of filming — had four (!) Jewish contestants. While my discussion of Jewish geography is very 2017 (after learning about the failures of Jewish geography, I definitely wouldn’t have written it in the same way. We learn and grow!), it was still fun to joke about the Jewish contestants on this silly show. Hell, I even interviewed two of them: Jack Stone and Lacey Mark.
Before that, there were a fair share of Jewish contestants on the show (including Jack, Lacey, Adam Gottschalk, David Ravitz, Jason Tartick, J.P. Rosenbaum, that contestant Jane that got sent home on the first night of Colton’s season, my second cousin, Josh, way back in the first season of the Bachelorette, hi Josh, you’ll never ever read this, and my editor Molly’s cantor’s daughter) and two Jewish leads, Andi Dorfman and Jason Mesnick.
When Mesnick was a finalist on DeAnna Pappas’s season way back in 2008, he brought her to Seattle to meet his Jewish family. “She asked a few questions of my family about Judaism and (said) how she thought it might be similar to her view on religion,” Mesnick explained. Cleveland Jewish News then noted, “He tries not to let religion separate people.”
Yet, even their handling of leads like Mesnick wasn’t amazing: When ABC aired Mesnick’s wedding to his finalist, Molly Malaney, producers apparently discouraged him from smashing the glass (a Jewish wedding tradition) and didn’t want to acknowledge his Judaism.
But more and more, we’ve been seeing leads with such strong Christian beliefs that I cannot even imagine having a Jewish contestant make it to the final four. And casting a Christian lead whose faith is important to them means casting Christian contestants, from which they’ll likely select the next lead, ensuring a cycle of very Christian Bachelor/ettes.
Think of Hannah Brown’s iconic line, “I have had sex… and Jesus still loves me.” (A line that is now in her Instagram bio.) While I cheered Hannah on in rejecting the toxic, misogynistic dumpster fire that was Luke, and will obviously admit “Jesus still loves me” is a great line, it just doesn’t seem like Hannah would want to date someone outside her faith. (I don’t mean to project on Hannah, maybe she would; there were rumors around her and her Dancing with the Stars pro, Alan Bersten, who is Jewish, but that was likely just to get more people to tune in. #Showmances, baby!)
Even when the lead doesn’t have a strong Christian personality — or no personality at all, *cough* Peter Weber *cough* — we still end up with very deeply Christian contestants. Peter’s runner-up, Madison “Madi” Prewett (who famously wore a ring engraved with Hebrew in the finale) was very outspoken about her Christian faith and said it is “literally my whole life and all of who I am.” There were actually quite a few jokes about Madi missing her shot for a husband who is a “faith leader” by being on Peter’s season and not Matt’s:
— Lucy Ferut (@LFerut4) January 5, 2021
All of this is to say: If The Bachelor and The Bachelorette wanted to be a Christian dating show, awesome. You do you, Bach Nation. But, as far as I’m concerned, you’re not a Christian dating show — you’re the most popular dating show in America, and you have demonstrated attempts to make strides for inclusion (see: the casting of Matt James after a #BIPOCBachelor petition in June). So why can’t that inclusion extend to non-Christians? And I’m not just talking Jews — I’d love to see Muslim contestants, Hindu contestants, atheist contestants…. give me all the contestants!
Maybe Christian hegemony is so entrenched in this country that a “popular dating show” just means a “Christian dating show,” and we have to live with that. But I’d like to think we’re better than that. Can we be better than that? We are about to have a Jewish man as the Second Gentleman!! (Doug, do you watch Bach?!) I just want to watch my escapism reality TV without remembering how often Jews are excluded, and how often interfaith relationships are discounted.
And in the meantime, I’d love for the show (and its leads) to not assume everyone has the same religious practice as them. Maybe some of the women in that room felt uncomfortable when Matt James said, “I’m gonna pray for everybody.” Of course, the show would never show this discomfort, because they have to be as enthusiastic about Matt James, a person they met 30 minutes ago, as humanly possible, but I have to think that not every single woman there was like, yes, thank you, pray for me, amen.
On Instagram, Jewish comedian Jared Freid does a live running commentary of the show. As the group prayer began, Freid shouts, “OH MY GOD. I would be like, um, nice to meet you, but I GOTTA GO. I’m not gonna sit here and pray. Every woman was just like, yeah, of course, of course we’re praying?!?! Of course! I always pray before I try to marry a guy that I met four minutes ago. I always do that! I would be looking up at everyone like, is everyone doing this? So we’re all gonna pray? To what? And he’s gonna lead us? In what? What’s he gonna tell us about?”
And that is the heart of the issue: There is, simply, a disconnect between these deep professions of faith and being on a show where you date 32 women at once. I am here to watch a show where one boring man dates 32 way more interesting women. I am not here to be dragged down by reminders of the Lord and Heavenly Father and Jesus and whatever! I just want escapist TV. Is that too much to ask?