Something happened this week on The Bachelor, something shocking that, with our resident Bachelor editorial experts out of the office, it falls on me, as a dutiful chronicler of all things Dallas-related, to relate to you in its sordid details. I also have a theory.
First, the facts. The Bachelor is a popular and long-running reality television program on ABC, which just wrapped up its 22nd season. Women contestants vie for a single man’s heart across a series of orchestrated dates. There is also spinoff The Bachelorette, a gender-flipped version of the same competition, but the program is extremely hetero (if not exactly normative), and until Dallas attorney Rachel Lindsay was cast as the first black lead on The Bachelorette, extremely white.
But back to last night. Lauren B—for Burnham, and to differentiate herself from the other Laurens—was a contestant on the show, a particularly quiet competitor who, I gather, was not taken seriously by most viewers. Lauren B, a “tech salesperson,” is from Dallas by way of Virginia Beach. There’s some online chatter that she’s currently living in Virginia Beach, but in a twist that will surely drive Bachelor conspiracy theorists and proponents of ethics in reality television wild, there’s also evidence that Lauren B met The Bachelor, her new beau, at a “race in Dallas” long before filming began.
The 22nd Bachelor, Arie Luyendyk Jr., ultimately chose and was engaged to another woman over Lauren B, until he wasn’t. On live television, apparently weeks after filming of this season wrapped, he dumped Bachelor “winner” Becca Kufrin and returned to the arms of Lauren B. To fans of reality TV, the spectacle of Kufrin’s very real tears and Luyendyk’s shameless romantic double-cross felt especially icky, even in a television genre that has a rep for encouraging the voyeuristic exploitation of people’s emotions. Another Dallas Bachelor alum, season 17 star Sean Lowe, did not like it, either, although last night’s “After the Rose” show seemed to assure him that Luyendyk and Lauren B will be fine.
As close observers of Bachelor history will know, you should never count out a contestant from Dallas. Especially not if it appears they’ve actually been relegated to runner-up. Just in recent history, along with Lowe and Lindsay, Dallas real estate developer JoJo Fletcher went from broken-hearted Bachelor contestant to triumphant Bachelorette. (On the most recent season of The Bachelor, Lauren B wasn’t even the only Lauren from Dallas on the show.) This city is littered with reality TV stars and reality TV stars in waiting.
We live in one of the biggest metropolitan regions in the country, so it stands to reason that we’ll be well-represented in the funhouse mirror reflection of our national character that is reality television. Accounting for that, North Texas still churns out an exceptional number of reality TV stars, and it seems worth exploring why by bandying around a few potential reasons. Let’s speculate.
In a city far from the country’s coastal media and entertainment centers, the surest way to celebrity for someone living in Dallas may be reality TV. With a few notable exceptions, people from Dallas who want to “make it” in the realms that traditionally lead to true mass fame—pop music, television, film—will either have to leave town to find celebrity, or will leave town after celebrity has been attained. Most of our biggest hometown celebrities are reality TV stars. You can get rich in Dallas (if you were born in the right part of town, to parents with the right kind of money, and enter the right kind of profession), but there are fewer paths to fame. Any attractive Dallas twentysomething who has the will to celebrity, but not the resources to move to Los Angeles, need only submit a decent audition tape to reality TV producers to get on television.
Because Dallas lacks some of the natural amenities of other cities—I’m thinking mostly of mountains and oceans and the other features associated with outdoor ventures, although there’s plenty of natural beauty to be had here—and the absence of the buzzy fast-paced 24-hour excitement you get in denser cities like New York, we’re more limited in the things we do for leisure. We go out to eat, we drink, we shop and spend money on frivolous things, and maybe, because there’s nothing else to do, we gamely engage in complicated social maneuvers with out friends and enemies, informed by the reality TV we have so much time to watch in our big, isolated suburban homes. The way we socialize in Dallas is training for reality television.
And, while we’re going off the speculative rails here, maybe there’s something to the character of Dallas that makes its residents well-suited for reality television. Where some see Dallas swagger and “bigness,” as in “Big D” or “Big Tex” or all those “B&G” signs, others see a lack of subtlety, expensive glitz covering up for missing substance. There’s the noble quest to actualize as a “world-class city,” and there’s the creeping insecurity of being anything but. It’s a thin line between a genuinely friendly “howdy folks” and a sneering “bless your heart.” Good or bad, these are all features that make for compelling reality television. Dallas’ blend of self-conscious swagger, surface dazzle, and over-the-top regional branding is practically made for reality TV.
So I have a suggestion for the next Visit Dallas rebrand, once the B&G icons start to fall apart. We are the reality TV city. Let’s embrace it. “Dallas: 2 Real.”