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The Golden Bachelor is kinder, gentler, grayer reality TV

The best Bachelor yet is revitalizing a tired old franchise.

A man in a tux gives a rose to a woman in a red dress.
Golden Bachelor Gerry Turner gives a rose to contestant Sandra in the premiere.
Craig Sjodin/ABC via Getty Images
Scott Nover is a freelance writer covering media and technology. He is a contributing writer at Slate and was previously a staff writer at Quartz and Adweek.

The Bachelor franchise is like many of its contestants: early 20s, desperate for attention, and growing tired of itself.

In order to save it from its worst tendencies, The Bachelor needed a change, a new energy, something — anything — to breathe new life into its decaying form.

It needed Gerry Turner.

Gerry recently turned 72 years old.

Gerry is a widower.

Gerry pronounces his name “Gary.”

Gerry is here to save The Bachelor.

Two men and two dozen or so women in a room, all in formalwear.
Gerry Turner and host Jesse Palmer, surrounded by the potential loves of Gerry’s later life.
Craig Sjodin/ABC via Getty Images

The Golden Bachelor opens with an aerial drone shot over a Los Angeles streetscape, naturally at golden hour. There’s no music, no voiceover, just the subtle cracklings of a man quietly dressing himself in a fresh two-tone tuxedo. The first music of the show — Cat Stevens’s ethereal folk tune “The Wind” — pipes in only when Gerry picks up his hearing aid from a table and places it in his ear.

Surely, many of the 4.36 million viewers tuned in to the show for the novelty of watching senior citizens try to find love through a television format designed for self-indulgent 20-somethings. (They’re even on the same set — despite their age, the contestants still sleep in the Bachelor mansion’s bunk beds.) But any novelty is short-lived: When Gerry tells the story of how Toni — his high school sweetheart and wife of 43 years — died in 2017 from a rapidly progressing bacterial infection, the stakes of his participation, and his presence on the show, feel urgently real. “No one’s ever gonna replace Toni,” Gerry tells the audience in the premiere’s opening scene. “I yearn for a second chance in life to fall in love again.”

By the time the contestants start trickling out of the limousine to meet Gerry, before they even share their own stories and why they’re enduring a reality TV show to find love, The Golden Bachelor has already induced real tears. Skeptics, begone. To watch Gerry is to root for Gerry.

As the first Golden Bachelor, Gerry Turner makes for a particularly charismatic lead

When Taylor Hale first heard about The Golden Bachelor, she shrugged. Hale started watching the show years earlier as a way to connect with her white sorority sisters and became hooked when Rachel Lindsay burst onto the scene as the first Black Bachelorette — a groundbreaking moment for the show after 15 years of white leads.

Hale — who once auditioned for The Bachelor but instead became the first Black woman to win CBS’s Big Brother — stopped watching the franchise during the pandemic and wasn’t even planning to watch The Golden Bachelor. “It just felt so predictable. They’re gonna pluck some dude from the Midwest, some corny white guy who probably has a tragic story,” she anticipated. She wasn’t totally wrong, but also, she says, she was. “I saw how earnest he was in talking about finding a partner for this phase of his life, and I just liked the guy!”

Kay Brown, who co-hosts The Betchelor podcast, produced by the media company Betches, agreed that Gerry is custom-made for this role. Finding someone in his 70s “to be on TV and hold a show is probably very difficult,” she said, noting that what makes Gerry special is how charismatic and how engaged he seems to be with each of the contestants when they speak.

If The Golden Bachelor wasn’t naturally a formula for success, casting the soft-spoken, Ted Danson-esque Gerry did the trick.

Gerry’s septuagenarian potential paramours aren’t “here for social media clout”

In recent years, the Bachelor franchise has been plagued by its own curses: Not only do the contestants seem hyperaware of the Bachelor rules of engagement, but they seem more motivated by internet fame than by finding love on network television. The result is that The Bachelor, The Bachelorette, and its messiest incarnation, Bachelor in Paradise, feel formulaic, predictable, and repetitive. In all its forms, The Bachelor feels like a reality-TV ouroboros — a serpentine beast consuming its own tail.

But on The Golden Bachelor, the incentives feel different and thus the show feels altogether new.

“They’re not here for social media clout,” Brown said. “They are 75 years old. They are genuinely looking to meet someone — or, even if not, they’re there for way more genuine reasons than everyone else.”

Have the show’s participants studied the show? Possibly. Could Gerry eventually cash in on his fame by hawking reverse mortgages or natural male enhancement supplements? Well, almost certainly. But The Golden Bachelor has, more so than any edition of the show before it, allowed the audience to willingly suspend their disbelief and root for this perverse many-on-one matchmaking competition to actually work.

After all, the cast is made of sexagenarians and septuagenarians who appear set on finding love or at least going on some sort of adventure. Faith, 60, rides a motorcycle up to the mansion. Renee, 67, is a former NFL cheerleader who shows up in a full tracksuit. Sandra, 75, tells Gerry she has a “Zen practice” she uses to calm her nerves — and then unleashes a litany of bleeped-out curse words. Susan, 66 — well, Susan kind of looks like Kris Jenner.

“They are who they are and have more of a reason to say, ‘Fuck you if you don’t like who I am,’” Hale said. “That’s so much more interesting and compelling than — sorry, because I’m one of them — a bunch of 20-somethings going on TV to be cute.”

Ellen, 71, gets out of the limo and yells, “Roberta, we made it!” dedicating her presence on the show to her best friend who was, at the time, battling cancer. (In an emotional reveal at the premiere’s close, the producers dedicate the season to Roberta, who died.)

Brown’s podcast co-host, Jared Freid, said he’s always wanted “normal Bachelor” — a version of the show with real, authentic people who aren’t solely chasing fame. Perhaps it had to age up in order to accomplish that.

“I think every woman on this show gains something from going on this show — they actually are all winning,” Freid said. “You’re sitting there crying, it’s 10 minutes into the show, and you go, ‘Wow, this is their 80 for Brady, this is their Thelma & Louise, this is adventure, this is a movie. This could literally be a movie I would watch on a plane — of one woman’s adventure to go on a dating show later in life.”

Can you chalk it all up to a tone shift behind the scenes?

Chad Kultgen co-hosts the Game of Roses podcast and co-wrote, along with his podcast partner Lizzy Pace, the book How to Win The Bachelor. He thinks The Golden Bachelor is “the best product ever created in the rich 22 year history of the franchise.”

Kultgen agrees that the aged-up twist is refreshing and the casting is phenomenal, but attributes the show’s success to a broader tone shift in how the show is produced. He thinks the departure of show creator Mike Fleiss — who left the show earlier this year amid reports of an internal ABC investigation into allegations of racial discrimination and bullying — has given way to a new crop of producers with, well, friendlier and more humane intentions.

“The people who are doing Golden Bachelor primarily are helpful to the players, helpful to the lead,” Kultgen said. “I think this old way of making reality TV where you try to make people cry and try to make them have nervous breakdowns, I think that’s gone. People don’t want to see that in reality TV anymore.”

He felt this change first in the most recent season of The Bachelorette, starring Charity Lawson, that featured “almost no torture visited upon the players.” Further, he surmised that the old way of doing things — and producers loyal to Fleiss’s sensibility — still live on in the production of Bachelor in Paradise, which takes recent contestants from the main shows and dumps them on a beach together. “The entire idea of Paradise is that going there is torture,” Kultgen said.

Bachelor in Paradise airs directly following The Golden Bachelor’s shorter-than-usual one-hour broadcast. The dissonance between the two is jarring.

“After coming from hearing these women who are trying to find love, who have lost their spouses — they’ve seen some shit — you get to Bachelor in Paradise and they’re like, ‘It’s so hard to find love. I want someone to love me for me,’” Brown said. “Like, grow up. It’s hard to take that seriously when you have these other women [on The Golden Bachelor] who you’re rooting for and then you don’t feel like you’re rooting for anyone on [Bachelor in Paradise].”

There’s good reason to think viewers agree: While the season premiere of The Golden Bachelor saw 4.36 million first-day viewers, fewer than half stayed tuned for Bachelor in Paradise, which racked up 2.17 million viewers by the same metric. For context, the most recent Bachelor and Bachelorette season premieres drew about 3 million and 2 million first-day viewers, respectively.

But if the novelty of the format drew people to the premiere, the sincerity of what’s happening onscreen — and perhaps behind the scenes — is what will keep them coming back.

“I don’t think anyone expected this to be fun for everyone on the show,” Freid said. “I think people hear about The Bachelor and think someone is going to embarrass themselves. No one on this show has even come close to embarrassing themselves.”