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What Made ‘The Bachelor Winter Games’ Such Irresistible TV?

“The Bachelor Winter Games” was the spinoff we weren’t sure we wanted. Set up as counter-programming to NBC’s actual Winter Olympics and amid ABC’s own “Bachelor” season, the two-week show aired two nights a week, two hours per episode. The finale aired at the same time as the women’s figure-skating free skate, an event many in the “Bachelor” demographic surely hoped to catch. 

And yet, despite all the annoyances of the “Winter Games,” which were many, we freaking loved it. 

What made “The Bachelor Winter Games” so utterly winning? We have some theories: The international “Bachelor” stars injected some new personalities and refreshing genuineness into the house dynamic. Moving away from the competitive structure of “The Bachelor” and the musical-chairs structure of “Bachelor in Paradise” allowed relationships to solidify and bloom. People look adorable in sweaters and parkas.

By the time the finale rolled around, we found ourselves genuinely rooting for the couples that had emerged from the two-week series ― and one surprise couple who found true love after filming stopped. 

We discussed our puppy love for “The Bachelor Winter Games” with writer Megan Angelo, who spent some time on the show’s Vermont set for a New York Times article.

Claire Fallon: Did this show work? Is this what they wanted to accomplish?

Emma Gray: I think it worked so well. I think they were looking for something that would be fun, exciting, that would inject some sort of new energy into the franchise and also just be good counter-programming while they know they’re gonna lose in the ratings because NBC has the Olympics. I feel like they really hit all of that. It was really refreshing to see a cast of people ― many who are a little older, a little more settled in their lives than what we’ve traditionally seen on “The Bachelor,” and coming from different cultures! Coming with different experiences. It just was more interesting to watch. The relationships that came out of it felt pretty authentic. I’m a sucker for this show! Megan, you were actually there for a couple of days!

Megan: I was there! Up in Vermont! I think what we saw on TV was really true to what I saw, which is the internationals are so ― they’re a breath of fresh air. They speak like real people. I just feel like, watching them I’m watching real people, I’m not watching people who have watched “The Bachelor” for two decades.

Emma: You mean they had vocabulary other than “amazing”?

Megan: There wasn’t a lot of, “I like this.” “I love that.” They’re talking! They’re real people. I hope they do the show again. There was sort of an authenticity to it that is missing from the main franchise sometimes.  

Claire: It creates its own failure eventually. If New Zealand keeps having “The Bachelor,” you have to imagine eventually they will be as savvy about it as Luke Pell or whoever. No Bachelor here would be insane enough to allow it to become publicly known that he flipped a coin to pick his final person [like Jordan Mauger did]. I don’t think it’s a great thing to do, but it does show that sort of naivety about what the show is and can do to people, and how you have to present yourself. And the same thing happens with a new show like “[Bachelor in] Paradise” or “Winter Games,” is, the first season, people don’t really know what to expect who are on the show, so that shapes how they act. Some people stayed longer because they thought new people were gonna be brought in, which turned out not to happen. Next time they do it, that assumption won’t be there. So, eventually, it all ends up getting calcified in this way that makes us feel more cynical.

Emma: That was gonna be my next question. Do we think if they make this a yearly thing, it would sour pretty quickly? At first I loved “Paradise,” and then it’s gotten more exhausting as it has gone on. And we can’t fault people for understanding the bounds of what they’re stepping into. I would want to also.

I wonder if having internationals you might be able to drag out that excitement for a little bit longer just because you’re creating these cultural ― not conflicts, but this meeting of various cultural expectations.

Megan: I think if ABC does the show again, they would probably stretch out the format a little bit. Because unless you have the Olympics going on, it’s kind of awkward to just have two weeks, four episodes. So then I feel like they’re gonna get tempted to do the rolling cast thing where they bring it more cast. But I think that’s what brings sort of the cynical element. Because once new people start coming in, everyone’s like, “How am i gonna stay?” And it’s not as much about dating.

Claire: That’s the thing that brings in the relationship drama on “Paradise” ― people getting distracted by newer, more exciting, hotter cast members. And people being like, I wanna keep my options open. That doesn’t happen on “Winter Games,” because you know your options, you picked the best one.

Emma: I hope they don’t start bringing in the rolling cast! Not to say that it doesn’t work on a show like “Paradise,” but if you’re trying to do something different, do something different and stick to that.

Claire: [“Winter Games”] brought in one new cast member late, Jordan, because of his visa issues, and instead of creating drama, it sort of fixed the drama in this serendipitous way that probably would never happen again. Bibiana [Julian] had just been dumped, it seemed like pretty amicably, for Ashley [Iaconetti] by Kevin [Wendt], and then immediately was like, “this Jordan guy’s even better!” Which is amazing.

Emma: On “The Bachelor,” you’re waiting for your time all the time. Whereas on “Winter Games,” it’s a little more natural. I’ve gone away with a group of friends to a winter house where we play board games and go out in the snow, and some people make out with each other, and that felt like what this was.

Claire: You’ve always had experiences that are very similar to this show, and I’m like, people do that stuff? That’s great!

Emma: It’s just me trying to re-create my summer camp days all the time.

Claire: Someone said ― it was probably Robert Mills on Juliet’s podcast ― that they purposely didn’t bring in new cast members to make it more of a solidarity throughout the world like the Olympics thing, which is a nice sentiment. But I have to imagine they’re gonna be really tempted to start throwing in the elements that have worked for them in the past. And two weeks is not enough time to have a rolling cast coming through.

Emma: “Winter Games” felt different. It felt really fun. Well done, “Bachelor” franchise. I suppose.

To hear more about “The Bachelor Winter Games,” check out the full episode:

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Do people love “The Bachelor,” “The Bachelorette” and “Bachelor in Paradise,” or do they love to hate these shows? It’s unclear. But at “Here to Make Friends,” we both love and love to hate them — and we love to snarkily dissect each episode in vivid detail. Podcast edited by Nick Offenberg.

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