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Look, I know that ABC's The Bachelor franchise is not the place anyone should go to observe socially responsible behavior — this is the program that forces people to compete for a marriage with a person they barely know, after all. But I watch it every week regardless, often finishing an episode feeling enthralled by the drama yet guilty for watching people embarrass themselves during sometimes-degrading date challenges like dramatic public readings of erotic fiction, fake Sports Illustrated photo shoots, and bikini tractor races (yes, all of those things have actually happened on this show). But on February 8, a date activity left me feeling ickier than ever and I need to have a conversation about it.
Long story short: Bachelor Matt James took contestant Katie Thurston on a one-on-one date that involved heading to a spa, where James planned an elaborate "prank" for them to pull together on his best friend Tyler Cameron, another The Bachelor alum. While Cameron received a massage, James and Thurston fed his masseuse instructions through an earpiece in attempts to "ruin" his relaxation. During this time, they ask the masseuse to do stuff that ranges from somewhat harmless (like stopping the massage to answer her phone) all the way to downright inappropriate (stroking and pinching his nipples without asking). Near the end of the massage, Thurston and James sneak into the massage room, trying to contain their giggles. Cameron is lying face-down at this point, so James takes it upon himself to start massaging his friend's back until he notices. I'll leave the entire clip below for you to watch for yourself.
Once Cameron figures out what's going on, it's all laughs and hugs for the camera — but I can't help thinking how violated and infuriated I'd feel if this prank was attempted on me. Or the heightened amount of backlash the show would likely be facing had they pulled this prank on a woman. I'll tell you why: save for consenting sex and romance, there are few experiences more intimate than getting a full-body massage, especially for folks who are not used to or don't normally enjoy being touched.
More often than not, you are fully naked under that sheet during a massage. You have to put a whole lot of trust in a masseuse to touch your body in a way that is consensual and appropriate — and many people have experienced sexual violation during a massage because their masseuse took advantage of that. (If you go to a new masseuse and they don't ask what your boundaries are in this regard, definitely reconsider their services.) Not to mention that when getting a massage, you are only consenting to one person touching you in this way — no matter how close you are with your best friend, it's not OK for them to touch you intimately and without your knowledge in a setting where you don't even know they are present.
This is just one in a recent collection of moments wherein this series has objectified men in questionable ways, by the way. I'd argue that, in recent seasons, The Bachelor umbrella of shows has simply translated its habit of forcing people to get naked from the women contestants to the men in an effort to appear more "feminist." In Clare Crawley's season of The Bachelorette in 2020, the show received similar criticism after Crawley hosted a game of strip-dodgeball; the losing team of men ended up full-frontal naked… and had to walk home that way. Even former Bachelor Ben Higgins himself couldn't stomach it.
At the end of their prank date, James sent Thurston home for a lack of a deeper connection. While we won't be seeing her again on this season of the show, I can guarantee it won't be the last time we'll watch some uncomfortable shit like this go down. Sure, there is a decent chance that behind the scenes, Cameron was aware this prank would be happening and consented to it (I have reached out to ABC for comment and confirmation of this), but that doesn't mean we should get a laugh out of the idea of it happening.
I understand that reality TV has to come with a certain level of shock factor to keep people interested, but do participants really need to be physically exposed and exploited in order to achieve it? Just ask Queen Victoria — that answer is no.
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