The Bachelor has ruled as the most dramatic reality dating show ever. It’s actually hard to remember a time in which Mondays weren’t dominated by the hit ABC primetime series, which first premiered in 2002 with Alex Michel in the titular role. After it’s debut, people quickly found themselves enthralled with the idea of watching a single guy find a fiancée by dating multiple women at one time — a concept better fit for fantasy than reality.
Still, viewers were obsessed, and it didn’t take long for ABC to reverse the roles and give Trista Rehn the reigns in The Bachelorette, which premiered on the network in 2003 (via E! News). Despite a few poorly-watched installments of The Bachelor, the franchise has managed to keep viewers coming back for more with the promise of romance, heartbreak, and, to quote host Chris Harrison, “the most dramatic season ever.”
Here’s a look at the best seasons in the history of The Bachelor and Bachelorette, as well as the seasons we could have done without.
Best: Jason Mesnick's Bachelor season changed the game
Season 13 of The Bachelor is among the franchise’s best for more reasons than one. For starters, the leading man, Jason Mesnick, was the first single parent in the franchise’s history to ever become the Bachelor or Bachelorette. Mesnick’s dad-status completely raised the stakes for his season, as he made it clear he was searching for not only a wife, but a stepmother for his son, Ty.
Of course, that wouldn’t be the last time Mesnick made Bachelor history. Moments after witnessing him propose to his final pick, Melissa Rycroft, viewers watched as Mesnick ended his engagement to Rycroft on the After the Final Rose special, confessing to her that he still had feelings for his runner-up, Molly Malaney. Rycroft was understandably angry; however, the evening ended on a happy note when Malaney excitedly accepted Mesnick’s plea for a second chance.
While Mesnick’s switch-a-roo landed him the title of Most Hated Man in America for a while, his relationship with Malaney blossomed into one of Bachelor Nation’s greatest love stories. The couple married and welcomed their first child together, Riley Anne Mesnick, in March 2013.
Worst: Colton Underwood became the most-dumped Bachelor in the show's history
Despite being a far-fetched representation of what dating is actually like, The Bachelor is a reality dating show. Of course, where there’s dating, there’s bound to be heartbreak — a fact Bachelor Nation fans know all too well. While the The Bachelor might present itself as a show about finding love, it’s pretty clear that the franchise’s actual bread and butter is the business of breakups. Usually, the Bachelor is the person tasked with breaking the hearts of those vying for his affection; however, during his season, Colton Underwood proved that Bachelors can get dumped, too.
While contestants have broken up with leads before, no Bachelor or Bachelorette has been dumped on their own season as frequently as Underwood. As Vulture reported, three women — Elyse Dehlbom, Sydney Lotuaco, and Heather Martin – left the season of their own accord. Cassie Randolph also broke up with the Bachelor on their Fantasy Suite date, revealing she wasn’t sure she wanted to get engaged. However, following Underwood’s dramatic, seemingly gravity-defying fence jump, the two decided to continue their relationship offscreen.
Best: Emily Maynard's Bachelorette season was a win for single moms
Emily Maynard, the young widow whose husband Ricky Hendrick died in a plane accident, made history as The Bachelorette‘s first (and, as of this writing, only) single mother lead. To accommodate her life as a single mom, initial production for Maynard’s season — which aired in May 2012 — moved from the Bachelor mansion to Charlotte, N.C., so that Maynard could stay close to her daughter, Ricki.
While she seemed like a sweet, southern belle on the surface, Maynard quickly proved herself to be a feisty force to be reckoned with — especially when it came to her daughter. When Maynard heard contestant Kalon McMahon had referred to Ricki as “baggage,” the soft-spoken blonde wasted no time in putting him in his place, telling him to “get the f**k out.” Maynard confessed (via Us Weekly), “I want to go West Virginia, hood rat, backwoods on his a**,” adding, “That’s how much I love my daughter.”
While her engagement to winner Jef Holm ultimately didn’t last, Maynard is still a beloved figure in Bachelor Nation — and her historic season was certainly a win for single moms everywhere.
Worst: Jake Pavelka was impossible to root for on his season of The Bachelor
ABC was likely hoping pilot Jake Pavelka would bring romantic Top Gun vibes to The Bachelor Season 14 — cleverly titled On the Wings of Love. Unfortunately, however, Pavelka’s season quickly proved he was no Maverick.
Despite him having a cool job, Pavelka’s personality was sorely lacking throughout his run as Bachelor, and many fans got the feeling the pilot didn’t care all that much about finding true love. That feeling only intensified when Pavelka proposed to season villain Vienna Girardi instead of the woman with whom he seemed to share the most chemistry, fan favorite Tenley Molzahn.
Unsurprisingly, it didn’t take long for Pavelka and Girardi’s relationship to come crashing down; however, no one could have predicted the nasty turn their fallout would take in the media. Months after they made their debut as a couple, Pavelka and Girardi faced off in an intensely emotional two-on-one interview with host Chris Harrison. Not only did the messy back and forth leave viewers feeling sympathetic toward the former season villain, but it also seemed to capture Pavelka’s true colors — and they weren’t pretty.
Best: Hannah Brown's Bachelorette season made a timely statement
Season 15 of The Bachelorette premiered on May 13, 2019, featuring beauty queen Hannah Brown in the title role. Considering she completely froze when asked to give a toast on Colton Underwood’s Bachelor season, some fans were concerned the Alabama native would be more cringeworthy than entertaining. However, Brown’s season of The Bachelorette quickly became one for the reality TV history books.
The former Miss Alabama USA kicked off her season by fiercely confronting and eliminating a contestant upon learning he had a girlfriend, proving she wasn’t afraid to stick up for herself and call her own shots. Later in the season, when Luke Parker seemingly shamed Brown ahead of their Fantasy Suite date, the Bachelorette’s fiery, tell-it-like-it-is attitude came out in full force as she sent the contestant packing. Revealing that she had, in fact, had sex with another contestant, Brown famously told Parker, “I have had sex … and Jesus still loves me.”
While she ultimately didn’t find her happily-ever-after, Brown’s explosive conversation with The Bachelorette‘s Luke Parker did spark an important, nationwide discussion on faith, feminism, and sexual autonomy — and forever changed the way we look at windmills.
Worst: Desiree Hartsock's Bachelorette season left fans feeling as if she'd settled
Desiree Hartsock’s emotional breakup with Brooks Forester certainly made for entertaining TV; however, the gut-punch of watching Hartsock’s heart break into a million pieces, as well as the sinking feeling she settled for her final pick, made Season 9 of The Bachelorette one of the franchise’s most-disappointing installments.
Hartsock was blindsided in the penultimate episode of her season when Forester, the man for whom Hartsock had the strongest feelings, confessed he wasn’t in love with her. Hartsock was understandably devastated by the admission — and, upon Forester’s exit, considered throwing in the towel herself (via Us Weekly). “It breaks my heart knowing that I have two amazing, unreal guys who do love me,” Hartsock said. She continued, confessing, “I just can’t love them as much … And that’s not what they deserve.”
Despite her words, Hartsock did accept a proposal from contestant Chris Siegfried, ultimately marrying and starting a family with her final pick. However, considering her reaction to Forester leaving, it’s hard not to feel as if Hartsock settled for Siegfried in an attempt to force a happy ending.
Best: Sean Lowe's Bachelor season produced the franchise's most adorable love story
Sean Lowe had his heart broken on Emily Maynard’s Bachelorette season, but his status as a fan favorite landed him the leading role in Season 17 of The Bachelor. Lowe’s season introduced multiple contestants who would go on to find popularity within Bachelor Nation, such as Lesley Murphy, Tierra LiCausi, and then-future Bachelorette Desiree Hartsock. However, Season 17 remains one of the franchise’s best and most beloved largely due to the happy ending Lowe found with contestant Catherine Giudici.
A graphic designer from Seattle, Wash., Giudici was far from the safe choice for Lowe. In fact, as he wrote in his book, For the Right Reasons (via Bustle), “I really liked Catherine, but she was a Birkenstock-wearing, vegan food blogger from Seattle. I was a meat eater who’d worked in the oil and gas industry.” Lowe continued, “How could that possibly work out?”
Fortunately, Lowe followed his heart, which led to an ultra-dreamy proposal, followed by an epic elephant-back ride into the sunset. Today, the lovebirds are married with children, as of this writing, and are seemingly happier than ever. Now, that’s what you call a Bachelor fairy tale.
Worst: Arie Luyendyk Jr.'s Bachelor season featured the most gut-wrenching breakup in the show's history
Jason Mesnick might have invented the televised switch-a-roo, but Arie Luyendyk, Jr. totally upped the ante during his season of The Bachelor.
While Mesnick and Melissa Rycroft reportedly talked at length about his wavering feelings, Luyendyk, Jr. decided to approach his breakup with fiancée Becca Kufrin by blindsiding her with a camera crew on what she thought would be the beginning of a romantic getaway, and revealing to her his intention to pursue runner-up, Lauren Burnham. Of course, Kufrin was devastated to hear her fiancé confess his feelings for another woman; however, her initial sadness quickly turned to rage when Luyendyk Jr. (as well as the camera crew) repeatedly ignored her pleas for privacy.
ABC aired what they called the “raw, unedited” footage of the split — one of the most devastating Bachelor breakups in the franchise’s history — utilizing a split-screen format to showcase each party’s reaction simultaneously. Unfortunately, the footage made many viewers feel as though they were viewing an intensely private, emotional moment that should have been kept between the two parties involved. Everyone loves a little drama, but an ambush breakup is probably where the line should be drawn.
Best: Trista Rehn's Bachelorette season made us believe in reality TV love
Considering The Bachelorette wouldn’t exist without Trista Rehn, who captured America’s heart on The Bachelor Season 1, it only makes sense that her season is widely considered one of the franchise’s best. Not only did Rehn’s season set a precedent for future Bachelorette installments, it also produced one of the most celebrated love stories in Bachelor Nation history.
While there were far less jaw-dropping, dramatic moments on the inaugural season of The Bachelorette, fans were enthralled by Rehn’s chemistry with firefighter Ryan Sutter. After weeks of watching Rehn and Sutter fall head over heels for each other, viewers were overjoyed when the Bachelorette confessed her love for Sutter, accepting his proposal on the season finale and telling him, “I see a white dress, and I see it with you. You stepped out of my dreams and into my world” (via People).
The couple wed in December 2003, and, according to People, their romantic ceremony was watched by a whopping 26 million viewers when it aired on ABC. Today, the two are still happily married with two children, proving the Bachelor journey really can work for a lucky few.
Worst: Juan Pablo Galavis' Bachelor season was definitely not "okay"
Juan Pablo Galavis’ season of The Bachelor was a wild, entertaining ride from start to finish. However, the attitude the controversial lead displayed toward the women vying for his heart lands Galavis’ run on our list of worst Bachelor seasons ever.
For starters, Galavis constantly disrespected and/or patronized the women on his season. One of the most striking examples of this was when he seemingly shamed contestant Clare Crawley after the two appeared to engage in mutual sexual relations during a midnight swim. “I hope nobody knows,” Galavis told Crawley the next day (via Slate). He continued, “It was a little weird for me. … I’m too fair with people.” He added, “Maybe it wasn’t right.” Later, an embarrassed Crawley bawled to the camera, insisting she thought the desire had been mutual.
In another famous moment from the season, contestant Andi Dorfman confronted Galavis after their Fantasy Suite date, telling the Bachelor she’d realized she wasn’t in love with him. Instead of showing any real concern or interest in her feelings, Galavis continuously interrupted Dorfman, saying, “It’s okay.”
Needless to say, it most certainly was not okay.
Best: Rachel Lindsay's Bachelorette season was historic and successful
Rachel Lindsay made reality TV history when she became the first African American lead, male or female, to be cast in a Bachelor franchise show. A mega-popular contestant on Nick Viall’s season of The Bachelor, Lindsay was cast for Season 13 of The Bachelorette before her Bachelor elimination had even aired.
Of course, Lindsay’s season will forever be considered one of the most iconic for the way it changed the Bachelor franchise game. However, history making aside, the Texas attorney’s run as Bachelorette was jam-packed with humor, drama, and romance. While the majority of viewers were rooting for charming contestant Peter Kraus to be the final man standing, Lindsay ultimately ended the relationship when Kraus revealed himself to be hesitant about proposing.
Despite her emotional breakup with Kraus, Bachelorette Rachel Lindsay found her happily ever after with Bryan Abasolo, the contestant to whom she’d given her first impression rose. “I did care about Peter, but it didn’t make me change my mind or question whether Bryan was the one,” Lindsay later revealed (via The Hollywood Reporter).
Considering Lindsay and Abasolo tied the knot in August 2019, it appears her instincts were spot-on.
Worst: Brad Womack's Bachelor season was a huge disappointment
Despite appearing to fall for both of his final two contestants, Jenni Croft and DeAnna Pappas, Brad Womack delivered a blow on The Bachelor Season 11 finale when he rejected both women and left the show a single man. Viewers were especially displeased with the way Womack delivered the news to frontrunner Pappas, who had been the fan favorite to win his heart.
Holding Pappas’ hands and telling her he believed marriage was a one-time thing, Womack revealed, “I just said goodbye to Jenni.” A wave of relief washed over the contestant’s face, but Womack’s next confession took a sledgehammer to Pappas’ dream of a happy ending. “I can’t look you in your eye and tell you that I love you,” Womack said. Crying, Pappas told Womack she didn’t understand, to which he replied, “I refuse to give you any kind of false promise because I do care about you so much.”
Not only did Womack seemingly lead on Pappas and Croft with no intention of following through with either relationship — his season of The Bachelor teased fans with a love story it had no intention of delivering.
Best: Chris Soules' Bachelor season introduced some of Bachelor Nation's favorite contestants
As any Bachelor franchise fan knows, the lead may be the star of the show, but it’s the contestants who truly make or break a season. This is especially true in the world of The Bachelor, as the crops of interesting, headstrong, eclectic women cast on the show make up for the sometimes lacking personalities of the leading men — who, while nice enough, usually aren’t captivating characters.
A shining example of this can be found in Season 19 of The Bachelor, in which Iowan farmer Chris Soules attempted to find his soulemate. While Soules, who’s been involved in some of the craziest Bachelor moments you didn’t see on TV, seemed like a good guy, the best part about his season was undoubtedly the group of women vying for his heart. Season 19 introduced fans to a number of women who would go on to become major players within Bachelor Nation, including Ashley Iaconetti, Carly Waddell, Jade Roper, Becca Tilley, and then-future Bachelorette Kaitlyn Bristowe.
From Iaconetti’s unforgettable on-camera cry during her disastrous two-on-one date to the signature wit and snark of Bristowe, who continues to be a fan favorite, Soules’ season arguably had the most iconic group of gals ever.
Worst: Jen Schefft's Bachelorette season reportedly almost ended the show for good
Jen Schefft made her Bachelor Nation debut on Andrew Firestone’s season of The Bachelor, ultimately winning his heart and walking away engaged to the Firestone Tire heir. While the engagement ended only months later, Schefft was given another chance at finding reality television love when she was cast as the lead for The Bachelorette Season 3.
Throughout Season 3 of The Bachelorette, viewers watched as Schefft seemingly grew more and more unsure about a possible engagement — and that uncertainty only grew stronger once she’d narrowed her crop of contestants to two men, John Paul Merritt and Jerry Ferris. At one point (via Entertainment Weekly), Shefft even tearfully confessed to the camera, “I’m sorry I’m not somebody who just takes a leap of faith and goes with the moment, but I did that before and it f***ed me.” Ultimately, Schefft rejected both contestants’ proposals.
Schefft’s unwillingness to be a standard Bachelorette might be praised today, but, in 2005, viewers were unimpressed. After her disappointing season finale, The Bachelorette didn’t return to TV for a whopping three years (via Reality TV World).
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