The Bachelor franchise is known for sending its participants on extravagant dates: think idyllic strolls through 12th-century castles in Spanish vineyards, or passionate makeout sessions during a reindeer-led sleigh ride through the snowy banks of Finland. But last season saw “protagonist” Arie Luyendyk Jr. whisk away the ladies vying for his heart to the dreamy, clear-watered shores of Ft. Lauderdale.
Growing up in Miami, about 40 minutes away from Ft. Lauderdale, I’ve always seen the city as a whiter version of my hometown. It’s recently become popular among South Florida millennials looking for a cheaper place to wallow in urban sprawl, and personally I’ve always appreciated the kitschy nostalgia of its boardwalk. But you can imagine my surprise when I heard the Bachelor cast was not far from where I spent my formative years, bowling, yachting, and slogging through the Everglades. Luyendyk even unabashedly announced on national television that “Ft. Lauderdale is a beautiful place to fall in love” — high praise for a city known for its Margaritaville surf simulation machine.
You may think you know South Floridians via Florida man headlines like: “Florida couple uses huge pet alligator to reveal gender of 10th child”; “Security camera catches Florida Man licking doorbell”; “Florida woman holds up mail truck with toy gun, flees on tricycle.” And yes, I did learn the best technique for running from a gator in elementary school. But the reality of the region is somewhere in between the cannibal, bath-salts attacks and Ballers or Miami Vice. In my attempt to capture the South Floridian essence I turned to those who know best — acquaintances, peers, and Internet friends. Some stereotypes continually cropped up: South Floridians are in-your-face loud; they’re aggressive drivers with no knowledge of a turn signal, always dress up in full quinceañera attire for any occasion, and give off a discount Orange County vibe with the Instagram influencers, beach babes, and copious amounts of cocaine. The exemplary South Floridian stereotype could be funneled down to one model citizen: Pitbull.
This knowledge of the area’s reputation, along with the Ft. Lauderdale episode, confirmed my long-held theory that South Florida is the perfect breeding ground for Bachelor contestants. In 2016, three of the eligible bachelors competing for Jojo Fletcher’s hand on The Bachelorette were all from Ft. Lauderdale. Looking back at the past four seasons of both The Bachelor and The Bachelorette, eight percent of contestants — 19 out of 232 total — were from South Florida. Three out of 26 contestants on Jojo’s season were from Ft. Lauderdale; five of the men on Rachel’s season were from South Florida.
Other regions have outnumbered South Florida’s representation on the show, but they’re typically much bigger areas: New York, Los Angeles, Dallas. I counted that the Bachelor franchise has held four casting calls in Fort Lauderdale since 2016, becoming a part of the show’s roster of cities that reappear each year such as New York City, Chicago, Dallas, and Nashville — some of which have been hosting casting calls since 2012. What’s more, the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention and Visitors Bureau actually paid the Bachelor’s production company $313,000 for that footage of Arie cavorting through the city. For years The Bachelor has negotiated deals with state and local tourism boards throughout the U.S. to be featured on the show: Among the highest were Ft. Lauderdale and Richmond, Virginia which paid $536,000. Hilton Head, South Carolina paid $75,000, while Deadwood, South Dakota and Santa Fe, New Mexico each paid $50,000; Park City, Utah and South Lake Tahoe, Nevada came in lower around $20,000.
The Ft. Lauderdale bureau declined to comment for this story, but the CEO of Broward County’s tourism agency, Stacey Ritter, told the Miami New Times that there’s “no question we got our money's worth” by advertising the city to The Bachelor’s six million viewers.
I’ve been trying to pinpoint what exactly it is about the South Florida and Fort Lauderdale environment that makes it the perfect fit for the Bachelor universe. “[It’s] the most American show,” said Liam Mathews, Associate Editor of TV Guide’s website and co-host of the publication’s Bachelor fan podcast, A Beautiful Podcast to Fall in Love. “There are people from all over the country [who appear on it],” he said. “But they all believe in traditional American values like love, fame, and maximizing your Instagram sponsorship potential.” Shannon Barbour, a writer for Cosmopolitan who recaps the show, told me that she believes The Bachelor gives contestants “this little label that people can recognize them by to make it easier when they’re watching.”
Arguably, South Floridian contestants are the best at it. Reddit sleuths discovered that Bryan Abasolo, a Miami native and licensed chiropractor whom Rachel picked during her Bachelorette run, trademarked the name “Dr. Abs” shortly before he appeared on the show, and now operates a wellness-oriented lifestyle brand under that same name (yes, he sells supplements ). Corinne Olympios, the infamous villain on season 21, doubled down on her rich and entitled Miami aesthetic, referencing her nanny throughout her run and sleeping through rose ceremonies to remain at the center of the drama. After the season, a fan posted to Reddit about spotting her at a restaurant with her billionaire boyfriend. She was wearing a seashell bikini, which is just what you do down there.
Even off the show, Corinne sticks to her over-the-top South Floridian roots. Her outfits, along with other former Florida contestants like Bibiana Julian and Astrid Loch, just exude expensive yoga studios and jet setting. But being on the show itself doesn’t mean a naturally glamorous experience.Bachelor contestants aren’t paid and don’t work during the filming. Still, they often spend upwards of $8,000 on new wardrobes and personal trainers, which isn’t too far a lifestyle from the circulating South Floridian stereotypes. “A lot of the people on there really do want to be in the spotlight, otherwise they wouldn't be on such a big show,” Barbour said.
So, maybe the ultimate reason The Bachelor and South Florida have a perfectly symbiotic relationship is because many people — even Baby Boomers — living in the area want to be famous. When watching the show, your most pressing question is invariably, “Do these contestants want to find love, or are they really after that pricey Sugarbear Hair Vitamin sponsorship?” Maybe it’s the long-held notion of our superficiality that creates a self-fulfilling prophecy, and a desire for fame along with it. Maybe it’s the entrepreneurial spirit proudly found in Instagram bios, Dr. Miami-inspired plastic surgery influencers, and paid hosts of club lingerie parties. Either way, I feel seen, even if it’s not the way the Bachelor universe intended.