What’s the best way to make reality television a little more realistic?
An element of fantasy.
It’s worked wonders for The Bachelor. As the show’s 22nd season heats up on ABC, thousands of fans play along in fantasy leagues across the internet, casting votes and picking rose recipients. Now, it’s a regular part of the show.
“It’s really exploded in popularity over the last few years,” says Bach Bracket co-founder Kaitlyn Williams.
Bach Bracket is one of many Bachelor fantasy sites but was almost born out of necessity. Williams and a group of friends are avid fans of the show and regularly played themselves, but were disappointed in what they found. The fantasy sites they tried were glitchy or boring. They needed to start one of their own.
Williams and her friends began keeping score themselves, tallying points in spreadsheets. The rules they designed were spoiler-proof, based on things contestants might say or do over the course of an hour-long show.
Eventually, they decided to make it available to everyone.
“We all work in digital marketing, so we all wanted to work together to see what we could build online,” Williams says. “We had about 90 leagues total when we started to see how it would turn out, and people seemed really interested. It’s really grown from there.”
The site began in 2016, but it’s already booming. Search “bachelor fantasy leagues” in Google and Bach Bracket is the third result, beneath only ABC’s official website and fantasy league. Initially, Williams was worried when the network created an official version of Bachelor fantasy it would cut into her site’s usage. Instead, the opposite happened.
“ABC’s game is so different than ours, we found that people who follow the show really closely will either gravitate toward our advanced league or just play both,” she says.
Bach Bracket offers three league types for people at every level of Bachelor experience: First Impression, which is a pre-season prediction; Rose-to-Rose, where users pick rose recipients each week; and Advanced, which rewards points based on predicting smaller plot details and cliches (and more closely resembles the version Williams and her friends began with).
Predicting which contestant will jump in water or utter the daunted phrase “I didn’t come here to make friends” seems kooky. But the more you watch The Bachelor, the easier it becomes to spot certain trends, plotlines and character tropes. Early seasons of the show focused heavily on the romantic aspects of the competition—people auditioned for the show mostly to find love, not make an ass of themselves. But in the age of social media, the shift from semi-serious to straight-up silly happened quickly. ABC has leaned into the absurdity, which makes turning the spectacle into a game even more intuitive.
“They’ve really bought into the gameplay and bought into the fact that this is an event rather than a show to be taken seriously,” Williams says. “People watch it for fun. They watch it drinking wine with their friends.”
And now they watch it with their laptops and phones out, plugged into social media with picks at the ready.