Welcome once again, rose lovers—you know who you are, ye who gather on Monday nights with popcorn on the table, rosé in your glass, and your phone in your hand, feverishly scrolling Twitter as the drama unfolds on yet another season of ABC’s reality TV juggernaut The Bachelor. (The 24th iteration premieres January 6 on KATU.)
For the first time in a while, there are no Oregonians competing to win the affections of the current Bachelor—Peter Weber, a sweet-faced Californian best known for (and there’s no delicate way to put this) banging last season’s Bachelorette four times in a windmill before being summarily ejected from the show a few days later. (For the uninitiated: seasons alternate between Bachelors and Bachelorettes, and the lead for one season is chosen from the contestant pool from a previous season.)
And yet, since the show’s inception in 2002, our small Left Coast corner has punched way above its weight on the series, producing two winners, a lead, a top-two finisher, and a long-forgotten candidate for the first black Bachelor.
That puts our state in the top tier of Bachelor frontrunner feeders, behind California and Florida, but keeping up with Texas, New York, Colorado, and Tennessee. Of note: the show has been much more of a pipeline for Oregon women than dudes, even though Portland’s dating pool isn’t known for a gender imbalance the way, say, Manhattan has more women than men, or vice versa in Anchorage.
“The Oregonian man, the way he likes to live his life, to hike, to ski, to live outdoors, might not want that Bachelor lifestyle,” says Ladan Radafshar, founder and director of Fern Date, a Portland–based company that helps craft online dating profiles. “The people that want to be on that show want to be in the limelight.”
Like so many others playing the fame game in our age, Bachelor contestants become social media celebrities who can bank on Instagram ad money. Take Lauren Bushnell, the West Linn native and former flight attendant who received the coveted final rose in season 20. The engagement didn’t last, but she’s amassed more than a million Instagram followers, met and married B-list country singer Chris Lane, and started a fashion collab with subscription-based website JustFab.com.
Bushnell is one of 11 Oregon women to have appeared on the show, from Lake Oswego–based retail manager Hayley Crittenden in 2002 to Medford TV journalist Devin Gooden in 2019.
Typically, Oregon isn’t home to the goofball contestants, the ones whose TV captions read “aspiring dolphin trainer” or “chicken enthusiast.” Instead, our exports tend to have fairly sensible professions, like Amanda Kremer, the dentist from season 20, who still practices at Willamette Dental in outer Southeast Portland, or Bri Amaranthus, the season 22 contestant who covers the Ducks for NBC Sports Northwest. True Bachelor aficionados know the novelty contestants—the ratings bait who show up on the first night in a hot tub car or dressed as a sloth—never make it past Week 4 or so.
McMinnville-born Chris Siegfried, the rare male Oregon success story, has a real-world gig as a mortgage broker and fits the low-key Oregonian profile to a T. He was the last man standing during the ninth season of The Bachelorette, and is still married to his season’s lead, bridal designer Desiree Hartstock. They now live in Portland with their two sons and have a line of luxe soaps and candles called “Zen Came Love.”
Not everyone gets such a shiny, happy ending. Case in point: season 2 Bachelorette Meredith Phillips, the Oregonian who is all but scrubbed from franchise history.
Phillips has spoken openly about her struggles with alcoholism, fueled by the show’s toast-friendly atmosphere. In 2018, she gave an interview to a mysterious Dallas-based spoilers specialist named Reality Steve, alleging a masseuse hired by the production had sexually assaulted her in a bathtub after giving her a pill to “relax.”
Phillips, who now lives in Portland and works as a chef/caterer, is dark on social media, highly unusual for a former lead. ABC and franchise producer Warner Brothers never offered any comment on her allegations.
Charges of racism, too, have dogged The Bachelor over the years, particularly given the show’s apparent conviction that it’s mainly fit, white, heterosexual people who deserve a shot at love (and fame) on national TV. Attorney Rachel Lindsay, 2017’s Bachelorette, has been the franchise’s only black lead, but back in 2012 there was a local contender for the first black Bachelor. Lamar Hurd, now a married Blazers TV analyst, got buzz from Entertainment Weekly and the Huffington Post before flaming out when producers picked yet another white guy. (Latinx and Asian American contestants have been similarly underrepresented.)
Fast forward to 2020: Bachelor fans thought the time for a black lead was finally nigh, with dreamy air force vet/portfolio manager Mike Johnson waiting in the wings. Instead, we got Weber.
His season will have just about wrapped in March, when Portland will be a stop on the first-ever Bachelor Live on Stage tour, which features one lucky local gentleman who will get to hand out roses to a pool of hometown hopefuls. Show brass has hinted those who stand out on the 66-city tour may be plucked to appear on future seasons. Prep your microblading and blow-outs now—Insta-fame, a chance at love, and your very own look at reality TV’s enduring underbelly awaits.