Everyone You Know Watched This Season of ‘The Bachelor.’ Here’s Why.

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Last night, millions of viewers tuned in to the 17th season finale of “The Bachelor.” Spoiler alert! The season ended like every other one before it: Sean Lowe, an impossibly buff castoff from a previous season of “The Bachelorette,” broke one girl’s heart and made another’s day by sending 24-year-old Lindsay packing and proposing marriage to 26-year-old Catherine. There were the requisite shots of Sean agonizing while leaning over several balconies, and frustrated women weeping. But don’t let the cookie-cutter sameness fool you – after several seasons of declining viewership, Sean Lowe and his crew of ladyloves won massive ratings, restoring “The Bachelor” to its rightful place as king of reality TV. Let’s take a look at why this season was so un-missable.

1. Sean’s Ridiculous Body

Showing some skin is almost certainly written into the contract of any aspiring Bachelor; after 17 seasons, watching a contestant talk about their feelings fully clothed would just feel wrong. But with Sean, a former personal trainer/fitness model, the show took it to a whole new level. We saw Sean work out, we saw Sean shower, we saw Sean pick out an outfit while wearing only boxer briefs. On two separate occasions we saw Sean doing pushups with one of his potential brides sitting on his back. We saw a lot of Sean. And that was no mistake. Sean’s body was a huge factor when he was vying for Emily Maynard’s affection, and if there’s one thing the producers of “The Bachelor” know how to do, it’s get attractive people to take their clothes off. Sean’s objectification culminated in what was perhaps the strangest montage in Bachelor history – a two-minute shower scene following the “Sean Tells All special,” scored by what I can only fairly describe as soft-core porn music.

2. Challenge Dates

The dates on “The Bachelor” are always outside the realm of possibilities for the average Joe, but this season introduced a new, highly compelling element. Very early on, Sean made it clear that he had a lengthy list of requirements for his future bride: most notably, he wanted someone who was willing to step way outside their comfort zone, and look really good doing it. Sean’s proclivity for challenging the women effectively turned this season into “The Bachelor: Fear Factor Edition.” Some fun dates included: eating bugs, diving into a freezing lake, free-falling from a skyscraper, swimming through a scary, dark cave, drinking warm goat milk, and greeting an unannounced male suitor without any makeup at 4 AM.

3. Rogue Bachelor

Over the course of 16 seasons, the rules of “The Bachelor” are pretty much carved in granite. The rose ceremony at the end of each episode is treated like a sacrificial ritual, with Chris Harrison emerging from the shadows to inform the contestants that they could be sent to the chopping block — which we can only assume means actual death given the gravity it’s treated with. From episode one of Sean’s season, though, he played by no rules. The first night in the mansion, he gave out roses as soon as he thought someone was interesting, not waiting until the ceremony. In the middle of an episode, he sent home Sarah, a fan favorite, because he knew at that moment he didn’t see it, and didn’t want to keep her waiting. When half the contestants on a group date failed to win the elaborate challenge he had set up, he invited them back to join the winners for dinner rather than sending them to the hotel, which everyone knows is the rule on a competition date! Sean’s complete disregard for the rules kept this season fresh and interesting, throwing a wrench into some of the show’s stale traditions.

4. Medical drama

picture2This season, paramedics were sent to the scene multiple times. In a show that treats any non-love outcome as a fate worse than death, it was refreshing to see some actual stakes — as in, people could be seriously injured. Granted, the incidents turned out to be nothing worse than a bruised chin (Amanda) and two cases of overreacting (Tierra – more on her later), but it was a joy to watch disgruntled EMTs stumble on camera and try to do their job amongst a whole heap of D-R-A-M-A. I didn’t have this much fun since Ames got a concussion and spent the rest of Ashley Hebert’s “Bachelorette” season not being able to form coherent sentences!

5. AshLee’s Abandonment Issues

Poor, sweet AshLee. She was a living breathing advertisement for therapy throughout the season, and for the idea that you have to work on yourself before you can work on a relationship. Early on we learned that she’d gone through a series of awful foster homes before being adopted by a loving family. The first few years of her life made her extraordinarily insecure and fragile, and she spent almost every confessional crying about how lucky she felt that Sean was expressing any interest in her at all. Plus she had some doozies in the quote department. When Sean asked the ladies to join the Polar Bear Club, she said, “I don’t want to, and it’s going to put me emotionally vulnerable because I know I’m doing it for Sean, and no one’s ever in my life made me want to do something for them.” And then, on another fear factor date in a spooky cave: “It’s scary, but that’s kind of how love is sometimes. It’s like when you’re with the person you love, you’re going down this dark alleyway.” By the time she made it to the final three, AshLee was already so dependent on Sean that I was truly scared for her when he cut her loose. Thankfully, she seems to be doing okay, and it made for a great confrontation scene on the “Women Tell All” special.

6. Tierra

Let’s be honest, Tierra may be THE reason this season did as well as it did. Has there ever been a better reality show villain? Tierra started her reign of terror by orchestrating two EMT visits: one after falling down the stairs off camera, the other after doing the Polar Bear Plunge (which multiple other girls also did without incident). Neither of these resulted in a hospital visit, both resulted in extended one-on-one time with Sean. Genius. She also threatened to leave multiple times, citing bullying from the other women as the main cause (despite full evidence that she was in fact the bully). This also led to extended one-on-one time, as well as at least one early rose. Genius. Tierra really hit her crazy stride when she was ultimately asked to leave. Her epic confrontation with AshLee can only be described as magical. On her mean stares: “Raised eyebrow? AshLee, that’s my face. I can’t help it. I’ve had no botox…I can’t control my eyebrow. I cannot control my eyebrow. I can’t control what’s on my face 24/7.” On her parents’ thoughts on her entering the show: “they said, Tierra, you have a sparkle. Do not let those girls take your sparkle away.” Tierra was sent packing, but she did get the largest segment on “The Women Tell All,” and is now touting an engagement ring from someone else, so it sounds like her sparkle is still intact.

7. Close Race

While there are plenty of places to find spoilers on the Internet, those of us who choose to watch the show uninformed had the pleasure of watching the closest race in recent Bachelor memory. Typically, by the final three it is fairly clear which way the Bachelor is going to go. In Sean’s season, he didn’t make up his mind until the day of the proposal. This lingering uncertainty may not bode well for his future marriage, but it certainly made for compelling TV.

8. Likeable Women

picture3Sean really did luck out when it came to the ladies. Sure, there were the crazies and the drunks, but among them were some of the most fun, smartest gals we’ve seen in some time. Lesley, the political consultant, coined the phrase “Tierrarist,” and is someone who I’d like to be friends with. Desiree, the wedding consultant, was so loved by fans that she got pulled to be the next Bachelorette. Sarah, the lovely one-armed woman, was remarkably mature and handled herself with a lot more grace than is usually seen on these shows. And then there’s Catherine. She made jokes the whole time, seemed like a ball to hang out with, spoke frankly about her family history, and was completely honest about her feelings and insecurities with Sean. This show doesn’t have a great batting average, but I found myself really rooting for the two of them last night. The couple has announced that they plan to wed on television [ed. note: That always ends well], and that they want it to happen sooner rather than later, and I hope it works out for them. Because while there haven’t been many Bachelor weddings, as producer Mike Fleiss told the New York Times, “There’s never been a ‘Bachelor’ divorce.”

Carly McElroy is a Brooklyn Based writer and performer. You can read past recaps of “The Bachelor” on her blog. She also tweets and podcasts.