It started, as so many reality TV-related developments do, on Instagram. Earlier this year, while watching Arie Luyendyk’s tumultuous tenure as the Bachelor, former Bachelor protagonist (and Bachelorette villain) Nick Viall enlisted the help of two friends and fellow Bachelorette alums, Jared Haibon and Dean Unglert. He wanted to make a short video recapping what was actually, at that point, the franchise’s most dramatic season finale yet.
“We were roasting Arie pretty good about the switch he made,” Haibon told me in an email exchange with Unglert and Viall, referring to Luyendyk’s decision to propose to Becca Kufrin, only to later change his mind, televise their devastating breakup and and propose to Lauren Burnham. “Nick thought to himself, ‘Why don't we make a parody video of the finale?’ The entire thing was filmed in Nick’s apartment, with the three of us thinking of funny things to say and do literally on the spot. It only took us a couple hours to shoot and Nick edited it on his phone.”
They threw the video up on social media, where it immediately went viral, racking up a staggering eight million views. Viall, who has acting credits on shows such as General Hospital and Teachers, went out and bought a green screen, as well as basic audio and lighting equipment. And with the blessing of The Bachelor folks themselves, the trio went about formalizing Bad Chiller Highlight Show: an endearingly lo-fi series of self-effacing, parody Bachelorette recap videos.
The project is the apotheosis of what one might call the Bachelor Content Industrial Complex, built on the backs of myriad bloggers, journalists, podcasters, Twitter accounts, fantasy league creators and Kareem Abdul-Jabbars. As recap culture in general has waned with the rise of binge-watching, it has only grown for The Bachelor. Easy to make fun of and hard not to love, the franchise provides fodder tailor-made for hot takes, internet deep-dives and Twitter snark.
“I'll be honest, before going on the show as a contestant I hadn't seen too many episodes,” Unglert wrote. “I've since watched just about every episode of the subsequent seasons and I see the appeal. The show has it all—the drama, humor, one-liners and romance. It's cringe-y enough to make you turn your head and put your hands over your face, [only] to have you on the verge of tears seconds later. People enjoy watching others bare their soul and fall in love while also acting like complete lunatics, and ridiculing their every move. It's an interesting two-headed beast.”
Another reason for The Bachelor’s continued cultural relevance is the show’s ever-expanding alumni network, exploited on spin-offs like Bachelor in Paradise and frequently documented (amidst all the #sponcon) in real-time on social media. Instagram, in particular, serves as a rich extra-text for the show itself: What’s Bekah’s beef with Raven? How's Becca Tilley doing? Are Jordan and Jojo actually dope at flipping houses? So simpatico is Instagram with The Bachelor extended universe that one of the franchise’s greatest romances reached its stunning climax not on the show, but via a People magazine post, where Haibon and Ashley “Ashley I.” Iaconetti revealed their engagement—the culmination of a will-they-won’t-they that spanned several years, reality shows and media platforms.
It makes a strange kind of cosmic sense, then, that one of the most irreverent additions to the Bachelor discourse comes from three former Bachelorette contestants, all from different seasons, who got together to produce a Bachelorette recap show, primarily for Instagram, where each have over 600,000 followers (and, in Viall’s case, over one million).
Every episode, which they released on Viall's Instagram and YouTube immediately after each episode of The Bachelorette, follows a similar format. Viall and Haibon sit at a SportsCenter-like news desk, where they introduce various highlights from the show, each of which is reenacted by a combination of Viall, Haibon and Unglert. Ill-fitting wigs abound; outfits consist primarily of ties over t-shirts; Viall, who plays Bachelorette Becca Kufrin with a full beard and flirty hair flips, wears a shimmering dress (and, in one episode, a makeshift bikini). The production is self-consciously low-budget, the performances self-effacingly unprofessional. With their cheap graphics and reliance on stock images, they can bring to mind the purposefully home-video-ish sensibility of Kyle Mooney and Beck Bennett’s digital shorts for SNL.
The filming takes place mostly at Viall’s apartment in Los Angeles. After watching the episode, they’ll sit around talking about it for an hour or so, cracking jokes, before a “videographer/editor/producer” films whatever sticks—usually, three different “highlights.” The final product is just under three minutes long. And while they don’t know the exact number of viewers, each video typically gets between 25,000 and 35,000 likes on Viall’s Instagram page, up to 67,000 views on his Facebook and up to 41,000 views on their YouTube channel; episode two, posted on Haibon’s Instagram page, racked up over 364,000 views. (As of now, they do not make any money from the videos, nor do they receive any funding.)
Naturally, there’s no shortage of material to parody; this is a show, after all, that enlisted Wayne Newton to help its suitors write treacly love songs. But the three agreed their favorite running bits involved Jordan, a vainglorious male model with a knack for made-up words and 4,000 Tinder matches, and Colton, a former pro football player and notable virgin, who Dean plays as a human teddy bear.
“They both had very prominent story lines this season, and left us some pretty good content and commentary to use,” Unglert said.
“They’re both spot on,” Haibon remarked, with regards to Viall and Unglert’s impressions of Jordan and Colton. “Its also good to remember that while we’re making fun of these guys, we’re also making fun of ourselves.”
Indeed, the highlight show has its fair share of “meta” moments; despite their obvious affection for The Bachelor, the three don’t take the franchise (or themselves) too seriously. In a way, the Bad Chiller Highlight Show is emblematic of how we watch the show in 2018: devotedly if half-jokingly, on TV with friends and on social media with Bachelor Nation, comments at the ready.
As for whether they’ll keep production going for Bachelor in Paradise, which premieres tonight, Unglert assured me we can "count on seeing more poorly attempted impersonations, and certainly more wigs."
“I think we’ll be visiting the beach this summer,” Haibon teased. Added Viall: “We just need to be able to afford to keep the light on.”