Being eliminated from "The Bachelor" is life-changing in a “What the hell was I thinking?” kind of way. No matter what I accomplish in life, it will always follow me around (every guy who Googles me before a date is bound to discover my awful contestant photo that lives on in infamy). I pretty much just have to own it, the same way Channing Tatum owns his stripperdom. So, yes, I was rejected on national television and these are the 6 single girl lessons I’ve gleaned from the experience so you don’t have to:
1. You have the power to create your own happy ending.
Reality TV producers brilliantly manipulate every possible situation for a preferred outcome. The trick is to do the same with your own life.
My Bachelor season, starring Travis Stork MD, was filmed in a mansion in the French countryside and -- horror of horrors -- half of the girls were sent home the first night for dramatic effect. By “sent home” I mean herded like cattle onto a bus at 4 a.m., given the opportunity to speak with a psychologist, and shuttled to the airport. We had just survived a 12-hour plane ride and were expected to turn around and endure it all over again, before even having the chance to adjust to the time difference.
On a scale of 1 to House Of Pain, this was off the charts.
Travis -- a doctor, mind you -- had implied that I’d thrown myself down a flight of stairs and faked an injury to get some one-on-one time with him. In actuality, the mansion was practically booby trapped with moss and cobble stones and I’d slipped down some outdoor stairs. My ankle immediately swelled like an eggplant and I received no ice or medical assistance on set. Instead, the producers milked every minute of it, propping me up by a fire place and directing me to ask Travis to examine my stems. People at home were left to believe I was a cunning klutz. (The biggest and most horrific lesson I took away from being on the show is that people will always believe what they want to believe.)
I’d also seen a producer emerge from a room holding a clipboard that had pictures of our faces with big red Xs through them. Being more astute (translation: more sober) than the average contestant, I endured a 3-hour elimination ceremony already knowing my fate. I know, I know, why didn’t I walk out? It’s one of the greatest quandaries of our time. All I can say is that in the presence of extra-large cameras on cranes (BTW, they are impossible to ignore) some of us just stand there stupefied, and can’t function.
Somehow, in the middle of all this darkness, there was light. I’d made friends with a contestant who spoke French with a Texas drawl and knew how to travel like Anthony Bourdain: “Y'all, who cares about Travis? We’re no longer at the mercy of the cameras. Cancel your flight home -- they can’t stop you. Paris awaits.”
She was right: The producers couldn’t stop us. They’d already sequestered us for days so we wouldn’t catch a glimpse of each other and yet I found out most of us had been on the same plane. They’d told us not to bring cell phones (for fear of someone leaking pictures) but some of the more brilliant girls had smuggled theirs across the Atlantic. And imagine my disgruntlement when everyone else brought their makeup bags into the mansion when I was told to check mine at the door.
By now I’d realized the producers’ rules were for damn fools.
So I went AWOL, skipping the shuttle back to the airport and heading for the Champs-Élysées with my Texan tour guide. What transpired next makes me believe everything happens for a reason. Seventy-eight hours and several pounds of chocolate mousse later, my biggest concern in life suddenly became figuring out how to fit all of my shoppings into two tiny carry-ons.
Single girl lesson: Men will always have their reasons, their “types” and, in some cases, their producers influencing their decisions. To quote the sage wisdom of Sweet Brown, ain’t nobody got time for that, not when there’s a world of better things waiting for you. Your happiness is yours and yours alone, and it should never depend on anyone else’s decisions.
2. Awkwardness is the best prophylactic.
Looking back, I would have eliminated me, too. I was uncharacteristically shy and my hair was styled into a flip to match the girl who would win (the crew uses this tactic to create suspense in commercial teasers -- the back of my head, my lips and my legs were all spliced in association with her face).
You know how at the beginning of The Bachelor’s first episode, they show 15-second intros of the girls getting out of limos and meeting him, with Chris Harrison creepily leering from the sidelines? I’d studied a DVD of Season One with Alex Michel so I’d know what to expect (shameful, I know), so when I met Travis for the first time, I hastily introduced myself and then darted inside the mansion -- just like I’d watched the girls do on the DVD.
But that’s not how it works. Contestants emerge from their limos and are expected to chat up the show’s star the way they would in real life, some for an upwards of 20 minutes without a jacket in the cold.
With my introduction, what you saw was all that really happened. A solid 15 seconds of frozen jitters. There was no time to establish any real connection or fireworks. He’d reached for a hug and I was already halfway inside the mansion making a note of where the bathroom was -- it was the only place where the cameras couldn’t follow me.
Single girl lesson: Nine out of 10 times, guys are not remembering what you said, or what your hair looked like, but how you made them feel. I’m sure I made Travis feel really uneasy, like WTF just happened. It was as if I was meeting a potential employer for an interview I was petrified of bombing. I would have been better off walking right up and kissing him (*duly noted for my next job interview*).
3. Don’t answer dumb questions.
Some people are missing the part of their brains that tells them certain questions are foolish and inappropriate, like, “Why are you single?” The only question more clumsy and graceless is “Why would you to go on a show like that?” I hear it all the time, especially from crazy-obsessed Bachelor fans. Did I really think I’d meet the love of my life on reality television? I’m not sure, but stranger things have happened to me. And we mustn’t forget the free trip to Paris.
My abbreviated answer is that I’d rather be on the show than on the couch wasting a Monday night living vicariously through it. And that I’d rather be single than married to a mistake. But I never say that aloud. I just shrug or change the subject.
Single girl lesson: Stay polite when people probe at the dinner table, then pass the whipped cream for their extra-large pie hole.
4. Lose the “prize” mentality.
It’s kind of tragic when a show that claims to scour the ends of the earth has a problem digging up dreamy prospects with solid values and real jobs (FYI: “Entrepreneur” often means gainfully UNemployed on TV). To this day, Travis remains the most grounded and attractive Bachelors in history, but you should know that my mom dug up an old photo of him before his ABC makeover when he looked like Shaggy from Scooby Doo.
As for the rest of the ABC-appointed “prizes” from the past decade, all I can say is no, no, no and no’er.
Here’s why: A couple of years ago, I introduced two acquaintances of mine from different seasons of The Bachelor thinking they would make a great match. Jessica* was a winner from one of the earliest seasons whose engagement fell through after she found out he was exchanging nude photos with a Playboy playmate. Ralph* was one of ABC’s Bachelors best known for his distinguished and gentlemanly ways. So when Ralph invited Jessica to meet him at a fundraising event, she was really looking forward to it and ended up bringing two female friends along to boost his money-raising efforts. At the end of the night, Ralph lived up to his pseudonym and made out with both of Jessica’s friends, then proceeded to call Jessica for the rest of her life as though nothing was wrong.
You know the type of guy who unzips his own pants while you’re making out because he finds himself irresistible? (Right now you’re nodding your head like you’re in church, aren’t you?) Well, the sudden windfall of women deforms some of these guys for life, whether they admit it or not.
A few female contestants choose never to leave this microcosm of Bachelor citizenry, and make a habit of dating only “equals” from the show. Others go on to marry blissfully unknown guys, ushering in a new dawn of peace, prosperity and babies after a tumultuous few years of running around with these bed-hopping Peter Pans.
This truth I hold to be self-evident: If you go into the reality TV experience a good person, you’ll emerge unscathed, with an even greater appreciation for the few kindred souls you meet along the journey. But if you don’t have a wholesome foundation, The Bachelor becomes an accelerated life course on how to lose sight of what’s really important.
Single girl lesson: The odds of you running into a hedonistic former Bachelor is high. After all, they’re just average guys, with only a velvet rope between you. Don’t believe the hype and become one of their random hookups, you’ll thank me later. And never attempt to erase the memory of one toxic bachelor with 10 more. Rookie move.
5. End things on a graceful note (even when you’re angry).
After I didn’t get a rose, I hugged Travis goodbye when all I really wanted to do was punch him in the face due to starvation. Yes, everything you hear about the food-to-alcohol ratio on set is true.
Now compare this exit strategy with the ticking time bomb who cornered Travis to ask if her butt was too big, her boobs were too small, or if he was just an a**hole in general.
Single girl lesson: Prime-time drama has no place anywhere but TV.
6. Don’t hold grudges (well, maybe a little).
Relationships end. You may get creamed and mashed, but with dumping comes wisdom. This is what my phone call to Travis might sound like today, nine years later.
Me: Hey, congrats on being on the cover of another magazine for belly bloat!
Travis: Who is this?
Me: Stephanie Simons.
Me: I don’t want to keep you from your busy nasal congestion spokesmodeling schedule, I just want to thank you for releasing me with the 13 other contestants on the first night. Seeing the best parts of Paris wouldn’t have been possible if you and your crew had eliminated me [by myself] later in the show. Also, thank you for saying I was “really pretty” to ease the blow right before you axed me. It didn’t help, but I appreciate the remorseful look in your eyes; it makes me think you’re a nice guy with excellent taste, haha. And thank you for the bottle of French wine. I know you didn’t really send it, and that the producers signed your name on it, but still, I like it. Oh and one more thing: I’m sure you’re a great doctor despite the fact that my ankle was actually fractured. My injured rib still hurts every time I laugh too hard, which is mostly whenever I watch "The Doctors" and picture myself showing up in the studio audience and asking you for a homeopathetic remedy for heartbreak. K thanks byeeeeee.
* Names have been changed
For more dating lessons inspired by The Bachelor, check out Stephanie’s new book All’s Fair In Love And Wardrobe.