The arrival of the contestants on “The Bachelorette” is formulaic reality television at its finest. For 12 years, the equation remains untouched: Limo rolls up, and attractive people in formal wear roll out to greet the title character whose heart they aim to win. Often these people bear tokens or gimmicks. On Monday night’s premiere, the gentlemen vying for Andi Dorfman delivered the usual mix of flat lines (attorney Rudie: “May I approach the bachelorette?”) and peculiarity (a guy gave her a floor lamp he’d stolen from a hotel).
But one man in a stylish slim suit and dotted tie managed a normal introduction. Twitter approved. “Nick V stop it, you are too adorable. I can't even. #Bachelorette smart pick,” tweeted one woman.
Others had a different reaction.
“There’s Nick!” tweeted Steve Carbone. “Where are the Cheetos?”
That would be Nick Viall, and the Cheetos refer to Viall’s snack of choice on his recent US Airways flight after, presumably, being eliminated from “The Bachelorette.” Captured on video and posted to Carbone’s website RealitySteve.com on Monday morning, we hear Viall loudly dishing about the show on a phone call before take-off: meeting Andi’s parents (a privilege reserved for finalists); Andi’s conversations with him before the final rose ceremony; and some mild trash talk reserved for “Josh,” whom Andi apparently chose over Viall.
Per Carbone’s transcription:
“Yeah, like, Josh won’t say shit. Like, he’ll do whatever she wants. He’s not that…he didn’t open up, he just kinda…he just eats, sleeps, and sh*ts and like, has a bad temper, and…you know, and…I mean, he’s really competitive yeah…he’s super emotional, he’s really insecure, and…ummmm, and he uhhhhh….it uhhhhhh….[pause to stuff his face with Cheetos]…and ummm…forgot what I was gonna say…oh and he’s incredibly set in his ways…”
“Because I sensed it throughout the whole thing…and I kept saying to her ‘I can’t wait till we’re in the real world…can’t wait til we get to do this stuff…we just go to, like, K-Mart and just chill…and don’t even have to worry about the this other stuff, you know?’”
It’s an astonishing video for a number of reasons. That the person sitting behind Viall on the flight to Milwaukee happened to recognize him, possibly from ABC promo materials; that he or she had the notion to film Viall’s conversation; and that that person knew to send the video to Carbone, the ultimate “Bachelorette” spoilsport who has been revealing the show’s secrets, and those of twin franchise “The Bachelor,” since 2009; that Viall, in teal capri pants and a star-spangled baseball T-shirt, looks nothing like the suave gentleman shown winning the coveted “first impression” rose from Andi during the premiere. And that despite the video, which rather clearly confirms the hypothesis that Carbone had already proffered last week—Viall and Josh Murray were Andi’s last guys standing, and Murray prevailed—”Bachelorette” fans went right on watching and tweeting despite the show’s ending being spoiled.
Carbone occupies a weird demilitarized zone between the polished goop ABC serves up each season and the millions of viewers who eat it. The network teases the show to no end, the stars give coy interviews on “Good Morning America,” and viewers debate on Twitter and over wine in their living rooms about who will win and who’s misunderstood and who’s a bastard. Meanwhile, the entire season is spelled out on Carbone’s website long before the show airs—who gets dates, who gets roses, who gets the girl or guy in the end, and who ends up splitting up before the show airs. This particular video scoop, Carbone says, is by far his most significant because it shows one of the lead characters himself spoiling the ending, rather than an anonymous source leaking him the info.
It seems impossible that the show’s diehards are not aware of Reality Steve. Ever since he published his first true spoiler—the genuinely dramatic twist to Jason Mesnick’s season in 2009, when Mesnick picked one contestant in the finale but then reversed his decision in the live, post-season recap episode—Carbone has been a fixture of “Bachelor” world. Though plenty of news organizations ignore Carbone, plenty of others, particularly tabloids and minor league gossip sites, follow his every move. He’s become something of an anti-spokesperson for the show: willing to insult it, the contestants, and the fans at every turn. “The Bachelorette” might draw seven million viewers; Reality Steve gets up to 1.5 million unique readers a month. Surely sizable overlap exists (myself among them) of people who read the site, know everything that is going to happen, and still tune in because—well, that’s more complicated.
The appeal of “The Bachelorette” and “The Bachelor” has always been a bit difficult to quantify. It’s frequently boring (lots of gazing), bloated with the tritest of phrases (“I’m ready for love”), and often features dreadful leads. The most recent, slow-moving stinker of a season starred Juan Pablo Galavis, who said nasty things about gay people and pretended not to be able to speak English fluently during uncomfortable moments with the women. (Topped only by bachelor Jake Pavelka, whose 2010 sociopathic post-show interview in which he screamed at his weeping fiancee to stop interrupting him still induces chills.) With the element of surprise eliminated by Carbone, who has accurately named the winner of almost every season of the two shows since the fateful Mesnick upset, the appeal seems even more mysterious. And yet fans remain faithful—bachelor Sean Lowe’s final brought 10.81 million viewers last year.
ABC’s response to Carbone has been to remain silent, or to say he’s usually wrong, or to sue him. The network first filed suit in December 2011, alleging Carbone’s actions “constitute unfair and illegal business acts” and are “unscrupulous, immoral, unethical, oppressive and injurious.” The parties settled in 2012, but by December of that year NZK Productions and a division of Warner Bros. brought suit against Carbone again, this time charging tortious interference and breach of the previous settlement agreement. The parties settled “amicably,” according to Carbone. He is doubtful that the network will be contacting him about the most recent video scoop, which he received from one of his countless, nameless sources.
Carbone, who grew up in California and now lives in Dallas, began writing about TV in 2003 while working in sports radio—just goofy recaps of the one-season smash “Joe Millionaire,” which he emailed to folks. Looking for a new show to cover, he settled on “The Bachelorette,” which was in its first season. (Two “Bachelor” seasons had already wrapped by then.) His website drew a niche following and made no money, though he hoped his writing would attract some freelance opportunities. Then the surprise ending of Mesnick’s season fell into his lap in 2009, and traffic exploded. “Then tabloid magazines started quoting me,” he says. “I became the de facto authority on the show.”
Reality Steve’s first paid ad followed, and Carbone made the gig full-time in 2011. (He declined to give his income but says the site draws 10-15 million pageviews a month.) Traffic spikes when each season airs. “It’s almost like Pavlov’s dog with these people,” he says. “They hear the first commercial and they have to check the site.”
Reality Steve has also served as a sort of neutral third party for former contestants to air their grievances. Wrestler Justin Rego and musician Wes Hayden, who were both crucified by fans for appearing on different seasons of “The Bachelorette” while keeping girlfriends at home on the sly, gave extensive interviews to Carbone to give self defenses that ABC would never air. “I just let them talk,” he says.
As it happens, Carbone claims to hate the show. “If this wasn’t my job, I wouldn’t spend two seconds watching it,” he says. “It’s just so easy to make fun of.” (He does admit to liking bachelorette Ashley Hebert, and says he occasionally drops her an email.) “I just don’t believe in the show,” he says. “It’s a silly show.” (Carbone prefers scripted shows like “Modern Family,” “Parks and Recreation,” and “24.”) When a couple does wed after the show, however, he sends them a wedding gift. “For JP and Ashley, I think I got something from their bedding collection,” he says, and recalls that he did receive a thank-you note.
Carbone’s work has complicated his personal life. Aside from having to lawyer up, he’s had an attorney draft cease and desist letters to “stalkers,” as he describes them. “I don’t want to sit here and say by any means that I am any kind of celebrity,” Carbone says. “But there’s varying degrees of celebrity. There’s a lot of stuff going on that I think a lot of people would not believe … late-night texts from people I don’t know that I immediately have to block. Emails being fabricated.”
According to Carbone, a “crazy” person baited him into an email exchange and then manipulated his responses to appear he had violated the terms of his legal settlement. “It’s pretty shocking,” he says. “It’s made me put my guard up. I don’t trust a lot of people, based on things that have happened.” That extends to his dating life. “I’ve had people be interested in me just because I am Reality Steve, and they thought they could find out information about the show,” says Carbone, 38, who is currently single. “I’ve been surprised by it.”
Carbone isn’t surprised that people still watch “The Bachelorette” after he’s spoiled the season’s ending. “You can know the spoilers,” he says, “but you still want to see the guys and the girls. You want to see the dates. All I'm giving are the ‘Cliff’s Notes.’ You still want to see Andi interacting with the guys.”
“For a show like this,” he continues, “the prize is an engagement that ends up ending anyway. As opposed to the prize for ‘Survivor,’ where the person wins a million dollars. I’ve never read a spoiler for ‘Survivor,’ and I don’t want to know a spoiler.” He adds, “I don’t spoil the show so people don’t watch. I think I just enhance one’s viewing of watching the show.”
Indeed, as the show airs Monday night, I more or less forget about Nick munching Cheetos and lamenting lost trips to Kmart. I roll my eyes at a manufactured moment when a “party crasher” shows up. I think that farmer guy from Iowa seems sweet. I smile when Andi’s “intrigued” by a guy who can speak a few words of German. And when a string crescendo opens the rose ceremony and I see sweat dot the foreheads of the clenched-jaw suitors, I am nervous—for the men or for Andi, I’m not quite sure.
That’s the appeal of the show. The suspense lies not in who will or won’t get a rose, but in how the contestants will behave between the scripted parts. A joke by a black contestant about black and white cookies, or the charged banter between Andi and eventual winner Josh M. about pushing each other into the pool, feel organic. They remind you: These people are actually dating. Sure, the situation is fabricated, but the pathos can be real. After not receiving a rose, Josh B. gave a tearful, profane goodbye to the camera that’s as good an explanation as any for why millions of Americans watch the show, Reality Steve’s spoilers be damned.
“It’s embarrassing, is what it is,” Josh B. snapped. “Let’s embarrass the fuck out of myself for one night, to do absolutely nothing, to accomplish nothing. And then I’m going to call my parents tomorrow and say yeah that sucked. I’m coming home, gonna face reality. I’m embarrassed as fuck.
“This is stupid.”
Jenny Rogers is the assistant managing editor at the Washington City Paper.