The Bachelor has a notorious influencer pipeline — but only for white contestants

Three women, all with serious facial expressions, stand in a row flanked by palm trees. Rachel Nance wears an ultramarine dress, Daisy Kent wears a baby blue dress, and Kelsey Anderson wears a taupe dress.
Bachelor Joey Graziadei’s final three contestants, Rachel Nance, Daisy Kent, and Kelsey Anderson, during the season’s final rose ceremony. | Disney

Instagram follower counts indicate Bachelor Nation doesn’t care as much about leads and contestants of color.

The latest season of The Bachelor concluded with an emotional proposal and an exciting announcement: For the first time in the franchise’s more than 20-year history, there will be an Asian lead.

While 26-year-old Jenn Tran’s coming tenure as the newest Bachelorette made many fans happy, the announcement has others downright furious and some feeling anxious. The anxiety about ABC’s decision has been clear online this week. When one X user wrote, “PLEASE PROTECT JENN FROM THE RACI$M of bachelor nation,” almost 5,000 users liked the post, with one replying that they could “already feel it.”

Why are die-hard fans of the show already concerned about the treatment of the first Asian Bachelorette?

“The franchise is problematic. We know that,” said Ashley Tabron, who runs the popular AshTalksBach Bachelor fan account on Instagram. It took the show 15 years to cast its first non-white lead, and interviews with former Black contestants have long revealed that the show has a race problem. A racial reckoning ousted longtime host Chris Harrison three years ago, and just this season, producers were silent on questions about the show’s embedded racism.

However, Tabron says that ABC is at least “attempting” to improve casting, story editing, and screen time — production elements that have historically favored white contestants. But the problem doesn’t end there, as Tabron explains: “It doesn’t seem like the fan base is responding to that.”

The massive audience known as “Bachelor Nation” is many things, and it’s hard to paint with a broad brush. It’s a machine that’s eager to boost its favorite contestants or quick to tear down an unruly villain — and it’s notorious for its overt racism. New data shows that there’s still plenty of reason to believe that Bachelor Nation is overwhelmingly more supportive of and interested in white contestants.

Look no further than the contestants’ social media followings.

Before we delve into the numbers, it’s important to understand why social media followings mean so much in Bachelor-world: money.

“Now that social media for this show has really seen a comeback, the monetization of social media is key,” said Suzana Somers, who runs Bachelor Data, Bachelor Nation’s go-to data analysis platform.

Followers translate into career and financial opportunities for contestants, allowing them to create promotional content for major brands and develop online personas that help them launch their own products and projects. An influencer marketing agency estimated in 2020 that Bachelor influencers with more than a million followers can earn around $10,000 for a single sponsored Instagram post or story and between $500,000 and $1 million in a year. Bachelor influencers with about half a million followers can bring in an estimated $20,000 to $50,000 per month, the firm found.

As much as viewers want to believe contestants go on the show simply to find love — the so-called “right reason” — aspirations of online influence and notoriety are major motivations for contestants. In turn, their hard work and more importantly brand partnerships keep the franchise’s fandom alive online.

“When a contestant hits a certain milestone, follower-wise,” said Somers, “it can become a very big financial opportunity for them.”

Previous Bachelorettes and contestants have been able to unlock high follower counts and opportunities. JoJo Fletcher, a contestant on the 20th season of The Bachelor in 2016 and the lead on the 12th season of The Bachelorette that same year, has 2.6 million followers on Instagram and hosts regular product giveaways through partnerships with home furniture brand Abbyson Home and others. She’s also founded a spirits company, launched home decor and clothing lines, hosted a reality TV show for the USA Network, and partnered with brands such as recipe platform Yummly and Walmart. Season 23 contestant and former 2019 bachelorette Hannah Brown boasts 2.7 million followers on Instagram, and has erected an empire with a Dancing with the Stars season win, New York Times bestselling books, a podcast, and recent sponsorship deals with beverage company Flying Embers, cheese brand Athenos, and pharma giant AstraZeneca.

A man in a gray suit and an Asian woman with long, wavy black hair wearing a green satin gown sit opposite one another. A studio audience is visible behind them.
Disney/John Fleenor
Bachelorette Jenn Tran speaks to host Jesse Palmer at the “The Women Tell All.”

Follower count is directly correlated to a contestant’s screen time and the nature of the screen time they receive. More screen time means a greater chance of being known to viewers, although a negative storyline usually hurts follower count (but can sometimes help). Ultimately, though, follower counts reveal who the fan base is excited about. “We fall in love with these contestants when they’re on the show. And when we follow them, we want insights into their lives. We want to live with them,” said Somers. “This is the purpose of reality TV, for us to live in somebody else’s life and experience their stories and find a way to relate.”

“Instagram follower counts aren’t everything, but they give us a sense of whose stories we are invested in and whose stories we want to continue to follow,” said Tabron.

Data across seasons, collected in real time by Somers, supports the idea that Bachelor Nation is not as interested in following contestants of color online.

Somers noticed the racial trend when she first began collecting data during Colton Underwood’s 2019 season of The Bachelor. Contestant Tayshia Adams, who is Black and would go on to become the franchise’s second Black lead in 2020 after Rachel Lindsay in 2017, did not gain the kind of following that white contestants on the season did.

“The trend was that if you got a one-on-one date, that would translate to more followers. But that didn’t hold with Tayshia,” Somers said. “Even with someone as beautiful and amazing as Tayshia, if you are white, you are going to get more followers than if you are not white.”

Though Tayshia has now built her Instagram following to 1.4 million (the only Black lead to have more than 1 million followers), it’s important to view her growth in comparison to her white counterparts in real time. During Colton’s season, the final four women were Cassie Randolph, Hannah Godwin, Caelynn Miller-Keyes, and Tayshia; all three white women had follower counts that fell between about 500,000 and 700,000, while Tayshia had less than 100,000.

“You will not find a season where a person of color contestant is ahead of all the other white contestants, even if they’re [finalists],” said Somers.

Some viewers have tried to argue that the contestants and leads of color don’t have as many followers because they’re “boring” or simply not doing enough to grow their audiences. But this is the double-edged sword faced by many women of color on reality TV, including shows like Love Is Blind: be boring or risk being bad for everyone. “As women of color, they have to navigate more when they’re onscreen,” said Tabron. “There are all kinds of stereotypes they’re fighting because they aren’t just representing themselves but their entire communities. They have to be more conscious of how they’re being portrayed.”

Somers crunched the numbers on Instagram follower counts for the season 28 cast of The Bachelor and found record-setting engagement, challenging the narrative that the “Bachelor-to-influencer pipeline is dead.” Leading contestants on the latest season surpassed 500,000 followers on Instagram while the show was still airing, a new feat. Still, the social media gains have mostly been shared by the season’s white contestants.

This season, Daisy Kent, a crowd favorite runner-up from Becker, Minnesota, became the first to surpass 500,000 followers, and now hovers at around 747,000 days after her hot-seat interview during the finale. Maria Georgas, who gained a cult following for standing up to bullies on the show, is now at 593,000. Winner Kelsey Anderson shot up to 550,000 Instagram followers days after the finale. These numbers are groundbreaking, according to Somers.

But contestants of color haven’t fared the same. Though Asian contestants broke barriers in their own right this season when it came to social media and representation on the show, Bachelor fandom isn’t recognizing them with follows — an extension of what Black contestants have experienced since being made leads.

Following the finale, Jenn Tran has the fourth-highest number of followers — 164,000 — although she only crossed the 100,000 mark after being announced the Bachelorette. Rachel Nance, one of Joey’s final three contestants who was sent home after the coveted overnight date, is of Filipino and African American descent and has around 90,000 followers days after the finale. On “The Women Tell All” episode, which aired on March 18, Nance opened up about receiving racist messages from fans online.

Jenn and Rachel’s stunted online growth somewhat mirrors Charity Lawson’s, the franchise’s fourth Black Bachelorette, who despite leading season 27 and making it to the finals of Dancing with the Stars, has fewer than 300,000 followers.

These numbers show race is still the elephant in the room for Bachelor Nation.

“The leads and contestants of color do so much on their platforms after the show,” said Tabron. “Charity, she’s done so much. Anybody else that would have done what she’s done that wasn’t Black would have a million followers. The only difference is race.”

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