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Why 'The Golden Bachelor' Is Good for Older Women

How Gerry and Theresa are fueling a cultural moment.

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The Ethel Staff
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I’m a 60-year-old corporate lawyer by day and a hopeless romantic by night. I am part of the loyal Bachelor Nation fans who have watched ABC’s The Bachelor since the first show aired in 2002.

The Bachelor is a reality television dating show featuring a single male candidate from whom women compete for his affection and, hopefully, receive a marriage proposal during the finale. The participants travel to far-flung locations and enjoy over-the-top romantic dates. Contestants are eliminated each week. Conflicts are highlighted by the show’s producers. Humor and foreshadowing are part of the show’s trademark style.

In September, The Bachelor franchise launched The Golden Bachelor starring Gerry Turner, "a charming 72-year-old patriarch from Indiana …showcasing that love stories only become better with age.” The matchmaking show’s cast was comprised of women ages 60 to 75.

This Bachelor spinoff gained a whole cadre of viewers. Strong opinions about the series abounded. The show captured the attention of millions, who tuned in to see the popular Bachelor franchise showcase seniors for the first time. Viewership was consistently more than 4 million during the season, then climbed to a record 6.1 million for the finale — making this the most-watched episode of any series in the Bachelor franchise since the end of the 2021 season, a show with 28-year-old bachelor Matt James.

The Golden Bachelor followed the basic format of the Bachelor shows, but featured people who were searching for someone with whom to spend their final chapter. Instead of the customary meeting with the semifinalists’ parents, The Golden Bachelor met the semifinalists’ children and grandchildren.

The show’s chosen candidates arguably presented an idealized version of aging, in that they were all impeccably done up (with make-up and procedures), expensively dressed and mostly without gray hair. Many online reviews, and in girlfriend conversations, expressed that the show reinforced harmful expectations for older women to perpetually exude the fountain of youth.

Laura Stassi, author of Romance Redux: Finding Love in Your Later Years, host/creator of the hit podcast Dating While Gray and co-host of Slate Magazine’s The Waves Golden Bachelor recap podcast, has covered the “gray dating beat since 2020.” She feels that The Golden Bachelor was a missed opportunity because, “overall, the show promoted dating and relationship stereotypes that are stale for single men and women of all ages.”

Stassi wished she "could know what the 22 women cast members feel, but [found that] they’re prevented by nondisclosure agreements from talking to anyone other than ABC-approved media outlets.”

Iris Mersky Myles, a 74-year-old therapist who found new love after being widowed at age 65, viewed The Golden Bachelor as “a positive representation of women in their 60s and 70s who showed confidence and attractiveness in the context of a television show.” I agree. These golden gals showed their playful natures while conducting themselves with dignity. I applaud their boldness by joining in a social experiment aimed at battling ageism.

Yes, there were cringy moments, which is what reality TV producers cultivate. Ratings increase with controversy. Even innuendo about older people having sex remains largely taboo in mainstream media, evidenced by uneasy audience laughter when the topic was broached. The show assured viewers that seniors do do it!

Myles recognized that the show was scripted, but her heart ached for the runner-up, 64-year-old fitness instructor, Leslie Fhima, and the humiliation Fhima expressed during the season’s finale.

“The participants knew what they were getting into,” Myles observed. “But Leslie [who admittedly had not enjoyed long-lasting relationships] looked crushed by not being chosen by Gerry in the end. When you are married or loved by someone for many years, in a positive, loving relationship, that kind of insulates you at your core from feeling rejected.”

Myles suspects that Gerry chose finalist Theresa Nist, a 70-year-old financial services professional, because their backgrounds were similar. Nist, like Turner, was widowed after more than four decades of a successful marriage. Nist and Turner bonded early in the season over their shared losses.

Younger Bachelor show fans also tuned in to see Bachelor Nation’s first silver fox find his person. Emily Baumgartner, age 33, who has watched The Bachelor shows with her New York friends for more than a decade, says that “this version is so fun because you get to see authentic emotions without the clutter of wondering why someone is on the show since the women who are on [The Golden Bachelor] are more likely not trying to grow an Instagram audience,” as was the case with past contestants.

It definitely takes guts to go on national television and open oneself up to criticism. Bachelor show applicants agree to be on camera 24 hours a day during the program; allow private information to be compiled about them and used at producers’ discretion; undergo background checks and physical, medical and psychological examinations; participate in the program for a year and a half following application submission; and do promo activities upon producers’ requests. I can’t say I’d agree with all of that.

Eighteen couples who met in their 20s or 30s on one of the Bachelor franchise shows are still together. Some allow their weddings to be broadcast live, including Gerry and Theresa. Their wedding invitation read: “After lifetimes of love and loss and a whirlwind journey on The Golden Bachelor, Gerry Turner and Theresa Nist will walk down the aisle to begin their next chapter, happily ever after.”

“After conducting hundreds of interviews with dewy newlyweds, I’m thinking this,” says Iris Krasnow, The Ethel Senior Editor and author of The New York Times bestseller Surrendering to Marriage. “While I found The Golden Bachelor to be great TV, the real test on whether love lasts is this: Can an extraordinary, Hollywood-glazed Golden Couple adapt to the ordinary struggles and ordinary life of a real marriage?”

The Golden Bachelor increased dialogue about aging and a population of daters not highly represented in today’s media. I believe that Gerry and Theresa’s journey bolstered hope for second chances at fun and romantic partnerships during the third chapter of our lives. With the deluge of audition applications for the next Golden Bachelor season, it looks like I am by no means alone.

FYI: Looking for a forever partner in your own golden years? You can “audition” for the second season of The Golden Bachelor online at goldenbachelorcasting.com. The application has a few dozen questions and requests at least two recent photos, one of your face and one of your whole body.

Did any of you watch "The Golden Bachelor"? What did you think? Let us know in the comments below.

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