Think about the last time you saw a woman over 60 portrayed on screen as anything but a passive grandmotherly figure. There’s Grace and Frankie, It’s Complicated, Something’s Gotta Give and, well, that’s pretty much it. But for older men, there are a myriad of examples of men over 60 starring in dynamic roles—just think how many Harrison Ford movies have come out since he turned 60 in 2002. Despite the one dimensional examples of older women on screen, most are still part of the workforce until their mid 60s and are active in raising families. Like anyone else, they’re falling in love, grieving losses, exploring the world, and occasionally running into trouble. This phenomenon goes beyond the screen. Surveys have shown that women feel not only devalued by society as they age, but increasingly invisible. This has real world implications, manifesting itself beyond jokey birthday cards to workplace discrimination. The Golden Bachelor seeks to change the lack of representation of women over 60 in media, showcasing the highest peaks and lowest valleys of life after qualifying for AARP while staying (mostly) true to life.
To understand The Golden Bachelor requires an understanding of the blue print, The Bachelor. This ABC darling reality TV dating show has run since 2002 in which each season revolves around a group of women competing for the heart (often in the form of a proposal) of one man. While the concept of a mansion full of women competing against each other for marriage to one man may seem arcane, there are 27 seasons of The Bachelor. Then there’s Bachelor in Paradise, The Bachelor in Paradise: After paradise, The Bachelor Canada, The Bachelor Vietnam, The Bachelor Winter Games, The Bachelor Listen to Your Heart… the list goes on. That’s not to mention 20 seasons of its sister show The Bachelorette, in which single men compete for the heart of one woman. The beloved franchise is known to fans as Bachelor Nation, and previous contestants often compete on spinoffs or even host seasons. The Golden Bachelor is no exception, with the fifth bachelor, Jesse Palmer, hosting the season, and several other Bachelor Nation participants cycling throughout the series to judge competitions and offer advice.
In many ways, The Golden Bachelor is like any other season of its predecessors. For the most part, The Golden Bachelor follows the same format as The Bachelor. In each episode, Gerry, the bachelor, widdles down the group of women contestants, getting closer and closer to the woman he could see himself “spending the rest of his life with.” Episodes consist of highly choreographed group dates, somewhat scripted one on one time, and talking head interviews. There are all typical tropes of the Bachelor episodes. Women gather on risers at the end of the episode, awaiting a rose, which denotes they are the lucky ones to stay on to the next episode, or are sent home empty handed in a limo. There are tense exchanges between the women as they navigate spending weeks together in “the” mansion and there are “just so” dates on hot air balloon rides, horseback rides, and upscale restaurants.
Despite following the same format, The Golden Bachelor is notably different from previous spinoffs. To start off, there’s grief. Within the first five minutes of the show, it’s revealed Gerry was widowed after his wife of more than 40 years died unexpectedly after contracting a bacterial infection in 2017. Gerry can’t talk about his loss without tearing up. In fact, many women contestants are also newly single after losing their life partner. Intimate moments with Gerry often stir up complex emotions for the contestants that usually are not explored in past seasons. In the second episode of The Golden Bachelor, producers stage a faux romance novel cover shoot where Nancy, a retired interior decorator, is unexpectedly overcome with emotions. Her chosen photoshoot costume is a wedding dress, which reminds her of the day she married her late husband. “I know this, my rational mind knows this — he passed away,” Nancy says. But the dress brings back memories surrounding what was “the best day of my life,” that are difficult to reckon with while on a “group date” competing for the attention of a stranger. Later in the season, Gerry takes Theresa, a financial services professional, to dinner, and she tells him that she feels hope, for the first time since the death of her husband, that she will not always be alone. Such discussions of personal loss are rare on The Bachelor, bringing a new sense of seriousness to the show.
The aspect of age also raises the stakes of the program. In typical seasons, when a woman leaves the mansion without a rose, bachelors will often part with a line akin to, “I know that there’s the perfect guy for you out there.” But the reality of dating over 60 means that there might not be the perfect guy waiting for the women on The Golden Bachelor. Once the women leave the mansion, they must contend with suffocating societal expectations—to quietly accept widowhood or single life—and the reality that there are more older single women than single men. This makes leaving the mansion that much more heartbreaking for contestants and viewers alike.
The stigma older women looking to date face in the real world leads to another key difference between The Golden Bachelor and other Bachelor Nation properties. It’s evident from the women's enthusiasm and vulnerability that contestants genuinely want to be on the show for love. On other seasons, it is clear that some contestants are there as a launchpad for minor social media stardom and the ensuing brand deals and recognition. However, on The Golden Bachelor, the women's intentions are clear. Above all, their primary goal is to exit the mansion with genuine connections rather than securing a sponsorship from Sephora. There are few other reasons that could drive them to boldly appear on national television, openly expressing their desire for love and embracing their sensuality. In doing so, they bravely confront societal stigmas associated with women of their age.
Perhaps most importantly, the show defies stereotypes of the passive older woman. The female contestants are portrayed the same way as contestants on other seasons. They are witty and catty and yes, even horny (we’re still wondering if Gerry and Theresa got it on in the fantasy suite). However, the show doesn’t shy away from aspects of aging. In the second episode contestants grumble about their boarding situation in the villa. Sandra, a retired executive assistant, bemoans the fact that she can’t get up a bunk bed ladder with two replaced knees, and Ellen, a retired teacher, laughs about how she can’t sleep through the night without needing to use the bathroom. The show even acknowledges the societal perceptions of women over 60. One contestant, Joan Vassos, a 60 year old school administrator from Maryland explains, “As you get older, you become more invisible. People don’t see you anymore. Like you’re not as significant as when you’re young. Society makes us feel like we’ve had our chance. We’ve raised our children and it’s time now to support the next generation and kind of take a back seat.” The Golden Bachelor is one of the few places on screen where women over 60 are allowed to occupy the same space as their younger peers. Yet, on the show the contestants are able to showcase their genuine selves (or as genuine as possible for reality TV). They talk about their work, their families, and their passions. The show explores how women still seek to be viewed as beautiful, sexual beings. This is showcased in several scenes, like when a celebrity stylist brings in several ball gowns for a contestant to wear after a rough day, or when fan favorite contestant, Susan Noles, styles many of the women’s hair in rare clips of everyday life in the villa.
However, it is difficult to parse between when the show is providing a platform for these 60–plus–year–old contestants to showcase their authentic selves, and when producers are forcing these women to conform into what is considered desirable by society. The introductions highlight their athletic abilities and trendy clothes and stilettos. There seems to be a quiet but ever present need for the contestants to prove they are “young” enough to participate on the show.
The Golden Bachelor stands as a bold and unique attempt to break the ageist molds that confine women over 60 in screen media. By putting the spotlight on women looking for love and the inevitable hijinks that ensue, the show challenges the pervasive stereotypes and invisibility that women in this demographic often face. The program not only mirrors the familiar format of The Bachelor but also introduces genuine emotional depth, acknowledging the grief and challenges that come with moving through the world as an older person. The contestants, vibrant and assertive, defy societal expectations and demand recognition for their desires and experiences. Despite some lingering questions about authenticity and societal pressure, The Golden Bachelor emerges as a significant step toward portraying the rich, multifaceted lives of women over 60, providing a much–needed and refreshing narrative. As The Golden Bachelor’s first season wrapped up on November 30, fans are begging for a second season and proposing their ideal leads for a possible Golden Bachelorette. Wherever this leg of the Bachelor Nation franchise goes, let’s hope that it continues to defy stereotypes and lift back the cloak of invisibility that so many older women feel.