One man. Twenty-five women. One shot at true love. Who will get the final rose? But even then, will she accept?
Anyone who has seen a commercial for, or tuned into an episode of ‘The Bachelor' or ‘The Bachelorette' has heard these very lines. It is paradoxical to think that we live in a time where the harem is mystified as something from an ancient world. Yet, we needn't look too far to realize that every Monday night, Americans have the distinct pleasure of viewing something not too far from this concept. There is in fact a large, luxurious mansion where women spend their days sunning and preening for a shot at a one-on-one encounter with a man. It exists alright-in California.
Reality shows claiming contestants are looking for "love" lure in viewers, tugging at heartstrings and using lust tactics. The equation is simple. It consists of women in bikinis, shirtless men, and let's not forget the alcohol. Lots and lots of it. How else would contestants lose their inhibitions to perform the very antics that attract many viewers? This, combined with tearful testimonials as contestants are sent home, create a television show that is certainly entertaining. Thus far, we have seen 15 seasons of 'The Bachelor,' and 6 seasons of 'The Bachelorette'. Although the concept of both shows appears far-fetched (or like a fantasy for some), it is interesting that evolution might side with the bachelorettes.
Studies have suggested that on the ancestral plain, women adapted two strategies for ensuring strong genes for their offspring (Pillsworth & Haselton, 2006). These overlapping strategies were coupling and dual mating. While coupling involves a social bond and partnership to ensure offspring thrives, dual mating involves the female discreetly mating outside of the primary relationship.
Given women's fleeting fertility of only a few days per month, ancestral women may have evolved to engage in dual mating. Since sexually attractive males were more in demand and possessed more opportunities for extra pair mating, they often did not make the best long-term partners. Thus, it could have been more beneficial for women to couple with males who had solid resources, while having extrapair sexual encounters with other men to gain good genes for their offspring (Pillsworth & Haselton, 2006).
Seeing as how there were no paternity tests on the ancestral plain, males could not be certain of whether or not a woman's child was his own. Some theorize that men evolved to use "mate guarding" behaviors and to pick up on ovulatory cues. For example, research indicates men may find women to smell more attractive during ovulation, when women are most fertile.
All this to say that perhaps the balance of the mating and fertility dance has been tipped one too many times in the gentlemen's favor. Thus, perhaps it would behoove the producers of 'The Bachelor' and 'The Bachelorette' to realize that yes, they can find "catty" and other animalistic behaviors among women to draw in viewers. But wouldn't it be far more interesting to see something truly primal? Possibly a new reality show, something with a vague and catchy title like ‘The Ancestral Plain.' Or then again, maybe just more seasons of ‘The Bachelorette' would suffice.
Pillsworth, E. G. & Haselton, M. G. (2006). Women's sexual strategies: The evolution of long-term bonds and extra-pair sex. Annual Review of Sex Research, 17, 59-100.