It was an unusual sight for typical viewers of The Bachelor franchise: Fixing his bow tie and slipping a hearing aid into his ear, 72-year-old Gerry Turner prepared to meet his suitors in a new edition of the popular series, The Golden Bachelor, which is geared toward older people.
Premiering last week on ABC and Citytv, The Golden Bachelor cast 22 women between the ages of 60 and 75 to vie for Turner’s heart. The show drew 4.1 million viewers during its premiere episode, according to data from viewership analytics firm Nielsen — up 38 per cent from the most recent premiere episode of The Bachelor.
Golden carried on much like a regular episode of its parent series — there were wacky characters, there was manufactured drama and Turner gave one lucky lady the prized “first impression” rose.
But many of the women, like Turner, were widowed, had grandchildren, were retired. Some had hearing impairments, some had recently lost close friends. They also had a range of feelings about aging: One contestant stepped out of the limo wearing a cropped grey wig and housecoat, and holding a rickety walker, before throwing her props away for comedic effect.
“[I’m] going to be very excited to just see older adults portrayed as being interested in repartnering and new romance and intimacy and sexuality,” said Nancy Morrow-Howell, a professor at the Brown School at Washington University in St. Louis, Mo.
But Morrow-Howell, who directs the university’s Harvey A. Friedman Center for Aging, generally had mixed feelings ahead of seeing the show.
“I’m equally concerned about some things that I think may not help [in] telling a different story, a real story about aging. And that is everybody’s going to be active and beautiful. And that’s not who we are,” she said.
A need to be ‘sensitive to the stereotypes’
Media depictions of older people tend to fall under two extreme stereotypes, Morrow-Howell said. Older people are portrayed as either frail, slow, silly or irrelevant, or as “super agers” — people who are highly fit and functioning, running marathons and travelling the world.
Indeed, many of the show’s contestants fit into the latter mould — pickleball players and world travellers and avid dancers who described themselves as energetic or active.
Recent shows like Grace and Frankie, a comedy that ran for seven seasons and starred Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin, as well as romantic comedies like 2015’s Hello, My Name is Doris with Sally Field and the Book Club franchise (one of which came out earlier this year) are among the handful of mainstream projects that depict this age group.
LISTEN | A Canadian matchmaker weighs in on The Golden Bachelor:
Information Radio – MB7:34Winnipeg matchmaker watching The Golden Bachelor
Featured VideoLianne Tregobov speaks with guest host Faith Fundal about dating in your later years.
While a franchise like The Bachelor is always going to choose contestants who are conventionally attractive and active — this is reality TV, after all — Morrow-Howell said that something different is at stake with a show that portrays older people.
“Right now we are trying to change norms about aging,” she said.
“I wish that everybody involved in this show would have been very sensitive to the stereotypes, the narratives [and] how there’s efforts to reframe aging in a different way.”
Toronto couple give their review of the show
Toronto couple Vesna Pandovska, 67, and Tim Heffernan, 72, met online eight years ago and were married this past summer. Pandovska said they met on an online dating app during a period when she was growing increasingly frustrated with the process.
“It is so awkward to meet somebody. And then you’re going over the same routine over and over again, you know, what do you do, et cetera, what family, la la la. And it’s the most uncomfortable thing, really,” Pandovska said.
She and Heffernan had mixed feelings after watching the first episode of The Golden Bachelor.
“Let’s say I watched it with wry amusement,” Heffernan said, adding that he found it embarrassing. While neither are fans of reality TV, Pandovska said she was glad to see an older demographic represented on the show.
“It’s nice that it’s an older person in [his] 70s and older women, because we need love, too,” she said. She took issue with some of the language that the contestants used — “aging sucks,” one proclaimed.
“In some situations, yeah, getting older sucks,” Pandovska said. “But in others, I think it’s great…. I feel more comfortable with myself. Whereas [as a younger person] you were striving for so many things: going out, getting married, having children, having a career.”
LISTEN | The Commotion group chat talks about The Golden Bachelor:
25:00What ET Canada’s cancellation signals for the industry, and The Golden Bachelor
ET Canada, Corus Entertainment’s flagship TV entertainment program, was cancelled this week after 18 years on the air. What does it mean for entertainment journalism in Canada to lose a show like this? Host Elamin Abdelmahmoud gets into that, plus what’s new with The Golden Bachelor, with culture writers Kathleen Newman-Bremang, Amil Niazi and author Jael Richardson.
She said she hopes older people who want to find love but are afraid of judgment won’t put their dating lives behind them.
“We sort of put up an age limit to us that, OK, nobody’s going to want to go out with me…. And that’s not right. That’s where the thinking should be changed.”
Joan Price, a California-based advocate for ageless sexuality, as well as an author and public speaker about older age sexuality, said she wants a show like The Golden Bachelor to honestly — and realistically — depict older age dating.
“The hopes, the fears, the worries of the women. ‘Oh, but are my wrinkles visible? Is my hair too grey? Is this dress going to fall down? And also, am I going to be laughed at?'”
Price said younger people might find it hard to accept older people in the dating world, while others might have infantilizing attitudes toward seniors who are looking for love.
“I cringe at ‘Oh, how cute!'” she said. “We’re grown human beings. We’ve been your age; you haven’t been ours.”
The reality, Price said, is that many older people who are widowed after decades of marriage with the same person find that the rules have completely changed — in fact, they might not even know where to look for the rules.
“Some of us came of age during the sexual revolution and grew up thinking we invented sex, and now here we are, we still have those desires, but in a different way,” she said.
“Maybe I’m thinking of a show that isn’t going to exist, but I would love to have people come away from a show like this and say, ‘Huh, I didn’t know that. I’m glad I do now.'”