To film The Bachelor, Kelly Travis took six weeks off her job doing business development for a construction company. She made it through five episodes, enjoyed hanging on some Vietnamese beaches, was eliminated peaceably, and accomplished her goal of barely conversing with Bachelor Juan Pablo at all. When the contestant bios were released online before the season premiere, she was back at work in Atlanta. And suddenly there was a photo of her grinning face next to her name, her age (27), and the words “Occupation: Dog Lover.” “I was like, ‘WHAT??’ Travis said. “I have a job. Now everyone who watches this show is going to think I don’t.”
If you’ve seen an episode of The Bachelor or The Bachelorette in recent years, you may have noticed that contestants’ “occupations” are not your standard crop of human professional pursuits. Sprinkled amid the teachers and the nurses and the personal trainers are job descriptions that seem dreamed up by some new-agey trust funder or a particularly dull child. There was Lucy the “free spirit,” also from Juan Pablo’s season, memorable for her bare feet and relentless nakedness. There was Tony the “healer” from Bachelorette Season 11, whose far-out riffs on love and truth were supplied with a soundtrack of twanging zen instrumentals. Season 9 briefly featured Nick R. the “tailor/magician.” The current Bachelor season had a “chicken enthusiast” named Tiara who expressed said enthusiasm on repeat until she got cut at the end of the premiere.
It’s a particular quirk of the Bachelor franchise that job descriptions are so crucial to character development—no other reality shows flash contestants’ occupations every single time they’re on camera. The producers write bios during the editing process, after the season is done filming and the outcome is known. So how do The Bachelor and Bachelorette dream up their job titles? How do they decide who gets to be called an “esthetician” and who is dubbed a “manscaper”? And how does it feel to be known in the annals of network television as a “panstapreneur”?
Jason Carbone, who was a producer for eight seasons of The Bachelor, from 2002 to 2005, guessed that the most common actual job for female contestants is “pharmaceutical sales rep”: “Because you are most likely attractive, and really good at selling yourself, and you know pharmaceutical sales is where the money is right now.” (Carbone was less sure about the male contestants. “It would be ‘testosterone sales rep,’ ” he said, “but I don’t think that is an actual position.”) If there have been about 500 contestants in the show’s 25 seasons, Carbone estimates that at least 50 of them were pharmaceutical sales reps. “And let’s say you have ten pharmaceutical sales reps in one season,” he said. “That’s how you get something like ‘animal enthusiast.’ ”
In other words, the wacky bios are created in part as differentiators. If producers decide that they’ve got several telegenic dance instructors who’d be good on the show, they’ll sit in a room and spitball. Every producer, Carbone explained, has to come in with a pitch for what they think the contestant should be called—plucking out the kookiest details from a lengthy questionnaire that prospective bachelors or bachelorettes have to fill out during casting, full of prompts about their dating history, family, hobbies, favorite music, and fears. “There’s always the desire for the bio to become an easy identifier for the character, something that creates an emotional response,” Carbone said. “And when a contestant would complain, I’d tell them, c’mon. This is an entertainment product. This is not eHarmony.”
But in the years since Carbone has worked on The Bachelor, he’s seen the show’s approach to doling out bios evolve. “When we started, there was not nearly the level of creativity and humor in bios that you see now, when the goal is to get everyone talking on social media.” The very first season of The Bachelor had two doctors and two lawyers in its cast. “Back then, we needed credibility,” Carbone said. “We never would’ve called anyone Dog Lover. But the show doesn’t need credibility anymore. It needs buzz.”
“I certainly did not expect to get called a ‘panstapreneur,’ ” says Bachelorette Season 10 contestant JJ O’Brien. To be fair, he had just graduated from Stanford Business School and was running a startup pants retailer at the time. And he did write down the word “panstapreneur,” mostly as a joke with some friends, somewhere on his 25–30 page questionnaire. But he’d never used the word on the actual show. “My mom was not excited,” O’Brien said. “She would rather have had me called ‘Stanford Business School Graduate.’” In the end, he was portrayed as a good-natured screwball who romanced Bachelorette Andi with his antics until she decided she wanted a man who had formerly played pro sports instead.
In Travis’ case, only when she realized that her occupation was “Dog Lover” did a series of memories from filming flash through her head. Like when she told the Bachelor producers that she might not be able to commit to the show because she didn’t want to have to board her rescue mutt, Molly, so they said it was no problem and she could just bring Molly along. And then when they asked her to sit on a couch and talk to her dog. “They wanted me to look at Molly and say, ‘We’re going to find your dad,’ ” Travis recalled. And when they had her put sunglasses on Molly’s face, for kicks. “I suddenly realized,” she said, “‘Oh my god, they are going to make me look like I am just SO in love with my dog.”
There are certain cast members you will never see acting like a goofus or talking to animals or drunk skinny-dipping, no matter how much they actually did those things: the season winners, and the people who might star in future Bachelor and Bachelorettes. “We make sure those people come off smelling like a rose,” Carbone said. And part of this strategy, of course, involves making sure that the “serious” contestants always have normal-sounding jobs. Ben Higgins, current Bachelor, is a “software salesman.” Andi Dorfman, former Bachelorette, was “assistant district attorney.” Recent Bachelors have included one “insurance agent,” one “account executive,” and one “global financier.” Though the franchise may have all the credibility it needs, of course it’s still stubbornly old-school at heart.
Travis has since embraced her role in the Bachelor pantheon; even her Twitter bio is “Dog Lover” now. O’Brien rode the SEO wave as far as he could take it—his website, he says, got some 150,000 hits over the course of the season. (“Not so many conversions.”) His pants business has since shuttered, and he’s working on a new startup. “In 20 years, when you Google my name,” he said, “the last thing I want to pop up is ‘Panstapreneur Bachelorette.’ ”