The first episode of “The Bachelor of Provo,” a show created by two BYU students that mirrored the popular ABC show “The Bachelor,” garnered over 132,000 views on YouTube. The show was removed and renamed “Provo’s Most Eligible” because of a copyright claim but remained widely viewed.
Spoofs and spinoffs of the show in Provo and on BYU campus followed, but they never reached the same virality that “Provo’s Most Eligible” achieved. That virality is accompanied by a myriad of possible effects on its viewers.
BYU assistant communications professor Scott Church, who teaches a class about pop culture, said one reason he thinks the show gained popularity is that American culture has been primed to like reality television shows.
According to a Vox article, roughly 750 reality television shows aired on cable in 2015, which was 83% higher than the number of scripted shows. Of those roughly 750 reality shows, about 350 of them were new in 2015, and Vox projected the number would only continue to climb.
Church first heard of the show when students told him about it. He said students either seemed to love it or hate it and he was surprised by their intensity.
“When someone feels strongly about (a show), it catches on very quickly,” Church said. “It’s that sort of intensity of reaction that I think draws more people to it, because they know there’s going to be some good entertaining payoff from it.”
Church said dating is a huge part of Provo culture and specifically BYU culture. He said dating seems to be on everybody’s mind.
“It checks off all these boxes of things that people here like right now,” Church said.
Church said the hype the show gained when it was first released also played into how successful it became. He said “Provo’s Most Eligible” is a great example of YouTube’s power.
“I think people maybe get roped in by the appeal of the entertainment factor and the hype and the curiosity about ‘what is this? — Is this a train wreck?'” Church said.
Church said another reason the show resonated with its audience is that it harnessed the fears and promises of being a student at BYU or living in Provo.
“So they’ve got the big payoff about who ends up together,” Church said. “They kind of draw on those streams, fears, and anxieties that people feel about dating and finding the one, which I think are amplified among LDS people especially.”
Church said Provo loves Provo. When people in Provo find something that portrays Provo, they tend to latch on very quickly. He said that when he hears about something Provo or BYU is notable for, he instantly feels loyalty to it. The same can be said for “Provo’s Most Eligible,” he said.
“I think that’s one reason why this is so popular here,” Church said. “And I know it’s got a reach outside of Provo, of course. But I think that’s where the loyalty started — people were excited to see something interesting and entertaining happening here in Provo, by Provo, for Provo.”
A local viewer of the show, Jacey Wahlquist heard about “Provo’s Most Eligible” through her husband after he found the show’s Instagram account. Her husband suggested they watch it because he thought it would be fun to see a bachelor type show in Provo and they might recognize someone or a place they have been to.
Wahlquist said she was reluctant to watch the show at first, but after viewing the first episode, she was hooked.
“I liked to watch some of their dates they go on because that’s given my husband and I some fun date ideas,” Wahlquist said. “I also thought it was entertaining to see all of my fellow BYU people talk and flirt with each other because I’ve been in the same exact stage as them.”
Not everyone who watched the show is a fan. Other viewers said they don’t understand its appeal.
Recent BYU graduate Annabell Thorn first heard about the show through friends’ social media posts.
“I figured it was going to be awkward and entertaining to watch people make a fool of themselves by trying to take themselves too seriously,” Thorn said.
Thorn said she lost interest after seeing the first episode and did not continue to watch it further, but she continued to hear others talk about it.
“It was not very interesting to me to watch people many years younger than me play pretend. I had no investment in any of them and didn’t care to see how it turned out,” Thorn said.
Like Thorn, her husband Justin also lost interest after watching it with her.
“I honestly thought (the bachelor) is really awkward, and he’s a little bit painful to watch,” Justin said.
Although Thorn and her husband lost interest early on, she said she found certain parts entertaining. She said she found the budget production and intensely awkward conversations amusing.
Kevin John is a BYU communications professor who teaches classes about media’s impact on individuals and society. He said “Provo’s Most Eligible” resonates with people because viewers receive validation from seeing things portrayed and dramatized on screen that they’ve experienced for themselves. The show is in some ways a reflection of what we see happening in our own lives, he said.
John said he can also see the show through the lens of the Cultivation Theory, which was proposed by George Gerbner in the mid-1960s. He said this theory states the more exposure the public has to the media, the more it influences consumers lives and consumers relationship perceptions.
John said this can be somewhat concerning to see in shows because it is not actual reality. He said shows like “The Bachelor” portray relationships at an accelerated pace, while they would normally take a great deal of time.
“Observing this fast pace in this condensed format gives us unrealistic expectations for our own lives for our own relationships,” John said.
If a person in a relationship feels their relationship does not develop the same way as something they watched on TV, John said it can create a disconnect and make people think something is wrong with them.
“We might behave differently in our own relationships based on what we observed through, let’s say, ‘Provo’s Most Eligible,’” John said.
John said he sees no problem with a show like “Provo’s Most Eligible” and finds it amusing. However, he said there are deeper questions to be asked about similar shows and reality shows in general.
He said reality television shows can turn the human experience into something superficial and package it as entertainment for the sake of good TV.
“My question is, are we turning relationships into a commodity? Or are we making things superficial? — That shouldn’t be?” John said.