They came carrying pinot grigio, popcorn and a few ideas about who Becca should pick for a fiancé.
“I think it’s real with her and Garrett,” said Lauren Omernik, pouring herself a glass.
“I’m Team Blake,” Laura Johnson countered. “You watch their body language. …”
“I’m Team Blake in terms of I like him personally the best,” Omernik said, “but I think it’s going to be Garrett.”
Their host that evening dimmed the lights and readied the TV projector. “OK, should we get serious about this?” Sarah Butala, 35, asked the dozen women, one dude and a couple of kids who had assembled in her northeast Minneapolis artist studio. “Let’s get serious.”
Then she flipped on the main event: ABC’s “The Bachelorette.” As host Chris Harrison previewed the drama to come, the group grew quiet.
But they wouldn’t stay quiet — or serious — for long.
Like thousands of fans across the country, these Minnesotans had congregated for a “Bachelorette” viewing party. Each Monday evening (Tuesday in this case; Butala streams the series via Hulu) they watch the latest episode of the reality series together. Because when it comes to the “Bachelor” franchise, which has expertly mixed fairy tale and “Lord of the Flies” for 36 seasons, together is more fun.
At this recent party, participants cheered, booed and offered advice to the men competing for the heart of Season 14 star Becca Kufrin. (“Dude, focus on Becca!”) They debated when, in the show’s absurd timeline, the guys should declare their love. (“Do we think that’s too early?”) They joked about the extravagant dates. (“How did they get a hot tub out there in the desert?”)
Most important, because this is Minnesota, they complimented and encouraged Kufrin, who is from Prior Lake. Occasionally, that meant dissing Arie Luyendyk Jr., who on the last season of “The Bachelor” proposed to Kufrin, then, in an excruciating, on-camera confrontation, dumped her for the runner-up.
“I hate him,” declared 10-year-old Elsa Onderdonk. Why? “Because he made Becca mad and took back his engagement to Becca.”
But she loves Becca, she continued. Why? “She’s nice and she has a good personality and she’s from St. Paul.”
‘Watching with a savvy eye’
Such viewing parties are a phenomenon, said Amy Kaufman, author of “Bachelor Nation: Inside the World of America’s Favorite Guilty Pleasure,” a recent book that breaks down how the show is made and why it is so popular. (More than 5.6 million people tuned in for last Monday’s episode, the most watched show on TV that night.) Kaufman herself hosts weekly parties, marked by bottles of rosé, snacks and, occasionally, a celebrity guest: former “Bachelor” and “Bachelorette” contestants have dropped by the Los Angeles Times staff writer’s gatherings.
“When my friends are over, everyone is screaming at the television, we have closed captions on, and there are a lot of really dramatic comments made,” she said by e-mail.
At this point in the show’s history, “most fans are watching with a savvy eye,” Kaufman continued. Her friends and others are aware of the dark strategies Kaufman describes in her book, including the highly edited sound bites and producers’ ability to coax crazy comments out of drunk, bored or desperate cast members.
“I think it’s almost more enjoyable to watch that way, because it becomes a game,” Kaufman said. “Honestly, I’d be worried for those who take this at face value, because what we’re seeing unfold almost definitely does not have total allegiance to the truth.”
At the Minneapolis party, attendees were very aware of that unreality. In fact, Butala, the evening’s host, and her friends have also gathered to watch “Unreal,” a fictionalized take on a reality series that looks a lot like “The Bachelor.” So watching is “like this guilty pleasure,” Butala said. “We all want to have this Disney story, which is not realistic. So this is a way to live out our fantasies.”
It’s also a way to dissect the drama, making some fun of the people creating it, she continued.
“I feel really healthy about having this fake drama outside of our social circle,” she said. “And it doesn’t hurt anyone’s feelings.”
Each time Jordan Kimball, a blond, ditsy model, opened his mouth, the Minneapolis fans laughed. When Kufrin kicked him off the show, Kimball was incredulous, listing his many attributes, including his ability to put together an outfit. “I can speak,” he told the camera, “I can walk.”
“Yeah, you know who else can do that? My 2-year-old,” joked Carolyn Jenkins, whose son was sprawled out on the floor nearby.
As a feminist, Jenkins said, it can be tough to watch the show. And this season, she has some concerns about some of the contestants. (Garrett Yrigoyen has apologized for liking offensive memes on Instagram, including one mocking feminists. Lincoln Adim had been convicted of indecent assault and battery.) But still, she watches. “It’s like crack.”
Between eating Vietnamese takeout and catching up on one another’s lives, the women laughed about the show’s lingo.
Each season, the franchise’s longtime host Harrison promises, will be “the most dramatic.” Some cast members go on the show to get famous; others are “here for the right reasons.” Love is prized, so before a contestant says “I love you,” he might first declare that “I’m falling in love with you.” And, of course, there’s Kufrin’s tagline: “Let’s do the damn thing.”
Roses are currency: If Kufrin pins one to a guy’s chest, that means he’ll continue onto the next episode. There is also a coveted first impression rose, a rose awarded on a “one-on-one” date, a final rose.
At the episode’s end, when Kufrin gave away that final rose, Johnson pumped her fist in the air. It was a win for her bracket. Many fans fill one out at the season’s start — March Madness style — making their best guesses as to who will get down on one knee. “I’m so in it to win it,” said Johnson, who owns a talent agency called Nuts Ltd.
She explained her strategy: During the first episode, she takes copious notes on the contestants’ body language. She is so serious that each week, she watches the episode twice.
A big group is fun, she said, but distracting.
“Watching with other people, I’m like, ‘Shhhh. Shhhhh.’ ”