How "The Golden Bachelor" Breathed New Life Into Dating Shows

Bachelor Nation, one of the most popular dating show franchises since 2002, aired its first-ever "Golden Bachelor" earlier this year, a show that offers the chance for seniors age 60+ to find love. Here's why everyone—from your little sister to your mom—is obsessed.

By Caitlin Shaw4 min read
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From Love Is Blind to Love Island and Too Hot To Handle, the goal of each of these dating shows is to help young men and women find a partner. But as the age-old saying goes, “sex sells,” and most of the recently aired dating shows center around lust and physical attraction rather than emotional intimacy. The Golden Bachelor is different though, not only because its contestants are 60- and 70-something year olds, but because cultivating a real connection is truly the show’s focal point.

What Is The Golden Bachelor?

The basic structure of The Golden Bachelor is not unlike The Bachelor or Bachelorette series, but it does have a few distinctions. Unlike the typical nine episodes in a season, The Golden Bachelor only has seven, and filming wrapped in as short a time as one month. The first episode began with 22 women meeting one man, 72-year-old Gerry Turner, inside a California mansion and ended with the classic rose ceremony. (For those unfamiliar with the Bachelor franchise, a rose ceremony occurs at the end of each episode and is when contestants find out if they can remain on the show or if they have to pack their bags and head home.) The hometown visits, women-tell-all, and fantasy suites episodes are still included in this season, just like previous renditions of the show. Part of what makes The Golden Bachelor so touching is how the producers kept so much of the show the same as The Bachelor or The Bachelorette – no matter their age, people will still go to great lengths, including entering a competitive dating show, to find love. 

However, it’s the way that Gerry and the women in the house carry themselves that makes it so vastly different from any other dating show. Yes, the contestants on this season are much older than the ones on a typical dating show. But along with age and experience comes great wisdom, especially when it comes to romantic relationships. According to show host Jesse Palmer, the contestants on this season’s Golden Bachelor are “much more resilient” compared to the original Bachelor. Palmer believes this is due to the fact that the women have decades more life experience that has taught them how to face adversity. Gerry and the women on his season are, as a group, more true to themselves, more carefree about love, and more likely to know what they want in a life partner.

In one interview, Gerry noted that adults in their 20s, 30s, and 40s can sometimes lose a sense of feeling for others, but in your golden years, emotions are much closer to the surface. Could this mean that The Golden Bachelor will be more successful at fostering a lasting relationship than other dating shows? Possibly…

Who is the Golden Bachelor? 

Gerry Turner, the first Golden Bachelor, is a 72-year-old widower from Ottumwa, Iowa. Though he has a tight-knit family of daughters and granddaughters, Gerry has had a life partner shaped hole in his heart ever since the sudden passing of his wife, Toni. And after about six years of being single, Gerry decided he was ready to get back out there and find love.

Gerry and his late wife Toni were high school sweethearts; they met in 1968 and were married for 43 years. Together, they shared a beautiful life, raising their children, excelling in their careers, and being each other’s person. In the same month that the couple moved into their dream home, ready to enjoy retirement, Toni contracted a severe bacterial infection and was hospitalized. It was this infection that took her life.

While Gerry has been open about his grief journey, he told The New York Times that he never wanted Toni’s death to be sensationalized or to become the show’s focus because talking about her passing is painful. Gerry’s willingness to publicly discuss his loss, and show such raw emotion while doing so, reminds viewers that he is a real person feeling real grief over the loss of his wife.

Apparently, it was Gerry’s “tragic story of loss” in his casting interview that piqued the producers’ interest, but it was ultimately his “sincerity that eventually won him the role,” the executive producer told NYT. The show’s producers wanted a genuine, down-to-earth, and warm man as their Golden Bachelor, and they found just that. Over the last few years, Bachelor Nation viewership has plummeted, as the franchise has struggled with poor casting choices that have resulted in either boring, repetitive seasons or cancel-worthy seasons due to the controversial morals of some participants. Executive producers knew they needed a positive change to make their audience base fall in love with dating shows again.

Gerry told E! News in an interview that he committed to restarting his dating journey as the Golden Bachelor in early 2020, but the pandemic forced the show’s production to pause. Three years later, by the time Bachelor Nation was ready to shoot the first season of The Golden Bachelor, Gerry admitted he was reluctant to say yes again. But, boy, are viewers glad he did. 

The Golden Bachelor has some of the highest audience ratings among recent dating shows, with an IMDb score of 6.4/10 and a Rotten Tomatoes score of 71%. Meanwhile, The Bachelor and The Bachelorette have only landed a 3.2/10 and 3.5/10 on IMDb respectively, and Love Island has received a 5.2/10. And many viewers have posted on TikTok and Instagram speaking out about how they typically dislike dating shows, but they love The Golden Bachelor. So what is it about watching seniors find love that’s so enchanting? 

What Is The Golden Bachelor’s Appeal?

The Golden Bachelor reminds viewers that it’s never too late in life to find love. It draws on feelings of nostalgia for middle-age and older adults, and it instills a sense of hope in younger viewers. In many ways, The Golden Bachelor shows us that what can be even more beautiful than first love or young love is late-life love – the kind of love that has to be passionate because, in your golden years, you’re making the best out of every minute. Beyond just finding love, the show serves as a great reminder that it’s never too late in life to chase anything you’re passionate about.

“I have a lot more optimism about love and the possibility of finding love.” – Gerry Turner

Another reason that The Golden Bachelor feels like a breath of fresh air in the dating show world is that Gerry’s and the women’s focus is truly on finding lasting love and cultivating a deep emotional connection rather than highlighting petty drama. On shows like Love Island and Too Hot To Handle, the contestants may try to pretend that they’re looking for love, but typically, they’re in it for reality TV fame (which means they'll do whatever it takes to get their 15 minutes) or some fleeting, physical connection.

When asked about the fantasy suites in an E! News interview, Gerry shared: “I was eager to get to the fantasy suites, but the difference is at the age of 70, I was more interested in an emotional connection, an intellectual connection, really getting to know the values and morals of the person I was in the fantasy suite with – as opposed to when you’re 30, and you’re looking at the physical connection.” No matter the age of contestants, all dating shows should take a word of advice from Gerry Turner on what it means to find love.

Closing Thoughts

Because of its overwhelming success, The Golden Bachelor begs the question of whether more dating shows should shift their casting demographic to an older population. Or perhaps, Gen Z and Millennial viewers would be content with seeing more wholesome and meaningful storylines while sticking to watching their peers.

Tune into The Golden Bachelor on ABC tonight at 8 p.m. ET to watch the finale and find out if Gerry’s journey ends with true love.

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