Sept. 28 was the season premiere of The Golden Bachelor, a new show from The Bachelor franchise featuring senior dating. The episode unfolded much like any Bachelor premier where we watch the hopeful lead meet a group of starry-eyed hopefuls. The difference was that the people meeting were not at the beginning of their careers or ready to start families. These folks were searching for someone to spend their next, and final chapter with.
I started seeing casting calls for The Golden Bachelor a while back. I didn’t think too much of it at the time, other than what a trip it would be to see my mom on a show known for clout chasing, fighting over shrimp, diabolical plotting, and other behaviors that get contestants labeled as being there for the “wrong reasons.” And then, on August 14, 2023, during “The Men Tell All” episode of Charity Lawson’s Bachelorette season, the world was introduced to Gerry Turner, the franchise’s first Golden Bachelor—a 72-year-old widower with two daughters and two grandchildren.
Turner’s introduction was met with boundless enthusiasm and teary eyes as he described his desire to find love again after losing his wife to illness in 2017. The two were high school sweethearts and married for 43 years. When asked by the host, Jesse Palmer, if he believes he’ll find a love like he had with his wife, Turner remarked, “What I look for at the age of 70 is different than what I looked for in high school and college.” My interest was immediately piqued.
During the show's premiere, we got a glimpse of the complex dynamics of dating later in life as Gerry and the contestants shared their desires for partnership, love, and affection after having already had full lives and for some, multiple loves.
Bachelor Nation will now be privy to the evolution of love after a lifetime of experience, loss, and resilience. I’m rooting for Gerry, as I root for all of the leads, to find love and a life-long partner—but it’s concerning just how much the show is focusing on a narrow population of seniors, all very fit and active, with several contestants working in the fitness industry. Is this who the franchise believes to be worthy of a second chance at love?
Diversity has always been a problem for the franchise, from leads to the contestants. The show’s casting has historically veered towards homogeneity and included little racial, body or ability diversity. Prior to The Golden Bachelor, the age range for contestants has usually fallen between early 20s and late 30s. The show appears to be the franchise’s way of opening up discussions about age andacknowledging a population of daters who are rarely represented in media.
The cast for Gerry’s season was released on August 30 in a splashy video with Cher’s “Believe” playing in the background. Twenty two women in fashionable gowns revealed themselves to be ready for love and hopeful that it’s with Gerry. Based on who has made the cut, it’s clear that the producers chose contestants who defy what we imagine when we think of senior citizens. But is this casting move breaking stereotypes or reinforcing harmful expectations for people over 60 to be thin, with very few wrinkles, and mostly gray-hair free?
In many ways, The Golden Bachelor is a mirror of our culture’s beliefs about aging. We are already seeing hints of ageism, which the American Psychological Association defines as “discrimination against older people because of negative and inaccurate stereotypes.” One of the final “contestants” to exit the limousine to meet Gerry was Concetta "Aunt Chippy" Potenza, who also happens to be Jimmy Kimmel's aunt. At 84, she more closely resembles the stereotype of the undesirable older woman. In typical (tasteless) Bachelor fashion, she is meant to be comic relief, but she registered more as the fat, aim of the joke. Cast against women who managed to escape the ravages of age, she seemed to portray a cautionary tale. She is brash, comments that she’s in the wrong place, and falls asleep during the rose ceremony. Whether she voluntarily was there for the joke or not, the point remains the same: she was never even close to being competition.
There are many stereotypes about older people, and one is that older bodies, with their fat and folds and wrinkles, aren’t desirable. This is especially true for women, who experience a tremendous amount of pressure to remain youthful in appearance and get (or stay) thin as they age—some of which is hormonally impossible and gets only more complicated by any number of health issues we face as we age. Perhaps we will hear from the women about their struggles with weight and body image and how they experience inhabiting an older body.
In casting Turner, who is thin and active (he loves pickleball), the show is also holding up an example of what aspirational aging looks like for men. Turner appears to be the picture of “health” with nowhere near a granddad-bod or even a dad-bod. He uses a hearing aid, but other than that he looks as spry as any young man could be. Not all men age this gracefully, but that’s what makes Gerry such an attractive casting choice for the franchise. They want us to see an idealized version of aging, not what most of us will likely experience in our own lives.
Another tricky area for The Golden Bachelor to navigate is sex. Senior sex tends to get erased from the media in favor of a more kindly, sexless representation of aging. When Gerry’s season was first announced on “The Men Tell All,” the topic of Fantasy Suites came up. Fantasy Suites are overnight dates where the final three contestants are able to spend camera-free time with the lead and explore intimacy. Jesse Palmer asked Gerry whether that would be a part of his journey, as the camera panned around the studio audience with puzzled looks on their faces. Gerry remarked that this will depend on the relationships he builds and how comfortable they both feel, which is generally how Fantasy Suites are addressed by younger leads.
The problem is in the question: Why would Gerry be any different? Older people have sex, sometimes the best sex of their lives. What that looks like is largely a mystery because no one talks about it.
During Gerry’s reveal, there were jokes about how he was trending with tweets about how he “can geddit” and is a “grandzaddy.” But somehow the idea of him choosing to explore a sexual connection with one or multiple contestants was unthinkable. This man has been having sex his whole life, and most certainly knows the value sexual connection can have in a relationship.
Based on what we saw in the premier and what was teased in the season trailer, I think we’re in for lots of sexual tension. Gerry makes out with at least two women on the first night and declares he’s in love with multiple women. I’m excited for there to be real moments of lust and passion between Gerry and his hopeful fiancés-to-be. But I also want the show to shed light on how our desires change as we get older. What the show lacks in body and racial diversity I hope will be made up for in allowing the women to tell stories about the process of aging and how that’s impacted their identities.
That includes all of the stuff society tells us time and time again to hide: discussions of menopause, Empty Nest Syndrome, being child-free or what it has been like raising Black children or grandchildren in America. We’ve already started to hear some compelling stories about loss and supporting friends who have severe illness, and I’m hopeful that the show will create more space for harder topics to be explored. I want to learn about the contestants’ defining moments of embracing themselves and their lives. I want to leave this season of the show feeling like I’ve gained more insights on aging and particularly, what it feels like to age in a culture that wants you to remain young.
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