‘The Bachelor’ Premiered 20 Years Ago, and Critics Ripped It to Shreds

The Bachelor - Alex Michel and Chris Harrison in 2002
Everett Collection
Alex Michel and Chris Harrison in 2002

When The Bachelor premiered on ABC 20 years ago—on March 25, 2002—the dating-competition genre was still in its infancy. Reality TV cameras, Bachelor cams included, were still shooting in standard definition. And the house now known as Bachelor Mansion hadn’t even been built.

After only six episodes—a season half the length of recent Bachelor editions—inaugural Bachelor Alex Michel chose Amanda Marsh as his winner. Their relationship ended soon thereafter, with Marsh alleging that Michel was still pining for the season’s runner-up, Trista Sutter (née Rehn), who became the franchise’s first Bachelorette.

But that off-screen breakup was immaterial to ABC. The network already had its first Bachelor “journey to find love” in the can, and it could only hope the show would be the pop culture phenomenon it has become.

Television critics, meanwhile, hoped it wouldn’t—calling ABC desperate for airing the show and the contestants desperate for participating. Here are their scathing reviews of that first Bachelor season, including one from a reviewer who was nevertheless hooked on the rose-fest.

Amanda Marsh Alex Michel

Amanda Marsh and Alex Michel on a date at Disneyland on April 29, 2002 (Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images)

“‘And they lived happily ever after,’ lives on in today’s fiction, film, and television, and viewers, it seems, are still suckers for that fantasy version of the love story. I doubt that Alex and [winner] Amanda [Marsh] will last, especially with flaky Alex changing his mind every time a new woman batted her eyes in his direction. I believe much of my sneering at the show came from knowing they were being schmucks for love, and on primetime television.” –Belinda Acosta, Austin Chronicle

“Like so many of these relationship reality shows, The Bachelor is cheesy and the whiff of desperation wafting off the contestants is strong.” –Rob Owen, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

“Nothing says romance like throwing yourself at a Harvard grad just because the cameras are on. Please. … Besides being insulting to any woman who may not look like a runway model, The Bachelor, hosted by Chris Harrison, is just plain boring.” –Michael Speir, Variety

“Watching The Bachelor made me grateful to be married. … True, Alex is a handsome devil. But the singles scene must be pretty bleak if women would rather mass for a prime-time cattle call than go out on a blind date.” –Mike Lipton, People

“Just when you think they can’t get any more desperate at ABC, they find a way to look even more clueless. … The cringe-inducing series arrives at 9 p.m. Monday. … In a season of duds, the show is more jaw-droppingly bad than Jason Alexander’s witless sitcom Bob Patterson and John McEnroe’s foul game show The Chair.” –Hal Boedeker, Orlando Sentinel

“May I wax poetic for a second about ABC’s premier tonight of The Bachelor? Thanks. How do I loathe thee? Let me count the ways: You are degrading, debasing, desperate, depressing, dull, and dopey. You are a show so ill-conceived and so demeaning to women that you make Howard Stern look like a feminist. In fact, you make me so embarrassed for the desperate women who are on this show, that I am now officially ashamed to be a woman.” –Linda Stasi, New York Post

“Let’s just say ABC could have saved a ton on limousine fees if it had shrink-wrapped 25 women and placed them in the meat case at Safeway for its new hook-up series, The Bachelor. … Chris Harrison tells us The Bachelor is not like other dating shows—and certainly not like that one about marrying a multimillionaire—because ‘this is about something real, something permanent.’ Right. And Mike Fleiss, who co-produced Who Wants To Marry a Multi-Millionaire? and also produces The Bachelor, is a Nobel laureate.” –John Levesque, Seattle Post-Intelligencer

“Oh, my God, I thought. This is stupid, contrived and often slow enough to be boring. I was addicted too. … Between commercials for diamond rings and herpes medications, [The Bachelor] celebrates the wedding of a voyeuristic audience and a group of exuberantly exhibitionist players—a match made in TV heaven.” –Mimi Avins, Los Angeles Times