On Monday night, a 31-year-old lawyer from Dallas named Rachel Lindsay will start her televised journey to love on the season premiere of “The Bachelorette,” the 34th season of the Bachelor franchise. The previous 33 seasons — 21 of “The Bachelor” and 12 of “The Bachelorette” — have given us an unprecedented data set on what is usually an elusive subject: matters of the heart. We used that data to try to figure out what gives contestants an edge in the competition, from the first-impression rose to the final four.
After 15 years of more often than not solid ratings, the Bachelor franchise has become part of America’s cultural fabric — scripted television is being made about it. Millions watch each week as the “bachelor” or “bachelorette” uses structured, on-camera dates to whittle down a group of previously unknown contestants (always of the opposite sex) until the lucky one remains. All that romance adds up to 856 contestants and 280 weeks of competition — and all the information we need to crack this nut.1
Before we jump in, we need to make some things clear.
First, although the motives of “Bachelor” and “Bachelorette” contestants are frequent subjects of speculation, we’re assuming that all the contestants are motivated by a desire for true love and are playing to win — that is, that they’re here for the right reasons.
Second, ABC helped us out with some of the data (FiveThirtyEight is owned by ESPN; ESPN and ABC are owned by the Walt Disney Co.). Here’s how we logged it2: For every week of competition in every season, we noted which contestants3 went on which dates (a one-on-one date, a two-on-one date or a group date),4 who received roses on dates (protection from elimination that week),5 and who left the show.6
Let’s get to it.
The first week
Only 7 percent of contestants on “The Bachelorette” and “The Bachelor” win or quit7 — which leaves the remaining 796 going out the hard way. Nearly 9 in 10 of those are felled at a rose ceremony — that’s the ritual ending to each week of competition in which the bachelor or bachelorette distributes roses to the contestants they want to keep dating the next week. The rest are either dumped on a date, rejected outside of a rose ceremony or removed by the show.
It’s against these dizzying odds that our players persevere. Week one in particular is a bloodbath — just over a third of all contestants are eliminated in the first rose ceremony. But amid the carnage of that very first week is an essential piece of data that allows viewers to crown an early favorite: the first-impression rose.
This coveted prize — a rose allocated to the contestant that most impressed the bachelor or bachelorette in week one — is not awful at forecasting the future. Looking strictly at the 23 seasons in which a single contestant was given the first-impression rose, four recipients went on to win, and another four went on to be the runner-up. That means 35 percent of recipients made it to the final episode. Rachel Lindsay herself received the first-impression rose in the most recent season of “The Bachelor,” and she made it to the final three before bachelor Nick Viall rejected her.
Indeed, just over half of those who get first-impression roses reach the final four, which is a vastly higher rate than the overall 15 percent of contestants who make a final four.
Once week two rolls around, the shows fall into a rhythm. Contestants are invited to go on dates with the bachelor/ette. These opportunities to spend time with (and hopefully inspire love in) the bachelor or bachelorette are a precious resource. For that reason, it’s considered ideal to be invited on dates that allow for maximum face time — one-on-one dates and smaller group dates rather than larger ones. We were curious about each winner’s path to victory: Do champions tend to get the best date opportunities early in their season? Or do they tend to burst out of date obscurity into strong positions toward the end? To find out, we assigned points to each date, weighting dates with fewer contestants more highly, and then charted the points that each contestant accumulated over the course of their season in the “roses” below. The winner’s journey for each season is highlighted in dark pink.
To see a winner who took an early lead, check out J.P. in “The Bachelorette” 2011. For a lurker, look to Lauren in “The Bachelor” 2016. One season stands out because there was no winner; bachelor Brad Womack in the 11th season of “The Bachelor” picked neither of the final two women. The growth in the length and complexity of the shows is also evident; as the seasons go on, the number of weeks and dates grows.
Beyond this big-picture view, however, specific types of dates are worthy of special statistical consideration.
Two-on-one dates are designed to be brutal: Two contestants go out, but with only one rose available, only one can come back. This already means that half of contestants invited on two-on-one dates get eliminated (it is also what makes them great TV). But the on-date mortality rate is actually more than half — 53 percent — because of particularly bloodthirsty bachelor(ettes) who terminated both competitors. Who could forget when, in a particularly Hunger Games-style moment, bachelor Chris Soules left both rejected women from a two-on-one date in the middle of a desert?
Somehow, though, the carnage doesn’t stop there. More than half of two-on-one date survivors are gone within the next two weeks. Within four weeks of a two-on-one date, 95 percent of participants are eliminated. In the remaining three cases, the contestant won the competition. But most two-on-ones spell doom, swiftly or soon enough.
One-on-one dates are the heart of the Bachelor franchise. There have been 548 of them over the course of the two series. And with a few exceptions, they’re sink or swim: Contestants come back with a rose, or they don’t come back at all.8
Surviving a one-on-one date is always a good sign, but we found that doing so is especially valuable early in a season: Four to six weeks before the field is reduced to four,9 contestants who have and survive one-on-one dates remained on the show, on average, 1.5 to two weeks longer than contestants overall.
And those extra weeks early on are especially helpful, because that’s when contestants are trying to establish their relationship with the bachelor(ette) in a crowded field. Last season’s “Bachelor” winner, Vanessa, went on a one-on-one date in week three (five weeks before the final four), and Nick Viall did not kick her off even though she vomited in the “zero gravity” plane they took and they shortly after shared what may have been the grossest kiss of all time.
The theory of the date rose
While the roses given at the end-of-episode ceremony are a mere invitation to continue playing, we contend the roses that contestants receive on dates represent an active preference on the part of the bachelor or bachelorette. While going on dates is important, getting a rose on a date gives a distinct advantage — regardless of how many people were on the date.
Getting a date rose is one of four things that can happen to a contestant in a given week of competition, along with being eliminated, surviving the rose ceremony and proceeding to the next week, and winning the competition. Surviving the rose ceremony is a neutral outcome. Being eliminated is a negative outcome. Being awarded a date rose is a positive. The essential question: How positive is it?
We zeroed in on weeks when at least one rose was up for grabs on at least one date and then looked at what positive or negative events happened to the recipient of the date rose next — keeping in mind that rose ceremony roses are neutral, so the next positive thing (winning or getting a date rose) or negative thing (leaving the show) that happens to a contestant might not be for several more weeks of competition.
Winning a date rose is only a temporary relief: 60 percent of the time, contestants were eliminated in a subsequent week; 33 percent of the time, they won a date rose in a subsequent week; and 8 percent of the time, the next thing that happened was that they won the competition.
But compare that 60 percent elimination rate with the elimination rate for all the competitors who did not win a date rose in a given week: 70 percent of the time, those contestants were eliminated that week or a later week. The date rose advantage is that 10-point difference.
We can also measure this advantage over time by looking at competitors’ chances of elimination week by week. Those who receive a date rose maintain a steady advantage over contestants who do not. Indeed, a rose buys you about two weeks. You can see this in the chart below, which shows the probability that a contestant who received a date rose — and one who didn’t — in a given episode will be eliminated in each of the next six weeks. For example, a person who is one week out from a roseless week10 has just over a 40 percent chance of being eliminated that week — roughly the same chance of elimination as a contestant who is three weeks out from receiving a date rose.
What we learned
So whether you’re preparing for your Bachelorette Fantasy League or want to get an idea of how your favorite contestant is doing, this analysis offers a few essential takeaways. The first-impression rose is a great way to identify an early favorite but a poor way to pick a winner. Date roses buy contestants about two more weeks on the show. One-on-one dates are more valuable earlier in the season, and going on a two-on-one date means that a contestant is probably toast. But most of all, if someone manages to make it past week one, they’re already closer to love than a third of all contestants. So have fun out there — we’ll see you after the final rose.
The premiere of season 13 of “The Bachelorette” airs Monday night on ABC.
ABC’s Grace Mohs contributed research to this piece, as did FiveThirtyEight’s Tony Chow, Rachael Dottle, Meena Ganesan and Gus Wezerek. Graphics by Ella Koeze and Gus Wezerek.