“Can I leave early to get my hair done?” I asked my boss last Thursday afternoon.
She obliged, which is how I found myself perched in a bright yellow salon chair at River Oaks Drybar while Maddie B. crafted a Dirty Martini—the blowout chain’s “tousled and textured style”—from my unruly mane. I have quite a lot of hair, which meant quite a lot of work for Maddie, and approximately two uninterrupted hours for me to consider what I was about to do: audition for The Bachelor.
Being a self-professed member of Bachelor Nation—albeit a lapsed one, as I lost interest in the franchise as soon as Nick Viall chose Vanessa at the conclusion of Season 21 last January—I knew I had to do this the moment ABC announced it would host an open casting call at the Downtown Aquarium again this this year, placing Houston smack dab in the middle of an 11-city tour. Friends, family, and coworkers all agreed: I should at least try to get on the show. “I could see you being real hip and villainy,” one texted. I took it as a compliment. My favorite Bachelor contestant, after all, is Corinne Olympios.
Hair sufficiently tousled and textured, I headed home to get ready for the rose ceremony casting call. Like any good bachelorette, I contoured my face, downed three glasses of champagne, and zipped up my raunchiest dress. It was Kris Jenner blue and offered guaranteed entry into any VIP section of a club. Despite owning it for at least a year, I’d never worn it. “You have to wear that, HANDS DOWN,” one friend said when I texted a photo to our group chat. But what shoes? “THE HIGHEST HEELS YOU HAVE,” she screamed back. “That dress is HOT. Is it too much?? Why am I nervous?” said the other friend, who I’d just enlisted to join me at the impending casting call for moral support.
In the end, we decided the club dress was both hot and too much, especially during waking hours. Lyft’s Joseph en route, I changed into my default outfit—a Free People sundress with platform sandals—with seconds to spare.
In Joseph’s car, we anticipated the producers’ questions and settled on my answers (I’m ready to find love; I hope the next bachelor is DeMario) and otherwise braced ourselves for the madness we were surely about to encounter at Tilman Fertitta’s underwater adventure. Having researched last year’s Houston casting call and those in other cities, I’d developed a composite mental image of an endless line of hundreds and hundreds of women in their best Herve Leger knock-offs, all vying for a chance to go head-to-head in a dating deathmatch over whichever boring, rich white man ABC set its sights on this year. All would be 10s and hold jobs like Pilates instructor, dental hygienist, or “dog lover.” None would be there to make friends.
I walked into something else entirely. There were definitely 10s, bandage dresses, and fitness instructors, but, compared to the insanity of years past I’d come to expect, the place felt practically empty. No more than 80 people at a time milled about the aquarium’s second-floor ballroom, a welcome respite from the pungent stench of fish we’d just passed through downstairs. My friend and I exchanged befuddled glances. “This is it?”
It was, we learned, as I scrawled my name and cell phone number on a whiteboard and stood against a wall to have my mugshot test photos taken by an ABC employee armed with a small digital camera. That’s when I strong-armed my moral support into trying out, too. She’s married, a fact we would leave off the six-page questionnaire. “Fine, fine, I’ll do it!” she acquiesced, slipping her wedding ring into her purse.
I grabbed a fistful of Bachelor-branded pens and bellied up to the bar, where Landry’s employees were pouring candy-colored Bachelor drink specials: The Fantasy Suite (rum, Blue Curaçao, and cranberry juice), The Final Rose (vodka, Cointreau, pomegranate syrup, grenadine, and lemonade), and First Impression (vodka, rum, peach schnapps, grenadine, and “tropical juices”).
“Was it busy earlier?” I asked the bartender, trying to reconcile my expectation that I’d wait in line all night with the reality of a slow trickle of applicants.
“Nope,” she said. “This is the most people I’ve seen all night.”
I nodded, ordered both pink cocktails—The Final Rose and First Impression—and returned to my table to get down to business with the plainly labeled “GIRL QUESTIONNAIRE.”
Here’s a sampling of what ABC wanted to know about me, in no particular order: height; weight; annual salary; how many relationships I had, how long they lasted, and why they ended; what was on my bucket list; details and dates of any restraining orders, arrests, or bankruptcies; the physical appearance and personality of my ideal mate; special talents; languages spoken; descriptions and locations of tattoos.
Why would you want to find your spouse on our TV show? ABC challenged me. “Unconventional methods of dating are par for the course in 2018,” I wrote. “Why not?”
Are you genuinely looking to get married? “Yes!” my friend scrawled as her phone vibrated. She picked up; it was her husband: “When are you coming home?”
“Don’t be mad…” she started.
I sat back sipping my First Impression and took in the scene. Most of the girls looked too young to legally drink; I tried to imagine them all cohabiting the famed Agoura Hills mansion and wooing the last bachelor, Arie Luyendyk Jr., who is a 36-year-old race car driver. Arie’s season, which I—and, it seems, most others in the room—did not watch, was described overwhelmingly as “boring.” I wondered if ABC’s ratings dip corresponded to the suspiciously low turnout tonight.
As my friend simultaneously listed the qualities of her ideal mate while making dinner plans on the phone with her husband, I sized up the rest of my competition. To my left, there was the table of girls in all-white ensembles—primarily crop top and mini skirt sets—diligently completing their forms. I couldn't tell whether or not they knew each other before this night, but I chose to believe they hung out exclusively at casting calls. “Good luck,” one said as she stood to leave. “See you next season, Julie!”
A newly arrived trio joined our table, including a guy who was unquestionably Bachelorette contestant material. (Carl, if you’re reading this, call me!) He was applying at the behest of his friends, a common refrain shared by nearly everyone I’d talked to that night. Most of them didn’t even watch the show. Why try out? “It sounded fun,” they’d say, shrugging. Talk about not being here for the right reasons.
Filling out Carl’s application quickly turned into a collective endeavor. I supplied sample answers I thought would at least get him a call-back, like his nickname—"Buck"—and an adjective about him that would surprise people—Communist. I wished them luck, downed the final dregs of The Final Rose, and prepared to enter the adjoining room for the on-camera portion of the casting.
A producer accepted my questionnaire and affixed a Lavalier mic to the top of my dress. I wrote my information on another whiteboard, which I held awkwardly at chest level while I shifted my gaze uncertainly between the camera lens and the producer’s eyes and answered a handful of softballs. A brief dating history? “Tinder came out when I was in college, so you know how that goes,” I said.
And just like that, it was over. Outside, I anxiously compared notes with my friend, who interviewed with another producer at the same time. They liked her better, a conclusion I reached after I found out they asked her one more question than they asked me. The dreaded query: “Who do you like from this season?”
“Well, I don’t really watch this season and I have a pretty bad memory,” she answered—the kiss of death. “But I really like Sean and Catherine!”
Despite being one of the franchise’s most marketable success stories, Season 17’s Sean and Catherine romance—now a marriage complete with two children—was decidedly an unappealing answer to the question.
It was still light outside when we left. A family in matching sweatpants stood at the aquarium entrance and curiously eyed the gaggle of stiletto-clad women streaming out of the double doors. Waiting for our Lyft, we basked in the mist of the swordfish fountain and talked to our competition.
Two girls, both fitness instructors, drove in from Dallas that morning despite having never seen the show. One of them—a pretty, curly-haired twenty-something—was nominated by a friend. ABC called her the night before and asked her to come to Houston, so she did.
“Oh my God!” we squealed, suddenly invested in the narrative. “They called you? That’s a really good sign.”
She shrugged—they didn’t ask her any more questions than they’d asked us. Still, she said, no regrets. “As long as we get home safe, it was a good trip.”
Another girl—a pretty, curly-haired accountant—seemed to have better luck with her producer, who allegedly laughed at her answers and even told her she was funny and “real,” a golden word in the business of primetime reality TV. Her phone buzzed: It was her boss. “My boss wants me to get this but also really doesn’t because we’re in busy season,” she told us.
Her phone buzzed again: It was her Uber. She wished us luck and skipped away. “I got errands to run,” she said.
Next was our Lyft. We hopped in. “Did you have fun at the aquarium?” Kyemi asked from the driver’s seat.
We looked at each other and smirked. “We did,” my friend said. “We were here to find a husband.”