If you pay attention to the Instagram influencers and podcasters who populate Bachelor Nation—and why wouldn’t you—you’ve probably noticed that some of them are dating actual celebrities now. This summer, Gigi Hadid was photographed several times with recent Bachelorette contestant Tyler Cameron (he even attended her grandmother’s funeral in the Netherlands). Demi Lovato has reportedly been dating another Bachelorette castoff from the same season, Mike Johnson. Rachel Bilson, former queen of The O.C., has been exchanging flirty Instagram comments with Bachelor Nation veteran Nick Viall. Country music star Chris Lane featured his engagement to Bachelor Season 20 winner Lauren Bushnell in a music video for his single "Big Big Plans." And in a particularly savvy display of ABC network synergy, Sarah Hyland, star of the channel's Modern Family, announced her engagement to Wells Adams, a former Bachelorette contestant who serves as the bartender on Bachelor in Paradise.
Why is any of this happening? Well, one reason is probably: true love. But the commingling of A-listers and reality stars also says a lot about how much the traditional, A-to-D List celebrity hierarchy has collapsed in the Instagram age. When The Bachelor premiered in 2002, it seemed inconceivable that one of the contestants could end up dating, say, Jennifer Aniston. Now, the odds of that happening still don't seem extremely high, but they are certainly much better: Aniston has appeared on her good friend Jimmy Kimmel’s late night show to discuss her favorite contestants (more ABC network synergy). In the last few years, more and more celebrities have revealed themselves to be fans of the show, and of reality TV in general. And a few of them have taken a step further and made contact with contestants on social media, which is how this summer’s celeb-contestant relationships blossomed.
Are Bachelor Nation reality stars-cum-influencers … becoming regular celebrities? Or are celebrities becoming influencers? Let’s explore how these dueling forces have played out over the course of America’s favorite reality show.
The rise of Bachelor Nation…
The premise of the early seasons of The Bachelor was to offer regular (albeit conventionally attractive) women the opportunity to date someone sort-of famous or rich, or at least someone who appeared to be one of those things. Andrew Firestone, heir to the Firestone tire fortune, played the lead in Season 3, and Charlie O’Connell, the brother of actor Jerry O’Connell, took up the mantle in Season 7. By the late 2000s, however, producers began regularly picking leads from the eager pool of former contestants on the show, a trend that has continued to this day.
Bachelor Nation, as it were, became a world unto itself. People signed up for the show in hopes of dating someone who had already appeared on it. And contestants who appeared on the show could reasonably expect to find Instagram fame after leaving it. Those lucky enough to find a relationship with one of the leads (or a fellow castoff on Bachelor in Paradise) leveraged their special connection into spon con deals, podcasts, and other “influencing” work. But real fame—the kind you might expect to gain as a pop star or a film actor—remained elusive. A few Bachelor Nation alums have managed to extend their fifteen minutes by appearing on other reality shows, but none of them are household names. Could that change?
As everyone, especially Pete Davidson, knows, the quickest way to raise your own profile is to date someone more famous. Until this summer, however, Bachelor contestants struggled to successfully employ this strategy. Contestants mostly just dated each other; the few that did pursue other celebrity romances didn’t quite stick the landing.
Take the post-show romances of Season 16 bachelor Ben Flajnik and his ex-fiancee Courtney Robertson, for example. The two broke up shortly after getting engaged on the show, and Flajnik went on to make headlines for a supposed fling with Kardashian matriarch Kris Jenner in 2013. The following year, Robertson published a tell-all book in which she revealed hookups with two heavy-eyebrowed TV hunks: Entourage’s Adrian Grenier and Desperate Housewives’ Jesse Metcalfe. None of these relationships lasted, and none of them helped Flajnik and Robertson find enduring fame. The tabloids were mostly confused by Flajnik’s hookup or friendship (he was 31 at the time, while Jenner was 58), and Robertson’s confessions were presented in the media at best, as merely briefly juicy gossip, and at worst, as crass.
In 2019, though, the Hollywood landscape looks quite different. Everyone is over-sharing, especially on social media. And, to keep up with the constant demand for online content, tabloids have dramatically expanded the kinds of personalities they cover, putting stories about A-listers right alongside updates on the latest Bachelor drama. Which means Bachelor contestants have a chance to make the most of their celebrity encounters.
…And the concurrent rise of celebrity-as-influencer
In the last few years, it has become more and more difficult for the public to tell the difference between traditional A- and B-list celebs (actors, musicians) and reality stars and influencers. Almost all traditional celebs are on Instagram now (whether they post themselves or not), and a lot of them are doing the kind of spon-con deals that used to be reserved for D-listers. Jennifer Lawrence, an undisputed A-list movie star, just promoted her own wedding registry for Amazon. Is that so far removed from a sponsored, televised wedding?
Perhaps millennial stars like Gigi Hadid have found love with Bachelorette contestants because their lives are not so different, after all. Both Hadid and her boyfriend Tyler Cameron identify as models. Both have Instagram follower counts in the millions. And both seem to like getting photographed by the paparazzi. By any measure, Hadid is still the bigger star, but social media has democratized fame in a way that makes it difficult to explain why, exactly, that’s the case.
In some of the other contestant-celeb pairings, the lines are even blurrier. Rachel Bilson has been a popular, working actress for the last decade, but her rumored boyfriend Nick Viall has been on TV almost as much. (He appeared as a contestant on The Bachelorette twice, on Bachelor in Paradise once, and starred as The Bachelor in 2017.) Both have about a million followers on Instagram. Viall has actually appeared in the pages of Us Weekly more times than Bilson over the last year, thanks to the tabloid’s obsession with Bachelor Nation and anyone who comments on its unending dramas. (And, in 2018, he made headlines for flirting with another TV star: January Jones. The two met, in fact, after she talked about The Bachelor, and Viall specifically, on The Late Late Show with James Corden.) So who’s more famous? It’s hard to tell.
What will be interesting to see, now that Hadid and her peers have all but erased the stigma of dating reality stars, is how long this trend will continue. Will Bachelor and Bachelorette contestants apply for the show now with the hopes of dating other celebs once they get sent home from the Bachelor mansion? Will celebs clamor to claim the most attractive contestants for themselves on Instagram? Will any of these relationships … last? (Sarah Hyland told Us Weekly last month that she hasn’t started planning her wedding to Wells Adams yet, but that she is committed to getting married.)
Even harder to predict is whether Bachelor contestants will be able to find lasting fame after their A-list relationships end. According to People, Hadid and Cameron are taking a break from their summer romance. Since the tabloid reported on the breakup last week, however, Cameron has kept a busy schedule, appearing on Watch What Happens Live!, attending celebrity events, and explaining his diet and exercise routine to GQ. When People asked him about Hadid at an event last Friday, his answer was far more vague than the details his former Johnson costar has been sharing about Demi Lovato.
“I mean, I’m at a point right now where I don’t really talk about what I’m doing relationship-wise,” he said. “What’s out there is out there. I’m just focusing on myself right now.”
What a perfectly coy, A-list answer.
Got a tip about this or any other celebrity mysteries? Email Allie at email@example.com, or contact her on Twitter .
Sign up for our newsletter to get the best of VICE delivered to your inbox daily.