The Bachelor is now in its twentieth season, still honoring its commitment to reinforcing every outmoded social construct our culture holds dear. What a delight! For many viewers, it seems to strike that delicious balance between so-boring-it's-soothing and deeply enraging—the perfect recipe for an American classic.
Though the show most explicitly celebrates gender normativity, it provides ample opportunities for reflection on the construction of race and sexual orientation as well. Less commented upon is the show's representation of other species. From elephants playing noble ersatz limos for the freshly engaged, to the conspicuous absence of pigs on "Prince Farming," Chris Soules' very successful, very pastoral pig farm, animals are depicted (or not) pretty much as you'd expect.
Read More: The Feminist Legacy of VH1's "Mob Wives"
Enter Tiara Soleim, this season's Chicken Enthusiast (on the show, her occupation is literally listed as "Chicken Enthusiast"). On the night of the premiere, she blew the Internet's mind. Completely. Chickens! In the house! She kisses them! There was a lot to take in. Though clearly a fan-favorite, Soleim didn't make it through the first Rose Ceremony.
We wanted to know more and caught up with the Chicken Enthusiast (and dental assistant) over the phone. We laughed and talked about her beloved birds, awkward Bachelor Ben-times, and shamelessness. Her chickens clucked contentedly in the background during our conversation, which has been edited for length and clarity.
BROADLY: I've met some chickens at various farm sanctuaries and they really are great. I'm jealous you get to live with them. How did your love of chickens begin?
Soleim: Growing up we always had property, I've always had horses…one day when I was little I just said, "Let's keep chickens!" My parents said, "Why not?" I just have this bird obsession is what it comes down to.
Can you tell me about your very special chicken, Sheila?
You've seen her, she's tiny! She literally stands four inches tall. And she's super friendly. In my casting interview they said, "So, tell us about yourself." I said, "I work with teeth and I'm obsessed with birds!" They were like, "Oh my god, stop."
At the time when they came to do their package—where they film the girls before the show—Sheila was living inside. I have this huge rooster who would just annihilate her because he was in love with her. She couldn't handle it. So Sheila would live in my room. I'd come home from work and she'd be on her perch with the cat sitting next to her, just hanging out. My cat doesn't touch my chickens, she knows she'll get clobbered. And Sheila comes places with me. She came and watched The Bachelor premiere. She's just so sweet.
People say, "They're so dumb," and I'm like, "Funny story: they're actually not at all."
If you could tell America one thing about chickens they might not know, what would it be?
They're smarter than people think. People say, "They're so dumb," and I'm like, "Funny story: they're actually not at all." It's all based on how you raise them. If you don't handle them at all, they're not going to be entertaining. Mine live inside with me for the first two to four months and then they go outside. By then they're bonded to me, and they're super funny. They know their names. They know my car. If anyone else pulls up in the driveway they look, but when it's mine they're like, "[adorable clucking]."
You often use the hashtag #noshameinthechickengame. Have you ever felt shame about it?
Never. Some people might be embarrassed because it's a chicken: it's dumb, it stinks, and they're made to eat. And it's just like, "False!" There should be no shame in it. They're super smart, super funny, super cute… and they're so fluffy! At my house, when people actually experience a chicken and they come up to them and are like, "Hold me!" people say, "This is so cool!"
Were you surprised or offended by how viewers reacted to you?
Nobody genuinely hurt my feelings. People were like, "She's weird," but here's the thing: I don't see you making it on the show with your weird obsession! I was so happy with the outcome. I was nervous, because I can be a sensitive person. But the fact that I didn't get anything negative? I was like, "This is awesome."
How did you come to be on The Bachelor?
I was newly single and one of the moms I babysit for said I needed to try out. I said I'm too awkward, but she was like, "America needs to know about you." She said [the Bachelor] Ben is the most normal guy. I'd never seen the show. I really did not expect for them to pick me. I watched a couple of episodes when I got in so I could see what it was about and not look like a buffoon. But I don't even watch TV. I mean, I watch reruns of Friends every single night, but that's it.
Was branding yourself as a Chicken Enthusiast your idea?
Yes! My friends said, "I didn't appreciate that they called you a Chicken Enthusiast," and I was like, "You guys, that was my idea." I'm a dental assistant, but at that time I had quit my job. Basically my world revolves around these feathered creatures so… I'm a Chicken Enthusiast. I don't know how else to say it.
How did it feel to watch yourself on the show?
I was so awkward, it was so funny. The package took literally the entire day to shoot because I was sweating and couldn't speak. A camera looks at me and I'm like, "I just threw up in my mouth." People said, "You know they're trying to make you look crazy because you're reading a book to a chicken?" and I'm like, "I. Don't. Care. I think it's awesome. That's how it is; Sheila's my number one."
Basically my world revolves around these feathered creatures so… I'm a Chicken Enthusiast. I don't know how else to say it.
Did you talk to Ben about your chickens? Do you feel like it was one of the reasons you didn't last long?
He asked about them. Our conversation was so awkward they didn't show it. The moms I babysit for were like, "Don't get all crazy when you bring up the chickens," and I didn't. He's like, "These are pets to you?" and I said, "Yeah. I raise them, I love them, and they all have names." He said, "That's so cool!" I'm like, "I know. I'm fully aware." I honestly think I didn't last because I wasn't as entertaining as they thought I was going to be.
They assumed because you love chickens you're going to be off-the-wall?
Yeah. But I'm normal, I have a job, and chickens…if my man doesn't like my birds, he doesn't stick around.
Were you sad to go home? Did your chickens help you through the disappointment?
Yeah, I was bummed. I only got a minute to talk to him. Time is limited, and if you're not on it, you're going to miss out. I was sad I was leaving, but yeah, I was like, "I get to see Sheila. That's the most exciting thing ever."
Can you describe what it feels like to hold a chicken in your arms?
Oh, you just want to squeeze them and put your face in their back! You know? Ducks are the same way. They're super soft on their front…it's unspeakable! If you ever get the chance, squeeze one. It's like holding a down pillow and then it quacks at you and you're like, "Aaah!" Ducks are so funny. Ducks and chickens together is like, "Stop. What is this? This is fantastic."