Like any great work of literature, The Bachelor and The Bachelorette always have a villain. This week, the primary antagonist of JoJo Fletcher's season took up that mantle with gusto: Meet Chad, a 28-year-old "luxury real estate agent" who hails from Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Chad, or at least the version of Chad that's been edited for our TV screens, is a dick. But the very nature of his dickishness raises fascinating questions about how men should behave.
Chad briefly appeared in the season's premiere episode, but not so briefly that he couldn't find the time to raise approximately 1,000 red flags. "If I wanted her, I'll have her," he said in a confessional interview. That's the kind of sweet talk you expect to hear from a man with a long, curly mustache who's about to tie a damsel to a railroad track. He reserved his negging A-game for JoJo, pointing out that her confidence makes her special, unlike ~other~ women (yuck!): "Normally girls are so worried about themselves, and it’s obvious to me and everybody else that you don’t worry about yourself. You're good.”
On last night's episode, Chad got nearly as much screentime as the Bachelorette herself. He is reality TV's answer to Gaston, a "man" with a capital M, and a capital A, and—why not?—a capital N for good measure. Stuck at home while JoJo is away on a group date, the other men look on, in amusement and in awe, as Chad does pull-ups on the side of the mansion, his suitcase chained around his waist for an extra challenge.
Chad is not exactly Mr. Congeniality, which is to say that his fellow contestants loathe him. As they write and perform a song in their collective sort-of-girlfriend's honor, Chad—munching on a steak while they rehearse—chides them for being “obsessed with JoJo already, and really, we don’t know anything about her." He characterizes himself as a real "man," whereas each of the other contestants is a "childish boy."
Chad's brain is as full of troubling opinions about gender relations as his mouth is full of meat. As he tells Daniel, seemingly the only other contestant who wants anything to do with him, "I always warn girls. I always say, ‘Stay away from the nice guys.’ …people think I’m an asshole, but in the end, I’m actually nice."
Later, Chad and five other men are whisked away on a second group date to the ESPN studio where SportsNation is taped. "Prove your love to me, and the nation," instructs the date card, but our
boy man Chad isn't feeling it.
On the date, the men are challenged to spin around on a bat ten times, then stagger over to JoJo and dizzily "propose" on one knee. The other men don't hold back with their affections (Alex declares that this is the best day of his life, which, okay), but Chad simply asks, "Will you marry me?"
When JoJo questions why, unlike his competition, he didn't say what he loves about her, Chad does not bend. “Starting off a little naggy here," he tells her, to the audible horror of everyone assembled. “If I’m getting nagged, I’m going to say something.”
Later, in an ESPN "press conference," he defends his position (if not his use of the word "naggy") with a surprisingly rational argument:
"If you're going to ask me to tell you all the things I love about you, I don’t know yet… Y’all don’t know her yet. You can’t be in love with her. If you are, that's weird. And what's to stop you from falling in love with the next girl that immediately walks up?"
Chad may be an irredeemable douchebag, but that doesn't mean he doesn't have a point. When he insists the other men are "fake" and “sucking up," he's not wrong. That song? Look, that song was corny as all hell. And most adults who aren't characters in a rom-com would agree that there is something distinctly off about professing your love for somebody you literally just met two days ago.
The Bachelorette is only nominally a "reality" show. Even if the men aren't doing so consciously, they are faking it. They've been influenced by the well-established dynamics and tropes of the franchise to perform the role of JoJo's perfect softboy suitor. And Chad, for his part, is having none of it. His presence in the house is an unmistakably subversive one. When the men who weren't chosen for a date this week sit around moping—as is customary—he swiftly punctures their disappointment: "You’ve gone your entire life without her. You can chill."
Chad's entire purpose on the show seems to be breaking—or at least doing pushups against—the fairytale fourth wall. Even his appetite has this effect: That steak wasn't an isolated incident. The Bachelor is notorious for never showing anyone eating, with gorgeous food routinely going untouched on dates. But Chad isn't here to make friends. He's here to make snacks. Shot after shot is devoted to Chad loading up plates with deli meats and happily stuffing his face. It's yet another way for the producers to code him as not only crass and boorish, but unwilling to adhere to the unwritten rules of love in the Bachelor mansion—just as he further alienates himself from the other men when he sneaks away to steal some time with JoJo when she first arrives for their cocktail party.
At the end of the night, Chad gets a rose, meaning he'll survive another week. “[He's] honest, upfront, I like that about him,” JoJo says, though she acknowledges that he might be “too much."
But on The Bachelorette, there is no such thing as "too much" of a bad thing. There's no question that Chad's brand of aggressive masculinity is toxic, but—by virtue of his off-putting radical honesty—he draws the inauthentic, saccharine sensitivity that the rest of the men are selling into sharp relief. This disconnect may be exactly what they find so infuriating about him: He isn’t conforming to the "nice guys" narrative (see: previous Bachelor Ben Higgins) they’ve been taught they must buy into in order to win.
Chad is sexist, sure, and he's rude as hell. But the truth is that every other man in that house is playing a part just as much as he is. A rose is a rose is a rose: Is there really that much of a difference?
Molly Fitzpatrick is senior editor of Fusion's Pop & Culture section. Her interests include movies about movies, TV shows about TV shows, and movies about TV shows, but not so much TV shows about movies.