The sun never sets on the McElroy Empire of Podcasts. If you’ve ever listened to a podcast, there’s a good chance you’ve heard one of theirs. Their fans include such luminaries as Pulitzer Prize winner and Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda, Eat Pray Love author Elizabeth Gilbert, and columnist Dan Savage. As of this writing, there are at least ten different McElroy shows for you to enjoy: from their flagship, My Brother, My Brother and Me, to their D&D quest The Adventure Zone, to their medical history show Sawbones, to a show all about etiquette, Shmanners (this doesn’t even get into their non-podcast ventures like Griffin’s Amiibo Corner and Monster Factory). And that’s just for starters.
Perhaps only more ubiquitous than the McElroys is the television phenomenon, The Bachelor, a show you may’ve never seen before but nonetheless is buried deep within your cultural consciousness. If you’ve watched any reality dating show in the past fifteen years, it’s likely been a riff on The Bachelor’s format, and the Bachelor/Bachelorette franchise is something of its own empire, with spin-offs including Bachelor in Paradise, the defunct Bachelor Pad, and the many projects of its charming host Chris Harrison.
My girlfriend, Madeleine, has been a fan for some time, regularly watching the show with her sister in Brooklyn. When I met her sister, Cadence, she was quick to tell Madeleine I had received a “first-impression rose.” After Madeleine and I started living together, I began to catch more and more of the show myself, and against my will, I found myself intrigued.
The concept of the show sounds gross, and a lot of times, it is. Yet there are often moments of pop culture surrealism where little cracks in the façade of the overly-produced show reveal some kind of truth about how gross society is itself. Or maybe I’m just romanticizing it in an effort to find some excuse to watch it.
But thanks to the latest product from the McElroy family, Rose Buddies, I don’t need to feel at least as much shame in enjoying this problematic fave. Rose Buddies is a Bachelor fancast from sweet baby brother Griffin McElroy and his wife Rachel McElroy. They approach the show with an unapologetic and non-ironic fandom, taking copious notes and sorting through all the strange developments. In The Bachelor‘s off-season, they explore other dating reality shows, including Are You the One?, Paradise Hotel 2, and the crime against humanity that was Flavor of Love.
I asked Rachel and Griffin about those problematic aspects of The Bachelor, how they stay hydrated, and what’s up with all those McElroy podcasts, anyway.[Quick side note: this interview was conducted before certain events, like the beginning of the latest season of the Bachelorette and the unfortunate and untimely death of Super Water Zero.]
The Rumpus: In an early episode, Rachel joked that it was probably unbelievable to a McElroy brother that you don’t have to record a podcast in response to everything. That inevitably raises the question: why all the podcasts, Griffin? And Rachel, how does it feel to join in on the McElroy family tradition?
Rachel McElroy: As far as joining the McElroy family tradition, I don’t know if I can claim that Rose Buddies stacks alongside Adventure Zone, MBMBAM, Sawbones, and Shmanners. Those are all carefully researched and planned shows that are executed by individuals that have real experience in theater and performance. I just make jokes about a reality show with my very funny husband.
Griffin McElroy: I really, genuinely enjoy making podcasts. That’s really it! I like discussing, I like editing, I like the prep work that goes into it—especially for Rose Buddies, where “prep work” equates to drinking a bottle of red wine while watching a television show with my wife.
Rumpus: Whose idea was the podcast initially?
Rachel: I’m not sure who came up with the idea. I know Griffin suggested that, if we were ever to do a podcast, it would have to be about The Bachelor. This season we just decided to go for it.
Griffin: There wasn’t much more to it than that. The Bachelor isn’t our favorite television show, but we don’t watch it like any other television show. It’s an event in our home; doing the podcast immediately afterward is another part of that event now, and it’s a blast.
Rumpus: One of the things I like most about Rose Buddies is that it doesn’t feel ironic. I don’t feel like you’re making fun of The Bachelor; it just seems like a show you genuinely enjoy. What is it that keeps you watching The Bachelor? You mention a few other reality shows you like, too; what is it about reality television that you enjoy?
Rachel: I love the branch of reality television where people with real unique talents compete to win a prize. Shows like Survivor, Amazing Race, Top Chef, America’s Next Top Model, and Ru Paul’s Drag Race all have people that build strategies, leverage their skills, and give their whole selves to win the show. I’d argue The Bachelor/Bachelorette is the same way, except with a lot more wine and a lot more tears.
Rumpus: At the same time, you guys aren’t forgiving of The Bachelor‘s obvious faults (I’m thinking specifically of moments like Ben Higgins’s “racial atrocity” or the slut-shaming of Kaitlyn). How do reconcile those rather problematic moments with your enjoyment of the show?
Rachel: I know the producers pick contestants and have a heavy hand in creating heightened situations that capitalize on the weaknesses of the men and women. Still, there are moments within the show and among the men and women that represent truly gross behavior. I know that the slut-shaming of Kaitlyn and the sexism of Juan Pablo were particularly difficult to sit through for both of us. Maybe I’m cynical or have remarkably low expectations for reality TV, but none of these moments made me think about ceasing to watch the show. I can’t exactly explain it. While I have very high standards for my friends and family, I don’t have high standards for the producers or the contestants.
Griffin: Yeah, this show can be really exploitative and double-standardy sometimes. There’s no excuse for that stuff, and it certainly doesn’t heighten our enjoyment of the franchise. I think the only way to reconcile it is to acknowledge it, not gloss over it, not ignore or apologize for it. We can’t do that stuff—ignoring it—the way we talk about the show on the podcast.
Rumpus: You talk a lot about having a group of friends over to watch the show, as well as your fantasy league; you clearly get some enjoyment out of sharing the experience with friends. Has the podcast/Facebook group made the show more enjoyable for you? Has it changed the way you watch the show?
Rachel: It has definitely changed the way I watch the show. First, I take like four to six pages of notes while I watch. I also moderate the Facebook group to ensure the conversation between our 1700+ members stays largely on topic and civil. I’ve been delighted to see how engaged people have been in our podcast and in the show. Our audience is equal parts people that have never watched The Bachelor (and don’t plan to) and people that are just now watching the show for the first time.
Griffin: I keep the Facebook group open on my phone the whole time the episode is running. The people in that group are, across the board, completely hilarious.
Rumpus: How much Super Water Zero are you guys going through in a week?
Rachel: This is definitely a question for Griffin.
Griffin: One! One bottle per episode, one episode per week. If I drink it at other times it makes it less special. I’m all about ceremony.
Rumpus: What’s been your favorite moment of the past season?
Rachel: I think consistently the three hometown dates are my favorites. The contestants all seem like abstract characters that didn’t exist prior to the season until hometown dates. As a viewer, when you get to meet the parents/siblings, it’s always a good time. This season did not disappoint with overprotective brothers, an ex-boyfriend, and a mom that drank wine directly from the bottle. And those were all in just one contestant’s visit home!
Griffin: Basically anything with Jubilee in it? She just brought so much realness, everything she said. I came out of this season knowing more about her than any other woman on the show.
Rumpus: Griffin has mentioned that Ben Higgins could possibly end up being his favorite Bachelor of all time; is that true? What about you, Rachel? Favorite Bachelor/Bachelorette? Least favorite?
Rachel: Griffin and I were just talking about this. Probably Sean Lowe was my favorite Bachelor and Emily was my favorite Bachelorette. I’d say Des was my least favorite Bachelorette and Juan Pablo was my least favorite Bachelor.
Griffin: Yeah, Ben’s my favorite with a bullet; Emily was my favorite Bachelorette. I couldn’t really pick a least favorite Bachelorette, but Juan Pablo was my least favorite Bachelor, for sure.
Rumpus: This is less of a question and more of a statement. I love/hate the intro song you guys use; however, it inspired me to look up the accompanying music video to that song, and that horrible Soulja Boy fever dream made me feel so embarrassed that I wanted to throw my mobile device off of a train. How come you guys haven’t talked about that weirdness on the show yet?
Rachel: I immediately thought of that song when we were picking one because it was maybe the only time the franchise had the contestants create an original song and video. That said, we have our eyes on other songs.
Rumpus: Finally, any podcasts/TV shows/book/publications you’d like to recommend?
Rachel: I truly love all the McElroy shows. Each week I listen to like four to six hours of McElroy content. If we’re staying on theme, I would recommend Here to Make Friends, the Huffington Post Bachelor podcast. The two women that host are remarkably smart and they consistently get great guests from the current and past seasons of The Bachelor/Bachelorette.
Griffin: Unreal is absolutely terrific—it’s a fictional (kind of?) take on the behind-the-scenes action of the Bachelor franchise. We absolutely devoured it over the course of a week.
Stay tuned—in the next installment of Podcatcher, I’ll be learning how a podcast gets made with Emma Sanders and Alina Pleskova of Poetry Jawns.
Rumpus original Podcatcher logo by Trisha Previte. Rose Buddies Fan Art by Mari Costa.