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The Bachelorette loves a fierce dodgeball challenge, but this season’s version of the group date came with a controversial twist.
Tuesday night’s episode of the ABC reality dating competition with star Clare Crawley saw the male contestants engaging in a strip dodgeball tournament, with the losing team walking away completely naked per the game rules.
“I feel like I want to up the ante here. I think we should play strip dodgeball,” Crawley tells the group of surprised men, who were split into two Blue and Red teams. When host Chris Harrison asks Crawley to confirm that the tournament ends when the losing team has no clothes on, Crawley affirms, “This is my game. These are my rules.”
Once the game is underway, Crawley and Harrison act as announcers and comment on the mens’ bodies, with Harrison deferring to Crawley to make the final call on stripping one team down to their jockstrap thongs. Ultimately, when the Blue team loses, they line up in front of Crawley and remove the final item of their uniform. Only one of the team members refuses, telling the star, “I love you, but, I can’t.”
ABC pixelated the men once they removed their shorts and continued to pixelate below their waist as the losing team did their “walk of shame” back to their rooms at the La Quinta resort in Palm Springs, Calif. — which is where The Bachelorette filmed in a bubble to comply with COVID-19 safety protocol.
Viewers of the long-running reality series were quick to comment on the “double standard,” with many voicing their concerns ahead of the racy episode.
“This show would be cancelled if the bachelor asked female contestants to play strip anything,” wrote one user on a teaser for the episode that was shared on ABC’s official Bachelorette Instagram account on Monday. Another called Crawley “disappointing,” with several asking both her and the show to “do better.”
Once the scene aired on Tuesday, viewers continued to voice those opinions on social media, calling out the double standard and commenting on the “cringe-worthy” scene. J.P. Rosenbaum, who won The Bachelorette‘s 2011 season with Ashley Hebert (the pair very recently announced their split), wrote on Twitter, “I realize this ‘date’ is gonna have a lot of critics, but can you imagine the flak the show would get if this was #Thebachelor and the girls were stripping down to their underwear? #sexist #TheBachelorette #dadbod.”
Popular franchise podcaster Juliet Litman said on her Bachelor Party show, “If it was women in that position, it would be completely unacceptable, absolutely scandalous and there would be this huge outcry. The double standard of objectifying mens’ bodies like that and asking men to be in that position really bothered me because I would not accept it for women.”
Former Bachelor Ben Higgins also addressed the “obvious” double standard on his podcast, Almost Famous. “If this was a Bachelor season, no way this happens, no way they get away with it, no way it’s appropriate, no way this just becomes a weekly topic. I think the show is super smart. They knew this wouldn’t shut down the show, but it’s pushing the envelope a little bit here,” he said, adding that there was “no shot” he would have gotten naked.
“This is all fun and games until my buddies and I are naked on national television,” he added. “They push the envelope every season, but this felt like a lot.”
The Hollywood Reporter has reached out to ABC and producers Warner Bros. TV for comment.
The ABC franchise is no stranger to showing off contestants’ bodies and sharing intimate moments, but filming the contestants in the nude is a rarity. Last season’s Bachelorette saw Hannah Brown go naked bungee-jumping with one of her contestants, and the star memorably defended herself and her decisions about her own body when she faced backlash from one of her contestants.
While Brown’s actions were largely viewed as empowering, however, one contestant shared a different sentiment about Crawley when he called her “classless” during Tuesday night’s episode. Yosef, who said he would have refused to play the game if he had been on the group date because of his daughter, said, “Number one value is to have respect for myself and my daughter. I don’t want her turning on the TV and seeing dad’s ass.”
When speaking to THR about her upcoming season — which is set to be very dramatic — Crawley spoke about the risk of putting herself under the show’s spotlight. “For me, success was just taking the steps to actually step out that limo. It’s a lot to put your heart on the line, it’s a lot to be vulnerable. It’s a lot to be judged for the world to see. And to be able to say I’ve given it 100 tries but I’m willing to try again? That was success for me,” she said of the season, which airs Tuesdays at 8 p.m. on ABC.
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