The episode had barely started and I couldn't contain myself. An entire episode of “The Bachelorette” was finally taking place in Richmond. Yes, "finally." Because, as a big fan of “The Bachelor” franchise, I knew there had always been a chance an episode could end up being based in the city where I was born and raised.
Each season the lead and contestants travel around the country, and then around the world, with the destinations becoming more and more extravagant as the season goes on. And since both shows have been on air for so long at this point, surely, Richmond could end up happening at some point, right?
Right. Monday night's episode opened with a montage of clips filmed around the city: the skyline, Main Street Station, dogwood trees, the river, Fan houses. Along with this was a voiceover from Bachelorette Becca Kufrin saying what she liked about Richmond so far: that there's something "mysterious" about it, the mix of old and new, that it has "fresh, clean air." (As someone who has now lived in New York for several years, I agree with her there.) Soon a contestant named Garrett was also commenting on Richmond. "It's like you get a big city feel, but you're still out in the country," he said. That ... wasn't entirely accurate.
While I was excited to see Richmond on the show simply to point out the landmarks I recognized, one aspect that became apparent as soon as the episode started was how it made everything seem even less real than usual.
Knowing the location of Quirk Hotel on Broad St. meant analyzing the way production set up the area in front of the hotel for Becca's conversation with host Chris Harrison in a way that I wouldn't normally. The location and prop styling for dates on “The Bachelorette” are often overwrought (there's an entire Twitter account dedicated to poking fun at this), but seeing the show in Richmond kicked my awareness of that into high gear. Everything looked more fake, because I had such a familiarity with the location. Where's that trolley going? How is Main Street Station empty — did they film this at 3 a.m.? Where is this group date taking place? Oh wait! That's the place I had my prom! I spent so much time focused on the background that I could barely pay attention to anything else. The other strange thing about watching the episode was seeing how the show went about boiling Richmond down to a few talking points. It basically came down to:
-It has historical and political significance
-Edgar Allen Poe lived here
-It's... mildly creepy? (This one was unexpected. Becca called The Woman's Club, where part of the group date was held, "spooky" and that combined with all the Poe stuff, lead to the show sort of pushing an eerie aspect through its editing.)
Of course, a show like this isn't going to include everything about a place; it's not a travel show and that's not the point. But while I never really gave a second thought to the activities and touring done in other cities featured on “The Bachelorette,” seeing Richmond made me realize how little information about a destination viewers are given. If someone who wasn't very familiar with Richmond watched this episode, one of the few things they now know is that Edgar Allen Poe's mother is buried here. It's true, but it doesn't exactly make the city.
But even though “The Bachelorette” might have served up a Richmond reduction that was one-part presidents, one-part nature, two-parts "Did we mention Poe lived here??" and zero-parts the wonderful restaurants, which, aside from the "fresh, clean air" are what I miss most, it did make me appreciate the city. The sky really is that blue. Looking across the river at downtown really is that beautiful. The people really would be that obviously giggly about being in the background of a network TV show. (And seeing as Virginia Tourism was involved in this, I'm sure they hope all of this came across to other viewers, too.)
Overall, seeing Richmond on “The Bachelorette” was a fun experience — from the moment they misused the state slogan and said, "Richmond is for lovers" to the rose ceremony that took place decidedly outside city limits in Goochland.
And, really, that's all I was looking for.
Lia Beck is a writer from Richmond living in New York. You can follow her and her writing on Twitter @liakbeck.