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Elysium Film and Photo
The remaining contestants on "The Bachelor of Provo."

PROVO — It’s been called “the show no one asked for and all of Utah deserves” and “a type of cringe I never knew I needed," and it all began as a joke between BYU students Colin Ross, Remington Butler and their friends last fall.

“Me and Colin were joking with some people in our complex,” Butler told the Deseret News, “and we were talking about how he kind of looks like one of the contestants from one of the old seasons of 'The Bachelorette.'”

The group talked about what it would be like to create their own parody of ABC’s hit reality show “The Bachelor” and joked about filming 20-year-old Ross going on dates.

Remington Butler
The flyer Remington Butler created and handed out on campus to get applicants for "The Bachelor of Provo."

Soon after, and without Ross’s knowledge, Butler made a flyer with Ross’s picture and instructions on how to apply to be on “The Bachelor of Provo.”

“He came home with a stack of like 500 flyers, and I was like, ‘OK, this is real,'” Ross said.

Butler and his friends distributed the flyers at freshman dorms and a few other places across the Brigham Young University campus with the hopes that they’d get a handful of applicants. According to Butler, they received close to 200 responses.

“We were very surprised,” Butler said. “We were like, ‘Alright, well, let’s see where this goes, and I guess see if we can get Colin a girlfriend.'”

“The Bachelor of Provo” premiered on YouTube on Jan. 11 and follows Ross as he dates 22 young women living in the Utah County area in the hopes of finding “the one” — or at least someone pretty close.

Like ABC’s “The Bachelor,” “The Bachelor of Provo” includes group dates, individual dates, rose ceremonies and eliminations, but unlike “The Bachelor,” there’s less drama, no fantasy suite and no consistent release schedule for now, as producers have to juggle the schedules of nearly three dozen volunteers and participants to make the show happen. It’s also not likely that there will be a proposal at the end.

'It’s really exploded'

“The goal is to have fun and maybe get a girlfriend,” Ross said. “I don’t think I’ll get married because of this.”

There aren’t many rules for “The Bachelor of Provo” cast to follow — for example, Ross and the girls can see each other off set and date other people if they want to — and the show is not scripted. According to contestants McKenna Wright, 23, and Annali Crandall, 19, the female participants are instead given prompts by producers and come up with their own ideas of what to say to make each episode more interesting, including lighthearted taunts.

“It’s like nice, playful drama,” Crandall said. “None of it is actually being rude at another girl.”

Since its premiere, the show has gotten over 130,000 views and become a bit of a cultural phenomenon at BYU and beyond, inspiring “Bachelor of Provo” recap videos, parodies and watch parties. Local businesses have also been quick to offer support and sponsor dates for the show.

“We never thought it would be this big, maybe 1,000 or 2,000 views,” Ross said. “It’s really exploded.”

The creators of the show call it “the cringe felt 'round the world,” and most social media users agree: it is awkward.

Ross admits that he’s not very outgoing or comfortable on-screen, which sometimes comes across in the filming. Still, that awkwardness and discomfort are part of the charm for many viewers.

Show fan Jared Hansen, a PhD student at the University of Oregon, said that for him and his wife the show is a “fun to escape back to what it was like being in the Provo dating scene so many years ago.

“It's just so funny to us to witness their awkward flirting, made even more painful to watch because they're adjusting to the cameras,” he said.

Alli Kenck, another fan of the show, considers it a train wreck that she can’t look away from. “The BYU dating scene is mocked all the time, and I feel like this show is mocking it, but also doing something about it. I would love for it to be successful and become a typical thing,” she said.

Cringe-worthy

Others aren’t so keen on “The Bachelor of Provo.” Common critiques of the show are that it’s too cringe-worthy to be good and reinforces negative stereotypes about the dating culture in Provo and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' young single adult wards.

“I don’t really care for recreating a show based on the idea of a proposal at the end in a culture that is well-known for fast, ill-planned proposals and marriages," said show viewer Ashley Leiva, a student at Utah Valley University. "Not that I think Colin will actually get engaged at the end, but I think with this group of young people it’s dangerous to put them in that position and mindset.”

Kevin Jessop, The Bachelor of Provo
A still from "The Bachelor of Provo" episode three.

Although she’s heard several comments similar to Leiva’s, Crandall said she’s not ready to get married and the show isn’t really about that anyway.

“It’s just trying to get know someone,” Crandall said. “We’re not looking for the eternal companion.”

Wright agrees, adding that the show was never meant to be commentary on dating but something fun to watch. “For those people who are like, ‘Oh, it could be more professional, or it could be done better,’ we know that. We went into it to explore and figure it out together, and it’s been really rewarding in terms of relationships and experiences.”

'It’s whatever you want it to be'

“The Bachelor of Provo” team has largely embraced the show’s reputation for being awkward, but the question still remains: How seriously should viewers take this show?

According to Butler and Carson Bown, co-director and filmmaker for the show, their crew is serious about getting Ross a girlfriend and serious about putting the show together, but the show itself is mostly for fun.

“In my opinion, it’s whatever you want it to be,” Bown said. “If you want it to be serious, take it seriously. If you want to just laugh at it, then yeah. We’re laughing it at it too.”

Crandall said that while some of the girls on the show are just there to have fun, others have real interest in Ross, including herself.

“I honestly think I’m into him,” Crandall said. “At this point I’m trying to stay on the show just because I want to get him know him better, and I want to see if he’s actually interested.”

Ross thinks it could go somewhere with some of the contestants, too.

“Honestly, they’re all great girls,” Ross said. “There definitely are a few, though, that I’ve had my eye on.”

Elysium Film and Photo
The remaining contestants on "The Bachelor of Provo."

The third episode of “The Bachelor of Provo” is set to release on Feb. 13.

Due to the success of the “The Bachelor of Provo,” Butler and Bown have begun planning “The Bachelorette of Provo,” which will follow a format similar to the current show and is scheduled to start filming this summer. Information and updates can be found on the show’s Instagram account.

Dating isn't the only thing on the show's creators' minds. In addition to "The Bachelorette of Provo,'" Bown’s team is also working on future projects, including work with a charity to raise money for a family in need.

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“When we started, we didn’t think (the show) was really going to take off," Bown said, "but we thought, ‘Hey, it will hopefully open up other doors for us, other projects we want to work on.'”

And for the bachelor himself, the experience, while at times even more awkward for him than for the show's viewers, is one Ross is committed to.

"It’s definitely way bigger than I thought ever," he said. "It’s just funny to see how people are responding to it — lots of good stuff, lots of bad stuff. … We’re not getting bummed out by the mean comments. We’re just going to keep going with it no matter what. We’re kind of too far in right now to stop."