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Tonight, a nation's favorite game will award a human prize

Tonight Andi Dorfman, the former Fulton County, Georgia Assistant District Attorney at the center of this season of The Bachelorette, who in the past few months has whittled down her male suitors from 25 to two, will make the final decision of who will be allowed to propose for her hand in marriage.

Yes, the bachelorette chooses a man to propose to her, and yes the man can still be rejected, as happened in Season 2, when Jen Schefft turned down "winner" John Paul Merritt.

Having endured plenty of these season finales, I'm comfortable assuring you tonight's episode will be morally questionable and highly watchable. Millions of people will tune in, but I'm bummed knowing the audience that can best appreciate this show's odd existence will miss out.

The Bachelorette — the entire Bachelor franchise, really — is a treat for game lovers. Because The Bachelorette is, in its grimy, commercially constructed core, a game, one in which people compete to win a human prize.

The Bachelorette is a treat for game lovers

How players engage with the game is fascinating. Most players refuse to recognize that they're playing a game at all. Discussion of strategy and tactics is seen as crass and insensitive. And yet, players who despise strategy talk are the first to claim their competitors are breaking the rules.

So what are the rules?

They're vague, at best. Each season, between 25 and 30 contestants compete to win the love of a Bachelor or Bachelorette. Each week, contestants are awarded roses, signifying their continuation in the game. Those who don't receive a rose must collect their luggage and immediately leave the playing field, er, gaudy mansion.

Time spent with the Bachelor or Bachelorette is stricted to scheduled solo dates; group activities in which multiple contestants compete for the attention of their human prize; and large cocktail parties. At least, that's what most players assume. But in recent seasons, some players like Courtney Robertson and Nick Viall have snuck into the hotel rooms of their respective Bachelor and Bachelorette for bonus time.

The rules are vague at best

Is snagging extra solo romantic time cheating? Technically, no. What's peculiar about these game shows is how most of the rules are assumed, either based on presumptions of decency or how dating works in the real world. (Despite the fact that a show in which one person systematically dates and dumps 25 people is nothing like the real world.)

The fact is, most rules players obey don't actually exist, which is often maddening for both contestants and fans. Robertson, reviled by many fans, won her season of The Bachelor; Viall, a somewhat controversial contestant, may win this season of The Bachelorette.

The Bachelorette

Personally, I love it. I love The Bachelor the way I love great, open-ended video games that allow me to push the boundaries of a world and its systems.

The Bachelor has a similar vibe to a video game. The franchise appears to take place in the real world, the same dating universe that normal humans participate in. Actually, it takes place in a heightened simulation of the real world, where dozens of romances and relationships are reduced to a whirlwind tour of international hotels. More so than any other reality series, The Bachelor and The Bachelorette exist inside a make-believe bubble, half fairy tale, half sex farce. It's a fantasy.

The show even has a meta game. Reality Steve, a blogger known for divulging the show's secrets weeks, if not months, in advance, is in constant conflict with ABC, which wants to protect the big reveals. Yesterday, the blogger posted what he believes to be real footage of Viall discussing the show's conclusion on an airplane. But now some fans suspect that video might have been a stunt created by ABC to trick their most notorious pest.

I understand that most viewers will be turned off by the show for any number of reasons. Its views on relationships, sexuality, race and gender are outdated and hypocritical. It objectifies women and men alike, figuratively turning a human each go-around into a walking, talking trophy. But if you watch tonight, you will see the game at its best and most concise: a one-on-one battle for the love of a human.

What other game has higher stakes?

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