My first admission is that I actually know quite a bit about ABC’s The Bachelor. Yes, that includes The Bachelorette too. I first started watching “ironically“ with my girlfriend, who watches very much unironically.
What I quickly came to notice was a plot thread that is becoming increasingly common not only on The Bachelor, but also many other reality television programs involving contestants from around the country. Rare, chronic disease has come up repeatedly on The Bachelor in the past, and the most recent season was no exception. Former NFL player and most recent Bachelor graduate Colton Underwood‘s cousin Harper is living with cystic fibrosis. Harper’s struggles with the genetically-inherited condition inspired the former athlete and bachelor-no-more (don’t worry – I won’t spoil the final rose for you) to start a charitable foundation in her honor.
Similar stories have unfolded in previous seasons, and are just as familiar to fans of shows like The Voice, American Ninja Warrior, America’s Got Talent, and so on. I’m a cynic at heart, so my first reaction to such stories is usually skepticism. I don’t like feeling like I’m being emotionally manipulated, especially by the likes of Adam Levine or Chris Harrison. However, I must admit that the truth is likely much sadder.
While television networks are of course all-too-happy to manipulate the heart strings of their viewers, they cannot change a fundamental aspect of their contestants’ lives. The reality is that rare and chronic disease is surprisingly common in the United States and around the world. In the United States alone, some 30 million people are living with a rare disease (usually defined as affecting fewer than 200,000 individuals in the country) – almost 10% of the country’s population. That means you’re as likely to meet someone with a rare disease as you are to meet someone left-handed.
Increasing awareness to this fact is an important part of improving the quality of life of people living with rare disease. A critical step in the development of all new treatments is gaining the public’s attention. Before the misinformation that was rampant during the early AIDS epidemic could be challenged, Princess Diana had to get on TV and show thousands of people that it could not be contracted through casual contact.
The unfortunate reason rare disease keeps coming up on The Bachelor is because “rare” disease is more common than we’d like to think it is. TV networks know these stories play well because so many people are similarly affected. And if frequently talking about rare disease on daytime TV is what it takes to push for new treatments, it seems like a small price to pay. After all, it could be any of us. It’s reality TV.
Do you think it’s a good thing for networks to bring up rare disease in their programming? Why or why not? Share your thoughts with Patient Worthy!