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Coming Up Roses Two STYLE staffers dive headfirst into the world of The Bachelor.

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Admit it—you watch The Bachelor (and/or The Bachelorette). Even if you don’t, you are undoubtedly familiar with the setup:  25 generically beautiful women or men compete for the love (and money and fame) of one eligible Bachelor/Bachelorette, entertaining the masses in the process.

The show is remarkably popular, running for 20 seasons (12 for its Bachelorette counterpart) and courting fans who want to see that rare Happily Ever After, those who are all in for the romantic drama and, of course, those who fall into the “hate-watch” category. And while we all know, on some level, that the show is manufactured and highly produced, we also can’t help but fall victim to the what if? of it all. What if, amidst those thorny rose decisions, the contestant drama and beautiful locales, two people actually did fall in love? (Okay, so there’s really only been one successful couple, but in the meantime, we’ll always have Chad punching a wall.)

Because we’re secretly hopeless romantics and, um, love a little spectacle, your devoted STYLE writers decided to peek behind the fairytale curtain at the Bachelor/Bachelorette casting call at Maryland Live! Casino Thursday evening. (The location was appropriately overwhelming, by the way, and the sound of slot machines felt somehow very on-the-nose as the night’s ambient noise—after all, is not love the ultimate jackpot?)

Initially, we arrived solely with the intent to poke around, interview some potential contestants and a producer or two and be on our way. We certainly weren’t expecting to go through the process ourselves (more on that later), and thus arrived less “dressed to impress” and more “slightly frazzled in our work clothes with makeup we touched up in the car and a little eyeliner that may or may not have been intended for use as a brow pencil.”

But upon finding out we would not be let into the Interview Room without actually auditioning, we dutifully reached for our would-be contestant paperwork and integrated ourselves definitely-not-obviously among the other women (and one lone, brave man). The marathon of a questionnaire was both as invasive as you would expect, presumably for weeding out the crazies (in order of our escalating discomfort: “Have you ever been married?” “Have you ever been convicted of a crime?” “Has someone ever taken out a restraining order against you?”), and surprisingly deep at times (in order of existential angst caused: “What do you look for in a man?” “Do you have any special talents?” “What are three surprising adjectives people would use to describe you?”)

Deciding “whimsical” was both surprising and an adjective, we headed down to the lounge to wait. Behind us, one Bachelor hopeful arrived with her mother in tow as moral support. Beside her, we overheard one would-be contestant who had come all the way from Manhattan telling another girl, “I’m not sure what it says about me, but my friends all tell me I’d be perfect for The Bachelor!” (Her friends are probably right. But no judgment—she was wearing the hell out of those heels.)

Soon, more men had started to arrive, cropped hair in a sea of extensions. Three such dudes, Matt, Ben and Dave—friends from, what else, their college fraternity days—had made the trek from Richmond. (“That makes it more desperate, doesn’t it?” Ben laughed, knowingly.) Though all three were going through the process, only Ben was truly enthusiastic about it. And with his All-American boy looks and genial bro vibe, we think Ben actually has a pretty good shot. “I had friends always tell me I should do it,” he says, in a recurring theme of the evening.

Francesca (fun and the definition of spunky, with fiery red dyed hair) and Haley (adorable, reminiscent of Caila from Ben H.’s season), too, were a bit self-conscious but nonetheless earnest. The two are friends from work and hadn’t had much luck on the dating scene, and they were “basically willing to give anything a shot at this point”—though, at the ripe old ages of 21 and 22 respectively, perhaps their desolation was a little premature. Admittedly, however, by the end of our conversation we were totally rooting for them.

In our own bid for Bachelor glory, we next had our photos taken for the first (of many) times and were handed a single pink rose (naturally). We were then ushered into the tail end of a group of women (and one man) headed to the Interview Room. Our waiting seatmates were Lauren and Avery, friends who had driven up from Washington, D.C. to try out. (They were hitting up the Justin Bieber concert afterwards, so they definitely had their priorities in order.) Five minutes of likely unconvincingly pleading our case for finding love and one awkward full-body pan shot later, we were done. That was it.

As for our final thoughts on the experience? Despite going in with no intent of ever actually participating in The Bachelor, it was hard not to get swept up in the event-ness of it all. Real-life producers for a real-life show giving you real-life roses—we definitely enjoyed ourselves, even through the discomfort of being so openly judged and inherent weirdness of the process. And the people, from contestant hopefuls to harried showrunners ushering wedge-clad masses to the next step of the process, were for the most part pretty cool—all aware of the show’s reputation, but simultaneously believing, deep down, that this thing might work.

So when we tune in for the next Bachelor or Bachelorette, it won’t be because we’re in it (unless fate twists in VERY unexpected ways) or because we believe Jojo or her successors will actually find love (though we’re rooting for you, guys!). It’ll be because the producers are great at what they do, because we love drinking wine and watching the drama unfold, and maybe, just maybe, because we love love.

Did you miss us live-tweeting the event? Relive it here.

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