The men of The Bachelor at FlockU and Ashley I.’s Biggest Group Date Ever. Credit: Fernando Lucena/Michael Simon

FEELS LIKE -25°, NEW YORK—It was the coldest February 14th on record in New York City in 100 years, but inside The Ainsworth club in Manhattan, no one was dressed for the weather. Over 400 young, unmarried women had wedged themselves into sleeveless, Herve Leger-style bandage dresses and open-toed shoes to spend roughly three hours in the same room as several male castoffs from The Bachelor TV franchise, on Valentine’s Day.

The event was billed as “The Biggest Group Date Ever,” a nod to one of the more twisted traditions on the show—the “group date”—in which one Bachelor goes on a date with several female contestants at once. At The Biggest Group Date Ever, there were seven Bachelors, all men who once appeared on The Bachelorette and lost. For the chance to meet and potentially seduce one of these guys, attendees paid $60 each, and at the end of the night, there was a “man auction,” where women bid on 30 minutes of alone time with the Bachelor of their choice. All proceeds went to a charity that supports “the fight against pediatric cancer.”

Over the club hung the specter of childhood suffering, and, more palpably, drama.

The event was organized by former Bachelor contestant Ashley Iaconetti, known to fans as “Ashley I.” Before she was famous enough to launch a line of premium false eyelashes, Ashley attended the same high school as my college friend KK, so I dragged KK along to the party with me.

When we arrived at the club during the pre-event press hour, we said hi to Ashley’s sister Lauren, who briefly appeared on the franchise’s sexy vacation spinoff Bachelor in Paradise last season with Ashley. Both sisters chose skintight, fire engine red slips and Stuart Weitzman sandals for the occasion. “My back hurts from sucking in my stomach,” Lauren told us, in the placid vocal fry of a Kardashian.

Ashley and Lauren at FlockU and Ashley I.’s Biggest Group Date Ever. Credit: Fernando Lucena/Michael Simon

She then explained that Ashley was stressed out, because part of the plan for the night was to air The Bachelor’s 20th anniversary episode on all 24 of The Ainsworth’s flat screen TVs. Ashley had just realized that extended footage of her crying would be featured in the episode.

“It’s a really dramatic night for Ashley,” Lauren said, sincerely, her big kohl-rimmed eyes widening.

I glued my legs together, worried that she would notice I was the only woman in the room wearing pants.

It was a really dramatic night for all of us.

After paying $27 for two glasses of wine at the cash bar (yes—a cash bar—on top of the $60 ticket price—can you believe it), KK and I approached two Bachelors in the middle of the club. They were both sturdy looking white men, with longish, slicked back hair, carefully groomed stubble, and suits that looked like they had been professionally tailored. They introduced themselves as JJ and Michael G.; each appeared on a season of The Bachelorette as well as the last season of Bachelor in Paradise.

“We’re here with,” I told them.

“” JJ asked. “I love guns.”

“Oh, no, Gawker,” I said, throwing my voice over the growing din of tabloid reporters and friends of the VIPs.

“,” he said again, decidedly this time, his eyes darting past us and over to two brunettes wearing spiked heels next to a mirrored wall on the far side of the club.

“,” I agreed.

“I’m a real conservative,” JJ added, loudly, swirling the dark liquor in his glass. KK blinked at him. Michael G. laughed.

“Well, uh, what do you think about the death of Scalia?” I asked.

JJ grew quiet. “I’m not happy about it,” he said, solemnly, before retreating to the step-and-repeat at the front of the club to have his photo taken.

Who would pay $60 to brave subzero temperatures for the chance to maybe meet someone who was once on a reality TV show?

Hundreds of women, it turns out. When The Ainsworth’s doors opened to ticket holders at 7 p.m., a harried rush of twenty-somethings with bare legs and beachy waves stormed in, single and ready to mangle anyone who came between them and their Bachelors. After about ten minutes, the line of women pouring into the venue collided with the line for the coat check, causing a perilous salmon-swimming-upstream situation. Unfortunately, once all the coats were put away, there were not enough mates to go around.

In the struggle to find somewhere to stand (there was nowhere to stand), KK and I bumped into three women who had traveled to New York from Boston for the weekend. They all wore short, lacy numbers in shades of black and blue and strappy heels.

“It got really catty outside,” one of them told us. “Girls kept trying to cut the line, saying, ‘We’re on the list!’ We’re all on the list.”

“Damn,” KK offered. “And it’s so cold!” I added. They all looked at me like I was slow. “It’s cold in Boston,” one said.

Steps away in the never-ending coat check line, two girls with long, dark hair and sequined minidresses looked surprisingly chipper given the chaos. I asked them if they hoped to meet the loves of their lives tonight.

“I’ve been single for eight years,” one responded, breezily. “I’ve only ever had one boyfriend, so I’m ready.”

KK asked what they thought of the $60 ticket price. (We really could not get over the $60 ticket price.)

“My uncle just passed away from cancer,” the other answered, in the same sweet trill as her friend. “I thought, it’s a good thing, why not?”

We could not apologize fast enough.

“No, it’s okay!” she insisted. “It’s totally fine! It’s a fun night.”

Like any sort of dating (online, speed, paid), the fun of the night was surely in the expectations. Maybe one of these girls really would go home with an ex-TV man! You never know. As the hopefuls piled in, KK and I retreated to an alcove by the bathrooms to ask two of the other Bachelors—Ben Z. and Joshua, from The Bachelorette and Bachelor in Paradise—what they thought they might get out of the Biggest Group Date Ever experience.

“Do you think your future wife could be in this room?” I asked them. (This is something that The Bachelor host Chris Harrison asks guys on the show all the time.)

“I’m going to take this just like the show,” Ben Z. told us. “I’m going to be open to whatever happens.” In a black suit and a red tie, he looked like a high school free safety attending the end-of-the-season football banquet.

“I have an open heart and mind,” Joshua agreed. His fair cheeks were red (from drinking, we assumed).

KK and I pushed them a bit, asking if they would really date a fan of the show. With a confidence that suggested he had answered this kind of question before, Ben Z. delivered the following address.

“Yes and no. For me personally, it all depends on how they approach me. If someone approaches me and their first words out their mouth are ‘Oh my god,’ probably not. But if they come up to me and they’re like, ‘My name’s Stephanie,’ then I might talk to them and get to know them, and then maybe, who knows? But if they freak out the first time they meet me, probably not. Cause I don’t want somebody that’s going to like...” He searched for the word.

“Awe over me,” he finished.

“I’m alright with the freaking out part,” Joshua countered. “Not because of who I am, but just because they’re meeting someone who was on a show that they’ve been watching for years. What matters to me is once they get over the...being starstruck if you wanna call it, if they ask me questions about the show, then it’s a no go.”

“Do you guys get that a lot?” KK asked, deadpanning. “Women coming up to you and saying, ‘Oh my god.’”

“All the time,” Ben Z. said seriously. “In San Jose, I can’t go out without anybody like, saying that.” (Ben Z. lives in San Jose.) “In San Francisco I can go out, and some people will, some people wont.”

Joshua remarked that more guys must approach Ben Z. in San Francisco.

“So you’re both looking for a wife?” KK asked.

“Oh yeah,” Joshua said. “I mean, I’m 32.”

“Oh wow,” KK said.

I tried so hard not to laugh at that, tears welled up in my eyes.

Oh wow.

I should mention now that The Biggest Group Date Ever was sponsored in some way by a company called “FlockU.” The sweet PR girl who handled press for the event asked me multiple times if I could please mention FlockU in my coverage, please, it’s really important. I’m not sure what FlockU is, but KK and I each took home from the event several beanies that say FlockU on them. FlockU.

How much would you pay for a semi-private audience with a former reality TV star? It depends on how much money you have, I guess. My biggest takeaway from the Biggest Group Date Ever is that there are several women my age who have a lot more money than me.

The “man auction” took place on a small stage in the back of the club, near the roped-off VIP section, at about 9 p.m. One of the Bachelors, two-time Bachelorette loser Nick V., played the auctioneer. Perhaps by accident, our press wristbands were the same color as the VIP wristbands, so KK and I managed to dart into the VIP section to watch the show from one of the plush leather couches. The masses crowded around the roped-off area and the stage. Everyone seemed drunk.

“Let’s remember this is for childhood cancer!” Nick V. shouted, before explaining that successful bidders would get a 30-minute “one-on-one date” with the their chosen Bachelor in the VIP section after the event. He brought Ben Z. to the stage, and started the bidding at $100.

“Well, I’m out,” KK said.

After about five minutes of shouting between Nick V. and three separate bidders toward the back of the crowd, San Jose’s native son went to a petite brunette for $1,200.

KK and I looked at each other, mouths open. We had gotten quite a deal earlier.

While Nick V. continued the auction (Joshua and JJ went for a still-astounding $700 each), a group of five girls, all wearing black cocktail dresses, approached our couch from behind. They stood there for a minute, conferencing with one another, and then climbed over the couch and onto us. “Soree!” one yelped as she bounced off of my shoulder.

“Soree,” I said to KK.

It turns out that our new friends had a plan. Once Nick V. auctioned off the three remaining Bachelors, he passed the mic to one named Jared, who then played the auctioneer for Nick V. “Let’s start the bidding at $200,” Jared said. “This is for childhood cancer!”

The ringleader of the girls in black screamed and threw her hand up. She had a Chanel bag and long, dark hair arranged in loose curls. She couldn’t have been more than 25 years old, but she came to play. She raised her hand each time Jared called for a higher bid for Nick V.—first it was $500, then $1000, then $2000. “Oh my god,” KK kept saying. I started to feel sick.

Eventually, the war came down to the ringleader and another woman who was obscured from our view by the crowd. With a shit-eating grin on his face, Nick V. watched the two bid all the way up to $5000, and then he whispered something in Jared’s ear.

“Nick wants me to tell you that whoever wins this will get Fantasy Suite time with him!” Jared yelled. The ringleader’s friends yelped uncontrollably next to us. “DO IT!!!” they implored her.

On The Bachelor, “Fantasy Suite time” means fucking.

“Also, I’ve seen him naked, and I know, Nick has an 11-inch penis!” Jared added.

We didn’t have time to consider the curiousness of this statement. KK and I grabbed each other’s hands. The ringleader bid $5300. Then the other woman bid $5600.

“Do I hear $5700?” Jared asked, and the ringleader covered her face with her hands.

“DO IT!!!” her friends screamed.

Everyone in the room was screaming, including KK. “DON’T DO IT!!!” she cried.

The ringleader hung her head. She did not make a bid, and Nick V. went to the other woman for $5600. I cannot say for sure if she got her Fantasy Suite time.

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