FRISCO -- A little more than a month ago, Ben Higgins, the star of the coming season of The Bachelor, got down on one knee at the Sandals Royal Plantation resort in Ocho Rios, Jamaica, and proposed marriage.
At least, this is the information that, a day later, Frisco blogger Stephen Carbone received as a tip from one of his many sources. A few days after that, he posted the scoop on his website, RealitySteve.com, spoiling the event, including the name of the winner, that will be the capstone of the 20th season of The Bachelor, which had its season premiere on ABC on Monday and won't conclude until March.
The Bachelor is, ostensibly, a competition show with an unknown outcome, making this, depending on your perspective, the admirable work of a dedicated reporter or a shocking act of bad faith. But for the last four years, Carbone has been making a habit of spoiling the season for The Bachelor and its spinoffs in their entirety before they even begin airing, making him the foremost authority on one of reality TV's signature franchises -- and also a thorn in the side of its producers and network.
"I can't believe I get this much information every season. I still think it's weird that I get it," Carbone, 40, said.
RealitySteve.com is combination love letter, cruel tease and cat-and-mouse game -- one man working against a huge operation. Carbone's writing is characterized by equal parts skepticism and glee: The site's header reads, "My slanted, sophomoric and skewed view on the world of reality television."
It's a small outfit -- he employs a webmaster who also organizes his ad sales, but otherwise, all the labor is Carbone's, earning him what he terms a "comfortable" six-figure income.
"I like writing," Carbone said. "I've always liked to write, and I've always liked to be very sarcastic and very snarky about things. This show makes it easier, but if this show wasn't my job, would I watch it? Absolutely not. I wouldn't care."
In reality television, where events are filmed months before they appear on the air, there is a symbiotic relationship between those that serve up spoilers and the shows they spoil. Advance information stokes the interest of the most dedicated fans, who in turn help generate excitement among more casual viewers. "They know that I'm free publicity," Carbone said.
The Bachelor is a competition in the sense that several female participants are fighting for one prize, but it is often more compelling as narrative drama than as a contest. On his site, Carbone spoils the particulars of who goes on what date, where they take place and who is sent home, but he can't predict how the show will be edited for dramatic effect. You can know all the information posted on his site but still find the show gripping.
Reality TV has, in essence, a system of sanctioned spoilers: events that are filmed in public, or information that pops up in tabloids, in unofficial concert with show producers and representatives.
What Carbone does -- rare in the world of reality-TV commentators -- is give order to the porous ecosystem of nonlinear information. He scours social media for clues about the contestants' whereabouts and activities, aggregating information in plain sight, and relies on a network of sources who fill in his sketch of the season, piece by piece.
Running a show like The Bachelor in the age of tabloids and social media means accounting for and trying to control myriad ways that information flows. Sometimes that's impossible, as with the most recent season of ABC's The Bachelorette, when Kaitlyn Bristowe posted a video of herself with the winner, Shawn Booth, to Snapchat before the finale aired. That was a shock to many, including Carbone.
Carbone's path to Bachelor omnivore was roundabout.
Born in the Bronx and raised largely in Southern California, he originally pursued his love of sports radio, first as a play-by-play announcer for the basketball team at Loyola Marymount (he'd attempted to walk on at Southern Methodist University, but failed) and as a regular caller to The Jim Rome Show, a syndicated talk show.
After writing his college thesis on Rome, he got a job with him, staying for a year and a half before moving on to work at a sports radio station. He also wrote for a paid sports commentary website, still a novelty in the early 2000s. Not long after, Carbone used obscenities in a column and was fired.
A few months later, he found a new object for his ravenous cultural interest: Joe Millionaire, one of the first stunt reality shows and ripe for mockery. He began sending caustic and humorous weekly emails about the show to friends, who forwarded them on, earning Carbone a reliable audience.
To make money, he took a job as a mortgage broker and later worked with his father in the home bedding industry, all the time working part time in sports radio. The email newsletter became RealitySteve.com in November 2003, but Carbone earned no money from it. That was still the case when he received his first spoiler tip: that Season 13 bachelor Jason Mesnick had dumped Melissa Rycroft, the woman he'd proposed to on the season finale, and reunited with Molly Malaney, his second choice.
Carbone posted the information and suddenly he was an authority. Within a year, he was regularly receiving tips, enough that with some elbow grease, he could piece together the arc of a season before it began running. In August 2011, he was able to quit his other jobs. The people who provide him with scoops, Carbone said, aren't unlike the person he was when he used to call Rome's show: "They just wanted to feel a part of it, wanted to feel like they helped out."
By Jon Caramanica, The New York Times