At its best, the internet is a never-ending cocktail party, to which we each bring our own special libations. (Its worst is some other column’s problem.) This is How I Internet, where the web’s most interesting personalities share what’s in their punch bowl.
This installment’s subject: Stephen Carbone, the blogger (and podcaster) behind RealitySteve.com, who’s been recapping—and spoiling—ABC’s The Bachelor since the mid-2000s.
Location: Frisco, Texas
Hardware: iPhone 8 Plus and a desktop (he’s not sure what kind)
Slate: How did you start what eventually became RealitySteve.com?
Stephen Carbone: When I started writing this in ’03 or ’04, I did it for fun, and I did it for six years and didn’t make a dime because I didn’t know how you could make money on the internet. I just didn’t understand the magnitude of it, nor did I have a plan. I never thought, “This is going to be big someday; this is going to be my job someday.”
The only thing that kept me going was the response that I would get. I sent it to three friends, and they were forwarding it on to people who were forwarding it onto people. People started asking me, “Can I be on your email list?” I didn’t know who they were. I knew it was getting passed around. I built up an email list of about 300 names.
After about two or three seasons of covering shows and continually getting emails saying, “Oh, it ended up in my spam folder,” or “Oh, I never got it,” I thought, I need to do a website where I just post it there and I don’t have to worry about sending out 12 emails with 25 names each to my listenership because I couldn’t do an email with 300 names in it.
Did you even know how to set up a website?
My best friend growing up, who I went to college with, was more on the techie side. It was even before websites became a big thing, because we weren’t monetizing it at all. It was just, here, here’s a way to post your column, here’s what you have to do. I didn’t have a server, so if I ever had a giant day, my site would’ve crashed, but it never did. Until 2009 [when Carbone landed a big scoop concerning the end of Jason Mesnick’s season on the show]. Things changed.
When you’re actually watching a Bachelor, what’s your setup?
I’m sitting on a recliner. I have a yellow notepad on one side, my phone on the other side. I watch it live. I take notes on my pad and then will live-tweet stuff on my phone.
You’ve tussled with ABC as someone who is snarky and is willing to post spoilers. Has being a bit of a troublemaker always been an element of your personality?
I would say it’s more specific to The Bachelor. I was never a troublemaker, but I was always a smart aleck. In fifth grade, I remember when they gave out the class awards at the end of the year, I was voted most sarcastic.
I’ve never done drugs in my life. I’ve never been arrested. So I wouldn’t call myself a troublemaker at all. I just kind of just keep to myself and do my own thing. I am not someone that has so many friends, is always going out. My Twitter account and my Instagram account are proof that I’m not someone that is constantly at events and parties and doing all this stuff. I’m 42 years old, I’m in my routine, I know what I like, and what I want to do, and my job takes up a lot of my time, but I’m fine with that.
Reality Steve is an exaggerated version of myself. Sure. I say some things probably to get a rise out of people that I believe in at their core. I’m very up front about what I am and what I do, but you amp it up a little bit when you know people are reading or listening to the podcast. The podcast might feel a little bit more who I really am because I’m not playing a character. For the most part, Reality Steve is more about I’m going to report things to you that you are eventually going to see or inside information that you might not end up seeing. I was a little more shock jock–ish back 10 years ago.
On social media, are you following everyone from the Bachelor franchise to keep up with them?
I don’t want to follow them all because it’ll just clog up my feed. Like, I have 147,000 followers on Twitter and I follow 83. I’m someone that would rather get my news and entertainment off of Twitter, not hearing what these contestants’ opinions are. There are a few that I do follow on there, and there’s really no rhyme or reason.
The other thing is so many of my readers and the people that are die-hard follow all these people, so anytime these contestants do or say something that they think is relevant, I’m going to hear about it anyway, because someone’s going to send it to me. They notify me right away. There’s never a story in the Bachelor world that I don’t hear about. Either I break it myself or someone tells me, “Hey, did you hear about this?” And it’s not just one person that tells me. It’s like, that story came out eight hours ago, did you really not think that I’ve heard about that by now?
What do you think of the whole Bachelor contestants becoming influencers thing, and how has it changed the show and your work?
What they do with their influencing doesn’t change my work at all. My thoughts on it, though, are I think these people are horrible planners, and I think they think this is going to last a long time, because I think a lot of them quit their jobs so they can solely be an influencer because they see what other people in the franchise have made. If you get a big enough following, sure, you can make $10 grand–15 grand a month on sponsored posts. I get it, but quitting your job for it and thinking that this is going to last, I don’t think these people have thought this out and I think a lot of them are in for a rude awakening.
The other thing that I really have an opinion on is it’s like you see these people’s Instagram accounts preshow and then you see it postshow, and it’s like did you just drop all your friends before you went on the show? Because every post that you’ve made since the show is either an ad or with Bachelor people. I’d rather look at someone’s Instagram account that tells me a little bit about who they are as a person, and these people just get lost in Bachelor world and they’re so thirsty for attention, and they’re so thirsty to be accepted by other people in the franchise that all their posts are so shallow or superficial.
There’s obviously a market for it out there, especially on the women’s side. It’s certainly lucrative. If you get enough fans, you are definitely an influencer to a smaller level than someone like a Taylor Swift or Selena Gomez or Kim Kardashian. Again, I don’t really understand it. I don’t understand why they put these people on a pedestal other than the fact that they saw them on TV on an edited television show for 11 episodes.
Can you tell me more about your online life that doesn’t involve The Bachelor?
I’m a huge sports fan. So I’m on sports sites a lot for my sports news: ESPN.com, FoxSports.com, Deadspin.com, the Big League, just getting sports news and sports stories just to keep myself entertained. I’d go crazy if it was just Bachelor, Bachelor, Bachelor all day. It is my job, but it’s not my life. All the entertainment sites, I’m checking every day: Us, EW.com, TVGuide.com, People.com, just the sites that have all your major pop culture stories. I don’t follow anything Bachelor-related outside of what I do; I don’t care what other people have to say about the show.
And are you on any other social networks or forums, just for fun?
No, I’ve heard of Reddit, but I’ve never been on it. I’ve seen people from the Bachelor franchise have done those AMAs. I literally had no idea what AMA meant until like three months ago. Comment sections, message boards, and forums are like the bane of my existence.
I know that those people can get away with saying anything without any repercussions. Doing what I do, that’s not how I roll. I know Reddit exists, but I have no need to ever go there or comments sections because it’s just disgusting. I literally think these people are dregs of society. I’m 42 years old. I’ve never left a comment. I read plenty of stories every day. I’ve never felt the need to go after the story, even if I hated the story, and then just rip it apart. I don’t even read the comments on my own posts.
Is there anyone online whose social media presence you really like?
My biggest influence is Bill Simmons, who started TheRinger.com. He’s the guy that I’ve always related to. We’re right around the same age, huge sports fans, huge pop culture fans, been reading him the last 15 years, before he even went to ESPN and he was writing a column for AOL. Never talked to the guy, but he’s kind of been the inspiration for what I decided I wanted to do because I saw this guy made a career of it. But I’m not trying to be the next Bill Simmons. I’m not trying to build an empire like he has built with the Ringer and getting hired at HBO and all that stuff.
Have you ever thought about writing for a more general audience, not just about The Bachelor?
I’ve thought about it. I mean, people have pigeonholed me a bit as “He’s the Bachelor spoiler guy.” I have branched out and done a couple of other shows or given my thoughts on other things, but know I see the numbers, I see the traffic, I even see the Twitter mentions like, “We don’t care. Talk about The Bachelor.”
I get frustrated because I have plenty of opinions on other shows and other things, and I’ll fill them in on occasion. But if I were to dedicate a whole column to them, I would definitely get backlash. I know what butters my bread, and that’s giving people what they want in regards to this franchise. So I will always continue to do that until something tells me I can’t or the show goes off the air. With my podcast now, I’m starting to branch out. There are some other interesting people out there that are not just from the Bachelor franchise.
You’ve mentioned in other interviews that you’re making somewhere in the six figures on the site. Is that still accurate?
I’m not having problems paying my bills is the best answer I can give. The website has been a healthy revenue stream for me for the last six years since it became my full-time job. Then with the podcast in the last year, it’s been an added second income, just an added bonus. It’s provided me a lot of perks in the perch being my own boss, coming and going as I please, not having to answer to anybody else.
What do you think of the rise of podcasts?
Basically all the podcasts I listen to are sports/pop culture related. Bill Simmons’ podcast himself I listen to. I listen to one Bachelor podcast. That’s Juliet Litman’s Bachelor Party podcast. There’s some gambling podcasts that I listen to. Just following people on Twitter, anytime I see a podcast goes up that has a guest that I’m interested, I’ll go listen to it, unless it’s Bachelor-related—then I don’t really care.
I think they’re a great medium, and I think this is where a lot is going because just don’t like reading long-form articles anymore. We’re past that. Granted, podcasts are long, but you can put it in a car when you have a long car drive or when you’re just sitting around the house, at home doing chores you can just put a podcast on and listen to it.
I’ve shortened my columns because I know that’s the way things are going. It might be five pages but it’s not nearly as much wordage and content than it used to be. I remember some in the past that were seven or eight pages, 10 paragraphs on each page. Now, my Tuesday recap is usually five pages. The first page is always dedicated to just what’s going on in Bachelor world, and then four pages on recap, and I usually do about four to five paragraphs a page. I’ve essentially cut myself in half content-wise just because I know people aren’t reading as much anymore.
What is the last internet rabbit hole you went down where you just found yourself reading about something weird?
Last weekend, Grease 2.
Are you big on infosec or using any secure apps like Signal to communicate with sources?
No, it’s all email. Email, texting, Instagram messages, Twitter DMs.
Are you part of any ongoing group text chains?
There is one, me and my buddies, but it gets used so infrequently, which I’m happy about because most of the stuff on it is just dumb and it clutters up my phone. There are two [types of] people in this world. There are people that have all those notifications on their phone, and then there are people like me that have zero notifications on their phone. The second I get one, it has to go away. People that have 533 emails, I can’t do that. I’ve seen people’s phones that have numbers everywhere, all over their phone. I’m like, “Oh my gosh, I want throw your phone in the river.”
Are you an inbox zero person too?
Inbox zero, all the time. The other thing is I work from home, and I’m basically by my phone all day long so the second I get an email, even if I’m watching TV, I’ll look at the email. Now, I may not respond to it right away depending on the importance of it, but once I open it, that number goes away. The only time I have a number that’s sitting on my phone is when I wake up in the morning. I immediately go through all of them so that number disappears. I don’t even understand how people who have all those numbers function.
You’ve said before that you don’t really like the show, but if you had to pick do you have a favorite season or favorite Bachelor or Bachelorette?
I remember Brad’s first season was interesting just because when it ended he didn’t pick anybody, and I thought that was pretty realistic. I do tend to like The Bachelorette more because I think The Bachelorette takes it a little bit more seriously. Even the ones that have broken up, they usually dated for a while before the breakup happen. The women, going into it, aren’t looking to, “Oh, well if I’m going to get on the show look at how many guys are going to be after me.” That’s more of a guy mentality. The Bachelorette, they take it a little more seriously, although they know—they’re definitely out to build their brand. But I liked Ashley’s season, now Ashley Rosenbaum. I liked Ashley when she was on Brad’s second season, and I liked her as the Bachelorette.