HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- At the start of a recent episode of ABC's The Bachelor, a contestant shimmies her shoulders as she squeals, "We're going to Houston, baby. I'm ready for some Texas fun."
Episodes four and five of the reality dating show's 26th season were filmed in Houston October 2021. During their two weeks here, contestants were housed at the C. Baldwin hotel and played a competitive game of football at NRG Stadium to win more time with the bachelor. One contestant even got to spend her one-on-one date at an outdoor picnic with Blood Bros. BBQ, who has been recognized by Texas Monthly magazine as one of the top 50 Texas BBQ joints.
Sprinkled throughout each episode were glimpses of the city's food scene, diversity and culture, but 13 Investigates found bringing the show to Houston came with a cost.
Houston First Corporation, the public agency tasked with marketing Houston and funded with Houston hotel tax dollars, paid the show $240,000 in hotel occupancy tax dollars to film in Houston.
"At the time that we did the deal, it was just for one episode, but we got two," Holly Clapham-Rosenow, chief marketing officer at Houston First.
She said it ended up being an even sweeter deal because the city just paid for one episode, but producers loved it so much here that they filmed two episodes in Houston.
Still, the hundreds of thousands of dollars spent luring reality TV shows to Houston was a shock to some residents.
"I think that's too expensive," said Houstonian Sara Perez. "They already make enough profit off of the show, so why are you still trying to upcharge us for just Houston, coming to Houston."
Erika Esperanza watches episodes of 'The Bachelor' whenever it's trending on social media and remembers when the show was in town. Some of her friends have even tried to get on the show in the past.
She didn't realize the city used taxpayer funds to score the deal.
"That's insane. I didn't think they would actually pay to bring them here. I just thought he was kind of like, you know - Houston, Texas, it's the big city," Esperanza said. "That's a lot of money just to make a show here, but I know they made another show here as well."
The other show she's talking about is Bravo's 'Top Chef,' which filmed all of its current season in Houston.
Top Chef's producers fought the release of financial details on how much the city paid to have them film a season in Houston, but we know it was incentivized with taxpayer dollars, too.
Still, Clapham-Rosenow said the publicity of having the city featured on a nationally broadcasted show is worth the cost and brings long-term benefits by attracting more business and residents to Houston.
She said it would have taken five years to pay for the same publicity the city receives when a show takes place in Houston for weeks at a time.
Steven Devadanam, editor and chief of the lifestyle website CultureMap Houston, said the value the city gets from being a part of national shows like The Bachelor and Top Chef can't compare to a 30-second TV ad the city might produce with the hopes of someone in another city watching it and deciding to visit Houston.
"Top Chef is not just a postcard from Houston to the country, it is a showcase and a love letter. All you have to do is watch a few episodes and suddenly you realize Houston's the most diverse city in the country. It's got incredible cultural history. It's got the most dynamic food seen in this city," he said. "If it brings people here and if it gets people away from Austin and it gets people away from Dallas and brings tax dollars and it brings dining dollars, entertainment dollars, hotel dollars to my city, I'm all for it."
Clapham-Rosenow said the city was approached about hosting The Bachelor in 2018, but that didn't end up happening. A few years later, as Texas was lifting its COVID restrictions before other states, she said the same producer the city talked to in 2018 reached out again saying they'd love to film an episode in Houston.
"They came here with more than 200 producers, so the ask was help us with site selections, work with us on a package to help subsidize part of the 200 producers that were here for seven to 10 days and that was the deal that we thought was a great return because it would generate no less than $500,000 in hard cash," she said. "It would create a return for the city in a great rebound timeframe and hit more than 6 million (viewers)."
In exchange for paying to bring The Bachelor to Houston, Clapham-Rosenow said the city got back at least $500,000 in direct economic impact.
It even spurred some free publicity, Clapham-Rosenow said. Another show affiliated with The Bachelor is shooting a series in the city since the producers loved it here and this time, Houston First didn't have to incentivize or pay them to come. The name of the show was not disclosed and episodes haven't aired yet.
City records show the Bachelor spent $325,240 at the C. Baldwin hotel, where the Bachelor crew and contestants were headquartered in Houston for about two weeks in October 2021. The show also spent money on food, transportation and other costs associated with being in town for two weeks.
Chris Niederschulte, the General Manager at the C. Baldwin, said the show paid for the hotel's services just like any other guest.
At a time when staffing was down due to the pandemic, he said housing hundreds of Bachelor producers at the hotel allowed him to bring back support staff and hourly associates, like bartenders, servers and housekeeping, about three months sooner than he could have without the show's boost in business.
"(It was) a huge impact on people's lives. They've gone through something that none of us expected," he said. "In the hotel, you're literally family. You spend so much time together so to be able to bring them all back and see those faces and everybody do what they're so good at is just incredible."
Niederschulte said after the Houston episodes of The Bachelor aired, there was an increase in visitors who asked where certain scenes, like the rose ceremony, were filmed.
"It's fun and it's exciting and the staff are excited about it," he said. "The exposure that you get from that show is just incredible, not only for Texas, not only for Houston, but for all the places that they touch."
The Bachelor's star also took one lucky lady on a one-on-one date horseback riding, where the couple appeared to stumble upon an outdoor picnic hosted by the well-known Houston-based barbeque joint Blood Bros.
Robin Wong, one of the three founders who started the restaurant, said that scene wasn't quite the chance encounter producers made it out to seem on screen.
Wong said with the show being filmed in Texas, producers knew they wanted to have a barbeque, but they also wanted it to be a family environment, so they staged an outdoor picnic.
The restaurant's logo was blurred and the name of Blood Bros. business wasn't featured in the show - not even in the closing credits where shoot locations were recognized. Still, Wong said bringing popular shows like The Bachelor and Top Chef to Houston are a boost for the hospitality industry.
Wong said he did have to close down shop for a day when filming, but The Bachelor paid their business for all of the food that was cooked and served during the picnic.
Still, he didn't realize the city paid to bring the Bachelor and Top Chef to town, but he does think it is worth the cost.
"I think it's amazing. I think that without them, those shows wouldn't have come," he said. "I'm glad to see Houston (is getting) on the map and if that's what it takes to get it here, I'm all for it because I think later on down the line, they won't have to shop it as much. People will be interested in coming here already, so to have that kind of bump or showcase to show people what's going on here, I think it's great."
Wong said he regularly gets barbeque fanatics who visit from as far as Canada and Australia and is glad Houston's food scene is being featured on national TV.
"Houston is definitely a destination spot for barbeque," he said. "We do get a lot of tourists. We have people that come here and they still have their luggage. They're like, 'I just got off the plane, straight from the airport' because they understand what our hours are."
Even though Houston First paid for The Bachelor to come to Houston, not all of the scenes were shot in the city. The crew spent time at The Historic Hill House and Farm in Willis and the Pleasure Pier in Galveston.
"Not everyone gets it right the first time when they come here and sometimes this comes down to the producers and the production staff on site making these decisions and the editors making that decision, doing their homework," Devadanam said. "Where The Bachelor could have done a little bit better is really understanding some of the key players in our food scene, but I felt like they were trying to showcase the visuals of the city."
Still, Devadanam said bringing popular reality shows like The Bachelor to Houston is a positive for the city since it puts it on a national stage.
"We get a lot of traffic from people from other cities checking out our websites, trying to figure out where they stayed in a certain city," he said. "People will Google quickly, real-time, the name of the restaurant or the hotel as they're watching. Now how does that translate later? Only time will tell if that person actually shows up, but there is quite a buzz and it's elevating Houston's profile as a vacation destination where people wouldn't have thought of that originally."
We reached out to ABC which airs but doesn't produce the Bachelor and had no comment on the incentives. An ABC public relations representative offered to put us in touch with Warner Bros. Television Group, the producers of the show. 13 Investigates reached out, but did not receive any comment from Warner Bros. Television Group.