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When we turn on an episode of The Bachelor or The Bachelorette, literally all we want is to have a good time.
Isn't that why we watch anything? We want to have fun. We want to be entertained. We want to distract ourselves from real life. We want to watch people fall in love. We want to laugh at funny things. We want to turn off a show and think, "Wow, that was great, can't wait for next week's episode!"
That hasn't happened for a while with The Bachelor. This season in particular almost made us never want to watch the franchise again, especially given how excited we were about Matt James before the season started. Sure, he had never been a contestant before, but he was Tyler Cameron's hot best friend. His Instagram was filled with thirst traps, NYC adventures and promotions for the kid-focused charity he works with. He seemed funny, and like the exact kind of guy we'd be happy to watch on TV for three months.
The timing of his casting was, of course, a little suspect. He was originally on the cast list for Clare Crawley's season of The Bachelorette, but then the country found itself in the middle of a pandemic and a racial equality reckoning. Matt, who is biracial—his mother his white and his father is Black—was announced as the new star just days after a petition circulated that called for The Bachelor to finally, in season 25, cast its first Black male lead.
It was an exciting choice, but just the start of the promises the show needed to start making to viewers who were getting sick of the same old schtick.
The back half of 2020 was promising for the franchise. With Matt's season on the horizon, Clare's season went sideways for a mostly good reason. She fell in love with Dale Moss, and while that couple left happily engaged, Tayshia Adams stepped in to find her own love story. She got engaged to Zac Clark.
Matt's cast list was also exciting. It was more diverse than ever, and even included the franchise's first deaf contestant, who stole everyone's heart in the season premiere. But things quickly went downhill.
Even before the season premiered, fans started uncovering evidence that Rachael Kirkconnell probably should not have made it through the show's vetting process, if there is one. She had liked some questionable photos on Instagram and there were photos of her at an antebellum-themed party in 2018, and there were also accusations on TikTok that she bullied a girl in high school for dating Black men.
Rachael didn't appear problematic on screen and quickly emerged as one of Matt's frontrunners, which made it hard for anyone associated with the show to adequately address her past social media behavior. Chris Harrison tried, and ended up defending the ball as a "sorority party" that wasn't as offensive in 2018, and asking Rachel Lindsay, the series' first Black lead, for "grace" until Rachael could explain herself. He called out the "woke police" and basically made it clear that he didn't really see the problem here.
The reaction online was swift and loud. Former contestants spoke out in disgust. The women of Matt's season got together to release a joint statement denouncing racism and any defense of it. Rachel Lindsay was showered in support but also targeted with hateful messages that only got much worse after Chris was forced to step away from hosting the show for a while. Emmanuel Acho, the host of Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man, was hired in Chris' place to host After the Final Rose, still accompanied by Chris' voiceover. Rachel Lindsay had to deactivate her Instagram for a few days to get away from the haters.
Rachael Kirkconnell went on to "win," though Matt wasn't ready to propose. They were together for a couple of months before a heartbroken Matt was then forced to explain to his girlfriend why a plantation-themed party was bad, and then had to tell her again, on TV, why he couldn't date her after all that. Emmanuel decried "cancel culture" and even tried to make them hug, after making Matt explain multiple times why he couldn't take Rachael back.
Somehow, all of that wasn't even the worst part about watching this season. Most of that drama took place off screen, after production was over. On screen, the season was a different but similarly frustrating slog.
Instead of letting us see Matt, who has proven on social media to be a very funny, personality-filled man, get to know his equally personality-filled contestants, we mostly watched a small handful of mostly white women bully other mostly non-white women to the point of tears.
For a good portion of the season, Victoria Larsen, who had named herself the Queen, dominated most of the screen time. Several episodes in, for no apparent reason, five new women were brought in to join the fray. It caused an absolute s--tstorm among the original women, who decided that these five newbies were "idiots" simply for doing what producers told them to do.
For weeks beforehand, promos teased the fact that one of the newbies, Brittany Galvin, was rumored to be an escort. Chris Harrison even used this "shocking revelation" that he had "never seen before" as a soundbite in interviews before the season premiered. To be clear, Brittany is a model and not an escort, but contestant Anna Redman told everyone that she was, and now Brittany's name will forever be associated with that "shocking revelation."
For most of the season, bullies ruled the school. Matt was left to put the pieces together, slowly figuring out which bullies deserved to be sent home and barely getting time to spend with the women who seemed perfectly nice. His personality, apparent on social media, was nowhere to be found. The funniest parts of the season were seen in bloopers at the end of the episodes. Full dates involving bugs and pancakes were left on the cutting room floor, only to be revealed during Women Tell All.
Were they cut to give us more footage of Queen Victoria hurling insults or saying the word "literally?" Were they abandoned to make time for 11th place finisher Katie Thurston to look good as the Bachelorette? What's the point of this "dating" show if you're cutting out the dates?!
Meanwhile, Matt was left to carry the burden of being the first Black Bachelor with only Chris Harrison, who is not a Black man, to talk to about it.
There was so much potential here, and it was almost all wasted. Katie and Michelle Young will make great Bachelorettes, and we're getting them both before we get another Bachelor. Chris Harrison is taking an extended break (if it is just a break) while Tayshia and Kaitlyn Bristowe take over hosting duties. Plus, future seasons of Bachelor in Paradise could be filled to the brim with the great contestants from both Matt and Tayshia's seasons.
But again, potential isn't everything. Those great contestants have to be supported while they're on the show, both behind the scenes and in public. Future contestants have to be vetted more thoroughly so that no more leads have to have these difficult conversations they didn't sign up for. Somebody has to take a step back and remember why anyone likes to watch this show in the first place.
If they can't do those things, then maybe it's time for the franchise to take a long, long break.
The Bachelor airs on ABC.
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