Secrets from the ‘Bachelor’ franchise are spilling out, and they could change the show’s future
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“The Bachelorette” star Rachel Lindsay and her husband, Bryan Abasolo, in 2018. Lindsay and Abasolo fell in love on the show, but their story line took a back seat to Lindsay's relationship with another contestant. (Lisa Lake/Getty Images for SugarHouse Casino)
ByEmily Yahr
June 22, 2021 at 6:00 a.m. EDT
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On Monday night’s episode of ABC’s “The Bachelorette,” Katie Thurston continued her quest for love. But she wasn’t the franchise star everyone was talking about that day.
Earlier that morning, New York Magazine published its cover story, an in-depth piece by Rachel Lindsay (as told to Allison P. Davis) about what it was like behind the scenes as the first Black lead in the show’s history when she was cast as the Bachelorette in 2017, as well as her experience right before that as a finalist on Nick Viall’s season of “The Bachelor.”
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She was positioned as the “angry Black woman” in both seasons, she said, and much of the “Bachelorette” drama focused on race, sidelining her “happily ever after” story line with her eventual winner and now-husband, Bryan Abasolo.
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Lindsay continued to participate in the franchise (making appearances on the show, co-hosting its official podcast), but the situation grew “untenable” as very few of the show’s diversity issues were fixed, she said, and she faced racist abuse from the show’s fans on social media.
Things took a turn for the worse in February when Lindsay interviewed host Chris Harrison on “Extra.” She asked him about contestant Rachael Kirkconnell, who was competing on the season starring Matt James, the first Black Bachelor, and had previously posted racially insensitive social media photos. Harrison launched into a passionate plea for “grace” and “understanding” of “this poor girl, Rachael” and blamed “the woke police.” The segment went viral, with many fans upset by Harrison’s responses, and it ultimately led to his departure from the show.
Chris Harrison exits ‘The Bachelor’ after 19 years as host
“After my interview with Harrison, I thought, This is a charade at this point. If the person who has been representative of your show for nearly two decades thinks this way, what does it say about the rest of it?” Lindsay said in her New York Magazine story.
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She described “The Bachelor” fandom as divided into the regular “Bachelor Nation” and then the “Bachelor Klan,” which “is hateful, racist, misogynistic, xenophobic, and homophobic.” During the fallout from Harrison’s interview, Lindsay started getting death threats, and she decided to cut ties with the show completely. “I couldn’t even pretend to want to be involved anymore. I didn’t want to give people a reason to talk about me because everything I was saying was becoming a headline. And so I decided to remove myself from it all.”
While Lindsay has long been outspoken about the need for changes in the Bachelor franchise, it’s rare to get this level of detail or criticism from a contestant in the long-running series, which launched in 2002 and became one of the most popular franchises in reality TV history. Normally, contestants are under contract, or don’t want to risk losing a spot on one of the “Bachelor” spin offs, or are afraid to possibly jeopardize all the Instagram influencer money they can make.
In the wake of Harrison’s departure, trade publications including the Hollywood Reporter and Variety have also reported on the inside machinations of the show, all adding up to an unusual amount of secrets being spilled about the famously tight-lipped franchise. Variety reported that the “disastrous outcome” of Harrison’s follow-up interview with “Good Morning America” and Michael Strahan’s pointed response also motivated “Bachelor” executives to bench Harrison.
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Lindsay was candid in the cover story that being cast as the Bachelorette changed her life, and she doesn’t regret the experience. On some occasions, she said, the producers tried to protect her: Like when Vanessa Grimaldi, a White contestant and Viall’s eventual winner, accused Lindsay of “bullying” her.
Lindsay said she started “bawling” during an on-camera interview afterward, telling the producers, “You do not understand what it is to be a Black woman in this house full of white folks and for a white woman to cry in your face and call you a bully.” The show wound up not airing the incident or the interview. When The Post asked for a response to Lindsay’s story, ABC had no comment.
But most of the time, particularly on “The Bachelorette,” she was dismayed that producers treated race issues as “drama.” Although her pool of contestants was more diverse than in previous seasons, Lindsay said producers appeared “fascinated” by the idea some Black men don’t want to date Black women, and made Lindsay go on a one-on-one date with one such contestant, Will Gaskins. Lindsay said the date was so awkward that a producer told her to send him home immediately, and added, “We can’t even edit it to make it look like he likes you.”
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Plus, over the course of that season, fans uncovered offensive tweets by contestant Lee Garrett, who, after a prolonged discussion on the “Men Tell All” special, finally admitted they were racist. Producers claimed they didn’t know the tweets existed. Meanwhile, Garrett’s confrontations with Black contestants became their own plotline.
Lindsay also explained more about her relationship with Peter Kraus, the runner-up who was the focus of her finale. One telling moment arrived during her hometown visit, when producers had her and Kraus meet up with some of his friends — two other interracial couples. Lindsay said she felt “exploited” by that scene, since it appeared to be only for optics. When she asked the producers why they did that, Lindsay said, one replied, “We thought it would be a good story line.” Lindsay added, “They thought it would make me comfortable. It shows you how wrong they get it. They are assuming how we think, rather than actually talking to the person whose real-life experience it is.”
The piece dove into many more of the show’s issues, and if social media reaction was any indication, it was an especially illuminating — and upsetting — read. Even Thurston, the current Bachelorette, posted a link to the story for her 679,000 followers on Instagram. If the fallout from Harrison is any indication, executives at ABC and the studio, Warner Bros., take issues with the show more seriously when there is a public outcry: Both the Hollywood Reporter and Variety stories about Harrison say the social media reaction affected how the network and producers dealt with the former host, who by all accounts had no intention of stepping down until the backlash grew too strong.
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After Lindsay’s story published, she expressed disappointment with the “clickbait” headline that the magazine chose for the cover: “Oops, I Blew Up ‘The Bachelor.’” As Lindsay noted in an Instagram post, the headline “is in stark contrast to the context of the piece,” of which she remains “very proud.”
It’s true: Lindsay didn’t blow anything up. But her story could lead to meaningful change. Lindsay shedding light on what else really happens on the show could affect viewers’ perspective on the series. Not to mention that of the actual contestants involved. The Bachelor franchise has always been resistant to change, but if Lindsay’s revelations lead to more stars of the show feeling bold enough to share all, it could be a domino effect that’s hard to stop.
Read more:
Tayshia Adams and Kaitlyn Bristowe explain how to mentor a Bachelorette
‘The Bachelorette’ premiere: As host Chris Harrison steps aside, Tayshia Adams and Kaitlyn Bristowe are already fan favorites
Emily Yahr is an entertainment reporter for The Washington Post. She joined The Post in 2008 and has previously written for the Boston Globe, USA Today, the Lexington (Ky.) Herald-Leader and the American Journalism Review.
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