bachelor nation

This ‘Historic’Bachelor Season Was a Total Flop

Three reluctant fans talk through their disappointments.

Photo: Craig Sjodin/ABC
Photo: Craig Sjodin/ABC

After three months of watching this highly anticipated season of the Bachelor franchise, I’m feeling exhausted. We’ve waited almost 20 years to see the first Black Bachelor find love on national television, and the outcome was sad, frustrating, and ultimately unsuccessful. The franchise continues to avoid tackling the race issues embedded within the history of the show — and as a result, host Chris Harrison has temporarily stepped back from hosting, and Matt James, the Bachelor himself, was left heartbroken and on the search for a therapist. I think it’s safe to say this historic season was a total flop.

To process all of this, the Cut sat down with the hosts of the podcast 2 Black Girls, 1 Rose — Justine Kay and Natasha Scott — to recap the season finale and unpack two decades’ worth of issues from the whitest show on earth.

Devine Blacksher, associate fashion editor: How did you feel watching the finale? I was very angry, stressed out, and frustrated with Matt James, but also with the Bachelor franchise in general.

Natasha Scott: I think the overwhelming feeling was sad.

I’ve been watching the show pretty much since the very first season. That’s 20 years — my whole adolescence! I have been dying to see a Black man’s journey on this show. We’re finally given that in Matt James, and I’m just really sad that this is what is delivered to us. I feel sad for him and angry that he’s even in this position — particularly in the finale, where he’s choosing Rachael Kirkconnell without fully knowing her whole background. They cast her even though she had a very documented history of racist behavior that he was not privy to.

But then, also, there are certain questions and conversations that he clearly did not have with her. I’m disappointed in him as well.

Justine Kay: Although all of this was pretty much what I expected, from when they propped him up in June in that salmon jacket, it’s like the producers were saying, “Oh, George Floyd died? We need a Black man right now.” And then Rachael happens. And then Chris Harrison happens.

D.B.: I wish they had found a Bachelor who was emotionally mature and ready to be on this show. I feel like Matt had a lot of his own personal issues to deal with.

Speaking of, let’s talk about his dad coming on the show. I literally had to pause it. I was like, I can’t watch this. It was crushing, the way the producers went about it. It’s this five-minute clip of them talking about something so serious, and it’s the first time he’s ever talked to his dad about this. I felt like it was trauma porn, and it presented a stereotype white people tend to have of a Black father.

N.S.: And it seemed like his dad was blindsided! You could tell that producers told him whatever they needed to tell him to get him there, but he was not prepared for that conversation. It was a very raw conversation about unresolved family issues that should be done in private, just between him and his son. It felt like something we shouldn’t be watching.

And yet they’re on national television, having this conversation for a majority white audience that has been socialized with the stereotypes of the absent Black father. It’s this giant stereotype that is put on display, packaged real cute into this five-minute conversation for white people to see and dissect and then just move on from.

And, yes, this is Matt James’s truth. But there’s also important context missing.

D.B.: When Matt was like, “He bought me sneakers, and what I needed was a father,” it was like a soap opera — very dramatic. And I know it’s, once again, his truth, but something about that — I was like, We can tell many Black people are not a part of this production. It’s just a team largely made up of white people narrating this story, and it’s awful.

N.S.: Watching that conversation, it was so clear that this was a team of mostly white executives, white producers, white storytellers who are telling the story. Even the selection of that sound bite — so stereotypical.

D.B.: Part of me feels bad for Matt. He seemed uncomfortable this whole season, and I still don’t feel like I really know his personality. How do you think they could have done better with sharing the first Black Bachelor’s story?

J.K.: No. 1, they should have picked somebody who was on the show already. That’s part of the reason why he was so uncomfortable! You can tell he doesn’t know when to say no to the producers. They should have picked someone with more experience being on TV — I think that was why he seemed so nervous and sometimes looked so foolish throughout the whole season.

D.B.: Yeah, he had the bro face — his mouth is open, and he’s like, I don’t know what to do.

J.K.: And a lot of “I love that. Thank you for sharing.” Just very generic phrases.

N.S.: Yeah, I think he was a watered-down version of himself.

What pissed me off is us learning after the fact about that conversation he had with Chelsea about hair. Chelsea told him all about how she shaved her head and then she revealed in an interview later with Rachel Lindsay that Matt also shared his story as a Black man who used to have dreads. He had a whole hair story that they chose not to show.

It’s almost like I can’t even believe what they’re showing me of Matt James, because it’s like they’re purposely editing the Blackness out of him.

D.B.: Yeah, that actually opens up my eyes a little more. I wasn’t aware of his hair story being edited out.

So let’s talk about the controversial photos of Rachael Kirkconnell at an Old South antebellum-themed party in 2018. When that news came out in February, what was your take?

N.S.: It was kind of like, We’ve been here before. We saw it on Rachel Lindsay’s season. A guy named Lee, who had a slew of racist Facebook comments and tweets, he was cast on the first Black Bachelorette’s season.

And here we are again: another historic season, a Black lead, and yet again no protection for this Black lead. No extra parameters taken to make sure they don’t cast another Lee.

J.K.: But this backfired in a way that they probably didn’t expect, to the point where their own face of the show, Chris Harrison, has now been exposed for who he really is. Don’t say you’re going to do better if you don’t want to put any money or time or research into it.

D.B.: How did you think the after-show went?

N.S.: That was the first time Matt James was allowed to show up as a Black man. Even just the first question Emmanuel Acho asked, “How much pressure was it being the first Black Bachelor?” I mean, he had that same conversation, kind of, with Chris Harrison on night one. But this time, sitting across from a Black man, it meant we got to hear him share some very real things that resonated for me as a Black person.

It was what we all heard growing up: working twice as hard to get half as far, understanding how we are representing our race when we go into spaces that are mostly white, the pressure of having to be on your P’s and Q’s. Matt finally got to explain his emotional labor of being the Black person in a white space. As he said, he’s showing up at 8 p.m. every Monday in the homes of white people across the country, many of whom have never had Black people in their homes before.

J.K.: For Natasha and I — and, I’m sure, for you — none of what they talked about seemed very uncomfortable. But for white viewers, it probably did. I think that was really important.

D.B.: Another thing I noticed is the finalists were all mixed race, minus Rachael. What do you think was going on there?

J.K.: So many white people need to have their hand held into Blackness — it’s, Let’s not shove at them a roomful of straight-up Black girls. Let’s make it more digestible. Let’s make it palatable. Let’s make sure the girls aren’t too dark skinned. Let’s have it still be a little bit adjacent to whiteness. It’s not lost on us why the cast of women looks the way they do — beautiful women, but we understand the strategy behind it.

N.S.: The whole season was just a lost opportunity. It was a moment to show a fully fleshed-out portrait of a Black man, to tell his love story — and they blew it.

J.K.: And what is so mind-boggling is how many improvements I saw in the story lines of Black characters on Tayshia’s season. We saw Ivan talking about George Floyd. We saw Tayshia and him having a real conversation about race, so much so that she was so brokenhearted she couldn’t even talk. We met Ivan’s brother, with tattoos on his face.

I don’t understand what happened between that season and this one.

D.B.: What do you think about Michelle and Katie as the next two Bachelorettes?

N.S.: We can’t get anything to ourselves. They also announced Tayshia and Kaitlyn as the new hosts of the show. Why can’t it just be Tayshia? Why can’t it just be Michelle? Why do we have to share a spotlight always?

D.B.: Why do they have to comfort everybody who’s been comfortable forever? Why can’t they just give us our spotlight?

N.S.: Because in the producers’ minds, we don’t watch the show. The audience is white women, period. That’s what’s worked for 20 years, and that’s where they’re going to continue to play, too.

D.B.: What keeps you two coming back to the show then?

N.S.: This season, in particular, was very exhausting to recap and analyze. But I do it, and I’m going to keep doing it, for our listeners, for the community we’ve built. We have listeners who are women of color who thank us for saying what they’re thinking. We also have white listeners who write to us and tell us we helped them see the show in a new light. I do it for them.

J.K.: And sometimes it still is fun, like Tayshia’s season.

N.S.: Yeah, this season was rough, but it has always been fun. It’s a reality show about dating and love — like, it’s fun. It can’t get more fun than that.

This ‘Historic’ Bachelor Season Was a Total Flop