STEBNITZ: “The Bachelor” persists despite controversy

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Photo by Nathan Lampres

“The Bachelor finale” will air March 8 on ABC channel.

While “The Bachelor” is entering what is usually the most exciting episodes of the show, the bigger headlines are coming from what has happened off screen.

Around two weeks ago, pictures surfaced online of one of the contestants, Rachael Kirkconnell. These pictures showed Kirkconnell dressed up at an antebellum south sorority party. There were also pictures of her liking racist tweets that surfaced online.

The controversy peaked in a Chris Harrison appearance on ExtraT, which was hosted by the first African-American Bachelorette, Rachel Lindsay. On the show, Harrison slammed the “Woke Police” for making a big deal out of Rachael’s past mistakes. He then went on to say “Well Rachel, is it a good look in 2018, or is it not a good look in 2021?” 

These comments predictably sparked major backlash among fans of the show, as well as current and former contestants. Lindsay came out and said that she no longer wished to be associated with the series. Contestants on this season all released a joint statement on Instagram condemning the comments made by Harrison, demanding change. This led to Harrison coming forward and announcing he would be stepping away from the show for some time to evaluate his actions.

Kirkconnell released an apology on Instagram Feb. 11, where she promised to work towards unity and change. She later posted a seven minute apology video to Instagram, where she implored her fans to not try to defend her actions. It is believed that Bachelor producers were forcing her to hold off on putting out a statement, possibly because they were scrambling to figure out all of the details surrounding the situation.

It was announced Feb. 27 that Emmanuel Acho, a former NFL linebacker, would be stepping in as host for the “After the Final Rose” live episode. Acho is best known for his new book, Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man. In the book, Acho asks many tough questions about topics that many Americans are afraid to face.

“It’s been a pivotal season and this episode will be one of the most storied shows in its history,” Acho said in a tweet. “Empathy is needed and change is coming.” Acho has no previous associations with the show.

These events have also brought to light the questionable history that the series has with race. Out of 41 seasons, there has only been three Black leads for the show. However, Tayshia Adams was brought in mid-season after the surprise exit of Claire Crawley in Season 16. There have also been allegations of producers only bringing on minority candidates to fill race quotas.

Many clips from earlier seasons have seen the show dismiss racist behavior as simple drama. One specific example of the insensitivity towards race was their casting of Lee Garret in Rachel Lindsay’s season. Garret was cast despite a history of racist tweets, which the show used as a headline generator to stir up interest for the season.

Despite all of the controversy surrounding it, The Women Tell All episode is scheduled for March 1, followed by fantasy suites in two weeks and the finale in the following week.

Currently in the season, The Bachelor has just narrowed the contestants to three, with honeymoon suite dates coming in two weeks.

At the moment, the fan favorite contestant is Michelle. Michelle arrived later in the show, but received a one-on-one date at the earliest opportunity. Her chemistry with Matt has been palpable from the start, and their hot air balloon date immediately catapulted her to favorite status. Since that point she had not received much screen time, but she has managed to hold on.

In Michelle’s hometown date, she and Matt met with her elementary school students over Zoom. The students asked the tough questions, like if they had kissed yet and if they were going to get married. The whole scene was so pure. Matt fit in really well with Michelle’s parents as well, who were very supportive and kind. I think Michelle is in a great position heading into honeymoon suites, although I wouldn’t call her the favorite.

Bri was next up, and failed to accomplish much of anything in my mind. Their date lacked the obvious chemistry of Michelle’s before, and sort of meandered along without much excitement happening. I do not know much about Bri considering she has been around the whole time. She has rarely gotten screen time and has blended in very well with the other contestants.

However, Bri did quit her job in order to appear on the show, which shows she is willing to make sacrifices for love. Users on Twitter were quick to point this out when Bri’s mom described her as “very practical” and “a realist” when speaking with Matt. I like Bri, so it is sad that she has been reduced to a mere placeholder in the final three.

Now moving on to the aforementioned Rachael Kirkconnell, who is still very much in the mix to win Matt’s heart. Rachael has been a frontrunner ever since her shopping date with Matt a few weeks back, and has really just been gaining momentum since then. Her big moment was when she and Matt enjoyed a private concert together after he gave her a rose after a group date. It was such an overt display of love, even for the Bachelor. He whisked her away to dance while the other contestants just sat around, most of them crying in shock at what had just happened.

Rachael took Matt skydiving in this last episode, which looked like a great time until she crash landed straight into the grass. She had minor bruises, but ended up being okay. Her parents were very skeptical of the relationship since a possible proposal would be coming up quickly. Rachael was disappointed that Matt did not ask her parents for their blessing, but he said he was just being consistent, as he had not asked any of the other parents up to this point.

If Rachael ends up winning Matt’s heart, you can expect a huge and polarizing news story to follow.

This story was written by Mason Stebnitz. He can be reached at mason.stebnitz@marquette.edu.