Spoiler alert: This video contains details from the season finale of ABC’s ‘The Bachelorette.’ USA TODAY
The 13th season of The Bachelorette was, in a word, disappointing.
Despite a likable star, the combination of heavy-handed production, often-boring suitors and a racist cast member drowned the season.
The season starred Rachel Lindsay, the franchise’s first black lead and one of its most engaging to date. But as Monday night’s finale proved with a cringe-worthy format shakeup that forced Lindsay to watch her emotional pre-recorded breakups in front of a live studio audience, it’s hard to ignore the messy journey despite a promise of happily ever afters.
Lindsay seemed well aware of the hurdles as the first Bachelorette of color, saying early on, “The pressures that I feel being a black woman and what that is … I already know what people are going to say about me and judge me for the decisions that I’m making.”
But the public’s reception of Lindsay and her choices wasn’t as bad as the show’s foibles and awkward conversations on race.
Starting with Dean’s preseason introduction — during a surprise After the Final Rose segment toward the end of The Bachelor in May, in which he proclaimed, “I’m ready to go black, and I’m never going back” — the show seemed unsure how to proceed. The exchange didn’t match the Dean viewers saw during the rest of the season, making one wonder whether the line was scripted.
Even some of its most sincere moments — such as Peter’s hometown visit, when Rachel announced that Peter once told her, “I have 10 really close friends. Eight out of 10 are black,” felt awkwardly intentional, if well-meaning.
Regular Bachelor Nation viewers understand the series’ formula (and that country stars don’t typically sing for post-date concerts), but the season felt heavy-handed. Whether it was DeMario’s run-in with a former fling who claimed to be sleeping with him, or Will calling out Lee’s racially insensitive use of the word “aggressive” to describe Kenny, the narratives ranged from stereotypical to self-serving.
And while it was unrelated to the season, DeMario’s damning storyline was compounded when news broke that production on the spinoff Bachelor in Paradise was halted due to allegations of misconduct involving DeMario and Corinne Olympios. Producer Warner Bros. investigated and found the complaint unsubstantiated. But the controversy was turned into a teaser promising that “everything will be explained” on Paradise, for which ABC apologized Sunday.
It all led to the Men Tell All special — traditionally the penultimate episode of the season, which reunites the cast to rehash unresolved issues. Most of its two hours fixated on the seemingly manufactured drama between Kenny, a lovable black man, and Lee, a countrified racist. While most seasons have a rivalry, Lee and Kenny’s was founded in Lee’s passive-aggressive racist statements and overtly racist pre-show tweets.
So what would have solved the Bachelorette storyline issue? Perhaps letting love (even a reality-TV version of it) play out in the typical way. Had ABC nixed Lee based on his prejudicial tweets, maybe Iggy could have become the annoyingly exacting villain he was meant to be. Kenny might have made the final six instead of Adam or Matt, whom many viewers didn’t even recognize well into the season.
The franchise has never lacked a villain, but in a season rooted so deeply in race and theatrics, and less so in stand-up men (still seeking justice for Blake K), it seems almost too obvious to let that villain be a bona fide racist.
The season had a few frank conversations on race, such as the hard-hitting talk between Lindsay and Eric’s aunt Verna during hometown dates.
But The Bachelor franchise, at its best, has a way of making manufactured love feel vaguely organic, like the rare occasion when cake from a box tastes homemade. Yet, with no real idea of what to do with the ingredients, and a “shocking finale” that focused on fan favorite Peter before a last-minute, hostile ousting, it seems producers tried to cover the whole thing with sickly sweet icing, leaving a bad taste in most viewers’ mouths.