'The Bachelor' Is a Mess. Here's How to Start Fixing It

After an extremely disappointing season that failed in its handling of race, the reality series needs to be reevaluated and reinvented.
Alex Zaragoza
Brooklyn, US
Emmanuel Acho and Matt James on 'After the Final Rose'
Credit: ABC/Craig Sjodin

Season 25 of The Bachelor came to a close Monday night after arguably the most disappointing and exasperating season to date. This season was meant to be the franchise's most groundbreaking, with Matt James stepping in as the first Black Bachelor in the show's history. But from the moment he stepped out of the limo and into the reality TV spotlight with the burden of answering for systemic racism seemingly placed on his shoulders, James and the machine behind the show set viewers' expectations low, with James admitting the pressure he felt to choose a Black winner. What followed on screen was weeks of petty dramas between contestants instead of, you know, letting these aspiring influencers fall in love or do something interesting enough to secure a spot on Bachelor in Paradise for many seasons to come. However, it was off screen where the real story was happening.


After contestant Rachael Kirkconnell was revealed to have not only attended an "Old South" Antebellum-themed party in 2018 but liking and sharing QAnon conspiracy theories and other racist posts online, and longtime host Chris Harrison stepped down indefinitely after defending Kirkconnell in a bafflingly offensive interview with former Bachelorette Rachel Lindsay, it became clear how deep the issues run. The network and production company failed miserably with its handling of race and racism, and it feels like there's no hope for American's favorite guilty pleasure watch to evolve from its stodgy, antiquated formula. When your own contestants essentially unionize against you, and Black contestants from past seasons come forward to share in detail the racism and microaggressions they faced in order to validate claims, it means things are bad. (But also, everyone should unionize their workplace and listen to Black women always. Not just when shit hits the fan.)

While many may believe that ABC's flagship reality series is unfixable, the likelihood of any network shutting down production on a massive money maker even if it's an endless PR nightmare is slim. So here are some ideas on how to start fixing this broken machine in the hopes it will continue to churn out Instagram influencers and failed relationships, preferably without being racist.


Improve the Vetting Process 

Seems obvious to have a solid vetting process for a show in which people get romantically entangled, sometimes in a jacuzzi, but the current system has been a problem for many years. Somehow contestants who have been outed as racists, violent offenders, and potentially dangerous weirdos have managed to get past the casting process and end up on TV. ABC and Warner Horizon, the production company behind the series, hire a third party company to do background checks every season, and yet reddit users and extremely online fans routinely find damning social posts from contestants. Kirkconnell was just the latest in a long line of Bachelor stars with questionable pasts. 

In an interview with Variety in 2017, ABC executive Rob Mills admitted that social media accounts weren't checked during the vetting process. This came after Lee Garrett was cast on Rachel Lindsay's season of The Bachelor and was discovered to have posted virulently racist tweets. “Now we’ve realized that we’ll look at social media accounts and look through carefully,” he said. “Going forward, we’ll be looking at all of that, in addition to the background checks, which of course give you criminal records and all of that.” Well, well, well. Doesn't look like they've done a good job on that front, huh? Simply put, the production needs to find a more capable company for this task.


Diversity Throughout the Process/Change the Entire System

In 2020, a Change.org laid out specifically the kind of diversity fans wanted to see on screen, behind the scenes, and from the network. It gathered more than 165,000 signatures.

This season of The Bachelor was its most diverse to date, which is great! We love to see it! But including people from different backgrounds, abilities, or with fresh perspectives and life experiences only does so much if the system continues to uphold racist, ageist, ableist, and misogynistic standards, and continues to allow Black contestants in particular to be painted as aggressive or mean when they’re defending themselves. They also need to cast more leads who actually date non-white men and women. It’s not just about casting decisions, but also hiring people behind the scenes who are equipped to do the work and that they come into it with an understanding of creating a safe, anti-racist, open space for these dummies to find love. And if they can carry out the work with little-to-no big, stupid executive interference, even better.

This also means doing away with the stale ass formula the show has been relying on since its inception. Reinvention is not only a good thing but necessary as tastes change, culture shifts, and things get too predictable. In the god forsaken year of 2021, producers are still relying on tired reality TV tricks and tropes that no one wants on their screen, like inciting petty dramas among women, childish contests that involve women racing in wedding dresses, and Fantasy Suites. It’s annoying, sometimes disturbing, and often gets more airtime than anyone cares for, and it’s clear that non-white contestants aren’t getting the support they need from producers. Victoria with her whole Queen Victoria gimmick got old after 35 seconds. Let the contestants hang in the house, do some silly shit, and fuck whenever they want, I say! 


Make it Less Christian

This show is basically Sunday school softcore porn. For years The Bachelor has leaned heavier and heavier into Christian values, some more evangelical than others. Many past leads and contestants are devout in the faith, including Sean Lowe, Madison Prewitt, Hannah Brown, Colton Underwood, Tayshia Adams, and Jake Pavelka, which created a season where their virginity and conservatism took center stage, often to cringe effect. James led the women in prayer on the first night without considering that maybe some people wouldn’t be comfortable with that, but no one batted an eyelash. Likely because Christianity is the tacit standard of the show.

While people of all faiths can and should be welcome on The Bachelor, the show has become increasingly moralistic, focused on purity culture, and reflective of the values of Christianity, setting a tone that can be exclusionary and right-leaning. As a result, anyone, but in particular women contestants, who don’t uphold those values are regularly slut shamed within an inch of their life. While Hannah Brown and Rachel Lindsay shared the importance of their faith with their suitors while still discussing (or engaging in) sex, politics, and their other beliefs in a non-judgemental way, some contestants and leads have been more rigid. That doesn’t leave much room for others, and it idealizes a specific set of ideals as the standard of love and romance, and it doesn’t always end well. It’s okay to be Christian, and for that to be the basis of your romantic interactions if that’s what you choose, but contestants and leads have sometimes crumbled under the pressure to fulfill those expectations. That Christian baseline also becomes a problem with regards to the racist overtones of the series, and how contestants who aren’t Christian or base their morality or choices in Christian values are treated. Unfortunately, while many white Christians do not condone racism in their beliefs or lives, the extreme conservatism that runs through part of the Christian base has a proven track record of upholding racism and white supremacy. That the majority of The Bachelor’s audience is located in mostly Christian parts of the country, per a 2019 study, it stands to reason that this is who production is playing to through their casting and values expressed. Courting this community so often creates a fan base that can be rabid, misogynistic, and deeply racist. This is not to say other religions don’t have their own issues of racism and misogyny. But it’s time the show offers and embraces more viewpoints and challenges racism and misogyny in a direct way.


Transparency from Producers

There’s a fourth wall that the show works hard not to break lest the hazy, filtered fantasy be disrupted. That’s understandable and fine; the cheesiness is part of the gag. But there are moments in which it’s absolutely imperative that producers step forward and inform a lead or other contestant when racist or misogynistic behavior is occurring. During her season, Lindsay was unaware of the ways in which Lee Garrett was targeting Black contestant Kenny King, provoking him then accusing him of being “aggressive.” There was a racist undertone to their arguments, but production treated it as entertainment weather than a serious issue to be addressed. This is especially upsetting and concerning since Garrett had a history of abysmally racist tweets, including likening the NAACP to the KKK, and kept moving forward in the competition ostensibly because Lindsay had no idea what was really going on. 

Aside from the obvious fact that Garrett should have ever been cast, had a producer stepped in to inform Lindsay of what was happening, she could have been aware that some weird racist shit was going down and made a call right away. Production could have also made the executive decision along with Lindsay to remove him from the show when he stepped over the line, and made it clear why that was happening, sending a message to other contestants and viewers. That requires a zero tolerance policy and a willingness to break through the smoke and mirrors, neither of which has been done unless it was absolutely necessary. With James’ season, it was hard to watch knowing what we know about Kirkconnell and the racist mess behind the scenes while the show continued to go forward business as usual. Producers need to be more transparent with leads and contestants when damning information is discovered, and be more open with its audience on its failures, because lying or withholding knowledge is wrong, disgusting, and can cause trauma.

Get Chris Harrison Off My TV

Maybe in 2002 when the series premiered this dude was cool and young and with it, but in 2021 my guy has shown how out of touch he is. And keeping him for the sake of tradition is a sign of refusal to progress. Harrison is currently on a time-out from the show following the disastrous interview with Lindsay. While former NFL player and host of the online series Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man Emmanuel Acho stepped in to host After the Final Rose, and Tayshia Adams and former Bachelorette Kaitlyn Bristowe have been tapped to host the next back-to-back seasons of The Bachelorette, maybe it’s time the network finds a more permanent replacement. Harrison has proven to be uninformed and incapable of holding the more difficult conversations, especially because the veneer of the show is to stick to petty beef as opposed to real anger and pain that may be there. It’s time for a new host; someone who has charm and charisma to keep viewers engaged and who can help lead conversations on race when it applies. This person exists. Many of them do, in fact. So let’s get them in the mansion for fireside chats and weird late night wine downs.