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Just A Quick ‘Bachelor’ Reminder: Matt James Is Not The Villain Here

- The Bachelor -
Just A Quick ‘Bachelor’ Reminder: Matt James Is Not The Villain Here

What is the deal with all of the hate in Matt James’ comment section? Ever since the finale for The Bachelor aired on Monday, March 15, the ABC lead’s social media has been inundated with fan responses, both good and bad. That’s typical for reality TV — cue the “people know what they’re signing up for” narrative — but it seems like Matt James is getting more harassment than most previous leads, particularly when it comes to how he ended this show.

Let’s be clear about something upfront: The Bachelor did Matt James so dirty. After the franchise got called out in June 2020 for not having a single non-white bachelor over 24 seasons of the show, producers caved and gave the role to a Black man. Though Matt had never been on the show before (his chance to be a contestant was cut off after Clare Crawley’s season of The Bachelorette was postponed due to the coronavirus crisis) and he’d also never been in a serious relationship, they chose him to be the lead… and then they cast a woman with racist social media activity on his season. Can we fault him for the fact that things didn’t work out?

The Bachelor franchise left Matt out to dry

The reality is that the After the Final Rose special following the finale showed us just how much the Bachelor star seems to be struggling with the fallout from both of those decisions. Sure, reality personalities have an idea of what they’re subjecting themselves to when they decide to share their lives on TV, but you can imagine that this was a lot to take on simultaneously.

All at once, he was expected to juggle new-found fame, the criticism that comes with living in the public eye, constant speculation about his relationship status, his own unaddressed issues about love and marriage, and racism coming both from the world and from someone he thought he was going to spend his life and have children with. You can understand why he might be feeling overwhelmed and closed off, but not all fans are giving him the kind of “grace” they have demanded others show people like Rachael Kirkconnell.

And, for the record, I do think we should give people the chance to learn from their mistakes. Rachael should absolutely learn and grow and ~do the work~ necessary to understand why her Antebellum party photos (and, as the ATFR finale hinted, some of her other behaviors) are racist and how she can avoid making similar mistakes in the future. On her social media, she's talked about taking on that responsibility and asked fans not to justify her wrong actions, but that doesn't mean she's already moved past them.

Matt and Rachael both explained during the AFTR that she didn't understand that she'd even done something wrong until this scandal exploded. In fact, up until then, she'd never thought about her actions from 2018 as anything other than having fun with her friends. The photo may be from three years ago, but any anti-racism education she's engaged with has been recent, and unlearning a lifetime's worth of behaviors isn't an easy or fast process. In the meantime, she’s not owed anyone’s support, friendship, or love — and she’s certainly not owed it from the people that she hurt most, like Matt.

Because here’s the thing: She did hurt Matt. Even she acknowledged that when she said, “For him to end things, he must’ve been very, very hurt by everything.” And yet there is a whole slew of fans — and fellow Bachelor Nation stars, like former lead Peter Weber and his mom — who are more focused on the pain of Rachael’s heartbreak over losing her boyfriend, a pain that Matt surely felt tenfold when it was compounded by racism that directly affected Matt and the future children he’d imagined having with Rachael. This isn’t your average Bachelor breakup, and this isn’t your average Bachelor drama.

Just for a second, though, let’s pretend that it is

Let’s take a moment to address all the typical Bachelor criticisms: Matt wasn’t ready for marriage. Matt’s never been in a serious relationship. Matt never had any business being the Bachelor in the first place. I’m not going to argue that any of that isn’t true — but I am going to argue that none of it is new.

Plenty of people (Rachael included) go on this show without much previous romantic experience to draw from. Plenty of people end up in the position of the lead without being ready to commit to walking down the aisle. And Matt is hardly the first Bachelor to decide not to propose. In fact, the very first Bachelor, Alex Michel, ended his season without an engagement. So did Bob Guiney, Jesse Palmer, Charlie O’Connell, Travis Lane Stork, Lorenzo Borghese, and Juan Pablo Galavis. Brad Womack not only chose not to propose, he didn’t even choose one woman to continue dating after the show — and guess what? They gave him a second season just about three years later.

Even when Bachelor leads do propose, more often than not they ended up breaking the relationship off within the year, if not even just a few months. Take Pilot Pete for example. After Hannah Brown broke his heart, he was given the honor of being the Bachelor, and he promptly proposed to finalist Hannah Ann Sluss, broke it off with her, entertained the idea of getting back together with runner-up Madi Prewett, called it off, started dating contestant Kelley Flanagan who he sent home before hometowns, and then broke it off with her, too — all within a year or just about.

Before him was Colton Underwood, who went on to be accused of harassing and stalking his final pick and then-ex, Cassie Randolph (though the two later settled the matter privately). Other recent leads include Arie Luyendyk Jr., who famously swapped his final two picks after he made the wrong choice, and Nick Viall, whose relationship lasted less than six months after their After the Final Rose reunion.

If we’ve got a problem with Matt as the lead, it stands to reason that the issue is not one individual, but the show as a whole. It’s fair to be frustrated that every season of The Bachelor turns out to be a romantic dumpster fire, but eventually we have to realize that the powers that be are the ones prioritizing an entertaining, messy season over any potential love story. Sure, Matt could’ve passed on the opportunity — but who would when being the Bachelor comes with the chance to date in a once-in-a-lifetime way, a huge honkin’ check, and an all-expenses-paid vacation (and, trust us, the expenses are no joke)?

Frankly, the show is at fault for a lot of what went wrong here

The franchise set Matt up for failure when it chose him to be the lead with no real romantic experience to draw from. They tried to do it again when Chris Harrison tried to logic him into proposing after he realized he wasn’t ready. And they did it again when after show host Emmanuel Acho asked Matt on camera if there was any chance he would ever take Rachael back, forcing him to fall silent or reject her again — this time in front of an audience of millions.

This show may claim it’s all about love, romance, and the ~journey~ that it takes to find The One, but ultimately, it all comes back to the same refrain Chris Harrison shares each and every year. They want to make the Most Dramatic Season Ever — and it seems they’re fine with that coming at the expense of bullying, racism, and the poor mental health of their stars. I want better from these shows, but I’m just about ready to stop expecting it. And, in the mean time, I'm going to direct all of my frustrations and criticisms where they belong and not at Matt James, who's been through enough already.

Read more...

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Images: ABC

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