“The Bachelorette” returned on Monday night with one of the most beloved stars the show has seen in quite some time — Becca Kufrin, who had her heart broken on national TV in one of the most controversial “Bachelor” moments in the franchise’s history.
After heartbreak, Kufrin has revealed that she is engaged by the end of her season. But what happens before the proposal?
Variety caught up with ABC executive Rob Mills, who heads reality programming for the network, to find out what to expect in Season 14. “It was really a roller coaster,” Mills says of Kufrin’s season.
As for Arie Luyendyk Jr. and Lauren Burnham’s wedding, Mills teases whether or not the nuptials will be televised, quipping, “You can never leave ‘The Bachelor’ family.”
Here, Mills details “The Bachelorette” Season 14, Arie and Lauren’s wedding, plus an update on “Bachelor In Paradise.”
It took a lot to get here with Becca being “The Bachelorette,” after all the drama on Arie’s season. Are you happy with choosing her as the leading lady?
I’m thrilled with this season. Every season of “The Bachelor” and “Bachelorette” always succeeds to a certain extent, but for it to be an all-timer, a bunch of different things have to go right and this just felt like a confluence of things coming together — Becca is someone who people are really excited to see find love again, after what happened with Arie, and just her as the bachelorette seems so strong and self-assured and funny and smart and really into all of the guys, which allowed for a great season, and then that led to one of our strongest crops of guys, if not the best.
Why do you think it was one of the strongest group of male contestants the show has ever had?
It’s hard to put my finger on it. I don’t know why we got such a strong crop, but we really, really did. They definitely all loved Becca. I think it helped that Becca is into all different types of guys so she had a lot of different personalities. This is one of our stronger crops of guys we’ve ever had — just really interesting, fun guys that are great. There will be a lot of people to root for. I know we use this word a lot, but it really is going to be a great journey for the fans.
Given that Becca is into all different types of guys, did that help with casting, when it came to diversity?
We’ve made a real conscious effort to make the show more diverse, and I think we’ve definitely succeeded over the last few years. We can put diversity in the cast, but sometimes they won’t stick around as long as others because you can’t tell somebody that they have to like this person, so that certainly did help. But it also doesn’t help if you don’t have guys who are great, and these guys were absolutely fantastic, no matter what their backgrounds or race is or anything else.
What can you tease about how this season ends up? Becca has said that she’s engaged.
It’s hard. It’s a testament to how strong she is and what a good head she has on her shoulders that she made it through in one piece. Something happens early on where one of the guys says, “I thought I was telling you what you wanted to hear,” and then she goes into post-traumatic stress from Arie because that’s what Arie did. So it was a real roller coaster for her to get there, really literally right up until the final minute. It’s sort of amazing that is was trial by fire, but the couple — Becca and her fiance — are super strong, and I think they’re going to be one of our forever couples.
You said Becca’s decision is going to be up until the final moment, so does that means that viewers truly won’t have an idea of who Becca picks until the very end?
Yeah. Her type is really every type. So it’s not like you can see [who she is going to end up with]. I would probably compare her to Ali [Fedotowsky] because she was into all different types of guys. It’s going to be surprising every week for people to see who goes home.
Every season, Chris Harrison says, “It’s the most dramatic season ever,” but last season, that really delivered with Arie. How would you compare this season?
It’s very dramatic, and it’s very emotional. If you look at Arie’s season up until the final four hours, it wasn’t quite as dramatic because there were some girls who weren’t necessarily into Arie. Here, there are a lot of guys who are in love with Becca. She is a one in a million woman. That makes it very real. These guys aren’t here to stick around because they want to travel or because they just want the experience [of a TV show] — they want Becca. It’s dramatic from the minute it starts. It’s a lot of real human drama.
Speaking of contestants being there for the right reasons, how do you avoid casting people who just want fame, especially in the age of the Instagram star?
It’s getting easier to weed them out. You just sort of know who they are, so you just stop putting them on the show. It’s not quite the same thing, but on “Shark Tank,” you can tell there are people who just want their product on TV, but don’t really want to hear from the sharks, so we don’t air them on the show anymore. I think having people who are really solid, driven, professional people, like this cast, that helps. There is a character that’s going to be very talked about — Jordan, who is a male model. For better or worse, the world needs male models, and the guy takes it very seriously. But from the moment we met him in casting, he didn’t seem like he was doing this to further his career. He did it because he wasn’t meeting the right type of women, and he wanted to use the show as another way to meet a woman. Just really making a conscious effort to find the right types of guys has really paid off.
Was the entire process tough for Becca, after having her entire breakup — raw footage and all — aired on national TV?
I think she was ready. Arie and her broke up in January, the finale aired in March and then her season started in late month, so she had a few months of closure. It wasn’t like it happened a week ago. She’s also somebody who has gone through other traumas — her father passed away — and when you have those things happen, when you come out of it the other side, you realize that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, and you also realize that you need to take chances. She walked in and was just fully ready to take a chance.
How do you feel about the decision to air the finale last season with all of the raw footage? There was some backlash to airing that footage.
Taking the feelings side, it certainly was a great TV moment. You saw “SNL” parodying it in the cold open six days later, so we clearly touched a nerve in the national consciousness. I still feel the same way that I did when we first watched it — it seemed too powerful to try and cut down because we wanted to tell the whole story, and let the audience see and judge for themselves. Instead of this being a he-said-she-said, it’s all there so you could make your own decisions. I think there was a contingency that this was invasive or exploiting a private moment, and everyone is certainly entitled to their opinions, but also, [the cast] says that they’re going to tell their story on TV. The other thing is both Arie and Becca have come off unscathed. Becca is unbelievable happy, and this has been such an amazing experience for her, and Arie and Lauren are getting married in January.
Will you be showing any more raw, unedited footage this upcoming season?
The one thing we really liked was the footage of the couple after the engagement. These people are real life couples and they live in the real world after. They’re just getting to know each other as just two people, opposed to one person dating 25 people. So we will incorporate some of that. I certainly hope that Becca or her fiance does not have a change of heart and we have to shoot one of those things again, so we certainly have no plans for that, but I hope you will see the happy couple together as an engaged couple.
Did you ever offer Arie and Lauren a TV wedding?
Honestly, I didn’t know about this until I watched [Arie and Lauren announce their wedding date] on “The View” myself. My suspicion is they probably want a measure of privacy. I don’t think they’ve been a couple that people have been particular kind to, so they probably didn’t want a bunch of people hate-watching their wedding. For us, we’re just thrilled that they did find love. They went through this really painful experience and are going get married. So we’re happy for them.
Are there any plans to televise any of Arie and Lauren’s wedding?
I’m sure we’ll include the wedding in some way in the show, and we’ll have Arie and Lauren on one of our specials. You can never leave “The Bachelor” family.
The ratings were down last season. Did the network make any changes this season to try to increase numbers?
When you make knee jerk reactions to things, usually they end up biting you. Here, we knew what we had in Becca, which was a solid Bachelorette. The biggest thing we could do here ratings-wise was have a story and guys that you care about, and I think we accomplished that, so I think our ratings are actually going to be up. You’re not going to see any major format changes — if anything, we’ll be back to basics this season.
Are there any more “Bachelor” spinoffs in the works?
Not right now, but certainly if an idea comes up, we would never count it out. “The Bachelor” is a brand that can expand to really kind of anything.
What can you tease for the upcoming season of “Bachelor In Paradise?”
From Arie’s season and Becca’s season, anyone that had unresolved issues or things they didn’t carry over will probably be brought to Mexico. I don’t think there was anyone we really wanted that we didn’t get. We’re absolutely thrilled. It’s going to be a fantastic season.
Season 2 “Bachelorette” Meredith Phillips recently came out with allegations of being drugged and sexually assaulted on the set of her season. I know you were not at the network at the time, but in light of her allegations and the “Bachelor In Paradise” allegations, what steps does the production take to make sure that set is a safe environment?
In terms of “Bachelor In Paradise,” they did a thorough investigation and found no wrongdoing, but everybody looked at that to make sure that we’re doing everything we possibly can to ensure that nothing like this would ever happen — not ever happen again, but just never happen. In terms of Meredith, there’s really not even anyone who works on “The Bachelor” right now who was there at that time, but I know that the set right now, they go to absolutely extreme measures to ensure that it’s as safe of an environment as it can possibly be, and as you’ve seen, there have really been no incidents.
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