SPOILER ALERT: Do not read ahead, if you have not watched the Season 15 finale of “The Bachelorette,” which aired July 30, 2019 on ABC.
“The Bachelorette” host Chris Harrison has made a famous tagline out of ominously telling Bachelor Nation every year to get ready for “the most dramatic season finale ever,” but this time, he was spot-on. Season 15 of ABC’s reality dating show ended up with leading lady Hannah Brown getting engaged, only to breakup with her brand new fiance, Jed Wyatt, in front of a live studio audience on national TV, after finding out that he had a girlfriend back home and joined the series solely to advance his music career.
Dating shows and their contestants have also been scrutinized for their integrity of intent, but Wyatt’s faux pas brought reality television scandal to an entirely new level, begging the question: how could a man with a girlfriend slip through the cracks during the casting?
“Look, you can only take people for their word. The first question is obviously, ‘Are you single?'” ABC executive Rob Mills tells Variety when asked about the process of background checks during casting, which he says includes digging through social media and talking to potential contestants friends and family. In this case, no evidence of a girlfriend were found on Wyatt’s social media, and those close to him told the casting team he was single when he was in consideration for “The Bachelorette.”
Following the Season 15 finale of “The Bachelorette,” Mills talked to Variety about Wyatt’s casting controversy, the Luke P. sex and religion backlash, plus Hannah’s happy ending — will she get it with Tyler?
When did the network and producers find out about Jed having a girlfriend back home?
Hannah and Jed were very happy after production wrapped. In mid-June is when this girl came forward, and we had to move very quickly to shoot something with Hannah and Jed because they had to address this. We said that we have to film them because the people on the show have sort of made a deal with the audience to show the relationship — the good, bad and the ugly. We didn’t want them sitting down with Chris Harrison six weeks later.
Since the winners can’t be seen together after production wraps, they go back to their separate lives, so by the time you filmed with them in mid-June, even though they were engaged, they hadn’t really seen much of each other since production wrapped in Greece in mid-May. What was that like for them to sit down with each other with cameras rolling?
Jed wanted to really explain himself. Jed legitimately fell in love with Hannah. I honestly believe that Jed accidentally fell in love — if he really was conniving and doing it for other reasons like promoting his music, my guess is that he would have taken himself out. You watch him with her parents trying to convince them. I think he really did fall in love with Hannah and was seeing a future with her. What we saw with Hannah is that she came to a realization that, “I deserve better.” I think with Jed, unfortunately, too much stuff happened. I think Hannah had a lot of questions, and I think it turned out that she was probably hoping against hope that there would be an explanation, but what ended up happening is that she realized this was pretty much true, and Jed had to admit it.
Going into Tuesday night’s live finale, ABC had no idea what to expect, which is really unprecedented in “Bachelor History.” Usually the network knows who the lead ends up with and knows everything the lead is planning to say to Chris Harrison.
It’s live. It’s the first time she’s seen Tyler, and Jed and her have not really communicated much. [Going into the live show], Jed was hurting in his own way — he’s going through his own emotions, and none of them are good.
Can you explain the process of the background checks? It seems odd that the casting team wouldn’t have known that Jed had a girlfriend back home and joined the show to advance his music career. Plus, there was also a report that contestant Peter Weber quickly dumped a girlfriend to go onto the show (although he has since denied those allegations).
Look, you can only take people for their word. The first question is obviously, “Are you single?” I guess only an idiot would say no. The question is how hard do you push? With some people, you can tell that they’re being deceitful and then you don’t cast them, but for the most part, they’re sincere. One of the things that we do is put pictures out of the cast, so it was common knowledge, if you follow the show, that Jed was going to be on the show. She [Jed’s ex-girlfriend] waited an awful long time to come forward, so clearly, this girl believes that she went along with a plan with Jed where he said to her that he was going on the show, but they would still be together because he was going on to promote his music.
Did it concern you during casting that he was a singer-songwriter and might be joining the show for the wrong reasons?
We have had plenty of singer-songwriters on past seasons. If you really seem to be as sincere as Jed did seem to be, there’s no reason not to put him on just because of his profession. You just try to go by their sincerity. By the same token, we asked Tyler about his modeling, too.
In addition to questioning the person during casting, I would imagine that the casting team takes a hard look on social media?
Oh, of course. Absolutely.
So, Jed didn’t have photos with her on his social media? Maybe that’s because he and his ex-girlfriend were in on this plan together?
Yes, you do look on their social media for everything, so we would have seen if there was a photo of him making out with another girl. I don’t know exactly what his social media was, but it does seem odd if you’re dating somebody that you don’t have pictures on social media.
Do you also question family and friends of potential contestants during casting?
So then, I could assume that all of his friends and family would have said that he was single?
Yes, that’s correct.
Did Jed face any repercussions? Do contestants sign anything in their contracts that forbids them from dating other people?
No. Look, it’s not illegal. It’s hard because you certainly hope that they’re going to abide by the rules of fairly decent society that you’re going on a dating show, so you’re single.
How will the Jed situation impact background checks and casting going forward?
If anybody has some red flags during casting, we’ll probably now say, “Look at Jed. This didn’t end well.” You can’t commit a perfect crime. You can’t really get away with this stuff, especially now. But look, we have had similar situations before, but I don’t think we’ve ever really had it with somebody who wins.
Did you talk to Peter when reports came out that he had a girlfriend back home, too?
It’s absolutely a concern that anybody would have a girlfriend. We talked to Peter about it when the reports came out, and he really addressed it head-on. In his view, this girl had the words but not the music. He said, “Yes, we absolutely dated. Yes, I wanted her to come out and move out with me, but she didn’t want to do it and I didn’t want to date long-distance, and I was kind of just over it, at that point.” So, he ended the relationship, and that was at the beginning of the year, and he went on the show in March. And, he had applied almost two years before this season, I think for Rachel’s season. He’s somebody who loves the show and really wanted to be on. He applied so his name goes into a database, and they reached out after he had broken up with this girl and said, “Would you be interested?” And he said yes. There was nothing nefarious there. From where I stood, he seemed to be telling the truth.
During the live show, Hannah asked Tyler on a date. If she really wants to give Tyler another chance and rekindle that romance, would you film their relationship and air that footage?
Absolutely, but I think we have to see what is going to happen. We’ve been through a little something like this with Jason Mesnick and Melissa Rycroft and Molly [Malaney], and they took baby steps — they dated for probably a little over a year before she moved and then they got engaged and married, but it’s pretty amazing how that ended up working out great for them, and they’re married and now have a child and are very happy together. So maybe this would be something where Hannah and Tyler would take small steps. But yes, I’m sure we’d want to figure out a way to document that for Bachelor Nation because there is a lot of love for both of these people.
If Hannah and Tyler don’t end up working out, would you want to give her another chance at love?
A do-over? [Laughing] You never say never. We knew before any of this that she was really special and was going to be a great Bachelorette, so we love her and only want the best for her, and the audience seems to love her. I think we would discuss it, but “The Bachelorette” has a strict schedule and we can’t really get off of our schedule. It won’t shoot until next March, so we’ll assess everything — we’ll see where Hannah is and we’ll see where we are. And by that point, we’ll have met 25 or 30 new women [on the new 2020 season of “The Bachelor”]. So who knows. But we also have “Bachelor In Paradise,” so we will definitely do our best to help Hannah find long-lasting love.
Despite the mess with Jed, Hannah was completely undecided on which man to choose by the beginning of the finale. And in recent seasons, both with Arie and Colton, we’ve seen that the contestants ultimately weren’t ready to choose one person. Is it unrealistic for there to be an expectation to be engaged by the end of the season?
It’s about finding someone who you think has the possibility of lasting love. As long as the feelings are real and you really are serious about this person, no one is saying that you have to put a Neil Lane ring on it.
When we spoke at the beginning of the season, you predicted that Luke P. be the most controversial contestant. You were right. Was the reaction to Luke P. what you were expecting or was it worse?
This was unlike anything else we’ve ever seen because the one thing you usually see in a character like this is like, “Oh, this person is only staying on because the producers are making him stay.” But no. From the beginning, it was very clear that Hannah was very into Luke P. I think that he appealed to her because of things that are very important to her — I think the faith angle was very important to them, and I think she really felt like he was there for her — and I think it’s hard to debate that. I found the reaction fascinating.
Luke P. was painted to be such a villain, and the men in the house all despised him. Were producers surprised that Hannah kept giving roses to Luke and wanted him to stick around?
I think that of all the guys on the show, if this were a real life situation, maybe she would have ended up with Luke. She said herself that there were red flags that she overlooked that weren’t right for her, which the other guys had pointed out for her, so if those guys had not been there, maybe she wouldn’t have seen those red flags.
The show has never highlighted sex and religion so aggressively, and that can be a controversial topic. Are you pleased that this season showcased sex and religion, or was some of the reaction mixed?
The two things that I think were covered more than they usually are in this show is the discussion of sexuality and owning that sex does go on between people who are dating and thinking about spending their lives together, and also where faith falls in that. I think we have Nick [Viall] to thank and also Kaitlyn [Bristowe], who really owned her sexual power, so with that, we finally addressed that sex happens on the show, and I think that really allowed us to do a deep dive into where sex falls into a relationship and what your beliefs are, whether it’s faith-based or whether it’s just about sex and marriage.
Even with all the Luke P. backlash about slut-shaming, there was a lot of positive feedback to this season with Hannah owning her sexuality so forwardly. What sort of message do you think it sends that a young woman who is the star of a dating show on nation TV was so honest about sexual empowerment?
I think it sends a message that we are up to date with the times. Women need to feel that they are as equal to have sex or not have sex, and not be ashamed of talking about it. This is an age-old thing that we’ve been talking about for the last 50 years. It is certainly a proud moment for “The Bachelorette” that a show that might be seen as worthless or having no redeeming social values was able to open up that conversation. And the fact that it’s somebody like Hannah who comes from the south, which can be traditionally more conservation, I think gave it even more power.
Luke was constantly ridiculed on social media for being controlling and misogynistic. Do you think that Luke’s storyline ended up giving a poor representation of his faith and groups of people who share the same beliefs as him?
I think at the end of the day, he has viewpoints that maybe are not in keeping with the year that we’re in, but at the end of the day, he didn’t really hurt anyone. He just had viewpoints that maybe weren’t great, and I think they caught up to him. I think there is certainly a person for him that will be on board with that, and they’ll be very happy. I don’t think he’s a hurtful guy, by any means. I think, if anything, he really believes that he was protecting Hannah.
When you sign up for reality TV, your actions are at the liberty of producers and editors, but Luke P. obviously got a ton of backlash on social media for his representation on the show. Have you heard from him and his reaction to watching the season?
I think you saw everything with “Men Tell All.” But I will say that there were discussions about Luke going to “Bachelor In Paradise,” and then he saw the show, and decided that the show wasn’t right for him, and at the end of the day, that was the right decision for everyone involved. I think he was upset watching himself, but I think he’s also somebody who accepts his share of his blame. But you saw “Men Tell All,” and he truly believes that a lot of this is just very faith-based, so I think he believes that this just isn’t the right show for him.
It was tough to watch at times, especially during “Men Tell All.”
I felt bad for Luke P. at many points of the season. No matter what, as human beings, we all need connection. Maybe Luke made it easy for them to do, but the guys ostracized him a lot. During “Men Tell All,” he didn’t let it get to him — he just kind of sat there. I actually admired how he handled that because he could have handled that much differently.
In Greece, Hannah had clearly sent Luke P. home, but still, he was brought back. At the end of the day, ABC calls the shots on what makes a good TV show, but still, didn’t it go against Hannah’s wishes to bring Luke P. back when she had already sent him home?
Yes, but he had something to say. One on hand, you look at her and she’s like, “How much longer does this person have to be here?” But on the other hand, she clearly could handle it, as we saw.
Just yesterday, a report broke that “The Bachelor” created Mike Fleiss had reached a settlement and divorce with his pregnant wife, who accused him of attacking her, which prompted a police investigation into the incident. Have the shows in the franchise been impacted by the incident?
The show has been in the can for a while, so it’s not really impacting it. There is nothing I can say about it because it is a matter that being investigated, so that’s really all I can say.