SPOILER ALERT: Do not read ahead if you have not watched the episode of “The Bachelorette” that aired on Dec. 14 on ABC.
This season of “The Bachelorette” has been billed as the most dramatic season ever. It’s also perhaps the most real season the reality show franchise has seen in its nearly 20-year history.
On a recent episode, contestant Ben Smith, an Army veteran, shared with “Bachelorette” star Tayshia Adams that he had two failed suicide attempts in 2018 and 2019.
On another recent episode, contestant Zac Clark, an addiction specialist who runs a sober living facility in New York, told Adams on their date that he is in recovery, having spent time in rehab for both drugs and alcohol.
And earlier in the season, Adams spoke about the Black Lives Matters movement and police brutality during a date with contestant Ivan Hall.
All of the men are in Adams’ final four, which she revealed on last night’s episode of “The Bachelorette,” which continues with another episode tonight, heading towards the finale later this month.
Here, “The Bachelorette” host Chris Harrison talks to Variety about the season’s real-life impact — and how the franchise will continue to tackle issues of racial and social justice heading into the new season of “The Bachelor,” starring its first-ever Black lead, Matt James…
This season has illuminated issues of mental health, suicide and race. Was there a difference in the type of people you cast, or was this group of men just more willing to come forward with their personal stories in such a profound way?
I think it’s a sign of the times. I really do. As producers, we’ve always encouraged them to really open up because we know a lot of these stories, and we hope that they’ll tell these stories. But do you feel safe and secure in this space to tell your story and speak your truth? I think in society, the answer has been no — we haven’t felt that for a long time, but I think this year has changed a lot, and over the past couple of years. I think you’re seeing a generation of men and women that realize, “I can talk about whatever I want,” whether it’s social injustice, mental health, addiction. These are huge issues, and I think it’s really a microcosm of what’s going on in the world right now. I’m here for it. I love these conversations.
You posted on your Instagram about Ben opening up about his suicide attempts. What do you think this sort of dialogue can do for mental health awareness?
Look, it’s not political that these lockdowns have unbelievable damning effects on our community. Suicide is up 200% and these are issues we need to talk about. You look at Ben and he has a six-pack and he’s got this smile and is gorgeous, so you think, “What could be wrong in this guy’s life?” Well, don’t judge a book by its cover. That is what mental health is all about. I’m glad that we’re having these discussions.
Ben has over 250,000 followers and it’ll keep growing. He posted the National Suicide Hotline, and he’s creating awareness for suicide prevention. Can you speak to the power of Bachelor Nation when it comes to the contestants illuminating these types of issues?
That’s right with Ben. And Zac will shine a big bright light on addiction, being an addiction specialist. There is the other aspect of Instagram where they’re selling products and being influencers, but if you talk about what an influencer really is, this is great influence. I talked to Ben the other day and I said, “If one person says, ‘Whoa, he’s going through that and I’m going through that and it’s normal, and I can reach out for help and it’s not so taboo, and I don’t have to whisper about mental health or whisper about suicide,’” then man, we have accomplished a lot. I’m really proud of him for embracing that because it wasn’t easy. It could be so embarrassing to bare your soul to millions and millions of people, so kudos to him and god bless him for doing that.
Earlier in the season, we saw Tayshia and Ivan have a conversation about Black Lives Matter, and it happened organically in their date, as it probably would have in real life. Will we see any more conversations pertaining to race throughout this season?
I don’t know if Tayshia is going to dive more into it, but I think you will see a theme heading into Matt James’ season and you’re going to see more and more women and men start speaking up about all these social issues.
How do these conversations come up in Matt’s season?
Matt and I get into it on night one, talking about the weight of being the first Black Bachelor. Rachel [Lindsay] went through this, too, of having to feel like you’re servicing a community and carrying a community, but also trying to make a difficult life decision for yourself and make your family proud on TV, and how all that blends together and how they’re carrying that responsibility. We’re going to see more of that in Matt’s season.
Do you think it took too long to have the first Black Bachelor?
Yes and no. It’s all too common in our society and I am not a fan, whether it’s cancel culture or whatever, there is this new thing that when someone does make change and it’s good and it’s right that we then say, “Well, that wasn’t enough or that wasn’t soon enough, so that doesn’t count.” What are you talking about? The most important thing is that there is change and it’s good and it’s right and it’s moving in the right direction. For some reason, we have lost this grace and this understanding in allowing people to grow and to change, and it is so important that we all allow that. The most important thing in any of these movements is that if we want things to change, we have to let it happen, and don’t put a negative spin or a negative connotation when you do get it. That’s infuriating to me. So I’m not going to put a negative spin on a great thing happening. Could it have happened 10 years earlier? Sure. Should it have? Maybe. But the point is it’s happening now, so embrace it and let’s ride this great wave that we’re on.