SPOILER ALERT: Do not read ahead if you have not watched the Season 18 finale of “The Bachelorette,” which aired on ABC on Dec. 21.
“The Bachelorette” wrapped up its 18th season with a franchise-first: the dating series, which premiered nearly two decades ago, had its first Black winning couple.
Leading lady Michelle Young fell in love with Nayte Olukoya, who ended the season with a televised engagement. The couple, very much still together, then sat down for a live TV interview to update America on their relationship progress. The pair are currently house-hunting, which was made easier, thanks to the show gifting them a $200,000 check towards a down payment (in addition to a pricey Neil Lane diamond ring).
“It’s so important,” Young tells Variety, in an interview the day after her TV engagement. “Not only seeing a Black love story, but seeing a healthy Black love story is something that’s really not showcased.”
Young and Olukoya did not set out to make history, but they recognize the significance of their platform. Even though they’re stepping a bit out of the spotlight (Young is a school teacher and is returning to her classroom after the holiday break), the reality TV couple says they will continue to show their relationship on social media, so that fans “continue to see that representation and that Black love story grow.”
Young’s season already made history with her final four suitors all being men of color. Over the years, “The Bachelor” has put emphasis on its effort to further diversify the casts of its shows. This past summer on “Bachelor In Paradise,” contestant Riley Christian proposed to Maurissa Gunn on the beach, becoming the franchise’s first-ever Black couple to be engaged.
Young was first introduced to Bachelor Nation as a stand-out contestant and the runner-up on Matt James’ season of “The Bachelor,” which aired in Jan. 2021. That historic 25th season marked the first to be headlined by a Black Bachelor, but was overshadowed by a snowballing race scandal, involving James’ winner and current girlfriend, Rachael Kirkconnell, which eventually led to the departure of longtime host, Chris Harrison.
Young’s season of “The Bachelorette” was the first to be run by a Black, female executive producer. Both Young and Olukoya said they felt incredibly supported throughout their time filming and are proud of the stories they were able to tell on-screen.
“This franchise has been around a really long time… It’s easy to fall into a routine… humans are creatures of habit,” Young says. “I’m stepping in as a Black lead, but I don’t want to try to be shoved into a hole that is fitting for, maybe somebody who’s not a lead of color. That was something that was really incredibly important for me to have Jodi there with me,” she says of the season’s executive producer, Jodi Baskerville.
Young was the franchise’s first female lead of color, followed by the first Black star of “The Bachelorette,” Rachel Lindsay (Season 13, 2017), and then Tayshia Adams (Season 16, 2020), who also served as co-host of the past two “Bachelorette” seasons.
Here, “The Bachelorette’s” winning couple speak to Variety about the importance of representation on TV, the feedback to their season and what’s next.
VARIETY: What does life look like for the two of you, now that you’re not on the show?
YOUNG: January 3rd, I will be back in the classroom as Ms. Young. I’ll have a nice little rock on my finger while I’m teaching and everything, but I plan to finish out the school year. Nate will be working as well and he will gradually make the move to Minnesota.
VARIETY: Do you plan to stay in the spotlight? Part of that is out of your control because now you are public figures, but do you plan to have any presence in the entertainment industry or do you plan to walk away from all of this?
YOUNG: I’ve always been a person to make sure that I want to know about the opportunities that are coming my way and take a look at those with open eyes and evaluate that, but for me, I want to make sure that I’m doing something that aligns with my passion and I feel like being in an impactful line of work is what’s really important to me. So, can I do that while also taking advantage of other opportunities? Right now, I’m in the classroom, but it’s more of a trampoline of where I can go making a difference on a greater spectrum for me.
OLUKOYA: At the end of the day, I really do enjoy the company I work for… but [I feel] kind of the same as Michelle. I’m looking at whatever opportunities do come my way and seeing if that aligns with who I am as a person, who we are and taking everything day by day. This is still very new.
VARIETY: You are the first Black couple to win on the entire “Bachelor” franchise in nearly two decades. Black love stories are not frequently seen on unscripted television whatsoever. What does this mean to you?
YOUNG: I think it’s so important. I even think about my students who are watching, and it’s a little uncomfortable, at times, when you think about the romance and that part, but also, not only seeing a black love story, but seeing a healthy, black love story is something that’s really not showcased.
VARIETY: Michelle, you’ve said “The Bachelor” family has been so supportive of you and that you had conversations early on about ensuring your love story would be told in a way you were comfortable with, especially at a time when the franchise was mindfully dealing with race. What were those conversations like?
YOUNG: I think that it’s really easy to shy away from hard conversations. As I was stepping into this role and thinking about what’s important for me… it was the ability to have these tough conversations. That’s a great way to talk about these deep issues that are going around… George Floyd, or Black men’s mental health, and just all of these different things that I have to think about and [Nayte] has to think about and a lot of the cast has to think about, but the audience doesn’t necessarily have to think about. A part of this is that we were able to have those deep conversations where these men were opened up, showing emotion.
VARIETY: Your season was also the first that had a Black executive producer behind the scenes. Can you talk about the importance of that?
YOUNG: As I spoke up, she was right there with me, and it wasn’t in a way where I felt disrespected or things like that. It was just really making sure that my voice was echoed where it needed to be echoed, so that when we’re [telling] those stories [and] having those conversations… it’s being told accurately, and it’s being told in a way where the audience is going to receive it.
VARIETY: Did either of you have any trepidation with joining such a public platform and potentially feeling like you were being tokenized on national television?
OLUKOYA: I didn’t know what to expect, but I don’t think I ever felt that way once. It was a really diverse cast… a lot of great men all across the board. So, for me, I never had that really cross my mind once of being the token black guy. No.
VARIETY: Nayte, you got some heat with people questioning whether you were ready to be engaged. That negative feedback, did you think that that was fair?
OLUKOYA: You know what, everybody is going to interpret what they see on TV in whatever way they want to. There’s a lot of people that they’ll see four to eight minutes of screen time and think that they just have you all figured out. To each their own. Maybe I was reserved at times, but hey, I think that’s fair. Maybe I’m not the best at expressing myself… but eventually, it got through to Michelle and that’s really all that matters.
VARIETY: Will the two of you be watching Clayton’s upcoming season of “The Bachelor?”
OLUKOYA: We’re tuning in! We’re definitely tuning in.
YOUNG:One hundred percent.
VARIETY: Did you give him advice, Michelle?
YOUNG: Yes, as much as one can give advice. You can only prepare somebody so much until they just have to experience it. But my biggest piece of advice was stay true to who you are… It’s difficult. It’s not easy. And then, it’s also put out there for everyone to cast judgment on, so it’s a lot of emotions that you experience, but if you can just be tight with who you are and have confidence in that, have your friends and family around you, your loved ones and close ones, he’ll get through it. He’ll be just fine — hopefully in love, too. We’ll see.