SPOILER ALERT: Do not read until you’ve watched the March 15 episode of “The Bachelor” entitled “After The Final Rose.”
Usually, it’s “Bachelor” host Chris Harrison putting contestants in the hot seat on the “After The Final Rose” post-final episode of the ABC dating competition series, but following real-life scandal, he was the subject of tonight’s conversation, lead by guest host Emmanuel Acho.
Just days after it was announced that Harrison would not be returning for the upcoming season of “The Bachelorette,” Acho took an impressive star-making turn as he filled in on Monday night, engaging in thought-provoking, tough conversations about the dating show’s handling of race, inclusion and diversity.
Acho, the former NFL linebacker, best-selling author and host, sat down with “The Bachelor” star Matt James, who became the first-ever Black lead of the dating show in a season that was meant to be historic, but was overshadowed by racist controversy.
Harrison was widely criticized for perpetuating racism in an interview with former “Bachelorette” Rachel Lindsay, during which he defended current “Bachelor” contestant Rachael Kirkconnell, who ended up receiving James’ final rose on Monday night’s finale, which aired shortly before “After the Final Rose.” During the sit-down episode with Acho, however, James revealed that they had broken up.
After filming had wrapped on the season, Kirkconnell came under fire when old photos that showed her in attendance at an Old South plantation-themed fraternity party emerged on social media. She also liked pictures on social media containing the confederate flag and was accused on TikTok of bullying a classmate for dating a Black man. While the season was airing, James spoke out about Kirkconnell, saying, “The reality is that I’m learning about these situations in real time, and it has been devastating and heartbreaking, to put it bluntly.”
James tried to help Kirkconnell navigate the criticism behind the scenes, and originally brushed off the accusations as “rumors.” “You want to believe that you know your person better than anybody else knows your person,” James said. However, after her public apology, he felt that he was finally able to self-reflect and recognize he was not able to continue in the relationship. He said having to explain why her actions were problematic was the root of their separation.
“Rachael might not understand what it means to be Black in America,” he said.
He admitted that while he still had feelings for her, he wasn’t able to be with her during these next steps. “It’s work I can’t do for you,” James said.
The two refused to hug on stage when prompted by Acho.
In addition to the breakup, Acho and James also spoke about the weight of being the first Black lead, and the responsibility that James held as the face of the franchise.
“You want to make sure you’re on your best behavior in terms of how you’re speaking, how you present yourself,” he said.
In the midst of conversations about race and social justice — in and outside — of the franchise, James understood the gravity of his presence.
“For a lot of people, that was the first time having someone like myself in their home. A lot of what they take away from the show… like it or not, is going to be their perception of how Black people move.”
Acho also sat down with James’ other finalist Michelle Young (who was revealed to be one of the next “Bachelorette” leads for Season 18) and none other than Kirkconnell herself.
During Acho’s conversation with Kirkconnell, she said that she didn’t want to victimize herself, and immediately took addressed her past head-on. “There’s no excuse,” she said.
She also denounced the people who had defended her actions: “People need to realize that just saying ‘This is normal [where I’m from]’ … doesn’t make it right.”
Kirkconnell explained that she didn’t understand the weight of her actions, but also took personal responsibility for not knowing better.
In addition to working on her own biases and reflection, she is also still mourning the loss of her relationship with James. “I lost the love of my life and in the process of that, I hurt him while doing so,” she said.
Young’s conversation focused on her lack of closure with James. She was rattled by his abrupt exit and was rejected when she asked for a few minutes to talk post-breakup. He was remorseful in not giving her that time, but the two ultimately found their closure on stage.
Engaging in such conversations is a proven space for Acho, who hosts the online series “Uncomfortable Conversations With a Black Man,” which serves to spark meaningful dialogue around racial ignorance and has garnered more than 80 million views since its June 2020 debut. Acho is also an analyst for Fox Sports and the co-host of “Speak for Yourself.”
Harrison, meanwhile, is taking a timeout from the franchise that he has hosted since its debut in 2002. At this time, as his future remains in limbo, and sources have explained the situation to Variety as fluid that’s being handled with a “wait-and-see” approach. Harrison will not host the upcoming 17th season of “The Bachelorette,” which will star another one of James’ contestants, Katie Thurston. Former “Bachelorettes” Tayshia Adams and Kaitlyn Bristowe will step in as guest hosts for the season.
“Chris Harrison will not be hosting the next season of ‘The Bachelorette,’” ABC Entertainment and Warner Horizon said in a joint statement last week. “We support Chris in the work that he is committed to doing.”
The statement continued: “As we continue the dialogue around achieving greater equity and inclusion within ‘The Bachelor’ franchise, we are dedicated to improving the BIPOC representation of our crew, including among the executive producer ranks. These are important steps in effecting fundamental change so that our franchise is a celebration of love that is reflective of our world.”