SPOILER ALERT: Do not read ahead, if you are not up-to-date with Clayton Echard’s season of “The Bachelor.”
With only a few days left until the season finale, “The Bachelor” has a lot of explaining to do.
Last week’s “fantasy suite” episode — when the couples get to spend an overnight date together for the first time with no cameras around — ended with a bang.
With the final three women left vying for Clayton Echard’s heart, ABC’s leading man told each of the women that he was in love with them. Susie Evans, Gabby Windey and Rachel Recchia all expressed their love to Echard, who admitted he’d had sex with both Windey and Recchia. But when Evans gave him an unexpected ultimatum that she couldn’t stay if he had slept with another woman, Echard was caught completely off guard — Evans went home, and Twitter was up in arms.
Echard has been accused of gaslighting Evans (something he denied in a podcast earlier this week), and “Bachelor” fans on Twitter have taken issue with Echard declaring his love — and being intimate with — more than one woman.
On the other hand, some social media users have questioned why Evans didn’t tell Echard sooner that it would be a deal-breaker if he slept with one of the other contestants. (After all, “The Bachelor” and “The Bachelorette” are shows about one person dating 25 other people at the same time.)
“There have multiple Bachelors and Bachelorettes who have slept with three people on their seasons,” host Jesse Palmer says, in conversation with Variety. “It’s part of it.”
“I really do think it’s complex,” Palmer adds. “I’ve been watching social media and there are a lot of opinions. This is not black and white.”
Palmer, an ESPN commentator and former pro football player, starred as “The Bachelor” in 2004, back in the early days of the franchise. Given his unique experience of having starred on the reality show he now hosts, Palmer admits he’s confused by Echard’s journey — and will have tons of questions for him on “After the Final Rose” when he puts Echard in the hot seat after the two-part finale on Monday and Tuesday.
“I’m pretty sure I have more questions than answers,” Palmer says, when asked how the season will end, capping off his first season as the dating show’s new host. “It’s really amazing to be at this point in the journey and have so much left unfinished.”
Speaking on the phone just days before the finale, Palmer offers his take on the backlash against Echard, and how the messy fantasy suites episode will affect the finale. (And for more on this week’s finale, click here.)
Let’s be honest: Clayton certainly is not the first lead on this franchise to sleep with multiple people. Why do you think he is getting so much backlash?
You’re absolutely right. There have multiple Bachelors and Bachelorettes who have slept with three people on their seasons. It’s part of it.
This is kind of the format of the show, no?
In general, sexual compatibility in any relationship is extremely important. And in a situation like this when the stakes are so high and there’s an expectation that someone is going to be getting down on one knee and you’re going to be living with one person the rest of your life, you do have to explore and discover that. Having been on the show and having been in this position, I think it’s important to know if you have sexual compatibility or not. That’s been a big theme on the show since the beginning.
On the other side, if the Bachelor or Bachelorette already knows in their mind who they are going to pick in the end, I do think you have to be careful about sleeping with other people, because it can get you in trouble. So I don’t know where Clayton’s head was at, with respect to that.
When you’re filming, how many nights are in between each fantasy suite date?
It’s either one night or two nights.
What do you think about the backlash Clayton is facing?
A lot of the backlash I’ve seen online has to do with Clayton being accused of gaslighting Susie and making her feel guilty for him sleeping with two other women. I think people are also upset about the tone of that conversation. I was there, and it was very emotional. Clayton never saw that coming. He was so excited to tell Susie he was in love with her, and I know he had such strong feelings for her. He was really excited for that night to happen, and he had no idea that Susie was struggling so much emotionally with seeing the other women coming home [from their overnight dates] and having that realization of how real that was, and having to balance her own perspective and her own values and morals.
Do you think the criticism is warranted, or is there more to the story that will make this all make sense?
Clayton is getting beaten up on social media right now, but there are also a lot of people supporting him, too. There are also people on social media I’ve seen that think it’s OK for Susie to have had an ultimatum, but they think that she should have told him before the overnight dates, kind of like how Maddie did with Peter [in Season 24]. I think that’s what makes this situation so compelling — there are so many different opinions, and there is no obvious right or wrong answer, in my opinion. I think that’s why social media is blowing up right now.
Was it as bad as it seemed? Or did anything else happen on-camera that didn’t make the show that we didn’t get to see at home?
I think the cameras caught the major beats of that. I don’t think they really buried anything at all. I think people at home really saw that raw emotion that was palpable in that moment that night in Iceland. For people watching at home, certainly for me, it was like reliving that energy in the house that night. Clayton was just in a spiral — I remember thinking that when I saw it happening live. He was confused, he was angry, he was desperate, he felt betrayed, in disbelief, he was in love, there were so many different emotions. That’s why I got up to talk to him outside because I just felt like someone had to talk to him because he was ramping up, and I just felt like he needed to speak to someone besides Susie to just get things off his chest and try to calm him down a little bit.
Clayton shared on a podcast this week that he has been receiving death threats. No matter what your opinion of the situation is, that’s not cool. How does the show make sure contestants are being taken care of?
On set, we have psychologists always there in the moment talking to the Bachelor and Bachelorette and contestants to keep everyone as mentally healthy as possible. That’s a massive priority for the show. I don’t think they had that when I was on the show almost 20 years ago.
If Susie’s fantasy suite was not the third overnight date, do you think things would have turned out differently? She had a lot of time to ruminate, and she was really going through it by the time she had her date with Clayton.
It’s hard to say. I think it comes down to the individual. In this case, it’s about Susie and people have to respect how she’s feeling. This is her own experience and she should be allowed to process this in real time. I’m sure that there were women in the past in her position who would’ve been OK being the third fantasy suite date, understanding that this was part of it and having to accept that the Bachelor maybe has slept with two women prior. It’s so hard to know what would have happened if Susie would have been the first overnight date because if Clayton had slept with another woman after Susie, what would her reaction have been?
Is there any chance Susie returns for the finale?
There’s always a chance. Never say never. But what I can say is that your jaw is going to be on the floor. Our jaws were on the floor in real-time watching it.
This interview has been edited and condensed.