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How the off-screen “Bachelor” drama revealed more about love than the show ever could!

Matt James, the first Black man to lead the dating show “The Bachelor,” started the 25th season with a record number of contestant applications and love from the dedicated #BachelorNation. The fantasy was cut short, however, when pictures of contestant Rachael Kirkconnell at an “antebellum-themed party” in 2018 surfaced.

Alongside the photos came a flurry of other accusations and screenshots, from a TikTok claiming Kirkconnell used to bully girls in high school for “liking Black guys” to various pro-Trump likes on Kirkconnells’ social media accounts. Kirkconnell was the obvious favorite, and the social media firestorm took place while the show was airing and after filming had wrapped. Viewers watched with anger as Kirkconnell progressed each week, leading up to her winning the final rose this past Monday in the season finale.

When the photos and rumors began circulating, James was hesitant to condemn his (then secret) girlfriend. Chris Harrison, the longtime host and face of the “Bachelor” franchise, went so far as to defend Kirkconnell in an interview with the first Black Bachelorette Rachel Lindsay, stating, “These girls got dressed up and went to a party and had a great time. They were 18 years old. Now, does that make it okay? I don’t know, Rachel, you tell me.” After the interview aired, Harrison announced he would be taking leave from all future “Bachelor” tapings for the foreseeable future. A month after the original images had surfaced, before she was publicly announced the winner, Kirkconnell apologized.

That brings us to the finale. James sent his second pick, Michelle Young, home early in the episode, clearing the way for a Kirkconnell victory. After the end of the finale, the traditional “After the Final Rose” episode aired, where the Bachelor and his final two contestants meet again face-to-face. Due to Harrison’s departure, this year’s episode was hosted by Emmanuel Acho, who stated that “if we can talk openly and honestly, we can take steps toward mutual understanding and healing.” James revealed that he broke up with Kirkconnell following her apology, saying that she “might not understand what it means to be Black in America.”

It’s not surprising that “The Bachelor,” a show first and foremost about love, would be the setting for such a catastrophe. There are few things as political as our desire: what we want and why. The show tries to obscure this fact, as Acho says, “Let’s not forget what this show is about, which is love and romance.” But love is — or at least should be — an uncomfortable conversation. Who we love and why we love is as political as it is magical. If the “Bachelor” is about love, the “Bachelor” is about politics.

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