The Bachelor made history when they announced Matt James as the first Black male lead of the series in June 2020.
The news was a direct reaction to the demands to increase diversity amid a summer of police brutality and Black Lives Matter protests. It was more than clear that ABC’s decision was based on their need to save face rather than an actual desire to increase Black representation on the show.
But Matt James’ season has been less than successful, to put it mildly.
Viewership numbers are way down, they’re currently facing a huge racism scandal with contestant Rachael Kirkconnell, and their longtime host Chris Harrison had to temporarily “step aside” after defending Rachael’s racism.
Needless to say, things are not going well.
In a recent IG live convo with RealitySteve creator Steve Carbone, Bachelor alum Ashley Spivey made a brief comment that she thought that perhaps ABC execs were hoping Matt’s season would go poorly.
“I think they would actually love [this season] to tank because they were basically forced into having a more diverse season. And if it tanks they can just be like, ‘Welp, we did it. Didn’t work. Look what happened.'”
The comment was off-handed, but it made me think: did ABC execs really give this season everything they could? Because when you actually start to break down the evidence, it doesn’t look good for them.
So, let’s get into it.
Exhibit A: Choosing Matt
Fans everywhere were pretty shocked when Matt James was chosen to be the first Black Bachelor.
Usually, The Bachelor and Bachelorette leads were previous contestants in the franchise. Sometimes, they’ve even appeared on multiple series (e.g. Bachelor in Paradise).
But Matt has never appeared on a single edition of The Bachelor. He was set to be a contestant on Clare Crawley‘s season until it was unexpectedly postponed due to COVID.
It was only after fans demanded diversity that they suddenly pulled Matt from Clare’s season to make him the lead.
It’s fine to break with tradition every once in a while, but choosing past contestants to be the new leads actually serves a very important purpose.
By the time the new season starts, fans are already invested in the lead. We’ve watched them fall in love and get their hearts broken. We know their personality and we want them to find love.
And even if we hate the new lead, we still want to watch. Because who can resist hate-watching The Bachelor?
The choice was even stranger considering that before they announced Peter Weber as the last season’s Bachelor lead, fans were begging for Mike Johnson to become the first Black male lead. He was sweet, witty, good-looking, and earnest. He was the perfect choice.
But instead of picking Mike, the execs picked Matt, who was essentially unknown. Besides being in the Quarantine Crew with Bachelor alums Hannah Brown and Tyler Cameron over the summer, Matt was meaningless to us. We didn’t know him, we weren’t invested in his happiness.
It’s no wonder so many fans tuned out. How can you get excited about watching someone fall in love if you don’t care about them one way or the other?
Exhibit B: Casting the Women
We love to hate them and we laugh at their antics. They’re a source of entertainment that’s a classic part of any Bachelor season.
But this season we didn’t just have one villain. Or two. Or three. We had a whole cast full.
With the exception of a few good souls, the cast was packed with mean girls. Matt literally had to send home three girls for being bullies: Victoria Larson, Anna Redman, and MJ Snyder (somehow Serena Chew and Kit Keenan survived).
TV shows aren’t much fun to watch when girls are going home in tears after being relentlessly bullied and called names.
Tuning in has become a chore and watching girls constantly bully each other is exhausting. It definitely hasn’t been the most light-hearted season of The Bachelor, to say the least.
Exhibit C: Editing the Episodes
As if it wasn’t bad enough that we’ve had to suffer through a pack of mean girls, we’ve also barely had any time to watch Matt actually fall in love.
Matt’s one-on-ones have been kept extremely brief with most of them only getting 11 minutes or less of airtime (Kit’s cooking date got a paltry 4 minutes of screen time). This is compared to Tayshia’s season where some of her on-on-ones got over 20 minutes of airtime.
How can we get invested in any of Matt’s relationships if we don’t actually get to see them dating?
Bachelor alum Ben Higgins summed it up in an interview on the Click Bait podcast where he said,
“I think [Matt’s] season, in general, has been a little frustrating in a sense of I really am rooting for Matt and I’m rooting for some of these girls, [but] right now there’s no stories that I’m invested into.”
And he’s exactly right: there are no relationships we’re actually invested in.
Even knowing who wins Matt’s season, it’s really hard to see how they fell in love at this point [Read: Why Matt James and [SPOILER] Probably Won’t Make It].
We’ve been given a Bachelor lead we don’t know, a cast of girls we hate, and a season where we can’t even get invested in any of the relationships. How do The Bachelor execs expect us to actually enjoy Matt’s season?
Matt’s ratings have been dismal and it’s not hard to see why.
So did ABC purposely tank Matt’s season? Realistically, probably not. It costs a lot of money to create a show like The Bachelor and that’s not something they would just throw down the toilet.
But did they truly put their all into Matt’s season? Meh, probably not. They expected Matt James to fail and eventually, it became a self-fulfilling prophecy.
It would have been so easy to avoid many of this season’s pitfalls. They easily could have picked fan-favorite Mike Johnson from Hannah Brown’s season as the lead. They also could have cast a group of women we actually like and could have edited the show to give us a chance to invest in the relationships.
But if there’s one thing they could and should have done differently it’s the casting of Rachael Kirkconnell.
It’s no secret that the casting process is extensive and they have experts vet every single person they put on the show.
They absolutely knew Rachael had a history of racism. They would have seen the antebellum photos and the Instagram likes in the vetting process. But they did it anyway. They cast a racist on the season with the first Black male lead [Read: Rachael Kirkconnell’s Family is ‘Mortified’ By Her Racist Past].
And that’s forever what this season will be known for: a racism scandal and a cast full of bullies.
The worst part, of course, is that in a year or so, they’ll go back to casting bland, white, milk toast as The Bachelor. And we’ll have to wait another 19 years to get another Black male lead.