Almost exactly a year ago today I wrote a little about race and my latest obsession at the time, ABC’s The Bachelor. At that point we were in the middle of its 20th season, which had the very affable Ben Higgins as the pearl of great price 28 women were striving to attain.
While both that show and its spinoff, The Bachelorette, have never had stellar track records as far as racial diversity, things came to a head when Jubilee Sharpe, the final Black contestant remaining, was eliminated on the first day of February [AKA Black History Month]. Cue soundbites from higher-ups that “[they’re] doing a whole lot of tweaks”. Not that that’s anything new, as a lengthy interview that NPR conducted with host Chris Harrison back in 2015 reveals they’ve long been aware of the issue, and that they want to do something about it. Harrison also used the exact words “we really tried” after surmising that a previous previous star was “1/16th Cherokee Indian”, if that’s any indication of what we might expect.
Those of you who follow both shows will be well-aware of the events that took place at the beginning of this week, but before I get into that I want to fill in the gaps between that last post and this one.
So, What Happened After Ben’s Season?
The cyclical nature of franchise means that the The Bachelor premieres every January, with The Bachelorette following not too long afterwards in May. ABC Entertainment Group president Paul Lee, the man who hinted at the “tweaks” up above, also told reporters at the time that:
“I’d be very surprised if ‘The Bachelorette’ in the summer isn’t diverse. I think that’s likely”
He also made reference to something called the “farm team” which a) I recently found out is sports terminology and has nothing to do with animals or actual farms and b) is the term for the contestants featured on each season of The Bachelor or The Bachelorette. Variety notes that the norm is for the next Bacheloron [a gender neutral term for the star of either program that I took from an article I’ll link to later] to be from the previous season’s “farm team”. With that in mind both fans and critics of the franchise saw the 12th season of The Bachelorette as the perfect opportunity to make that much-needed change.
In the impending months Caila Quinn was quickly highlighted as frontrunner. A member of the final four in Ben’s season, she certainly seemed to fulfill what Lee suggested given her background.
To be more specific, Caila’s profile on ABC’s website for the show, which needs to be accessed through the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine due to previous seasons’ entries being removed, has her elaborate on this further in a short Q&A segment:.
What is your cultural background, and how important is it to you? I am half Filipino and half German/Irish/Swiss. It is important to me to be open to trying new things and I would hope to share some traditions.
E! Online reported that in spite of going so far as to start filming in her Ohio hometown, the producers “ultimately pulled a last-minute change” opting to instead name fellow contestant JoJo Fletcher, who made it to the final two, as the next Bachelorette.
Now before the chorus of “I’m not mad, I’m just disappointed” and “Well, of course” starts up, it should be noted that JoJo was the only other woman among the 28 to be asked the same question-
What is your cultural background, and how important is it to you? My mom is Persian, and my Dad was born and raised in Tennessee. I’m proud of my mother’s background despite what social opinions are. It’s important for me to stand up to people stereotyping Iranians.
briefly and directly address the question, it’s a weird way of asking what someone’s ethnicity is. Not that I should have to spell this out, but the relationship between race and culture is correlative, not causative. I know Asians who have been born and raised in Canada who have little to no connection with their parents’ home country. I also have White friends who have spent much of their lives overseas, and as such find it uncomfortable to relate to Western culture. This also isn’t to say that I can make judgements on either Quinn or Fletcher’s upbringings, having only seen their hometown dates with Higgins. All I can say is that a) their parents’ homes did not appear to be particularly Persian or Filipino, respectively, and b) the way the question is phrased speaks to the intention of the producers, as well as their apparent unfamiliarity with both racial and cultural diversity.
All that aside, ABC’s first and second choices appear to have been women of colour, which is definitely laudable. There is a lot of discourse online right now regarding whether or not people from Iran should be classified as White or not, and being mixed JoJo is 100% White-passing, but given that I’m already 800 words deep I’m willing to give them credit for their good intentions and move right along.
And Then, After JoJo’s Season?
After Season 12 of The Bachelorette was Season 21 of The Bachelor, which stars scum of the earth Nick Viall. Below is an image I cut together for my instagram
[you should totally follow me, but also if you don’t want to that’s cool too] which partly sums up why I hold that opinion.
Nick’s many storied failures aside, Ben’s season featured five non-White contestants, with those being Caila, JoJo, Jubilee, and two other Black women. In contrast, the season following has double that amount [by my guest guess, since counting only those I felt 100% sure about as sometimes the internet does not have all the answers].
In addition to that, the first impression rose, which is presented at the very first cocktail party of the season, was given to Rachel Lindsay [as seen on the left]. What’s more, this contestant has thus far made it all the way to final six of this season. Unfortunately, she will not make it to the end.
Wait, What Do You Mean, And Does This Have Anything To Do With The Events Earlier This Week?
This past Monday, February 13th, it was revealed on Jimmy Kimmel Live that Rachel Lindsay would be the star of The Bachelorette‘s 13th season! This is unprecedented, as it saps any possible drama out of her remaining episodes on the show. At this point what’s done is done, the question is why-
An insider for Variety claims that the reason for this is Reality Steve, a reality TV show blogger, leaking the news early. Over at Elle Mattie Kahn chalks it up to the same, in addition to Rachel needing to increase her popularity via social media and due to the the franchise’s need for positive press. US Weekly, on the other hand, has their own source with a slightly different story:
“They want to be able to cast guys specifically for her. There is almost no time between Bachelor ending and Bachelorette starting filming, so they wanted to have plenty of time to find the perfect guys for the next season.
It was going to get out anyway that Rachel would be the next Bachelorette, so producers figured they might as well announce it now and make it official to make sure they get the most and best number of applicants for her season. It works better to have the next person as a definite as opposed to speculating on who it could be, in terms of casting.
The response has been amazing about Rachel — there’s been a huge spike in casting. Rachel is open to different types of guys. So it’ll be a mix of different types and races of guys for her season.”
This was confirmed by Harrison on Live with Kelly yesterday morning, when he revealed to Ripa that:
“We named her the Bachelorette early because weird TV calendar stuff is that The Bachelor runs right up to when we start taping The Bachelorette. Like, we’re talking days. We’re done. And she goes further in the show and we’re like, ‘Well we need to let everybody know that Rachel’s our Bachelorette. We would like to cast the show for her.’ We cast all year long, but like we did with Nick, it’s easier with The Bachelor because the calendar is different leading into it. But we wanted everyone to know it’s Nick so we can find people that really want to be with Nick. And so we want to cast the show for Rachel, but we can’t do that in two days.”
The existence of the leak shouldn’t be ignored, and any announcements by those involved on the show can and should be viewed as a cover-up, but in spite of that I do think this latter reason makes a good deal of sense. That being said, I think it’s worth considering the language used by both US Weekly‘s source as well as Harrison himself. Here are a few of their paragraphs, with select lines bolded for emphasis:
“They want to be able to cast guys specifically for her [. . .] they wanted to have plenty of time to find the perfect guys for the next season.”
“to make sure they get the most and best number of applicants for her season.”
“We would like to cast the show for her.’ [. . .] And so we want to cast the show for Rachel, but we can’t do that in two days.”
Now obviously all of this should go without saying. To have a successful season of a TV show that revolves around contestants dating, and ideally proposing to one another, means that having men who are attracted to Rachel, and who she is attracted to, is a given. All of this talk about them being “perfect” or “the best” is also the natural assumption. It’s also ridiculous to imply that they might have so little time for casting that they’d be left with a scant two days. Adding another line from Harrison, however, provides more context:
“Well we need to let everybody know that Rachel’s our Bachelorette.”
Countless Facebook users in a group for Rose Buddies, a podcast covering the franchise, came to their own conclusions well before the host of the show officially announced anything. The common consensus is that ABC et al. did so in order to weed out any contestants who might be put off by the fact that Rachel is a Black woman. By doing so they avoid any possible drama from men who might go through casting only to be unpleasantly surprised by who they’ve set out to compete for. The scoop from both US Weekly and Harrison frame it as being for Rachel’s benefit, and while it undoubtedly is, it’s just as much for anyone who might set out to court her.
It’s an ugly truth to dwell on, but one that cannot be ignored. Given how Harrison’s interview with NPR had him all but outright state that casting a non-White Bacheloron might not make them any [or as much] money, it’s no secret to the higher-ups involved that race is an issue not everyone in America sees eye to eye on. Speaking of NPR, however, that leads us to our last question, and my final answer-
What Happens After Rachel’s Season?
On Valentine’s Day NPR published an article by Linda Holmes titled “The Purely Accidental Lessons Of The First Black ‘Bachelorette'” in which she, as well making many other insightful points, introduces the term “Bacheloron”. Much more importantly she lays out why each consecutive season of The Bachelor and The Bachelorette have been so White, essentially boiling it down to being-
“-a story almost entirely of a white person picking the next white person, and of that white person then picking another white person, and everybody shrugging and saying, ‘I just went with my gut! It was love!'”
She also describes the entire process as being “a really freaky metaphor for the way structural racism can sometimes work without anybody setting out to do it,” taking care to note that this self-perpetuating system is more often than not free of any kind of malicious intent. Having laid all that out, Holmes readily admits that what she’s truly interested in is who Rachel will be offered as candidates.
She posits that due to the show’s “Certain Unspoken Ideas About Compatibility” [later shortened to C.U.I.A.C.], or tendency to match White Bachelorons with mostly White contestants, that “Rachel should get mostly — not exclusively, but mostly — black men to choose from”. It’s a line of thinking I haven’t considered almost at all.
The reason for that is I believe US Weekly‘s source when they say “it’ll be a mix of different types and races of guys for her season.” A majority White farm team would make it seem like ABC was trying to push for a swift return to the status quo, while a majority Black farm team might communicate to many that this has become a “Black show”, frightening off viewers. What I expect is for them to come up with as evenly diverse [meaning primarily between those two racial demographics] as possible, nothing more and nothing else. What truly interests me instead is what comes next.
In my mind the network will do everything it can to have the 22nd Bachelor be a White guy, as it will be a return to things as they were, informing audiences that, if not a one-off, these seasons will be few and far between. But what if Rachel’s final four are all Black men? What if a person of colour has the most compelling story, making them the obvious choice for their own redemptive mission to find love? Heading in that direction implies a trend, and one that may very well be here to stay.
To adapt Holmes’ description of the franchise, Rachel being the Bachelorette may have just kicked off-
“-a story almost entirely of a non-White person picking the next non-White person, and of that non-White person then picking another non-White person, and everybody shrugging and saying, ‘I just went with my gut! It was love!'”
There’s the distinct possibility of this in turn going on for at 20 or so more seasons, and while it’s incredibly unlikely given ABC’s fear of alienating their viewership it’s there all the same. Although I have my presumptions all I can really say is that I’m going to be paying close attention to what takes place following Rachel’s season, and am very much looking forward to writing what I’m sure I’ll title “Running the Race on The Bachelor [Another Year Later]”.