How Much Say Does The Bachelorette Have In Choosing Her Contestants?

Twice a year, 30 strangers emerge from limousines with the intention of winning over another stranger’s heart on national television. Tonight, the mating ritual kicks off again with the premiere of season 13 of The Bachelorette. While Rachel Lindsay’s Bachelorette cast features your regular assortment of wackos — including one gent whose profession is listed as "Whaboom" — her group of suitors is different than previous batches. Of The Bachelorette's 31 contestants, 14 are people of color.
How much does this diversity have to do with Lindsay’s own preferences? The short answer: quite a bit.
Today on Good Morning America, Lindsay was asked to address her season's unprecedented cast makeup. By way of an answer, Lindsay spoke of her openness to dating all manner of people.
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“I went to producers and I said, look. I date everyone. I don’t have a particular type. And I would like for the men coming out of the limo that first night to reflect that,” Lindsay said.
By now, Lindsay’s a professional in describing her “type,” or lack thereof, to the American public. She’s been fielding questions about her dating preferences ever since her unveiling as the first Black Bachelorette.
Back in February, when the diverse cast was but a speculation, Lindsay told ET on The Bachelor’s “Women Tell All” special that, "I don't [exclusively] date African-American men, I've dated all races before, and so I'm hoping the cast reflects what America looks like.”
Courtesy of ABC
Typically, Bachelors and Bachelorettes aren’t grilled about their dating preferences immediately after their season is announced. We never heard JoJo Fletcher waxing poetic about her love for brown-haired athletes, even though her nearly-identical final four were a clear indication of her physical preferences. That’s because usually, contestants don’t have much input at all. Casting producers take the reins, and bring out — surprise! — a group of overwhelmingly white candidates.
Casting directors have long tried to explain their way out of The Bachelor's diversity problem. In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, veteran casting director Lacey Pemberton says her ultimate goal is to ensure the potential for compatibility between the Bachelorette and her suitors, not to turn the cast into a miniature United Nations.
“We wanted to find the best people we thought Rachel would hopefully have some chemistry with and fall in love with,” Pemberton says.
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Yet given the optics of Lindsay’s cast, there’s more at work than Pemberton’s striving for pure romantic compatibility. In the same THR interview, Pemberton and host Chris Harrison were asked whether the Bachelorette or Bachelor’s so-called “type” guides the casting process.
Harrison immediately rejects the notion, saying, “I always go back to Sean Lowe, who ended up so happy and in love with Catherine. He never would have dated Catherine had it not been for the show. That wasn’t his quote-unquote 'type.' And so that’s the beauty. After we’re done, they all say, ‘Thank you for exposing me to something I normally wouldn’t have dated.’ And look, if they had a type and were doing well, they wouldn’t be on the show.”
Harrison makes it seem that Lowe had a preconceived notion of who he'd be interested in dating, but that's not entirely true.
For three consecutive seasons, no people of color were cast as contestants on The Bachelor — until Lowe’s season, when four Black women were in the running for the Kansan's heart. Lowe addressed the diversity question in an intimate conversation with Robyn Howard, a Black candidate who made it to the fifth episode.
Lowe recalls, “[The producers] said physically, what are you looking for? And I promise you, I said, you know, it doesn’t matter. I’ve dated everybody. And when I say everybody, I mean, Hispanic, Persian. My last girlfriend [was] Black. I don’t really have criteria. It’s the mind and the woman behind the physical appearance.”
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Like Lowe’s stint on The Bachelor, Nick Viall’s season was also deemed “diverse” for including 10 women of color. And like Lowe, Viall also commented on his "type" to producers.
“Nick was open to anything,” a show insider told Us Weekly. “He said, 'I love every type of woman.'”
Viall, Lowe, and Lindsay’s statements bear striking rhetorical resemblance. Nick was “open to anything.” Lowe “dated everybody.” Lindsay “[dates] everyone.” There’s a clear correlation between the Bachelors and Bachelorettes with open dating preferences and the diversity of their cast mates.
All this euphemistic talk of “type” masks the larger sea change at work. Simply put, more open-minded candidates means more diverse casts.
Christian Bishop, a Black contestant on JoJo Fletcher’s season of The Bachelorette, thinks that this is the key to breaking The Bachelor’s cycle of homogeneity.
“If you cast a white guy who only likes white girls, you get stuck in a cycle because the final six or four — usually where the next Bachelor or Bachelorette is chosen from — are most likely going to be his type, which is another white person. And then you have that white Bachelorette, and if she usually dates white guys, guess what? Most of her contestants are going to be white, and then it’s this cycle over and over again. It takes somebody who is interested in dating people of multiple backgrounds to change that,” Bishop wrote on Bustle.
Judging by Lindsay's glowing happiness when she announced her engagement, she had a positive experience submitting to the will of the Bachelorette match-making gods. And judging by her cast's diversity, the producers had a positive experience adhering to Lindsay's open-minded preferences. Here's hoping this season of the Bachelorette officially breaks the chain for the seasons to come.
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