It’s official. The dream is over. After a ridiculously passionate, grassroots fan campaign (there's literally a change.org petition), a worthy audition on Bachelor in Paradise, and voracious celebrity support (well, thirst posts from Demi Lovato), Mike Johnson is not the next Bachelor. Instead, Peter “Pilot Pete” Weber will take on the role come January 2020.
Now, obviously, Mike wasn't the only candidate whose chances died when Peter was announced. There was also significant fan support for Derek Peth after his time on Bachelor in Paradise, and the show's producers clearly aren't opposed to pulling someone from the past, as was the case with Arie Luyendyk Jr. But, there was a huge, bright, shiny, ripe-for-the-picking chance for the series to make history by casting its first black Bachelor, and Mike seemed to have everything the show could want or need.
Whereas, in the past, it seemed like there weren’t viable black candidates to choose from because the show hadn’t cast them on The Bachelorette in the first place (a whole other can o' worms), Mike has been on viewers’ minds for months. Plus, it doesn’t seem he did anything “wrong” that would have messed up his chances. (It should be noted that yes, Mike was recently linked to pop star Demi Lovato, but those reports actually came out over a week after the taping of the season 6 Bachelor in Paradise reunion that announced Peter's casting.)
The fact of the matter is that Mike was a fan-favorite on Hannah Brown’s season of The Bachelorette. Even though he was sent home in sixth place, fans loved Mike for his positive energy, his smile, how genuine he was, and the way he got along with all the other guys. Well, almost all of the other guys: Mike was also respected for not putting up with pain-in-Hannah-Brown's-side Luke Parker’s crap. He managed that mess so well, he could have taught a college course called "Dealing With Toxic Men 101."
Then, Mike moved on to Bachelor in Paradise. He wasn’t able to find love on the beach, but he was able to get in some additional screen time and win over fans’ hearts even more. When he rode off from the beach after not receiving a rose in Paradise, he said in true Bachelor Material form, “People continue to tell me how great I am, yet still I'm in this car by myself.” Making him seem even more like a great Bachelor fit, the rest of the cast absolutely loved him. (See: Demi Burnett and Derek Peth singing his praises on Twitter above.)
Mike also has a life outside of the show that could have easily been milked for all it was worth on The Bachelor. Take for example, the fact that he’s an Air Force veteran. ABC could have really brought it with all the man-in-uniform quips and rampant (possibly incorrect) military references. Now, he’s arming himself up for the forces of love… I don’t know. I’m just spitballing. Plus — and pardon my cynical take — for any viewers who, for some reason, have trouble accepting a black Bachelor, it's possible that some of those racists could have at least conceded, “Well, he is a veteran.”
But that aside, this series simply needs to cast a black lead, because representation and diversity are the right things to do and anyone who has a problem with it can frankly get over it. If they do manage to get over it (assuming that ABC does eventually cast a black Bachelor), watching a person of a different race, or ethnicity or sexual orientation, share their emotions on TV is the age-old method of expanding the worldview of anyone with stalwart and preconceived notions. Case and point: Demi Burnett and Kristian Haggerty’s relationship on Bachelor in Paradise.
I'm not accusing Bachelor producers of necessarily working under the assumption that the series' audience won’t want to watch a black person look for love, but it is hard to ignore that there have been 23 seasons of this show and 23 of its leads have been white. The most diversity came via Juan Pablo Galavis, who was the only Latino lead. Ever. That was a move in the right direction. Unfortunately, Juan Pablo was also awful.
In moves that almost seem to have anticipated potential Mike-related outcry, Robert Mills, ABC’s head of alternative programming, spoke about whether the show will eventually cast a black lead when Hannah's Bachelorette season got underway. In an interview with Variety at the beginning of the season, he implied that he and the producers don't want to force a black lead to emerge:
"I think it’s always something we’re thinking about that we’ve got to do this. It’s been too long. But it’s not like, 'Okay, let’s put these people in to make them The Bachelor' because still, at the end of the day, you want the best cast, and I think that’s what we have here. Obviously, we are going to want to consider an African American Bachelor at some point, so that is always under consideration, but they will have to be on Bachelorette for reasons other than that — obviously you can potentially be the person that the Bachelorette chooses."
He also has spoken specifically about Mike and the question of "checking off" having a black Bachelor. Here's what the ABC exec told Entertainment Tonight in August:
"He is just somebody that people really love. He's got a great story. We have somebody who has served our country, has really suffered through heartbreak ... You’ve got a billion-dollar smile and he looks great. He's got a following; those are the reasons he's in contention more than, 'Oh, this is so great, we can check that off now.’”
So, what happened? We may never know for sure, but Mike did express interest in being the Bachelor, so it seems unlikely that he would have turned down the gig if it was offered. The decision could have to do everything to do with how Peter's ability to lead a series compared to Mike's, relating to simple mechanics like always sharing your feelings directly to camera and using the totally organic, not-at-all cheesy metaphors written for him by a producer to describe every step of his journey. Still, from what we’ve seen so far, they’re both pretty good at the whole talking head interview thing (though Pete does seem to be more willing to pick up with the producers are laying down). And no offense to Peter, but four windmill sex sessions and a decent camera presence doesn't necessarily equate to a season full of fireworks and more than Mike's fans' campaigns do.
Thankfully, Peter still will bring some diversity to the series: The pilot is half-Cuban and speaks Spanish, which is something. It was great that Peter shared his family history on The Bachelorette, and hopefully, he will do even more of that as the Bachelor.
Still, though, there is something to seeing a man of color being emotional on TV, that the next Bachelor season is going to lack. Depictions of black love on television are still lacking, and the instances in which a black man is shown as vulnerable on screen are few and far between.
Casting a black Bachelor is an opportunity to show both of these things, but once again, that's not happening on America's biggest, most beloved series about finding love. Better luck next year, everyone.