Spoilers are ahead. During season 25 The Bachelor finale, Matt James chose to keep dating Rachael Kirkconnell in the real world, but there was a pall cast over their happy final rose encounter. And not because Matt didn't propose — because of Rachael's past actions, including attending a racist, plantation-themed "old South" party. When those images of her at the party began circulating, many fans knew what was coming next. Matt and Rachael broke up following the filming of the show.
Rachael had previously apologized for her ignorance and her actions after the photos started making the rounds in earnest, and she got the chance to apologize in person during the After the Final Rose special. "There’s no excuse," she said, adding that she was "living in this ignorance without even thinking about who it would be hurting." She promised that she would continue to better educate herself going forward, and said that she'd already begun that work by watching movies, reading books, and listening to podcasts.
Some of Rachael's defenders have been quick to say her actions were in the past (the very recent 2018 past), and host Emmanuel Acho also questioned why Matt's love for Rachael wasn't enough to stick with her through this. An emotional Matt explained to Rachael, "The most disappointing thing for me was having to explain to you why what I saw was problematic and why I was so upset." He added, "When I questioned our relationship, it was on the context of you not fully understanding my blackness."
Rachael admitted that when Matt ended things with her she felt "blindsided." But she knew that "he must have been very, very hurt by everything" to choose to break up with her, and she acknowledged that she was the one who did the hurting. Still, throughout the ATFR special, Rachael reiterated that she still loved Matt and couldn't see herself with anyone else. But Matt was firm and clear: the door to reconciliation is firmly shut. He said he ultimately couldn't walk Rachael through the process of putting in the work to grow. "That’s something that you've gotta do on your own, and that's why we can’t be in a relationship," Matt said. "The work and reconciliation that needs to be done is work I can’t do for you."
This was the first time Matt has been allowed to speak on the issue at length due to the spoilers inherent in speaking about the issue; he previously called the photos "incredibly disappointing" in an Instagram statement. No one can fault Matt for not wanting to continue the relationship, and it's incredibly disappointing that the first Black Bachelor's journey was tainted in this way. Before he learned about her past, Matt said he could see Rachael as his wife and the mother of his children. So while it was not easy to watch Rachael progress on the show knowing how things were unfolding in the real world, it was harder to stomach the fact that Matt was robbed of this future life by a show that didn't catch a flagrant issue like these photos in a background check.
Not all seasons of The Bachelor have happily ever afters, but Matt's happy ending didn't stand a chance.