What might have been the most chaotic season of Bachelor in Paradise has finally come to an end, and although the process was more tumultuous than it needed to be it did work. Three couples left the sandy beaches of Sayulita, Mexico engaged, one of the pairings marking a long overdue new dawn for the popular dating franchise — and further emphasising one of the biggest problems that's been keeping The Bachelor down.
After a two-year-year hiatus as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, Paradise began airing in mid-August, bringing together some of the popular new faces in the fandom from recent seasons of The Bachelor and The Bachelorette. (Paradise just wouldn't hit the same being filmed at the local LaQuinta, you know?) After the great racial reckoning of 2020 that saw Chris Harrison get the boot and even spawned a union-esque statement from the people of colour within the franchise, Paradise's cast was the most diverse it had ever been, promising for once a summer teeming with opportunity for everyone — not just the white contestants.
Riley Christian and Maurissa Gunn were two of the Paradise singles who made good on that promise. Maurissa, a hopeful on Peter Weber's cursed season, arrived on the beach determined to find her husband. She made a connection with Connor Brennan (Katie Thurston's season), but things really heated up when hot boy Riley made his grand entrance. Sparks instantly flew between the pair, and their first date led to the show's controversial first visit to the infamous "boom boom room." Sure, the sexual chemistry between the two was strong — they couldn't keep their hands off of each other — but each episode of Paradise also saw Riley and Maurissa's bond grow stronger as they worked out their individual complexes about their relationship as a team. Their romance was something straight out of a romantic comedy: shy smiles, steamy makeouts, will-they won't-theys, heartfelt confessions of love, and finally, an oceanside proposal.
The season finale sealed the deal for Riley and Maurissa, who walked away from Mexico hand-in-hand as an engaged couple. It's always a big deal when people in Paradise get engaged, but this relationship development is actually historic: it's the first time in almost 20 years of The Bachelor that two Black people have ended up together on the show.
When you think of how long The Bachelor has been on air and the many iterations of this series that have aired over the years, it's really wild to only have one Black couple in the books. We've had Black leads before (Rachel Lindsay, Tayshia Adams, and more recently, Matt James), and none of them ended up with Black partners, which is their right. But even when the castoffs from their seasons headed to Paradise to find love again, the Black contestants never seemed to vibe with each other in a meaningful romantic way. Black women in Bachelor Nation have been put through the wringer on almost every season of Paradise, and this run, which saw the most Black people ever on one cast, was no exception. Tahjzuan Hawkins was the butt of an unfortunate joke up until she left, Chelsea Vaughn got ditched at the last minute, and Natasha Parker's whole experience on the beach was a textbook case of misogynoir at work.
While Riley and Maurissa's engagement is historic and proof that this process can work for Black people, the fact that it is so momentous also points to one of the biggest issues of this franchise and other dating shows like it: a failure to cast contestants who are actually interested in and prepared to forge romantic relationships with Black women. Throughout The Bachelor's long history, Black women have been scouted to fill the ranks as diversity hires, but very rarely have they walked away with the guy; what we've seen instead is Black women playing supporting characters in the competition's respective journeys. Even as the show casts more Black women season after season and even gives Black women the chance to be the Bachelorette, things will continue to play out the same way if executives don't get more intentional about recruiting men who actually date Black women in real life to be part of this experience.
The upcoming season of The Bachelorette, starring the show's fourth Black lead, Michelle Young, will further underscore the necessity of intentional casting. Following the ongoing conversations surrounding race and racism within the franchise, Bachelor executives should have gone out of their way to seek out men that are attracted to this Black woman and have the range to understand if not empathise with her unique perspective. We know that Michelle's group of suitors include men from just about everywhere, but only time will tell if they're here for the right reasons — even the brothers.
Realistically, I'm not holding my breath for another Black love story to unfold on the next season of The Bachelorette. We've played this game a few times before and got burned; remember Matt's confusing night-one disclaimer that he was probably going to let Black people down? Having watched the blatant misogynoir of this show for several seasons, Riley and Maurissa's success story feels like the right note to end my Bachelor viewership on because it might just be the last of its kind on this specific platform. Now that I've finally seen Black love unfold on The Bachelor, I think I'm okay with walking away from the show for good.