There is nothing the Bachelor(ette) franchise values more than its nearly infinite stable of attractive, heterosexual white people between the ages of 22 and 37. That’s why 2017 Bachelorette star Rachel Lindsay is the sole personal of color to lead the reality TV institution in its nearly two decades of existence (American-born Latinx athlete Juan Pablo Galavis very clearly presents as white). That’s also why Colton Underwood, Bachelorette reject and Bachelor In Paradise lightning rod, was tapped this week to be the 2019 Bachelor.
Yet, the former football player wasn’t the hottest ticket in Sayulita, Mexico this summer — he wasn’t even close. Instead, that honor went to Asian-American biracial tech wizard John Graham, who has been affectionately nicknamed “Venmo John” for the 28-year-old's involvement in the app’s fledgling stages.
John Graham, with his so-called “nerd” vibes and willingness to talk about race, is the hero Bachelor In Paradise needs in 2018.
John’s status as the most popular man in Paradise was cemented during Tuesday night’s “Week 5, Part 2,” when Tanner Tolbert, a member of one of the beach series’ most revered couples, asked the Silicon Valley guy how many women, exactly, he has kissed during filming. John’s answer: “There were six others.”
So, including current partner Olivia Goethals, Venmo John has smooched seven women, Tanner surmises. Comparatively, Colton Underwood, ABC’s inexplicable biggest bet on romantic magnetism right now, was only able to flail through a relationship with Tia Booth during his time on Paradise. Even Chris “The Goose” Randone, who proved with that awful food metaphor monologue he could not be more confident in his powers of seduction, was only able to attract two ladies.
John, on the other hand, charmed his way into everything from makeout sessions to dates with Annaliese Puccini, Kendall Long, Caroline Lunny, Jubilee Sharpe, Chelsea Roy, Christen Whitney, and the aforementioned Olivia. And, none of them left the interactions upset (some were just sad he didn’t return their affection). Women like John! Tanner tells John with a smile, “You’re like a Casanova.”
There is an obvious reason John’s appeal matters: It subverts the commonly held belief about which type of man thrives in any of the Bachelor Nation settings. Guys are allowed to be different types of hunks — Big and burly? Great. Lanky, and kind-eyed? Fantastic. Gray-haired and forgotten by the fans? Come on down! — but it’s usually expected the true standouts will be white men. That assumption is what leads to Becca Kufrin’s all-white final three suitors and the fact that every single man to completely finish Paradise, whether that be in a fully committed relationship or as a fiancé, has been a white man, save for the biracial, light-skinned Grant Kemp.
John fully breaks that mold. He speaks about how being a man of color has influenced his romantic life and experiences in the Bachelor franchise. During a get-to-know-you-chat with Jubilee, a Black woman, both agree they had a “rough time” during their respective entrances into The Bachelor(ette) because they were “different.” “Different” is a code-word for “of color,” as John proves when he adds, “I’m half-Chinese, half-white, and I came in kind of intimidated. Because looking at the guys, [I was like], ‘I’m not this archetype of the homecoming king.’”
It's no surprise John felt that way, as even the very macho Kevin Wendt, who is shown to be a total sweetheart, revealed in a confessional interview he was astonished to see John of all people was a “hot commodity.” The firefighter even joked about what his co-star is “packing down there,” suggesting a large package must be the only explanation for Venmo John's eligibility.
But Jubilee immediately dropped the theme of Paradise season 5 in response to John's homecoming king anxieties, admitting, “But not everyone wants that. I don’t want that.”
This attitude speaks to a larger pop cultural evolution that gained steam just as John began winning hearts in Paradise. Over the last three years, it slowly started dawning on America that Asian love stories are not only compelling, they’re blockbusters. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, The Good Place, and 13 Reasons Why all made Asian men romantic leads with Vincent Rodriguez III, Manny Jacinto, and Ross Bulter respectively getting dreamy starring roles.
But, John’s ascendance on Paradise began as two other winning Asian love stories practically broke Twitter. In mid-August, Netflix gave us the heartstring-pulling romantic saga of Lara Jean Covey (Lana Condor), a biracial Korean-American teen girl, in the very flirty To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before. The instant classic rebuffed the idea that Jenny Han’s beloved YA novel needed to be whitewashed to succeed, as many other production companies claimed. That same week, Crazy Rich Asians, the most successful rom-com in just under a decade and breaker of numerous Labor Day Weekend box office records, premiered, offering viewers many, many sensual shots of Asian hunks, their many abs, and their emotional, epic love stories.
At this point, it's unlikely anyone is wondering why Venmo John is a hot commodity.
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