Looking Back, Bachelor Contestants Weren’t The Only Ones Fooled By Juan Pablo’s Two-Word Catchphrase
“It’s okay.” As someone who tuned into the wide web of The Bachelor in 2017 — 15 full years after the sprawling franchise began on ABC — those two words were the only thing I knew about the series’ most-despised bachelor, Juan Pablo Galavis. Through osmosis from memes, podcasts (Bachelor Party is always a good idea), and conversations with long-time viewers, I learned about “It’s okay.” Andi Dorfman tells Juan Pablo she wasn’t in love with him after a Fantasy Suites date? It’s okay. Clare Crawley doesn’t appreciate being aggressively objectified by Juan Pablo? It’s okay. Andi is sad after her Bachelorette breakup? Still, via Twitter, it’s okay.
But it was also there long before J.P. ever had his final showdown with his finalists in St. Lucia. It was there the night 27 women strolled out of limos to meet Juan Pablo, and it was there when contestants panicked about everything from run-of-the-mill anxieties to death-defying challenges. It was always there, lurking in all the reality TV magic.
When I finally decided to dive into Juan Pablo’s season ahead of Clare’s upcoming — and currently on-hold — Bachelorette season, I expected to immediately find the Bachelor’s favorite motto as grating as it has been mythologized. It wasn’t. Instead, Juan Pablo initially deployed his infuriating slogan to charm his contestants — and each and everyone one of us watching across America. It works.
Clare is one of the very first contestants who actually gets an “It’s okay” drop in 2014’s season 18 premiere. The newly crownedBachelorette pulls a stunt 2018 Bachelorette winner Garrett Yrigoyen would recognize: The Big Family bid. For Garrett, that meant arriving at the Bachelor mansion in a minivan. Clare, on the other hand, steps out of her limo with a fake pregnancy belly. Juan Pablo is intrigued until Clare reveals her prank stomach is “not real.” “It’s okay,” Juan Pablo sighs in an attempt to reassure her that he got the joke and liked it. As Clare walks into the mansion, she’s beaming from the recognition.
No conversation captures the original tactical innocence of “it’s okay” quite like J.P.’s night one conversation with Lauren Higginson, the contestant whose recent engagement was abruptly ended over the phone by her live-in fiancé. Lauren — who has already cried to another player at this point — comes to her chat with Juan Pablo radiating nervous energy. “Crazy night?” she asks him. “It’s okay,” he responds with a shrug. Then, as Lauren explains that the competitive evening has “thrown her,” Juan Pablo says, “That’s okay.” It’s not a dismissal, but a promise that Lauren’s anxious feelings are valid and normal. Things only go off the rails once Lauren reveals her every detail of unsettlingly sad dating history while becoming visibly more upset by the second.
Unsurprisingly, Lauren is sent home by the end of her final rose ceremony. Juan Pablo was prepared to calm Lauren down amid the stormy intensity of kicking off The Bachelor. He wasn’t ready to deal with the nitty gritty emotions of a three-dimensional person.
This fact becomes more evident over the first few episodes of season 18. In the 2014 cycle’s second episode, Andi gets understandably uncomfortable over her costume for a dog charity photo shoot: nothing. It is easy to assume a Bachelor as infamously horny and sexist as Juan Pablo would either objectify Andi or baldly manipulate her into ditching her clothes for the challenge. That is not what happens.
Around the midpoint of the episode, Andi — a criminal attorney — finds a quiet corner to ponder what shooting nude photos on a reality show would mean for her career. A truly thoughtful person would have a long discussion with their new girlfriend about the subject. But this is The Bachelor. Juan Pablo in particular doesn’t have time for true pathos during a 13-person group date. So, J.P. puts Andi at ease by promising to join her in the naked shoot.
“It’s gonna be okay,” he tells her, using an elongated version of his beloved catchphrase. When Andi says she’s “out of her element,” Juan Pablo tells her, “We’ll both be naked. It’s okay.” You can tell Andi, a woman with a professional-grade B.S.-meter, is sincerely assuaged by the conversation. She confirms as much during a confessional outside of the photo studio, telling cameras, “Juan Pablo is extremely comforting. Honestly, all it took was Juan Pablo sitting down, looking me in the eye, and saying, I’ll do it with you.” It’s a genuinely sweet moment of connection.
However, the magic of Juan Pablo’s motto likely ran out by the live airing of his third episode. At that point in mid-January 2014, news had already circulated of his disastrous and offensive new interview with website The TV Page. During that conversation, the Bachelor lead was asked if a gay or bisexual Bachelor season would be a good idea. He responded by saying gay people are “more pervert in a sense,” adding, “I don’t think it is a good example for kids to watch that on TV ... Where is the thin line to cross or not? You have to respect everybody’s desires and way of living. But it would be too hard for TV.”
Venezuela-raised Juan Pablo later apologized for his comments on Facebook, blaming his ignorant words on a language barrier (English is his second language, as he said in the post). Still, the damage was done. In one day, whatever J.P. spell that existed on The Bachelor was starting to shatter. In the present, new viewers are likely aware of the comments, or some of the Bachelor’s other bad behavior (see: the Clare Crawley slut shaming fiasco). Juan Pablo’s many upsetting actions made it obvious that — much like in real life — the supposedly endearing behavior of a romantic interest could very easily be covering up much more sinister depths. After all, what truths do we really know about a Bachelor lead besides the carefully edited personality hand-delivered to us by the franchise’s producers? This is a series that is infamous for valuing fairy-tale-like declarations of undying love without the necessary conversations of real-life lifestyle, politics, and religion necessary to put two lives together.
That’s why Juan Pablo’s “It’s okay” coaxing on a particularly perilous date in his third episode lacks an ounce of charm. During that chapter, J.P. takes Chelsie Webster on an outing that culminates in a couple’s tandem bungee jump off of a bridge. It’s horrifying and Chelsie panics. Juan Pablo repeatedly tells Chelsie “It’s okay” as she begins to cry at the precipice of the jump. But, in a dark turn he adds, “Just do it for me.” Although Juan Pablo attempts to make that order seem less sinister by adding, “I’m doing it for you too. We’re in this together,” it’s impossible to ignore the amount of pressure Juan Pablo’s “comforting” pep talk has actually put on Chelsie — “it’s okays” or not.
Minutes later, Chelsie jumps off of a bridge for Juan Pablo. In that moment, any goodwill Bachelor Nation at large could ever hold for Juan Pablo takes a freefall as well. And, unlike J.P.’s trip with Chelsie, public opinion never rebounded.