With just two weeks left in Matt James' chaotic season of The Bachelor, it would be an understatement to say that I'm more ready for this "journey" to be over. What was supposed to be a historic season of the popular dating series featuring its first Black Bachelor actually turned out to be one of the most stressful, most disturbing installments in recent history, with on and off-camera situations highlighting the need for real change within the television franchise. But when it's all said and done, does The Bachelor have what it takes to win back a disillusioned audience?
When we first met Matt and his diverse pool of contestants, many viewers were genuinely excited about the possibilities of the season. After years of dragging the franchise, the big wigs at ABC had finally signed off on a Black Bachelor, which inevitably led to a group of women from various ethnic and racial backgrounds. However, the first few episodes quickly showed that The Bachelor wasn't going to give the women of color the opportunity to really connect with Matt because the entire operation would be sidelined by drama. The plot of season 25 isn't actually love — it's mess, and not the good kind.
So far, we've dealt with dangerous white woman tears, vicious slut-shaming and just general asshole behavior, ingredients that aren't necessarily new to Bachelor Nation. Bad people have been on the show in the past, but at least their awfulness was undercut by another storyline: romance. While we were watching contestants try to take each other down, the leads were actually falling in love, feeling their hearts being pulled in different directions. Spoilers be damned, we still don't really know where Matt's heart is leading him. He's not great at showing his feelings, so although several women have already confessed to being in love with him, we just know that Matt is "grateful for [their] courage." Sigh.
Off-camera, there's been even more chaos. We learned that Matt was allegedly a pretty shitty person to live with, and the extensive sleuthing of Bachelor fans led to the discovery of frontrunner Rachael Kirkconnell's problematic past. Rachael's scandal became even more of a major news story after Chris Harrison decided to use his platform to cape for her while simultaneously belittling former Bachelorette Rachel Lindsay. That explosive interview led to a wave of unrest within Bachelor Nation, which has seen current and former contestants voicing their disappointment in Harrison and fans of the show actually petitioning for him to be replaced as the host.
Now that Harrison has apologized and has taken a (likely temporary) step back from The Bachelor, executives are reportedly scrambling to pull together a plan to keep the show afloat without him. A source told PEOPLE that The Bachelor is engaging in "talks" with the face of the Bachelor about his future on the show and are brainstorming a strategy to move forward.
"A lot of work is being done behind the scenes to make the appropriate changes and proper moves going forward with the franchise," the source revealed.
But what exactly are those changes? Harrison himself is just one part of the problem — there are so many questionable things about this show. Over the last few years, we've seen an uptick in overly produced plots, including contestants (think "Queen" Victoria from our current group or Ed Waisbrot from Clare Crawley and Tayshia Adams' season) that remain week after week only to wreak havoc on their peers. Talk less of other contestants like Lee Garrett (Bachelorette season 13) and Garrett Yrigoyen (Bachelorette season 14) who have since been exposed for their bigoted social media activity and probably shouldn't have made it past the initial casting call to begin with.
There's also the shallow pandering to Bachelor Nation's cries for diversity, evidenced by the obvious casting of contestants of color without any real efforts to follow their respective journeys. And let's not forget the general anti-Blackness that Black contestants on the show face just for, you know...existing.
We can take our scrutiny even deeper, looking at the undoubtedly white production teams working on the show and then climbing all the way up the ladder to the even whiter team of executives calling the shots from the boardroom. Or, we can get more theoretical with it, examining the subconscious messaging of a show that positions marriage as the natural next step for people who haven't even gone on a real first date yet. How can anyone be ready to get married after a first impression rose, three group dates, and a stay in the Fantasy Suite?
Like I said, there are a lot of sketchy things about The Bachelor that have been going on for a very long time. While The Bachelor is just a show, it's also an agent of socialization, creating and disseminating messages about the world to the people watching it at home. We can't afford to keep watching content that promotes slut-shaming, propping up titles that tokenize Black and brown people for viewership, and supporting people who aren't really interested in telling diverse stories. And we don't have to; there are other shows out there that do exactly what The Bachelor does but better, and with far less clout in pop culture. (Please watch Ready to Love on OWN!)
Replacing Harrison is just a start. Knowing what we know now, the changes that The Bachelor team is reportedly coming up with have to be more than "appropriate" — they need to be extreme, and they need to be permanent. Either way, it still feels like too little too late.