During the The Bachelor: After the Final Rose special, which followed the season 25 finale, the goal was to address a string of controversies that plagued this particular season — namely, host Chris Harrison's failure to denounce the racist past behavior of the season's "winner" Rachael Kirkconnell, which led him to take a hiatus from the show. Emmanuel Acho, Harrison's replacement and host of viral video series Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man, sat down with Kirkconnell to address the controversy head-on, and then invited her ex James to add his perspective.
However, while "conversations" were certainly had, many of them felt...circuitous. Why? You may have noticed that they were filled with many of the same phrases, used over and over again.
Longtime viewers of the Bachelor franchise will recognize them: When a contestant is feeling troubled, something is “weighing heavy on their heart"; when someone is accused of wrongdoing, they'll assure you that what they do "comes from a place of love," and perhaps others will urge each other to "allow them grace."
These ~ live, laugh, love ~ , Christian platitudes have always seemed like a harmless signature of the Bachelor and Bachelorette. But now, in a time when the franchise needs to and promises to take steps to address its pervasive, systemic problems when it comes to inclusivity and representation on the show, they are not only unproductive, but also hinder actual progress from being made.
Take Kirkconnell's initial talk with Acho before James joined them. He asks her how she's been: “It’s been a lot, as anyone can imagine," she says. "But I don’t want to, you know, sit here and victimize myself.” He then asks her about a picture of her at a racist antebellum-themed party in 2018: "I'm not going to sit here and say I didn't know any better, because I could have easily asked myself those questions," she says. Acho then asks her what concrete steps she's taking to educate herself on racial inequality: "I can sit here and give you a list," she says. "I can say, 'I've been reading this and watching these documentaries and these movies and these podcasts, and it's great to educate yourself, but I don't think that anything is going to change if we don't take those actions to put that education into play." The "I don't want to sit here and" is an easy way to give a non-answer while sounding like one.
But Kirkconnell wasn't the only one hiding behind her word salad. Every Bachelor controversy this year has included the use of "love" and "grace" to excuse bad behavior. Season 25's bigoted villain Victoria Larson continues to explain away her toxicity by saying that her actions came from "love" and "her real heart." During Harrison's notoriously offensive Extra interview with former Black Bachelorette Rachael Lindsay, he told her that people needed to afford Kirkconnell "a little grace, a little understanding, a little compassion." And even in his apology following the backlash, he repeated the same platitude: "While I do not speak for Rachael Kirkconnell, my intentions were simply to ask for grace in offering her an opportunity to speak on her own behalf."
It's so baked into the Bachelor DNA that even Acho, in his sit-down with Kirkconnell and James, kept harping on the fact that Kirkconnell still loves James, even though the latter was clear in his decision to want to distance himself from her. And after a hurtful exchange that ended at an impass, Acho attempted to end the conversation with a glossy flourish: "Well if you all want to share one final embrace," he suggested. James didn't move an inch.
The most productive, illuminating conversation came from James and Acho, as they discussed the impossible and disheartening expectations that Black men carry every day. "I walk around realizing I might be the only Black man that this person comes in contact with today, so let me do my best job to adequately represent Black men across the country," Acho said. "It's what we're conditioned to do as Black men — making people comfortable with your Blackness." James replied. "Going above and beyond to show that in stature and in personality, you're not as threatening as you come off as, and those are the types of things that I was thinking about."
Phrases like "grace" and "love" are the "thoughts and prayers" of the Bachelor franchise — empty promises that are devoid of actual accountability and action. They're easy clichés to lean on, and the reality show all too often hides behind them in order to avoid facing the issues head on. If there's one thing that was made abundantly clear this season, it's that the show's issues aren't isolated incidents — they're systemic, and will take a lot of work to change. And another thing: sometimes "love" isn't enough.