Nearly two years after Rachael Kirkconnell met Matt James on season 25 of The Bachelor, she’s started to open up about her experience and the controversy that plagued their relationship.
While the 2021 season of the ABC series was airing, the Georgia native came under fire for resurfaced photos in an antebellum-style dress at a fraternity getaway. Before Kirkconnell addressed the pics, then-host Chris Harrison came to her defense during an interview with alum Rachel Lindsay, asking the audience to have “grace” for the contestant, who he knew ended up winning the season. (The scandal broke in February 2021, one month before the finale aired.)
The situation resulted in James breaking up with Kirkconnell ahead of the After the Final Rose special that March. While the twosome reconciled later that year, the network cut ties with Harrison and alum Jesse Palmer took over the gig.
Kirkconnell released her first statement on February 11, 2021, writing via Instagram that her actions were “not acceptable” and her “ignorance was racist.” During a candid conversation with fellow season 25 star Bri Springs, who finished as the second runner-up on James’ season, in October 2022, Kirkconnell said her initial apology “backfired.”
“I was pushed to write a written statement and not speak to my followers, like, with my face and whatnot … by the show and by producers. … They were, like, ‘You could just, like, look in the corner, and people will look too far into it. … It’s easier to write a written statement,’” she said on the “Ya, But Who Cares” podcast. “I feel like that kind of backfired. People were either like, ‘Wow, she can’t even like say it.’ And then the other half was like ‘Wow, this was actually really well written, like, props to whoever wrote this for her.’ No one actually thought it was even from me.”
Kirkconnell recalled going “rogue” and doing a second, lengthy apology video after James ended their relationship because she had nothing to lose. She shared a third statement when her followers started to come for Lindsay and James instead of focusing on her mistakes.
“I was, like, you guys are disappointed in the wrong people. … I wasn’t the victim,” she told Springs, noting that she still doesn’t understand why people were “coming” for Lindsay. “She interviewed him, that’s it.”
When speaking about Harrison, she added: “I still get to this day, like, ‘I can’t believe you lost the host his job.’ I still get those comments.”
Kirkconnell also shed some light on the event she attended where the now infamous photo was taken.
“This is the first time I’ve ever saying this. I did say this on AFR — and of course, they didn’t show it. There wasn’t a party. … I didn’t go, like, celebrate whatever everyone was trying to say. There was no parade. I’ve seen crazy stuff. … People are saying, like, there was reenactments, parties, parades,” she said. “And I guess that was hard just, like, reading that and saying, like, ‘OK, no, that’s not what it was.’ But I will say, I could have known the history of that fraternity. And I could have known, like, why we were even wearing those dresses and whatnot. Because the whole thing was us girls literally renting these dresses just to go get photos in them. It was like prom. … It’s so crazy to think about now after just really realizing what that was [representing]. Even before the show, I realized, like, what that was and what that fraternity represented and everything.”
After reuniting in spring 2021, James wrote a book about his time as the first Black Bachelor, criticizing the series for what they opted to air. While speaking about their relationship with the franchise in July 2022, Kirkconnell told Us that the couple are rooting for everyone from “afar.”
“There’s no hard feelings whatsoever,” James said. “We want the best for Michelle [Young], everybody. At the end of the day, like, you want people to meet their person, and if they do it on the show, that’s a blessing. I’m so fortunate that things have worked out the way [it did] with Rachael, and I hope that everyone who goes on the show can find, you know, their Rachael, their person.”
For more of Kirkconnell’s comments about her time on the show, keep scrolling: