Going out on top. Former Bachelor producer Sarah Gertrude Shapiro was impressed by the end of season 25 of the ABC reality series. Although Matt James and winner Rachael Kirkconnell left the season dating, they split amid her resurfaced racially insensitive Instagram posts, as revealed on the After the Final Rose special.
“I think that had a lot of integrity. I think it was a really smart decision on his part, and I think it’s going to make the franchise more interesting, honestly,” the 43-year-old producer, who worked on the show from 2002 to 2004, told Us Weekly exclusively. “I know people were saying it was a bummer of a season, but I actually think it was a really interesting step for the franchise because I think if they start having these conversations in a big way, it’s just going to be more relevant.”
She added that the split made the entire season “more interesting and more timely” overall.
“I feel like he had to break up with her. I think it’s also so problematic for people to say, ‘How can she be racist if she’s dating a Black man?’ which is just the classic cringeworthy excuse,” the UnReal creator noted. “You can be totally racist and be married to a Black man. You can be a total misogamist and be married to a woman. That’s just not an excuse. So, I mean I don’t have a decree on who she is or whatever, but I think given the situation, it was completely right that he broke up with her, and I think it’s going to make for just a more interesting franchise. I think it’s going to be less dated.”
While the season was airing, Instagram photos surfaced from 2018 that showed Kirkconnell, 24, at a plantation-themed party. Before she apologized, host and executive producer Chris Harrison defended her in an interview on Extra, asking former Bachelorette Rachel Lindsay if the photos were a problem or if it was just because they were looking at them with a 2021 “lens” — a comment that rubbed many the wrong way.
“My guess? These girls got dressed up and went to a party and had a great time, they were 18 years old. Now, does that make it OK? I don’t know, Rachel, you tell me. Where is this lens we’re holding up and was that lens available and were we all looking through it in 2018? I don’t know,” Harrison, 49, said during the February interview. “Is it [not] a good look in 2018 or is it not a good look in 2021? … I’m not defending Rachael, I just know that 50 million people did that in 2018.”
Shapiro noted that the comment, which led to Harrison stepping aside, “really touched a nerve” for her.
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“UnREAL very much served this story line in 2016 and the genre was very much put on notice by that season within the entertainment community,” she explained to Us. “It was definitely talked about. Like, UnREAL had a Black male lead before the other show had [one] … and so I absolutely know he was aware of that and I just call complete and utter bulls–t on that being his defensive.”
With reporting by Diana Cooper