As always, Bachelor Nation went through a lot of ups and downs this year, but the franchise ended on a high note after a bumpy start to 2021.
In January, Matt James’ premiere marked the first season with a Black Bachelor. Several weeks into the season, however, longtime host Chris Harrison came under fire for his apparent defense of front-runner Rachael Kirkconnell. The Georgia native had yet to speak out when Chris was interviewed by Rachel Lindsay, the first Black Bachelorette, about photos of the season 25 contestant at an Old South-themed party on a plantation when she was in college in 2018.
“We all need to have a little grace, a little understanding, a little compassion. Because I have seen some stuff online — this judge, jury, executioner thing where people are just tearing this girl’s life apart and diving into, like, her parents, her parents’ voting record,” he said at the time. “I haven’t heard Rachael speak on this yet. Until I actually hear this woman have a chance to speak, who am I to say any of this? Who is Rachel Lindsay and who is Chris Harrison and who is whatever woke police person out there, who are you [to tell her to speak out]? I’ve heard this a lot of, ‘I think she should,’ ‘I think he should.’ Who the hell are you? Who are you that you demand that?”
It didn’t take long for the backlash of the Extra interview to make headlines, with Chris apologizing for his words via Instagram. He later apologized again on Good Morning America and told viewers that he intended to do the work to come back to his gig as the host after Emmanuel Acho stepped in to host After the Final Rose. Chris ultimately exited and agreed to a settlement with the network in June.
Fast-forward to Michelle Young’s season of The Bachelorette (keep scrolling for a breakdown of the messy splits, new couples and more) and the franchise was celebrating the first final four solely made up of people of color.
“I’m proud to be a part of this moment and to be able to stand beside three men whom I admire. Spoiler: These guys are even more genuine than they appear on TV,” winner Nayte Olukoya wrote via Instagram in November. “I know this isn’t some earth-shattering historic event. But I can’t help but think about my experience of growing up in Canada. I grew up in a predominantly white neighborhood, went to predominately white schools, and was raised by my Mom and her side of the family. I didn’t see many people who looked like me. And when I did, it was mainly on TV. And many of us know how people who look like me tend to be portrayed on TV. So, at the end of the day, I’m simply thrilled that people, especially POC, can keep watching Michelle be the strong, confident, intelligent, brave, outspoken, and direct role model that she is, and get to continue watching her love story play out with four stand-up gentlemen of color!”
He concluded: “Of course, this is not to take away from any of the other gents this season. This has just never happened before and I think it is something to be celebrated and, if for nothing else, recognized.”
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Clayton Echard kicks off season 26 of The Bachelor on January 3, 2022. For now, scroll through for a breakdown of the biggest Bachelor Nation moments of 2021: