An unusual series of events has merged the worlds of The Bachelor, the NFL playoffs, DraftKings, high-stakes daily fantasy sports, and of course, lovers of controversy.
“Jade Roper Tolbert, will you accept this rose as this week’s millionaire?” read a since-deleted tweet from the DraftKings Twitter account earlier this month, after the Bachelor veteran won the company’s million-dollar fantasy sports contest by choosing a combination of NFL players across four playoff games, in a “lineup” that scored higher than any of the competing 105,000 entries.
Jade “accepted” the social media rose from DraftKings, but now the company is investigating the matter amid widespread allegations that she and her husband, Tanner Tolbert — who appeared on season 11 of The Bachelorette — colluded and cheated in violation of contest rules. DraftKings has also held up the million-dollar prize as of Tuesday afternoon.
“It is incredibly important for us to establish that Jade’s win is nothing more than pure luck,” the couple wrote in an email to ESPN on Monday night. “No one has ever said a peep about us when we lost for 17 straight weeks.”
The Tolberts, who met during season two of Bachelor in Paradise, have made no secret of their ongoing participation in the weekly contests. Jade’s DraftKings handle is literally her name, while Tanner’s (ttolbert05) includes the family name, and he is known to participate in these contests fanatically. (During a Vulture Festival event last fall, Tanner said that “fantasy football stuff” is the thing he does that most annoys his wife.)
“Somehow Jade picked the right lineup, got the million, and the spotlight got shone on it,” Tanner told ESPN on Monday. So, add alleged sexism to the subplots. “And people, especially since she’s a woman, assume that I do it all for her. If I had won, I bet no one would’ve raised a flag.”
The DraftKings contest rules allow a maximum of 150 entries per person. Both Tanner and Jade submitted 150 apiece at the cost of $25 per entry, but the rules prohibit any coordination of entries or “colluding with any other individual(s) or engaging in any type of syndicate play.”
Internet sleuths and high-stakes DFS players quickly collected supposed evidence that Tanner and Jade colluded to improve their chances of winning, after a prominent DFS player recognized Jade from The Bachelor.
It is exceedingly unlikely, if not impossible, that the Tolberts, who live under the same roof, submitted the total 300 entries independent of each other, despite Jade’s insinuation that they playfully compete in the form of roughly $4,000 worth of entries apiece for the entire NFL season. Yet Tanner told ESPN, “We each put in our separate players, in our separate accounts and rooted for own players.”
Three things can all be true at once in this matter: (1) The type of coordination that the Tanners appeared to have engaged in occurs frequently, but is difficult to prove and does not get prosecuted by DraftKings; (2) the Tanners probably violated the rules; and (3) Jade’s entry wouldn’t be under scrutiny if the two weren’t public figures and/or hadn’t used their darned names in their entries.
The only question that has not yet been answered is how and whether DraftKings will enforce the long-standing rules against collusion. It’s a safe bet the Tolberts have lawyered up. But at least the timing worked well for Bachelor producers: The latest season premiered earlier this month.
Update, January 25: Jade Roper Tolbert is no longer the champion of DraftKings’ Millionaire Maker contest and her $1 million cash prize has been rescinded. Per ESPN, DraftKings striped the Bachelor star and “several” recent contest winners of their first-place statuses, with the affected customers being directly notified of the changes. “It is our general policy not to comment further on such matters,” the company added in a social media statement. The second-place Millionaire Maker winner will receive Roper Tolbert’s $1 million instead.