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The Bachelor’s Biggest Problems With Race Happen Offscreen

This “most diverse cast ever!” season of The Bachelor has been a revealing one for the franchise. Photo: Craig Sjodin/ABC

A few days before it was announced that Chris Harrison will not host the next season of The Bachelorette, the replacement host for this season’s After the Final Rose episode, Emmanuel Acho, told Stephen Colbert that the The Bachelor’s race problems are not just an issue of diversity in the cast, or of Chris Harrison’s disastrous interview with former contestant (and first Black lead of the franchise) Rachel Lindsay. You can’t fix the franchise by just casting people of color as leads, Acho told Colbert. The problem is, “Who’s casting, who are your producers? Is there diversity across every board?”

Regardless of who Bachelor Matt James chooses to receive the final rose tonight, season 25 has been revealing for the Bachelor franchise. First there was the revelation that front-runner Rachael Kirkconnell attended a sorority event themed around celebrating the antebellum South. Then there was the Chris Harrison–Rachel Lindsay interview, where Harrison explained his sympathy for Kirkconnell and then talked over Lindsay, ignoring her repeated, polite attempts to explain exactly how hurtful he was being. She gave you so many chances to save yourself, Harrison! It’s so telling that you couldn’t even see all those life vests she was trying to throw you!

Harrison is now on a leave of absence from the show. He has not been fired (although as I’ve argued, it’s long past time for that to happen), but he has been replaced as the host for at least the next Bachelorette season. Even if ABC were to fire Harrison, though, they’d be attempting a superficial fix for a much deeper, behind-the-scenes problem at the franchise — to use the appropriate reality-show language, they’d be throwing him under the bus. (They’d also be sending a strong and meaningful message that bias is something they take seriously. Both things can be true.)

The reality is that Harrison is only one part of the show’s bigger race problems, most of which happen offscreen. Unlike Kirkconnell’s Instagram posts, or the nightmarish sequence in Rachel Lindsay’s Bachelorette season in which she went on a two-on-one date with a Black man and a racist, it’s not something the Bachelor audience can see as an explicit narrative stemming from the people involved onscreen. Instead, it’s a core problem of how the show is edited together, a problem tied to which contestants get screen time and which don’t. The Bachelor was proud to promote season 25’s cast as “the most diverse cast ever!” but that diversity was not reflected in the stories that showed up throughout the season.

This is the kind of thing Bachelor viewers have long suspected about the series, and it’s been a palpable undercurrent in Ali Barthwell’s incredible Bachelor recaps for years. Sure, the show has cast more people of color in recent years, but those contestants are rarely featured in the big, dramatic arcs that define the early episodes of every season, and until the last few years, people of color have been almost entirely absent from the later final four arcs, too.

Now, though, the work of Instagram account @bachelordata has created a quantitative way of understanding exactly how biased the show’s editing process can be. In a post about the Bachelor producer’s commitment to diversity, the account’s creator (who goes by Suzana for privacy) presented chart after chart demonstrating how little that commitment has meant for this season of the show.

Sixty-five percent of the contestants this season were women of color, and yet in the first six episodes of the season, screen time featuring women of color never crested above 40 percent. In three of those episodes, less than 30 percent of the episode was dedicated to stories about women of color, while white women were given disproportionately large platforms. @bachelordata’s numbers indicate that of the women who racked up the most focused onscreen time in the first six episodes, six of the top ten were white women, and several of those six had more than double the onscreen time their Black co-contestants got.

The numbers presented by @bachelordata are just one source — I haven’t done my own counting, and I can imagine disagreements about what counts as a group scene, or how to quantify narrative focus. But those numbers pass a simple gut check, providing more information about something that was already easy to observe about the show. In season 25, producers guided several women into developing big, loud antagonistic relationships with one another, and the first several episodes of the season built those fights into messy villain edits that sucked up all of the season’s narrative energy. Those women — especially MJ and Victoria — got into fights and swore they were just being true to themselves, and The Bachelor’s production and editing team rewarded them by making them the central characters over the first half of the season. Meanwhile, the women who actually made it all the way to the hometown dates (Bri, Michelle, Serena, and Rachael) spent much less time in front of the camera in those early episodes.

This part’s anecdotal, because @bachelordata only recently began crunching these kinds of Bachelor numbers, but based on my terrifying number of years watching this show, I can say that it’s not at all unusual for those early episodes to be consumed by people who get kicked off pretty early. It’s a classic Bachelor editing technique; the show stirs up a lot of drama to create big moments for the earliest episodes, but it also knows that the loud, volatile people are just time-wasting fodder until the serious relationships start to kick in. On Rachel Lindsay’s season, lots of early time was spent with Lee Garrett, who was there only because producers had deliberately cast a guy who likes Confederate flags to date the first Black Bachelorette. Lindsay eventually eliminated him, but he racked up lots of screen time first. So what if women like MJ and Victoria got lots of early featured time on Matt’s season?

This is where it becomes especially notable that the women who were selected as early-season fodder were all white women, particularly given season 25’s position as the “most diverse cast ever!” As an onscreen story, it’s immediately troubling that a small group of white women were produced and edited to become antagonists to the Black contestants. But it’s a problem that also extends beyond the show itself, because people with large roles on TV rack up thousands of Instagram followers and translate that into healthy side gigs as influencers. (Here, @bachelordata is also a very helpful source of information.) Onscreen time is a limited resource, and featuring one contestant over another comes with a real opportunity cost.

Fast Instagram influencer status isn’t always granted to the contestants with villain edits — people like MJ and Victoria didn’t gain as many followers as hero-edit figures this season like Bri and Serena — but doing well as a villain does make someone a more appealing cast member on Bachelor in Paradise. Extended careers in the Bachelor Cinematic Universe are opportunities to either become more notorious as villains (see: Chad Johnson) or to complete total image rehabilitation cycles (Demi Burnett). And dedicated minutes on TV translate to the chance to gain followers, or to show up yet again in later Bachelor seasons, which translates to opportunities for appearances and brand partnerships. The Bachelor is an attention economy. The cast may be more diverse than ever, but Matt James’s season demonstrates that the show is still edited to give that economy a biased tilt.

All of this is why Acho’s point to Colbert is an important one. It’s not enough to fire Chris Harrison, or to continue casting people of color on the show. The Bachelor’s real race problem is happening behind the scenes, and the only way to address the root of the problem is to overhaul the production team that creates a show like this. The show is famously close-lipped about its producing and editing process; an email I sent recently about the simple makeup of the production staff has as yet gone unanswered. But the franchise should understand this moment for what it is: a huge opportunity to be open about how the show is made, to be transparent with its audience about the mistakes of the past, and to commit to bringing in a diverse group of producers, casting directors, and editors. If it doesn’t, they might as well book a weekly slot on Good Morning America, because they’re going to continue having a lot to apologize for.

The Bachelor’s Biggest Problems With Race Happen Offscreen