Toward the end of any season of The Bachelor, the talking points are usually the same: Everyone misses the ill-fated, messy villain (push on, Corinne!); everyone is sure the final three is crystallizing. But ever since producers began using The Bachelor as a feeder system for The Bachelorette and vice versa, the conversation of “Who will win?” has been trumped by “Who will be the next Bachelorette?” The future of The Bachelor franchise is always more interesting than its present, kind of like how I start thinking about the NFL draft every year after the Bills lose in Week 8.
So as we near the end of Season 21 of The Bachelor — the finale is exactly one month away! — speculation about the next Bachelorette is imminent. There’s only one right choice. ABC, do not mess this up: Rachel is your girl.
Maybe you’ve noticed, but The Bachelor is very white. A cursory glance at cast photos is enough to see a history of underrepresentation. In 21 seasons of The Bachelor and 12 seasons of The Bachelorette, there have been only 65 nonwhite contestants (that’s less than two per season). More than half of black Bachelor and Bachelorette contestants have left the shows within two weeks. The problems came to a head in 2012 when the franchise was the subject of a class-action lawsuit alleging racial discrimination (the suit was eventually dismissed). The show has since made a fractional increase in its efforts to be more inclusive — Season 21 features nine nonwhite contestants, more than ever before — but they’ve yet to satisfy a demand that is voiced on a yearly basis.
“ABC would love to do groundbreaking shows and there are moments for that, but they’re also trying to entertain millions and millions of people and paid advertisers and keep my family happy,” Bachelor host Chris Harrison told The Huffington Post in 2013, a statement that suggests only white people are entertained on a large scale. He’s since updated his response to diversity questions to be more of a non-answer: “It’s a good debate, and it continues to change and evolve. So I think it’s a great thing,” he said in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter last March. The Bachelor is so inept when it comes to representation that it’s become a well-worn joke.
Along comes Rachel, a 31-year-old attorney from Dallas who I would describe as stunningly normal if she hadn’t signed up to be on a romance-competition television show. She’s smart, charismatic, and has emotional intelligence (a big talking point on The Bachelor this season); she shakes her head and covers her eyes when awkward shit happens, as if she’s the audience’s surrogate. She’s easy to watch — and by that I mean she doesn’t make Nick eat raw hot dogs — and even easier to root for. And she’s beating everyone. Rachel was the first person of color to win the coveted First Impression Rose; heading into Week 7, she’s officially made it further than any black woman before her. Among the six remaining contestants, Rachel might have the best odds, depending on how much stock you put in Corinne’s manipulation skills and ABC’s investment in her and her nanny, Raquel.
But we shouldn’t be rooting for Rachel to all-caps FIND LOVE with Bachelor Nick Viall, since that fate carries years of extra reality-TV commitments, stints on Couples Therapy. There are only two outcomes for Rachel that I will accept. In the first scenario, Rachel would win the whole thing but reject Nick’s proposal on national television (as two women have in the past — literally no one wants to marry Nick). It would be a legendary, dramatic result — a storytelling flourish straight out of Shondaland. Plus, Nick looks like Knowshon Moreno when he cries, and I’m never gonna say no to more man tears.
But an even better outcome — both for Rachel and the show — would be for her to make it to the Hometown Dates week, get eliminated in heart-wrenching fashion, and rise from the flames months later as the franchise’s first black Bachelorette. It’s about damn time. The show has already been beaten to the punch by the satirizing Unreal, which featured — and then botched — a second-season story line about a black suitor, so they’re already playing catch-up. The future is diverse, and The Bachelor would be wise to finally get with the times.
At a Television Critics Association panel in January, then–ABC entertainment chief Paul Lee was once again asked about the franchise’s lack of diversity, particularly when it came to the suitors. “We’re doing a whole lot of tweaks,” he answered. “We have the farm team, right? Which allows us to pick the next one. But I’d be very surprised if The Bachelorette in the summer wasn’t diverse. Perhaps I shouldn’t have said that, but I think that’s likely to happen.”
ABC and The Bachelor have been given a gift in Rachel. Now all they have to do is not screw it up.