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‘The Bachelor’ Premiere Recap: Matt James Finally Breaks the Cycle

As it turns out, picking the guy who wasn’t good enough for the girl who wasn’t good enough for the guy wasn’t the smartest—or most diverse—move

ABC/Getty Images/Ringer illustration

Most seasons of The Bachelor start off with a strange paradox. They show us how the Bachelor is an irresistible sex god with 12-pack abs and an impressive-but-not-nerdy job who also has founded a charitable foundation—they pair adopted kids with adopted puppies—but now he’s finally decided to settle down. They show him showering—they always show him showering—and I turn to my girlfriend and whisper, “Go to him. I’ll understand.” And then, after convincing us that every woman on Earth would be a foolish idiot not to immediately drop everything for him, they show us his run on the last season of The Bachelorette, when he was dumped by the Bachelorette—who, of course, was dumped by the previous Bachelor, who, of course, was dumped by the previous Bachelorette.

This year, though, the show has at last broken the cycle. With the quick turnaround in between the filming of last season’s The Bachelorette and this season’s The Bachelor, the show didn’t have time to see which contestants would be popular before choosing a new star—so they went outside the box and picked a Bachelor who has never been on any Bachelor show: Matt James. (Unfortunately, not our Matt James.) James was a wide receiver at Wake Forest where wildly popular contestant Tyler Cameron played quarterback, and the two remained friends after Cameron transferred. (Oddly, his connection to Tyler is never mentioned in his debut episode.) James fits the Bachelor bill—he’s 6-foot-5, ripped, works in real estate, and has a charitable foundation. Plus, his season-opening intro shows him landing an ollie, which is pretty sick. For all we know, nobody has ever dumped him.

Breaking the cycle of prior rejects also helped break another cycle. As it turned out, picking the guy who wasn’t good enough for the girl who wasn’t good enough for the guy led to a show lacking diversity, since the show’s white leads were only interested in dating other white people. A Black contestant never made the final four of either show until Rachel Lindsay, on Season 21 (!) of The Bachelor. And no white Bachelorette ever had a Black contestant in their final four, until Clare picked Dale on the past season of The Bachelorette (if that counts). Although the show always has included a handful of nonwhite contestants, their presence felt superficial—a 2016 article showed 59 percent of Black contestants were off the show within two weeks.

This is Season 25, and Matt—who is biracial, with a Black father and a white mother, is the first Black Bachelor. Before meeting his season’s cast of women, he pulls Chris Harrison aside to ask him some questions. At one point, Matt brings up a tough topic with Chris: Matt says there’s “a pressure that I’ve put on myself being the first Black Bachelor.” He elaborates: “I’ve experienced what it’s like to be a product of an interracial marriage, and it’s tough … You’ve got people who are cheering for you to find love, and you’ve got people who are cheering for you to end up with a specific person—a specific person of a specific race. That’s something that has kept me up at night. I don’t want to piss off white people. I don’t want to piss off Black people. But I’m both of those!” Harrison is a good host and clearly wants Matt to find happiness, but he’s a white guy who has primarily interacted with white Bachelors and Bachelorettes dating white contestants. He’s not the right guy to provide guidance on this topic. And since there’s never been a Black Bachelor before, there aren’t many people Matt can ask for guidance on this incredibly specific topic.

The show has put Matt in an awkward position. He’s being kept up at night by the responsibility of being The First—and because the show’s historical lack of Black contestants meant they reached outside of its normal contestant pool to find a Black lead, the First Black Bachelor is also someone who has never been on TV before. The show’s decades of white leads had experience on TV and nothing to worry about but their own happiness; Matt is trying to simultaneously navigate his first TV experience while dealing with a responsibility created by the show’s shortcomings.

The Bachelor is clearly proud that a barrier is being broken here, but it hopes you don’t think too hard about how that barrier got to be there in the first place. Luckily, the next Black Bachelor won’t have to ask Chris Harrison to ask about interracial dating—there will be somebody who has done this before.

Most Unfairly Edited Contestant: MJ (the Vibrator, Not the Person)

The contestant who gets Matt to laugh the most is Katie, who approaches him with a vibrator as a gift. (Matt repeatedly refers to it as a lightsaber, which makes me question whether he knows what vibrators are, but I don’t think he’d be laughing so hard if it was just a Star Wars reference.) She quickly realizes it’s not a great gift, since she’ll need it a lot more than Matt. She nevertheless proceeds to spend most of the night talking about her vibrator. She talks about how the vibrator makes her more prepared than the other contestants; she names it MJ (after Matt, causing confusion because there’s another contestant named MJ); she offers to lend it to her roommates. She probably pushes the vibrator thing a bit too aggressively—at one point, she interrupts a serious conversation about how Hurricane Maria affected Mari’s family in Puerto Rico by tapping her on the shoulder with the vibrator; Mari handles it gracefully but spends the rest of the night (rightfully) complaining about how she was interrupted by a vibrator. It’s a bit of a one-note joke—sex toys are funny because sex is funny!—but Matt really seems to enjoy it.

The vibrator is easily one of the stars of Night 1—but still, I think it gets a bad edit. As in, literally, the vibrator gets edited out of every shot.

On the last season of The Bachelorette, I found it odd that the show repeatedly talked about penises—but censored Blake’s sculpture of a penis. I get it—you probably can’t show a dick on ABC. But the same question still applies: If the entire episode is talking about vibrators, why can’t they show the vibrator?! Vibrators don’t even really look like anything inappropriate! This is halfway between me joking about the show’s history of overzealous censorship and a legitimate criticism of how we stigmatize female masturbation.

Longest Glance: Mari

The Bachelor and The Bachelorette both begin in roughly the same way: Contestants step out of limos and say a few words to the lead and then walk away, at which point the lead will turn to the camera and make a quick comment about the interaction they just had. However, at that point, there’s a slight difference between the two shows. On The Bachelorette, the lead will turn around and get ready to see the next contestant. On The Bachelor, the lead will proceed to watch the person they just talked to as they walk away—because, of course, they usually do a Butt Stare.

And in all the years of The Bachelor, nobody has ever done a Butt Stare as comprehensive as Matt’s Butt Stare after his interaction with Mari. “You ever meet somebody, and you don’t know what to say?” Matt asks as she walks away. “That was that moment. I’m trying to be smooth, but you can’t sometimes.” While still staring, he lets out a pant—a dry, hot breath, like you might expect from someone dying of thirst—and says, “Wow.”

ABC

We use the phrase “jaw-dropping” a lot, but while looking at her butt, Matt’s jaw literally drops. He experiences every emotion in the human arsenal—ecstasy, uncertainty, pain—in the span of eight seconds. He looks at her butt like an ancient astronomer gazing through one of the very first telescopes and laying eyes upon Saturn, filled with a simultaneous combination of wonder and smallness.

Mari is a former Miss Maryland USA, which automatically makes her a front-runner—a former Miss Something or Other has finished in the final four of each of the past two seasons, and Hannah Brown, who went on to become The Bachelorette, was a former Miss Alabama USA. (You’d almost think The Bachelor was some sort of beauty pageant or something!) But we don’t really need to know Mari’s pageant history to know that she was going a long way—we can tell by the way Matt looks at her.

Worst Contestant: Victoria

There are two types of fake job titles on The Bachelor. One is a good sign—when the show adds flourish to someone’s sorta nonexistent job to make them sound more impressive because they will make it pretty far on the show and the producers want the final contestants to sound impressive. Kelsey, in last season’s final four ,was a “professional clothier”; Hannah G., the runner-up the season prior, was a “content creator”; Luke P. from Hannah’s season of The Bachelorette doesn’t seem to have a job, but was billed as an “import/export manager”; and then there was Peter, a personal trainer who was instead listed as “business owner” because he owned his own personal training business. (Look out for one of four people in “marketing” to go a long way.)

But it’s a bad sign if your fake job title is directly linked to your opening-night gimmick. A few seasons ago, someone’s job title was listed as “sloth” because they dressed up as a sloth; last season of The Bachelorette there was a guy who came in on roller skates and was billed as a “roller boy.” Needless to say, those contestants probably won’t make it very far.

Which brings us to Victoria, labeled as “queen.” Notably, her job is not actually “queen,” which we know because there are only, like, five reigning queens in the world, and none of them are 27-year-olds from L.A. with less than 5,000 Instagram followers. She’s billed as “queen” because, uh, her name is Victoria, which is the name of a famous queen. For Victoria, being “queen” consists of entering in a sedan, wearing a tiara, and claiming that she’s the queen. It’s never a good sign when the most interesting thing about you is sharing a first name with a more interesting person.

Victoria gets portrayed as the villain of the first episode, but honestly, I don’t think she’s interesting enough to even occupy that throne. She’s loud, sure, but none of the other contestants really seem to feel threatened by her. She goes around encouraging women to talk to Matt—honestly, not a particularly villainous trait!—and at one point, she upsets Kit by calling her a “princess” in comparison to her queendom. (When you realize that Kit bills herself as a fashion entrepreneur when her mom is actually a prominent fashion entrepreneur, you can understand why she bristled when being referred to as a more famous person’s daughter.) But there’s one scene when Victoria makes a big ruckus in front of a few other women, and when she leaves, they just laugh at her.

Victoria also shares her name with the key villain from last season, but I don’t see her having that type of impact. There’s just not enough there. I think this queen’s reign will be pretty short.


Least Successful Gimmick: All of Them

I go back and forth on the opening-night gimmick. Some years there’s a contestant dressed up as a dolphin or a guy who keeps saying “WHABOOM” and I’m like, “Hey, these gags aren’t even funny,” and then the next year it’s gag-free and it’s just a bunch of contestants saying, “It’s so great to meet you!” and I get so bored I start crying. So I won’t issue judgment on the entertainment value of the gimmicks—just whether Matt enjoyed them. And guess what? He hated them!

I’d say less than half of the contestants went gimmick with their intros, and of the seven contestants eliminated, five used gimmicks. A quick rundown:

Kimberly: Asked Matt if he could catch—duh, he played wide receiver—and then threw a large fake fish at him. I think this is because Kimberly is from Seattle, and the only things people outside of Seattle know about Seattle are coffee, grunge, the Big Pointy Thing, and the guys who throw fish. I don’t know why they throw fish in Seattle, or why we don’t throw fish in all the places besides Seattle. Neither does Matt. She is eliminated.

Saneh: Tells Matt he’s the greatest of all time, then reveals she’s wearing shoes that look like goat’s feet. Matt likes human feet. She is eliminated, which is a bummer, because she seemed pretty cool.

Amber: Rides up to Matt on a tandem bike. Because of this, she has to wear sneakers, and another contestant says to her “I love your sneakers!” in a tone of voice that implies that she was an idiot for wearing sneakers on a night when everybody else is in heels. I was kinda impressed by Amber—I imagine it’s kinda hard to pedal a tandem bike as one person! Matt doesn’t find it impressive, though. She is eliminated.

Casandra: Shows up in a custom football jersey reading “Mrs. James” on the back. This clearly defies uniform conventions—Matt’s uniform wouldn’t say “Mr. James,” and even in the rare scenario when a female athlete takes her husband’s last name, like with Lauren Holiday or Julie Ertz, the back of their jersey just reads “Holiday” or “Ertz.” Matt realizes this. She is eliminated.

So there you go—Matt doesn’t like gimmicks. I guess, uh, remember that for the next time you’re on The Bachelor and Matt is the Bachelor.

Slickest Line: Serena C.

While the prewritten jokes usually fail, I want to take a moment to credit the smoothest thing to ever happen on The Bachelor. One of the two Serenas—Serena is the only duplicate name this season, a stunning reversal from the Era of Infinite Laurens—trips while walking up the Nemacolin stairs.

Can you imagine if you did something as embarrassing as showing up on national television and instantly tripping? I’d just go back into the limo. But not Serena. She chuckles and says, “It’s been five seconds, and I’m already tripping off you.”

Stop the show. She should be the winner. Her spur-of-the-moment line based off her own personal embarrassment was better than all the lines people prepared ahead of time. Yeah, it’s cool if somebody knows how to skateboard—like I said, sick ollie, Matt. But what’s really cool is someone who has no idea how to skateboard, but can fall on their ass and say, “Yeah, I’ve been working on that, it’s called a flip side McDouble” and have you believe it. If you ever meet someone cool enough to turn their screw-ups into slick lines, stick with them.

Smartest Move: The Bachelor’s Gambit

Meanwhile, the other Serena asks Matt if he wants to play chess. “Chess is romantic,” she says, lying. She walks Matt outside to a chess board with human-sized pieces, and they start to play. Matt says he was in his high school chess club. Serena, meanwhile, moves her pawn one space when she’s allowed to move it two.

In an instant, Matt realized a few things: First of all, Serena doesn’t know how to play chess. Second of all, he’s the Bachelor, and there are 32 women, and he has to meet all of them in a few hours, and actual chess games can be incredibly lengthy, especially if one of the participants doesn’t know how to play. Thirdly, he realizes that this isn’t romantic at all. So he makes a brilliant move: He illegally takes his queen and puts it directly in front of Serena’s king. “Can you do that?” Serena asks. The answer is no, but Matt claims victory and moves on. His illegal one-move checkmate ends a game that could’ve taken hours. It’s the most romantic game of chess ever.

Shortest Appearance: Emani

You can’t always tell if a contestant is going home on the first night—heading into the rose ceremony, I would’ve guessed that Victoria would get eliminated, but I was wrong. However, there are some contestants who you can definitely tell are going home on the first night. If their initial conversation is clearly edited down to such an uninteresting snippet that you develop absolutely no attachment to them or memory of who they are, they’re a goner. So I had to stop and pause and write down the name of Emani, who was so obviously doomed from her introductory chat. Here is the entirety of her conversation with Matt, as it appears on-screen—all six seconds of it.

Emani: I think this is ... crazy!
Matt: Did you ever think you’d be here?
Emani: No.

Well, I hope she didn’t get used to being there. I don’t recall Emani saying anything at any other point before her elimination; upon being eliminated, she hugs Matt and says, “Nice to meet you!”

I feel like The Bachelor is obligated to show all the contestants—they gave up time in their lives to be on the show, and this season, they had to take a bunch of COVID-19 tests and quarantine. They’re owed at least the ability to say they appeared on the show. (Plus, showing all 32 women gives the impression he has a lot of choices.) But sometimes, you can tell when the show is just going through the motions. I’ll always remember Emani, even if she had the least screen time of any contestant in the history of the show.