Chris Harrison spent the years between 2002 and 2021 as host of television’s legendary Bachelor series, but a single racism controversy involving former Bachelor contestant, Bachelorette lead, and current Extra TV correspondent Rachel Lindsay nearly overshadowed it all. The TV host faced off with Rachel, who was The Bachelorette‘s first black lead, during a 2021 interview on Extra, during when Chris appeared to defend Bachelor contestant Rachael Kirkconnell for racist photos. The fallout was immediate and dramatic, and Rachel ultimately said the entire debacle wound up making her feel “disrespected” by Chris and “like a token” to the franchise overall.
“I thought I could change The Bachelor franchise from within. Until I realized I was their token,” Rachel said in a June 2021 op-ed for New York Magazine. “During my season and after, he became someone who gave me advice on how to navigate the show and the celebrity of it,” Rachel wrote of her time on season 21 of The Bachelor and season 13 of The Bachelorette. “I called him my fairy godfather. We’d had our highs and lows, but there had been mutual respect until this interview. I felt disrespected, but I maintained my composure because I had to.” Rachel has publicly stated that she will no longer “make herself available” to The Bachelor universe, while Chris was forced to permanently step down from the franchise in June of 2021 with a reported multi- million-dollar payout. Tayshia Adams and Kaitlyn Bristowe took over hosting duties in his place, heading up Bachelorette lead Katie Thurston‘s search for true love.
It all started when Antebellum-themed “plantation party” photos of Bachelor contestant Rachael Kirkconnell from 2018 emerged — and nobody at The Bachelor said anything, according to Rachel’s op-ed. “There were photos. Nobody had made a statement — not Rachael, not Chris, not the network. I wanted to know how the franchise felt now that one of the final four contestants on the first Black Bachelor was engulfed in a race controversy. I wanted someone to acknowledge it,” Rachel wrote in the piece.
So when she had a chance to interview the definitive Bachelor expert on Extra, she decided to broach the topic with him. “What are your thoughts on Rachel Kirkconnell and the allegations attached to her?” Rachel asked Chris during the interview, which was conducted remotely. “We all need to have a little grace, a little understanding, a little compassion,” Chris responded. “Because I have seen some stuff online — again, 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 continued, adding “the woke police is out there.” The comments caught Rachel by surprise, but that was nothing compared to the Bachelor fan backlash — Rachel’s questions angered some fans, who took to the internet to bully and harass her for pushing back on Chris’ comments.
What Other Contestants Have Said
Matt James, the first Black Bachelor, stepped forward to comment on the controversy via Instagram on February 22, 2021, calling the photos “incredibly disappointing” and the interview between Rachel and Chris “devastating” and “heartbreaking.”
“Chris’s failure to receive and understand the emotional labor that my friend Rachel Lindsay was taking on by graciously and patiently explaining the racist history of the Antebellum South, a painful history that every American should understand immediately, was troubling and painful to watch,” he wrote in part. Rachel’s husband, Bryan Abasolo also came to his wife’s defense, telling the Talking It Out podcast that he was “very disappointed” in Chris Harrison after watching the interview. “I thought what he said was irresponsible, it was hurtful and it was just flat-out unacceptable.”
The woman at the center of the controversy issued her own apology about the frat-party photos. “My age or when it happened does not excuse anything,” she wrote via Instagram on February 22, 2021. “They are not acceptable or okay in any sense. I was ignorant, but my ignorance was racist.” Chris also apologized in an online statement, saying “I have no one to blame but myself for what I said and the way I spoke…I set standards for myself, and have to meet them. I feel that with every fiber of my being.”
What Showrunners Have Said
Producers issued a statement in response to the public backlash against Rachel Lindsay, stating in no uncertain terms their position on the matter. “As executive producers of The Bachelor franchise we would like to make it perfectly clear that any harassment directed towards Rachel Lindsay in the aftermath of her interview with Chris Harrison is completely inexcusable,” the statement dated March 1, 2021, read. “Rachel has received an unimaginable amount of hate and has been subjected to severe online bullying, which, more often than not, has been rooted in racism. That is totally unacceptable. Rachel has been an incredible advocate for our cast, and we are grateful that she has worked tirelessly towards racial equity and inclusion,” the producers stated.
Once Chris stepped away from the production, producer and distributor Warner Horizon and ABC Entertainment issued a statement to CNN in June 2021. “Chris Harrison is stepping aside as host of The Bachelor franchise,” the statement said. “We are thankful for his many contributions over the past 20 years and wish him all the best on his new journey.”