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/ Source: TODAY
By Kerry Breen

Colton Underwood appeared on "The Bachelorette" and "Bachelor in Paradise" before going on to star on the 23rd season of "The Bachelor" — and while he thought that meant he'd be prepared for the behind-the-scenes tricks and twists, his leading role brought him into new territory.

"I thought I had a lot of it figured out, and I was wrong," he told "This American Life." He said that he came to realize that the female contestants were being manipulated, based on his rankings of them.

"They always asked to rank the girls," he said. Initially, he ranked Hannah Godwin as his first choice out of the 20-plus women involved, but the producers of the show didn't schedule a date with her. That incident, he explained, led him to begin altering his rankings to get what he wanted without opening the women up to further manipulation.

"So from there on out, I was like, all right, if you're going to do that to my top girls, I'm not going to tell you who my top girls are," he explained. "Because I don't want you messing with them. So in a weird way, I tried to defend myself and defend the girls by not being truthful to them who my top was."

Throughout the season, Underwood kept ranking Godwin as his top pick, even as he was falling for Cassie Randolph. He never put Randolph high on his rankings, though, which meant that on the show, she didn't appear as a frontrunner and audiences didn't pay much attention to her — so their relationship could evolve organically.

Despite all of his efforts, there was still drama throughout the season, especially during an episode that was filmed in Portugal. It was down to Randolph, Brown and Tayshia Adams, and producers put plenty of roadblocks between Randolph and Underwood, going so far as to bring in Randolph's father, who had already refused to give his blessing to a potential engagement between the pair. This time, he talked Randolph into leaving the show.

Randolph broke the news to Underwood over dinner, and he said that he knew he'd been set up as soon as the meal began.

"Normally, during the dinners... the producers are sort of hovering," he said. "When we had that dinner, there wasn't a producer in sight. There was just the cameras, and there was just the audios. Everybody else ran. And they didn't want to be near it because I think they knew that I knew."

The breakup and Randolph's departure were heartbreaking, but also showed Underwood that he "didn't have the control (he) thought (he) had." By now, he had completely fallen for Randolph, and the behind-the-scenes manipulations only made him more upset.

"If I feel like my relationship's going to be messed with or toyed with at all, I'm going to be done," he said. "Especially at this point, I've completely fallen in love. I've completely, like, gave myself all to her. I mean, I had nothing to lose at that point besides the girl and the woman that I wanted to spend the rest of my life with."

On the show, the dramatic evening ended when Underwood jumped over the 8-foot-fence surrounding the property and vanished. For him, it was just the beginning of an escape that lasted about two hours before he turned himself in. Still upset about how he had been treated, he continued to use loopholes to get the results he wanted. Contestants are allowed to talk to a show therapist, and the conversations can't be recorded or filmed, so he took that hour to vent and figure out a new game plan.

He decided to try again with Randolph, but his plan went completely against the way the show operates. Underwood swore that she was the only one he wanted, but they didn't need to get married — eliminating some of the show's biggest scenes. Even though producers weren't happy, they wound up doing what he wanted.

The pair reconnected in the first half of the show's two-part finale; she accepted his fantasy-suite invitation. The show wrapped with happy endings all around, and even though the couple still isn't engaged, they've shared plenty of romantic and adorable moments online.

"I think with Cass, the best way to describe our relationship is it was such a slow burn," Underwood said. "And it was, in a weird way, in the dynamic of the 'Bachelor' franchise where it's supposed to be quick, and fast, and intense, it was sort of a relief to find a normal relationship in which it was a slower burn, and wish it was a more realistic approach to a relationship. And I think it was just, it was almost like when I was with Cass, it was like a breath of fresh air."