Matt James knew that his season of “The Bachelor” would be a standout one and that the topic of race would likely make headlines. After all, he was the first Black male lead in the series’ 25-season run.
But beyond making TV history for that distinction, James couldn’t foresee the role that race, or rather racially insensitive subject matter, would play in whether or not he’d really find his happily-ever-after on the love-match competition.
However, all of that became clear to him recently, and after Monday night’s season finale and the “After the Final Rose” special that followed it, viewers now know the full extent of it, too.
For those who haven’t followed the off-screen controversy that’s surrounded the show in recent weeks, old photos of contestant Rachael Kirkconnell resurfaced, showing her attending an antebellum-themed party in 2018, as well as claims that she liked other photos containing Confederate flags on social media. Kirkconnell apologized, and as the series had already completed filming at that point, that seemed to be as far as things went.
But as the finale revealed, Kirkconnell’s controversy was even more jarring, because she’s the woman James fell in love with — and while he wasn’t quite ready to propose, he felt certain they’d spend a lifetime together.
“When I think about the life I want to live, I think about living that life with you," he said. "I want to leave here with you, and I want to commit to you and to every day building on what we started here. The truth is that I love you. I'm in love with you, and I do see you as my wife. I see you as the mother of my kids. I see those kids being crazy. I just want to make sure my love is enough for you."
She wanted those things too, adding, “I picture it all with you.”
But that picture came crashing down on the after-show.
Both James, 29, and Kirkconnell, 24, revealed their relationship is now over. He broke up with her after those old photos made headlines, which she said left her feeling blindsided.
“I thought about how strong I thought our relationship was, so for him to end things, he must have been very, very hurt by everything,” she said. “It was hard because I lost the love of my life and in the process of doing that, I hurt him. … I love him so much and I always will.”
But James said that love just wasn’t enough to bridge the distance between them, which became evident after the controversy.
Addressing Kirkconnell directly, he said, “The most disappointing thing for me was having to explain to you why what I saw was problematic and why I was so upset. And that’s why it was problematic ... When I questioned our relationship, it was in the context of you not fully understanding my Blackness and what it means to be a Black man in America, and what it would mean for our kids when I saw those things that were floating around the Internet. And it broke my heart, because this is the last conversation I thought we’d be having.”
He said he had to remove himself from her life so that she could do the work she needs to do, adding, “That’s why we can’t be in a relationship."
The bond between James and Kirkconnell wasn’t the only thing to suffer after her old photos made the rounds. Longtime “Bachelor” host Chris Harrison announced he would step back from his duties on the next installment from the franchise after he himself faced backlash for his defense of Kirkconnell’s racially insensitive posts.