I’d like to reclaim my time, The Bachelorette. Last night, the series’ first black bachelorette, Rachel Lindsay, got engaged to Bryan Abasolo, and I couldn’t care less. They’re already on the cover of People announcing their engagement and I plan on burning any copies that I come across in the supermarket because this finale was trash, the season was emotionally manipulative, and I want justice for Peter Kraus.
There’ve been a lot of firsts this season. This was the first black bachelorette. This was the first time there were enough black men on a season to craft an entire misleading two-part episode around a racist villain like Lee Garrett. This was also the first time I’d watched the show since its initial years because of course I was going to tune in to see a sister take part in one of America’s whitest reality shows.
Now, I’ve seen a lot of dating shows that the Bachelor/Bachelorette franchise inspired, but last night’s episode was the first time I felt absolutely incensed by what I was watching. Sure, I was let down by the show manipulating its black male contestants for drama week after week while leaving them at the mercy of a mustache-twirling misogynist and racist whose problematic Twitter history was easy to unearth. But I’d also seen Unreal Season 2 and don’t exactly trust white reality-show producers, so it was to be expected.
But watching Peter and Rachel break up on television was more than heartbreaking—it was infuriating. And it exposed the divide between what this show purports to be and the reality of finding love with another human being. The concept of The Bachelorette involves dating several men until one proposes to you. For weeks, Peter voiced the fact that he wasn’t ready for a proposal that soon yet still saw a future with Rachel. Obviously she did too, otherwise he wouldn’t have lasted until the finale.
Or so we thought. Rachel proceeded to break up with Peter in a heartbreaking scene in which they both confessed they loved one another, but for her that love has to come with a fake proposal on a fake-reality show. It’s times like this where you wonder if someone is going to break with convention and be like, you know, here’s a dope dude I have passion with who doesn’t kiss me like he’s trying to devour my soul and doesn’t have a mother who said she’d kill me if I broke his heart… and just choose him. But not Rachel. Instead, they sob to one another for what seems like an entire hour, she leaves, and he rips off his sweater so he can wipe away his tears. Host Chris Harrison is always talking about dramatic rose ceremonies, but that was honestly one of the most dramatic breakups I’ve ever witnessed on television—reality or scripted.
It felt raw, it felt emotional, and it made Rachel and Bryan’s eventual proposal fall flat. No one at my viewing party cared about the ending. Social media didn’t care either. When a breakup on the show is more dramatic than the proposal, what are we even doing here? To make matters worse, Harrison failed to interrogate Bryan about how he felt having to watch Rachel sob because Peter wouldn’t put a ring on it, so she ended up settling for him by default. When Peter showed up live to talk to Rachel, she seemed angry and combative with him. Perhaps it was because he told her she would have a “mediocre life” with Bryan during their breakup and watching it replay created fresh wounds. But she seemed to be focused on her own image in that moment, attempting to sell a relationship with Bryan that no viewer was interested in. The comments underneath People’s tweet of Rachel and Bryan’s cover reveal that this one probably won’t be a big seller.
The entire episode soured me on The Bachelorette’s idea of love. It’s already absurd enough to imagine two people falling for one another in such a short time span and getting engaged, but when there was such visible passion between Rachel and Peter on screen and it fizzled out simply because Rachel wanted to play by the show’s rules and get proposed to on camera, it made the whole operation seem fraudulent. And make no mistake, this show is about selling a manufactured fantasy no matter how cynical, unemotional, or depraved it may be.
Take for instance the end of the episode, which teased next week’s premiere of Bachelor in Paradise. It began with clips of DeMario Jackson and Corinne Olympios, who were pulled from the season for having sex while intoxicated. Allegations of sexual assault flew from producers and contestants, and the show was in danger of being canceled. After milking the drama for a couple of weeks, however, the show returned to filming and ABC can’t wait to grab ratings from all the drama. The show basically teased catching a glimpse of a sexual assault on camera, all for ratings. So why shouldn’t we believe that Rachel choosing Bryan was all smoke and mirrors? Their passion in the finale was nonexistent, Peter was the only man on her mind, and when they ended things the drama in the episode soon evaporated. It should have ended with a title card that said: “The next day, Rachel got engaged to Bryan.” It would have saved viewers a lot of time.