As Emily Maynard said “yes!” to her new soulmate and fiancé on The Bachelorette, even the most cynical viewer could not help but to shed a tear. And forgive her for the other time she got engaged on national TV.
Sunday’s finale capped one of the most satisfying seasons of The Bachelorette. Although Emily had a natural chemistry with her three final guys, most viewers probably guessed who her future husband would be: Jef Holm, the 26-year-old bottled-water-company owner from Salt Lake City. He and Emily came across like that cute college couple everybody roots for, and his first encounter with her 6-year-old daughter, Ricky, was adorable. Internet spoilers broke news of their engagement in early July.
As the three-hour live finale began, host Chris Harrison promised that “shocking secrets” would be revealed. But he forgot one.
Jef, the laid-back hunk of the group with great hair, took time to let his guard down around Emily, but viewers were still kept away from an important part of his life. The show went to any necessary length to avoid mentioning that Jef was raised a Mormon.
Some viewers may have noticed that Jef, unlike the other men, didn’t serve alcohol during a gathering with his family. When Emily visited his hometown, Jef had to explain why his parents wouldn’t be there. His lips seemed to say something along the lines of: “They are on a mission,” but that line was dubbed over. His family’s ranch in St. George, Utah, was a utopia inhabited by blonde, blue-eyed relatives, including his sisters, who looked like they walked off the set of Big Love.
“I think, if anything, the producers would want to bring it up to stir up [drama] or something, saying ‘Oh, Jef’s Mormon, what does that mean?” says Caitlin Mitchell, 20, a Bachelorette fan who goes to school in Provo, Utah. “When they went to his house, I felt like the siblings kept asking these questions that were hinting at a larger issue. I think they wanted to know, ‘Do you care that we’re Mormon?’ But instead, they’d say, ‘Well, do you think you and Jef have the same values?’”
On a later episode, when Emily dangled the fantasy suite key in front of Jef, he declined: “There’s a time and place for everything,” he said. “And right now is a time for us to bridle our passions.” This prompted one celebrity blog to ask: “Did Jef Holm Quote The Book of Mormon on the Bachelorette?”
A publicist from ABC did not respond to The Daily Beast’s request for comment about Jef’s religious upbringing. When reached through Facebook, Jef didn’t respond to our questions either.
In a conference call with reporters earlier this month, the subject came up. “I was raised Mormon,” Jef said. “And my family is still Mormon. My parents are serving in a Mormon mission as mission presidents in South Carolina. And I was raised with the standards of Mormonism in the church…I’m just not an active Mormon.”
“I talked about faith,” Emily recently told The Los Angeles Times. “[Jef] was very open and honest about everything.”
It’s not clear why the producers of The Bachelorette wouldn’t have included a line like that and moved on. Even though religion is an important issue for many people, when it comes to dating, it’s not usually brought up in the series.
“People will say, ‘Oh I’m a person of faith,’” says Rebecca Pace, 19, another fan of the show from Salt Lake City. “But I don’t remember a specific person saying I’m this religion… I kind of think it’s nice they left it out. No different than what they’ve done with other contestants.”
Still, we’ve gleamed aspects of the others contestants’ lives through the series’ highly edited narrative. For example, we learned that Chris Bukowski, who finished fourth, comes from a Polish Catholic family in Chicago. And that Arie Luyendyk, the runner-up, spoke Dutch with his family. We never even received an explanation for why Jef’s parents were missing. If ABC was worried that it would turn viewers off, this seems odd—given that we’re living at a time when Mitt Romney is our first Mormon presidential nominee.
Traditionally, reality TV has always been a welcoming place for the Church of Latter Day Saints. In 2000, Julie Stoffer entered The Real World house as its first Mormon, and that became a central part of her story line. She later was suspended from BYU for living in a house with men.
In 2008, Newsweek reported on the growing trend of Mormons on reality TV—from American Idol’s David Archuleta to the Biggest Loser’s Ryan Benson. “Mormons reserve Monday nights for family home evening, and when Marie Osmond competed on the family-friendly Dancing With the Stars; she benefited from having the voting fall on a Monday each week,” said the story’s writer, Sally Atkinson. “In fact, all three Mormon contestants made it to the final four that season.”
The fact that The Bachelorette avoided the word Mormon this season is ironic, given that the show is essentially an argument for polygamy. On Sunday’s finale, Emily told her father that she had fallen in love with two different men. After she broke up with Arie, she collapsed into sobs by a meadow, which was meant to be the site of their last date. Then the cameras panned to a studio of devastated women watching the scene. But all that was gone after Jef’s romantic proposal, which included the line: “You are my everything. I’m so in love with you.”
As of a few days ago, Jef still lived in Pleasant Grove, Utah. His apartment is near People Water, his water company that gives half its proceeds to impoverished countries. He lives in an apartment complex with two roommates. Before he went on the show, he liked to hang out in the hot tub, one of his neighbors says.
Tammra Salisbury, who works at the Pleasant Grove library, recently wrote him a Facebook message, hoping that he would wish her 17-year-old daughter a happy birthday. Jef invited them both to his company for a tour and photographs.
“He was a very kind person,” she says. “When we walked into the office, he was talking to his mom and dad on the phone.”
Amber Briggs, 25, a neighbor of Jef’s, has spotted him a few times around her apartment. “I think more people in Utah have a connection with him, because he is Mormon.”
Not that you’d know that from watching The Bachelorette.