Former “Bachelor” star Colton Underwood came out as gay in an emotional interview on “Good Morning America” on Wednesday, a revelation that sent shockwaves throughout the “Bachelor” fandom.
“I’ve ran from myself for a long time and I’ve hated myself for a long time, and I’m gay. I came to terms with that earlier this year and have been processing it,” Underwood said in the interview with Robin Roberts. “The next step in all of this was sort of letting people know. I’m still nervous, but it’s been a journey for sure.”
Underwood starred on the 23rd season of “The Bachelor” in 2019, having previously appeared on “The Bachelorette” and “Bachelor in Paradise.” The former professional football player’s decision to remain a virgin was a core part of the narrative throughout all of his appearances to his final rose ceremony. Underwood chose Cassie Randolph to receive his final rose and the couple dated for nearly two years before their messy public split last year.
“Do I regret being ‘The Bachelor’? And handling it the way that I did?” Underwood said in the interview. “I do think I could have handled it better, I’ll say that. I just wish I wouldn’t have dragged people into my own mess of figuring out who I was.”
But what does this mean for “The Bachelor” franchise overall? Here are three questions for the show raised by Underwood’s interview:
1. Will Colton return?
Within minutes of Underwood’s interview airing on ABC, certain segments of the “Bachelor” fandom on social media were already calling for him to be brought back for a gay season of the dating show that made him famous.
It’s not hard to see why ABC and “The Bachelor” might want him back. Underwood’s original season — with the heavily hyped “Virgin Bachelor” narrative and the fence-jump heard ’round the world — was one of the more talked-about seasons in recent memory that didn’t include a franchise-shaking racism controversy. In terms of viewership, Underwood’s season performed solidly, about even with the 2.4 rating and 7.9 million total viewers of the seasons before and after.
The “Good Morning America” interview has only raised Underwood’s profile and a shift to a same-sex format, even temporarily, would be a huge shift that would draw even more attention to the show.
But it would almost certainly alienate some fans, including those who aren’t keen to forgive the allegations of stalking and harassment made by Randolph, the woman who won Underwood’s season of “The Bachelor” and dated him for nearly two years.
2. Can the “Bachelor” franchise become more inclusive?
Should Underwood return, he wouldn’t be the first openly LGBTQ contestant in the show’s history, but he would be one of only a handful. Jaimi King was openly bisexual when she appeared on Nick Viall’s season in 2017, a first at the time. And in 2019, “Bachelor in Paradise” made franchise history when Demi Burnett, a contestant from Underwood’s season, proposed to her then-girlfriend Kristian Haggerty on the show. Burnett had come out as bisexual after her stint on “The Bachelor” and returned for “Paradise,” which saw her torn between former “Bachelorette” contestant Derek Peth and Haggerty (not a “Bachelor” franchise veteran).
The decision to bring Haggerty onto the show was hailed as a win for LGBTQ representation at the time, with GLAAD calling it a move that “has the power to upend preconceived notions of LGBTQ people like Demi who are attracted to more than one gender.” Host Chris Harrison said in an interview that he was “proud” the franchise was “pushing these issues a little bit” and “raising the level of debate,” but he also gave a caveat: “I always say ‘The Bachelor’ doesn’t create and drive social issues. We’re a microcosm of what’s happening in the world.”
Overall, the “Bachelor” franchise has been slow to expand the scope of its vision of fairytale romance. The show’s race problem is well-documented, and as recently as 2014, ABC and producers Warner Horizon were forced issue a statement condemning homophobic comments from one of the show’s stars on the mere possibility of a gay Bachelor.
As Underwood’s “Good Morning America” revealed, “The Bachelor” is still held as the pinnacle of heteronormative romance in the mind of both its audience and contestants. “I literally remember praying to God the morning I found out that I was ‘The Bachelor’ and thanking Him for making me straight,” Underwood told Roberts.
3. What about Cassie?
Underwood’s interview was met with wide support from the “Bachelor” nation, including the show’s producers and ABC. “We are so inspired by Colton Underwood’s courage to embrace and pursue his authentic self,” read a statement attributed to the “Bachelor” executive producers. “We applaud Colton and celebrate his strength and courage to live his truth,” said the studio and network.
As “Bachelor” fans on Twitter have noted, Randolph received no similar public support from the show when her relationship with Underwood ended with a restraining order and accusations of stalking and harassment. Underwood has apologized to Randolph for his behavior, saying in the interview with Roberts, “I messed up, I made a lot of bad choices … I wish that I would’ve been courageous enough to fix myself before breaking anyone else.”
But does the “Bachelor” franchise itself owe more to its contestants? It’s a similar question to the one the show faces on the matter of race. It took 13 seasons for Rachel Lindsay to become the first Black star of “The Bachelorette,” and it was 24 seasons before a Black man, Matt James, led “The Bachelor” earlier this year. Both seasons were marred by racism scandals, with the blowup surrounding the recipient of James’ final rose, Rachael Kirkconnell, growing serious enough to cause the departure of Harrison as host.
“Bachelor” producers have vowed to “do better to reflect the world around us,” but do individual instances — like the race controversy of James’ season or the homophobic backlash against Burnett or the messy ending to Randolph’s relationship with the man she was paired with by the show — indicate deeper problems within the franchise itself?