What it's really like to be black on 'The Bachelor'


For 20 seasons, The Bachelor has captivated audiences with its romantic idealism, glamorous locales, and—particularly in recent years—campy self-awareness. With diversity? Not so much.

Every Bachelor and Bachelorette to date has been white, although there has been one Latino Bachelor, Juan Pablo Galavis, a Venezuelan-American former soccer player. Earlier this month, we revisited the history of black contestants who have appeared on The Bachelor and The Bachelorette and found that a staggering 59% leave the ABC reality dating shows within two weeks. (Full disclosure: Fusion is partly owned by Disney’s ABC network.) But the numbers only tell part of the story.

In recent weeks, we reached out to as many African-American alumni of the franchise as we could track down. In some cases, we only had a first name to work with. We ultimately interviewed 10 former contestants—from the 2002 debut season of The Bachelor through last summer’s installment of The Bachelorette—about their experiences behind the scenes: the good, the bad, and the less-than-rosy. (Will Reese, who appeared on season nine of The Bachelorette, kindly offered to Skype me from Colombia, but the timing didn’t work out.) We reached out to ABC for comment and will update if we receive a response.

These interviews have been condensed and edited.

Jonathan Holloway – Season 11 (Kaitlyn Bristowe, 2015)

I went through a divorce, and I wasn’t really dating. My mom saw a commercial about auditioning for [The Bachelorette], and she pushed me to pursue that. I decided to go for it, because I’m a romantic and I like to be in love, and I thought it would be a cool, unique way to test the waters and see what was out there.

Everyone in the production office and in casting is extremely welcoming, funny, and generous. People that I would hang out with on a daily basis. From them coming out and meeting my son, at my house, to phone interviews, to the way you’re treated when you are in their presence, they basically cater to you like you’re their kid. They protect you. If you’re not comfortable, they’re going to try to make you feel comfortable.

Personally, I never felt pressured to do anything I didn’t want to do. I felt that I was portrayed in the show exactly the way I am. And watching it and knowing the people, a lot of them are portrayed exactly the way they are. I think sometimes people get embarrassed of what they have done, so they want to say, “Oh, they scripted it, or told me to do this or that,” but I felt it was very hands off unless you needed help.

In everyday life, being a minority is a little bit more of a struggle than not being a minority, but I never felt that my race hindered me in any way on the show. Unless the woman wasn’t necessarily attracted to black guys—I mean, that could be a possibility.

I know I can fly anywhere in the country and bump into someone that I can reach out to, go have a beer and hang out with.

I definitely think that race can have something to do with ratings. If the demographic that watches The Bachelorette is, say, a [white,] middle-aged mom, and the show is so successful, then why not keep doing what you need to do? They know what they’re going after. You cater to who watches you. I think it would be great to have an African-American, or mixed, or whatever Bachelor or Bachelorette. It would be great for the show.

The way I look at it, reality TV has always had a stigma of ignorance. Starting with The Jerry Springer Show and other shows that were very raunchy, like Jersey Shore, reality TV gets a bad rap. I think maybe certain people, even highly educated minorities and African-Americans, want to stay away because they wouldn’t be portrayed in the right light. If I’m on TV, or in whatever I’m trying to do, I try to portray myself in a positive light, no matter what. One, because I have my son watching me, and two, for other kids, not only minorities, but other young kids who are coming up who look at men as role models.

The thing that I liked best about being on the show isn’t the fame—I’m not famous or anything, but the little bit of fame that I got—but the people I connected with. I feel like I have a family now. Going through these shows together brings a bond. A lot of people haven’t been through what we’ve been through. I know I can fly anywhere in the country and bump into someone that I can reach out to, go have a beer and hang out with.

Follow Jonathan on Twitter and Instagram.

Kupah James – Season 11 (Kaitlyn Bristowe, 2015)

Back home in Boston, one of my friends—a fan of the show—was like, “You should be the Bachelor.” And I was like, “I don’t know what that is.” As you can imagine, that spawned a whole conversation about what the show was about. She said, “Oh my god, you’d be so good, they’ve never had a black Bachelor. You would totally win.”

Two of my female friends sent in letters to the show. I also sent in my own application video, which I found out later on was lost, but they ended up calling me three months later. They were like, “A friend of yours wrote this really nice letter about you as a person. Would you be interested in being on the show?”

In the beginning, it was pretty vague. I was answering questions and having phone interviews, but I wasn’t sure initially if it was for The Bachelor or The Bachelorette. It wasn’t my first choice to be one of 25 men. But I mean, if that’s what the process was, I was like, “You know what, this could be different. I’ve been talking about changing some things up back home, so why not take this for a ride?”

I’m half black, half Puerto Rican. As much as I don’t walk around with shirts that have fists on them to promote my blackness, I’m very rooted in my culture. But I’m also just a person. It became a big conversation, with everybody, everywhere I went: “Do you think [you were eliminated] because you’re black?” I was like, “Oh, no, I don’t think it’s because I’m black at all.” I mean, we’ve all seen my exit. I was really, really drunk. And when you fight with the guest of honor, on national television, and you’re piss drunk, you should get sent home.

[Before a conversation with Kaitlyn Bristowe, Kupah told the camera, “I don’t want to be here any longer than I have to be if I’m the minority guy that fills a quota.” He asked her whether she felt a connection with him, explaining, “I don’t want to be here because I look good on the roster of men that you still keep around.” After she overheard him discussing their exchange with the other men, she asked him to leave the house. Kupah became increasingly upset during his exit interview.]

Is there alcohol readily available, pretty much 24 hours a day? Yeah. But there’s also a kitchen that’s readily available as well. We’re all adults, you know what I mean? They weren’t shoving it down my throat. They didn’t put the cup to my mouth. I drank. [But] when and if I get to speak to the Bachelorette, there’s a lot of question marks around that.  It isn’t like we’re all sitting around a fire and I can just get up and speak to the Bachelorette. That’s not how the show works. I did have something to discuss with her, and had I had the opportunity to speak to her before seven Jamesons on the rocks, I think that the conversation would have gone a little bit differently.

I don’t think I said anything, at least in the beginning, that prompted me getting sent home.

My drunkenness allowed me to not care about public opinion. I got lost in the moment and just forgot there were cameras everywhere, and started saying a bunch of stuff that—I’m not saying I’d take any of it back. I obviously meant it, in the moment. Maybe [I wasn’t there] just to fill a quota, but at the time, it felt like that. But I wish that I was more about my wits. Even if I was going to go home, I ended up looking like the angry black person, which of course, why would I ever make it far on a show if I act like that? I’m mad that I gave them that.

I’ve made my peace with my exit and the decisions I made that night.… but I’ve just kind of stopped drinking.

I’m not going to say they just make you look bad, but they give you the free range to show many sides of your personality. I happened to give them my angry, mad, confused, drunk one. I’ve made my peace with my exit and the decisions I made that night. I have since the show not drank alcohol, if you can believe it. I’ve dabbled in a glass of red wine here and maybe a beverage there, but I’ve just kind of stopped drinking.

It was hard in the beginning. When I got back home, I had to call a lot of my loved ones and apologize. I didn’t sound like this seven months ago. I was in a really dark place. The show really kind of turned me upside-down because my reputation is most of my life—I’m in entertainment, I mentor kids, and I came off like the complete opposite of the role model that I am back home. The show moves on, but I’m still with this memory forever. That’s tough, sometimes. But overall, I’ve got great friends, a great family. It wasn’t always as easy as it is now to talk about it, but you live and you learn and you grow. Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.

I hope that the show takes a chance [on a black Bachelor or Bachelorette] soon. I hate to make it sound so corny, but do we not deserve a chance at finding love, because we only get to be contestants? We get thrown in a pool of people and don’t last long enough to be considered for the Bachelor or the Bachelorette. Doesn’t Jubilee [Sharpe, who appeared on the current season of The Bachelor]—an attractive African-American woman who’s an orphan, who fought for her our country—deserve a chance to meet 25 men who could make her happy for the rest of her life? You would think that in 31 seasons, there would be more than one Latino Bachelor or Bachelorette. And let’s be honest. Juan Pablo [Galavis] doesn’t necessarily look super Latin. He looks like… a white guy.

It’s hard, because the show can always claim deniability—it’s not their fault that minorities aren’t connecting with their Bachelor or Bachelorette. But it’s like, 31 seasons? What are the odds? What are the odds that no one’s made a connection with anybody?

Follow Kupah on Twitter and Instagram.

Ashley Harper – Season 17 (Sean Lowe, 2013)

I started watching The Bachelor when it first came on, because it was a phenomenon, obviously. I was a teenager. I remember my advanced geometry teacher would come in in the morning and say, “Did you see who got eliminated?” But that was the extent for me, until I was approached [by a producer]—then I started flying through seasons.

I never applied for the show. On a hot day in June, I was shopping at the 16th Street Mall, which is a very popular tourist destination here in Denver, and apparently ABC was having an open call for The Bachelor. I walked by and caught the eye of a producer. She immediately took my information and I said, “Yeah, whatever, with all these girls here, there’s no way—for sure you won’t hit me up.” But she did, that evening. It was just by the grace of God. I was lucky.

That producer was really, really warm. She wanted to know a lot about the causes I believe in and what I was going to school for. I’m a very local, non-GMO, and organic kind of person. I studied environmental chemistry. I’m actually a scientist. I’m in the lab all the time. And that’s kind of what the relationship between the producers and me was built on, because they believe in a lot of organic and local causes as well. They actually have a garden for the show. All of the roses are organic and they’re grown in the backyard. They pick them for every episode.

Honestly, I didn’t believe it was really happening until I stepped my foot out of the limo.

When I spoke to the casting director, Lacey [Pemberton], she told me, well, we’re already done with our selection process. We already have our cast, but we really just like you a lot, and so we’re going to go ahead and add you on. I was filming the first episode by mid-September. Honestly, I didn’t believe it was really happening until I stepped my foot out of the limo.

That year, [diversity on The Bachelor] was all over headlines. I would be living under a rock if I didn’t see it. To be selected to be a contestant on the show—I believe there were over 100,000 entries—was really something I looked at as a proud moment for me, as a young African-American woman, educated and experienced in what I do. I looked at it as a great opportunity to be a role model.

[The producers] were very supportive of me. If I even felt a little bit of one-sidedness or inequality or favoritism for any reason—I mean, it could be for someone being red, yellow, purple, or green, it doesn’t matter—I would never stand for something like that.

I’m being partial, but [my season] was the most beautiful cast. You just look at the group photo. It’s on my wall. It’s gorgeous. I have to thank Sean [Lowe] for that. He specifically asked the producers to have more diversity within the contestants, and that’s the rainbow of beauty that’s showcased that year.

I really do think that [a black Bachelor or Bachelorette] is something that should happen soon. That would be such a proud moment for the show and its history. I definitely have thrown that out there to them about myself. If you need that, I’m here.

There’s not one person in the world who does not know the show. I’ve been to a lot of places and my friends will say, “She was on The Bachelor,” and people will be like, “The Bachelor! Oh my goodness!” My life is just continuing to go up and up because of my experience there. And it will continue to—it gets me attention everywhere I go.

Follow Ashley on Instagram and Facebook.

Leslie Hughes – Season 17 (Sean Lowe, 2013)

I’ve watched [The Bachelor] since the beginning. When Sean was on Emily [Maynard]’s season [of The Bachelorette], he had all the qualities I liked in a man. My mom had looked up their casting call, and she was like, “Well, you need to go.” Being in Los Angeles, dating out here just sucks, let’s be honest.

It was a really quick process. I interviewed a month, maybe, before I was on the show. A lot of other girls [on my season] knew for six or eight months. It was fast-paced, but it was awesome.

The lawyers from ABC called me, because I’m in the industry, I’m in the union [SAG-AFTRA]. And they were just like, “We don’t know how editing’s going to go, we don’t know how they’re going to make you look. It could hurt your career.” And I’m like, they’re really going to make me look that bad? They can only edit what you’re doing and what you’re saying, so I wasn’t worried about it. And if they do end up making you the crazy person—if you’re really true to who you are and you’re not that crazy person—then it shouldn’t bother you. At the end of the day, you’re making a TV show. You did sign up for it.

People always ask me, “What’s your favorite project?” Honest to god, The Bachelor. It changed my life. I learned so much about myself. The producers felt like therapists.

At the end of the day, you’re making a TV show. You did sign up for it.

I have mixed feelings about [diversity on The Bachelor]. The United States is a melting pot. If you look at television—primetime or daytime—there’s just more ethnicity on TV now. For The Bachelor to be one of ABC’s biggest shows, they most definitely need that, but I also feel that they’re casting what their main person wants. Ultimately, they want them to end up together.

For our season, Sean didn’t care what we looked like. It was all what was inside. We had a lot of the same qualities—very down-to-earth, fun, driven, Christian women—and I feel like the outside didn’t really matter at all. I think Ben [Higgins, the current Bachelor]’s taste, honestly, is blondes, because 80% of the women are blonde. Even if [the Bachelor or Bachelorette were a minority], what happens if that person only likes white people? I thought Jubilee had a chance, but with her being booted already, I don’t see them asking her, especially if she was having a hard time opening up.

I would love to go back, right now. Just to be cut off from the world. You’re only cut off from the world when you’re a little kid, because you don’t know anything, you have nothing, you just live life. I wrote in my journal every day [during production], I read my Bible every day, I worked out every day. It was amazing. Everyone should do it.

Follow Leslie on Twitter and Instagram.

Marshana Ritchie – Season 12 (Matt Grant, 2008)

My mom is a huge fan of the show. So I was like, you know what? I’m single. Maybe I’ll trip and fall and hit my head and get me a husband. I figured it was worth a try.

The audition process for The Bachelor is very intensive. I don’t think people realize that. If I had to log the hours I spent on the phone with producers, it had to come up somewhere like 20 or 30 hours. I saw a psych doctor. I had a background check, credit check. They took my blood. They tested me for every STD known to man. There was a lot of paperwork, too, like personality questions and tests. They do need a little bit of crazy on the show, but you can’t be the kind of crazy that’s going to snap and kill somebody.

Of course, the producers did ask me, “How do you feel about interracial dating?” I knew there was this whole idea, like, the black girl goes home the first night. There’s one of us for diversity’s sake, just to say that there’s a black girl, but she doesn’t have a chance. So my mind going into the show was like, I’m not going home the first night. I don’t care what happens. And then when I met Matt [Grant], I was like, “Oh… He’s so cute. He’s tall. That accent. Those eyes.”

I felt like if there was a season that a black girl could have won or come in the top three, it was mine. And I say not because I’m special, but because Matt’s British. Their idea of race and interracial dating is not what we have here in America. It’s a different world out there. If my Bachelor had been from Minnesota, I would have met the fate like every other black girl before me. But because my Bachelor was British, he was more open.

There’s no way in the world that I could have had the same experience as the other girls. Not possible. The producers absolutely loved me and I adored them, [but from] the girls, I received so much prejudice. A lot of things didn’t make the air. [The women] were going around the room asking, “Whose parents are still together? Do you have siblings?” And they got to me, and one of the girls was like, “Do you know who your dad is?” I was aghast. Absolutely aghast. At the time my parents had been married 30-plus years. Now they’ve been married for 42.

You try to hold your composure, but that was one of the days where I nearly lost it. Knowing that I’m the only woman of color on the show, and knowing that cameras are rolling, you do feel like, “I don’t want to let people down. I don’t want to come across as this bitter, angry black woman that people seem to think that we are.” So you swallow a lot.

It actually detracted from my enjoyment of the experience. It made it so hard. Watching Jubilee, I tell you, it broke my heart. I was texting her, “I know how you feel.” I wanted to reach through the screen and hug her because Ben [wasn’t] getting it.

I would love to take one of [these white women], put them on a show, leave their family, leave their friends, leave their entire support network behind and have them be the only white girl. Let it be a black man and nothing but black women. You can’t tell me that there’s not a level of them that would feel like, “Is this black man really into me? What’s going on here?” You couldn’t tell me that they wouldn’t have questions about themselves.

Being on the show, I did not want to feed into any stereotypes, but I also didn’t want to come across as if I was trying to be the exception, to say, “Well, I’m not like those black people, I’m better.” I wanted to portray myself as, “This is how most of us are.” I was trying to walk a fine line between being myself and representing my family and myself well—and yes, my race, too—and not sacrifice too much. It was very hard.

The pressure, I cannot begin to explain it to people. Here’s the thing: The show is very real. Those tears that women cry, those are real. What’s not real are the situations that people are put in that push them to that point. Is it realistic to live in a house with the women who are dating the same man that you are?

If we wait for America to be ready, we will never have a black Bachelor or black Bachelorette.

This is Gepetto and Pinocchio. They’re the puppeteers and they pull the strings. I felt absolutely sure that I could be myself around the producers—I didn’t get it all until I was watching the show. There was one moment [before a two-on-one-date] when I was crying and trying to run away from the house, and one of the producers pulled me aside. Sure enough, when I watched it, it made the best scene. It was epic. Me, bawling and saying, “I don’t want to go on this date!” It made good TV. At my expense, maybe, but I wasn’t bothered by it. I’ll tell you who was: My momma, my daddy. My sister’s like, “How dare they show you acting like you crying over this man, like you wanna beg for him?” But in context—they edited it out of context, for sure—those were real moments.

People had sworn to God there would never be a black family in the White House, and look, we have Sasha, Malia, Michelle, and Barack. A lot of folks were not ready for a black president. They just weren’t. If we wait for America to be ready, we will never have a black Bachelor or black Bachelorette.

Now, this is a TV show. That means it’s a business. The show really runs a risk of alienating their core audience if they put a person of color in the lead. They made a big deal out of Juan Pablo, but I mean, whatever. In my mind, we haven’t had a person of color. I’m sorry, Juan Pablo. I’m just not going to count that one for the books.

If they’re going to do it like that, I don’t think it’s going to be one Bachelor and a bunch of girls. It would need to be like season six, where they had two Bachelors, then just throw in a good ethnic mix of everybody: the International House of Dating. See who ends up with who.

Follow Marshana on Twitter.

Lindsay Smith – Season 10 (Andy Baldwin, 2007)

I’d never really been a fan of the show. It happened to be on at my house one night when they put out a casting call for the next season. Once they said that the Bachelor would be a Naval officer, my mom jokingly said I should apply—she was in the Army and my dad was in the Navy. I thought [Andy Baldwin] was cute and applied kind of as a joke, not really expecting to hear from them, much less be on the show.

In the final round of casting, I repeatedly asked at least four people (three producers and one of the show’s psychologists—yes, they have us all go through psychological evaluations) if I was going to be the only black woman. I did not want to do the show if that was going to be the case, mainly because that would mean to me that the Bachelor wasn’t particularly attracted to black or mixed women. The producers knew this was a top concern of mine and repeatedly assured me that I would not be the only black woman. In retrospect, it’s likely that this was a part of their plan to create drama, as they knew the effect being the only black woman would have on me.

After all 25 women had filed into the house, I almost immediately felt isolated. I was the only black woman after all. When I asked one of the producers where the other black girls were, she told me something like, “There’s a couple of Asian girls.” Because all minorities can be lumped together, right?

Being 21 and naive, I dealt with my anxiety and disappointment by getting rip-roaring drunk. Nobody forced me to get drunk, and I take full responsibility for that, and for giving them clips that they could use to portray me as that “crazy black girl.” However, there were other contestants doing some pretty wild things, like licking icing off [the Bachelor’s] face, but that wasn’t shown. I remember one of the other women asked me, “If you’re half black and half white, why do you call yourself black? Why don’t you call yourself white?” I started in on more shots after that. At that point, I had no interest in trying to have an in-depth conversation about the history of the one-drop rule in our country.

Most of the women ignored me and made no effort to talk to me. The only women who did make an effort to talk to me were the other nonwhite cast members. I only talked to the Bachelor, Andy, very briefly, but out of everyone on the show, he was nice to me. I don’t blame him for my treatment at all.

I felt more and more like I was only there to be the token black, and I dealt with that anxiety by consuming as many alcoholic beverages as I could. The producers were there to keep the alcohol flowing to get the footage they were after. Twice they told me that other women were “talking shit” about me. They would basically make something up that they knew would make me respond in a hostile way, and then wait for the fallout. Had I not been so naive or so drunk, I would have known what they were doing and refused to participate in it.

Black women aren’t the only ones treated poorly. One of the white contestants was crying on the way back to the hotel, not because she hadn’t been picked—I don’t think any of us really cared about that, we’d only just met the guy—but because of the awful things the producers said to her. They told her she was a disappointment, boring, had no personality, that they regretted giving her a spot on the show. They were clearly trying to break her down and they succeeded.

I don’t think there will ever be a black Bachelor or Bachelorette. Maybe, but I won’t hold my breath. With our first black president, the popularity of shows like Scandal and How To Get Away With Murder and the rise in popularity of black male and female celebrities in general, I think if it was going to happen, it would have happened already.

These types of shows perpetuate antiquated notions of what’s beautiful. They put people in boxes, play to harmful stereotypes (like the angry, crazy black woman and the ditzy blonde white girl), and ultimately hurt women as a whole because we are treated as a commodity and portrayed as caricatures, instead of as the complex people we are.

This is not a show any women should participate in or watch. It’s like using Safelite to fill in those cracks in the proverbial glass ceiling.

It’s been many years since I was on The Bachelor and I’ve never watched the show since. My biggest regret is that I allowed myself to be manipulated into the angry black woman role.

I won’t say I regret going on the show because I learned a great deal. It made me a tougher and stronger woman. Being humiliated on national television will thicken the skin.

After graduating from law school, I moved out to Arizona with my boyfriend, and actually found out I was pregnant the day after I found out I passed the bar! Right now, I am a stay-at-home mom trying to find a job. Fortunately, my boyfriend can afford to support us while I continue to apply for jobs, but part of me wonders if I have been unsuccessful because employers Google me, see something about The Bachelor, and then pass on my application. Another part of me is concerned about what my daughter will think when she is old enough to Google me. I suppose I will tell her what I tell everyone who discovers I was on the show: I was young, naive, drunk, trusted people I shouldn’t have trusted, and made some bad decisions.

I can’t and wouldn’t want to speak for all the black and mixed women who have appeared on The Bachelor. But does anyone ever actually expect the black girl to win? I doubt it. Our sole purpose is for entertainment. If I ever come across any black women thinking about trying out for The Bachelor, I would strongly urge them to reconsider. In fact, I’d urge all women to strongly reconsider. This is not a show any women should participate in or watch. It’s like using Safelite to fill in those cracks in the proverbial glass ceiling.

Marcus Pierce – Season 2 (Meredith Phillips, 2004)

I was sitting at work, at my desk at 24 Hour Fitness, [when] I got approached by somebody in casting. At the time, I was actually talking to my mom on the phone.

When she walked up to the desk, I never put my mom on hold. I put the phone down on my desk. She asked me, “Are you single? How old are you? What do you here?” And she said, “Well, I think you’d be a great candidate for this show. Have you ever heard of The Bachelor and The Bachelorette?” And I said, “Yeah, I’ve heard of it. It’s not really my thing.”

But the kicker was that my mom—a huge fan of the show—heard the entire conversation. She said, “Oh my god, you’ve got to do this, this is awesome.”

And I just told her, “Mom, I really don’t want to get on a show that could exploit me and make me look bad.” And she goes, “Well, if you don’t do anything stupid and they don’t have any footage of you making a bad decision, then they can’t make you look bad.” And I sat back and realized she was right. I thought about it for a few days, and then I called them up.

They put you through such a wringer. You’re meeting with psychiatrists to make sure you’re not crazy and they ask you questions that no one would ever ask you. It was actually a really positive experience for me, even though of course I didn’t end up with the girl. You learn a lot about yourself and what you truly do want for yourself going forward. I think they’re really trying to look for people who are genuinely trying to look for somebody to end up with.

Every time I bring [The Bachelorette] up, that’s the first thing that comes out of people’s mouths: “Oh, you were the token black guy.” And that’s horrible, especially when it was a great experience.

I remember, in one of the interviews, they had me sit in a room by myself, but they had all these lights. I was sitting in the dark. I couldn’t even see who was asking me the questions. It was like an interrogation. And I was sweating so badly, because you’re on the spot and you’re trying to be as honest as possible. I remember leaving the room and changing shirts because I was sweating so bad. I mean, it was intense.

They told me that I was one of the last guys they got for the show. I’d say within seven days [after I called], I got the OK. Literally in a week. To be completely honest, in my mind, I was like, “I wonder if there’s any other black guys on the show, or if they needed to get one.” I’m not normally like that, but I watched the show, and I had seen, like, wow, there’s not a lot of diversity on the show. But I was still flattered. In any situation, to be approached like that—for what was one of the biggest reality shows on TV, and still is—is always going to be flattering.

Every time I bring [The Bachelorette] up, that’s the first thing that comes out of people’s mouths: “Oh, you were the token black guy.” And that’s horrible, especially when it was a great experience. Then I end up defending myself and, on some level, defending the show. But it’s kind of become synonymous with the [franchise]: that any black person on there is just for show.

My parents never brought me up like that, to stereotype and detach myself. I just went into it going, “All I can worry about is being who I am. If she likes me, she likes me. If she doesn’t, she doesn’t.” I’m not going to carry that with me as I leave the show and go, “Man, she got rid of me because I’m black.” I just said, “Hey, it’s not my love story.”

I got along great [with the producers]. They treated me well. I was known as “the lover” on the show, the romantic guy who wants love. They kind of figure out who their [contestants’] characters are. They wanted me to talk about how invested I was and how I was feeling. They kind of kept me in that lane. I didn’t have an issue with it, because that’s a true part of who I am. My parents met in kindergarten and have been together ever since. Growing up—elementary school, middle school, high school—I was always wondering, “Man, where’s this girl at?”

[The producers] are going to try their best to get reactions out of you, to get you emotionally involved in things you can’t control in the house. But that’s what they’re supposed to do; that’s their job. My job was to stay true to myself and not embarrass myself on television.

At the end of the day, I don’t think that Meredith would have ever ended up with a black guy. I just don’t see it. You feel and know the vibe when a girl is actually, truly interested in you—not just becoming your friend and not just being nice or whatever else. And I think it takes a particular girl who is truly open to interracial dating. Because [when] you get yourself on TV, you’re going to be judged by millions and millions of people. If you’re not true to who you are, and you can’t get on national television and kiss a black man and not feel challenged by it, then that’s going to be an issue for you.

I don’t know if ABC is ready for [a black Bachelor or Bachelorette], but I do think that something needs to happen, I truly do. Because it’s not representative of our country.

They probably think that they’re going to lose viewers, but there’s ways around that. [They have to] go out and find a Bachelor or Bachelorette who is truly, truly committed to interracial dating and also dating within their race. Then, give the contestants a choice. Why don’t you put two guys in there that first night, and you let these women meet the guys. Whoever they’re truly more interested in as a group, they pick that guy. At least that would open the door to there being a black Bachelor.

Honestly, I would love to throw my name back in the hat and go back on there, but I’m probably considered old now by Bachelor standards. Most of the guys on there are 27 or 31, and I’m 39, so, I don’t even know if they’d consider me. But it’s worth a thought.

Follow Marcus on Twitter.

Ginny Walker – Season 3 (Andrew Firestone, 2003)

To be honest, I did it for all the wrong reasons. I just thought it would be fun to be on TV, and I really wanted my roommate to go on The Bachelor. We’d watch it every Monday and just loved it. There was a casting call in Kansas City, and she said, “I’m only going to go if you go.”

[My roommate] was blonde, and she didn’t make it. The whole cast was pretty much blonde, so it wasn’t surprising that they cast me, that they really wanted me to do the show. They needed diversity. I don’t think there was one African-American person at the casting call I went to.

I had a boyfriend, actually, and we’d been together for a couple years. He was like, “If I tell you not to go, you’re going to be mad at me. So just go and do it.” We stayed together for another year or so. Once we broke up, I was like, “Now I wish I [could go] on The Bachelor, when I’m single.” If I had a choice between my boyfriend and Andrew Firestone, I obviously should’ve chosen Andrew Firestone. No question there.

I felt uncomfortable because I didn’t want to embarrass my family—my family’s super religious—but as far as the way I was treated, in no way did [anyone] make me feel like I didn’t deserve to be there.

The rose ceremony happens at 5 a.m., and they do that intentionally, because they want you to be tired and emotional. They feed you alcohol and tiny little appetizers, so there were girls throwing up in the bathroom, because they were so sick from drinking too much, and the night just goes on and on and on. In my season, they didn’t show that. The Bachelor was very sweet and innocent [back then]. They wanted the nicest people, and you were going to meet your love connection.

They didn’t in any way make me look crazy, which was good, [but there were] things they did with me that I didn’t like. As he’s giving out the roses, they pan the crowd and I’m there smiling, happy. Well, they cut, and I yawned. My eyes started watering. They showed that and made it look like I was crying. It’s funny, because you can see I’m smiling in all the other shots, and then there’s just one shot where I’m wiping my eyes.

When the show finally aired, I was like an instant, overnight celebrity. I could not walk down the street without people being like, “It’s you! Oh my god!” I was a waitress at the Cheesecake Factory, and I had to start training in the back because I couldn’t work. All anybody wanted to do was talk about The Bachelor, and there I am asking them, “Do you want fries with that?” That’s when I realized that I don’t want to be famous.

Whenever I tell people, they’re like, “Oh, I’m going to find the episode!” I’m like, “No, you can’t. I have the only copy and it’s on VHS.”

I can think of a couple really attractive black guys I know that would make great Bachelors. I think that eventually the casting will get there. I just don’t know, especially with the raunchiness [of the show] now, if they’re going to attract the right kind of African-American to represent us.

Whenever I tell people, they’re like, “Oh, I’m going to find the episode!” I’m like, “No, you can’t. I have the only copy and it’s on VHS.” Thank god. But I’m so much more comfortable with it now. I just started a new job in January. At our orientation they said, “Tell us a fun fact about yourself.” And I said, “Well, guess what? I was on The Bachelor!”

I’m not as obsessed [with The Bachelor] as I was before. Once I was on it, I was like, eh, whatever. I’m actually surprised it’s still on the air, because it got kind of boring for a while. I was thinking about that because I have a two-year-old daughter. What if it’s still around when she’s in her twenties, and she can go on and say, “My mom was on here, too!”

Lori Todd – Season 2 (Aaron Buerge, 2002)

[Going on The Bachelor] was somewhat decided for me. I had just ended a long relationship and my Mavs director thought it would be fun for me. [Lori was a dancer for the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks.]

I was more curious than anything. I had seen the last three episodes of the first season of The Bachelor. I only turned it on because I heard there was a Miami Heat dancer on there, Trista Rehn Sutter, and I wanted to catch a glimpse of the Heat Dancers in action. I also heard that Alex [Michel, the first Bachelor] was from Dallas, so those two things piqued my interest.

From the casting process to the show to the reunion show, there was never a feeling of “race” being a topic. I never experienced different treatment at all. I had a great time.

I would hate to think that these amazing women were just token minorities to add diversity.

[The production staff] was really fun and lighthearted. I wasn’t there long, so there wasn’t a lot of interaction, but I remember my post-rose ceremony interview: We were all just laughing and having a good time. Since I was only there that one night, I wasn’t on TV much, but I spoke at the reunion show and thought that was edited fine.

I really believe that if the Bachelor or Bachelorette isn’t comfortable with interracial dating, then they shouldn’t be forced to carry someone along. I think that would make it worse. These people are looking for a spouse; that’s important to note. I was excited to see Ben and Jubilee’s connection. It seemed real. I would hate to think that these amazing women were just token minorities to add diversity. I do think it would be fun to see an African-American bachelor just to change it up and see what happens. I think Marquel [Martin, from Andi Dorfman’s season of The Bachelorette] would’ve been perfect.

[The Bachelor] gave me a fun line in my life story and a couple of fun new friends, one of whom I still talk to. I try not to watch but I can’t help it. I used to be a part of watch parties with a group of girls—we would meet at someone’s house every Monday to watch. It was fun. We played games with it and everything. We always wanted Chris Harrison, our favorite, to come by, since he was from Dallas.

LaNease Adams – Season 1 (Alex Michel, 2002)

When I was 23, acting was my full-time job. I got a call from a friend who was in casting and he said, “There’s a show I think you might be good for.”

[The casting team] asked me some questions about dating. They showed me a picture of a guy and said, “Would he be your type?” And I was like, “Yeah, totally.” Most of the guys I date happen to be white, so it wasn’t really a big deal. I didn’t think much of it, but they kept calling me back for more interviews, paperwork, and all these tests. At the time, I had been seeing someone, but the guy would not commit. I told him, “They want me to do this dating show, what do you think?” He was like, “I think you should do it,” which totally hurt my feelings. It said a lot about how he felt.

Of course, we didn’t know what we were in for at all. We had no idea what to expect. I was young, I was 23, so everything was a surprise. I’ve always been a big fan of reality TV. I had done a few other dating shows, like Change of Heart, but I had never really met anyone that I connected with. I thought The Bachelor would be just another silly dating show like I had done before. Honestly, I was surprised how much I actually did like Alex. When you first meet him and all these girls, and everyone’s talking about how wonderful they are, you immediately feel sense of, okay, am I good enough? Should I even be here?

After I got kicked out and I went home, it took me a while to come back to reality. On reality TV in general, you’ve got these cameras following you around and people interviewing you about your thoughts and your feelings all day for three weeks, then you come home, and no one gives a damn about your thoughts or your feelings. It’s kind of like, “Wait, don’t you want to know what I think?” No. No one cares.

[Diversity on The Bachelor] never crossed my mind. I’ve always had friends of different races. My college was, like, 5% black. After the show, I ended up addicted to reading the [online comments]. There were a lot of positive things, but some of the negative things, I just was like… Oh my god. For two weeks, I didn’t even leave the house, I was so freaked out. I read one comment like, “Who does this bitch think she is? She’s black, he’s never going to pick her.” Until I read stuff like that, I guess I was sheltered. It hit me like a ton of bricks when I had to experience people’s negative ideas about interracial dating.

I thought [the producers] were great. I was still very friendly with [Bachelor creator] Mike Fleiss. I spoke to him a couple years ago, and it’s been 13 years since we did the show. Of course, I’m assuming they probably did things that we didn’t know about, to stir up drama, but I was none the wiser.

I think they liked my perspective, so they didn’t really have to prod me to say anything, but right before a rose ceremony, they were like, “LaNease, have you talked to Alex about interracial dating? Maybe you should ask him if he’s ever dated someone out of his race.” And I was like, “Really?” I asked him, but I didn’t think it was anything that I would want to bring up at that point. Because we’re here, we’re doing this—either you’re keeping me or you’re not, and if you do, then we know that, okay, you’re interested.

The only thing that she could have been judging is, I guess, that I’m black. What else?

There was only one time I felt looked down upon. It wasn’t until the show aired. This red-haired girl—I can’t recall her name—didn’t get a rose and I did. In her exit interview, she’s crying and she’s like, “I just can’t believe the girls he picked. LaNease? LaNease?” The way that she said it—I was just, like, wow. We weren’t really close, but she hadn’t expressed her disdain for me at all. The way she said [my name], it was like I was just the worst choice. She didn’t know me well enough to be able to judge me. The only thing that she could have been judging is, I guess, that I’m black. What else?

There have been other dating shows on different networks where girls live in a house and the [star] is black. I don’t know if you can compare, like, Flavor or Love or She’s Got Game, but they’ve had those shows on VH1. Will ABC do a black version of The Bachelor? I think it’s possible.

[Casting] should be based on the tastes of the Bachelor or the Bachelorette. If their taste is, “Possibly, I could date outside my race, but most likely I won’t,” then to me, it doesn’t make sense to have all these people on there that the person’s not interested in. Maybe that could be a way to make the show diverse: If they get someone who is actually into other races, then they could incorporate a more diverse cast.

For a few years, I could not watch it. It was too close to home. It’s finally gotten to a place where it no longer feels personal to me and I can enjoy it. But it took, what, 14 years to get here.

[The Bachelor] gave me a bunch of confidence I didn’t have before. Growing up, I always made straight A’s and I guess I was fairly attractive, but never looked at myself as smart or pretty or funny or any of that. But after being selected to be on the show, being chosen out of 900 girls and being the only black person chosen to represent, I gained a lot of confidence in myself.

Follow LaNease on Twitter.

Are you a former reality TV contestant who’d like to share your story with Fusion? We’d love to hear from you—please email [email protected].

Molly Fitzpatrick is senior editor of Fusion’s Pop & Culture section. Her interests include movies about movies, TV shows about TV shows, and movies about TV shows, but not so much TV shows about movies.

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