The Bachelor and its extended online universe is always full of drama in one way or another, but a contestant’s racist past has now officially sidelined show host Chris Harrison. The longtime host of ABC’s reality program apologized twice this week for comments he made about a current contestant, Rachel Kirkconnell, and a racism controversy of her own. On Saturday, in his second apology he announced he would be “stepping aside” from the role of Bachelor host for a period of time.
“The historic season of The Bachelor should not be marred or overshadowed by my mistakes or diminished by my actions,” Harrison wrote Saturday on Instagram. “To that end, I have consulted with Warner Bros. and ABC and will be stepping aside for a period of time and will not join for the After the Final Rose special.”
The controversy comes amid a season of the long-running reality program that was supposed to be a step toward diversity for The Bachelor. Matt James, the current Bachelor, is the show’s first Black male lead in history, and the show touted a much more diverse cast than the white-dominated past seasons. But as the show progressed, many fans on social media called out Kirkconnell’s history of racism and cultural appropriation seen on social media, including photos of her in Native American costumes and attending an Antebellum-themed party in college.
As that controversy grew among Bachelor followers, Harrison addressed it in an interview on Extra between he and the show’s first Black lead, Rachel Lindsay. As People laid out, Harrison essentially defended Kirkconnell and attempted to downplay the racism involved because, among other reasons, it happened in 2018.
“I saw a picture of her at a sorority party five years ago and that’s it. Like, boom. Like, ‘Okay. Well, this girl is in this book now. And she’s now in this group.’ And I’m like, ‘Really?’” said Harrison.
Lindsay went on to explain that the image in question “was from 2018 at an Old South antebellum party … that’s not a good look.”
Harrison proceeded to suggest that perspectives change over time. “Well, Rachel is it a good look in 2018? Or, is it not a good look in 2021? Because there’s a big difference,” said Harrison.
You can watch the full segment between Harrison and Lindsay here. But that argument, and excusing racism that happened just three years ago because it’s a different time now, didn’t sit well with many Bachelor fans. And it quickly prompted a first apology from Harrison that he posted to social media on Wednesday.
— Chris Harrison (@chrisbharrison) February 11, 2021
Harrison apologized for “wrongly speaking in a manner that perpetuates racism,” but it did little to change the situation. And other Black former members of the cast have condemned both the photos and Harrison’s response to them, which has caused added fuel to the fire and likely caused Harrison to step aside. Tayshia Adams, who stepped in as a midseason replacement for The Bachelorette, was particularly critical according to People.
“I am really hurt and disappointed and confused at the ignorance when it comes to race,” said Adams, 30. “The things that have come to light within the Bachelor franchise this past week have just been eye-opening.”
“The photo that [Kirkconnell] was in is racist; the party she attended, racist. Her actions have been racist,” she continued. “When there are blatant forms of racist acts you cannot be defensive of it. It speaks volumes, and I just have to say I am really hurt by this response.”
It’s an uncomfortable situation for Harrison to be in for a number of reasons. So much of the Bachelor ecosystem relies on controversy and commentary, but the episodes are already in the can and the show knows who James picks here well before it airs. Kirkconnell is widely considered to be the frontrunner to win, and the controversy about her past racism shines negative light not only on the show, but its ability to properly vet contestants before they appear on air. If Kirkconnell made it past that process, either it says the show doesn’t think those images were deal-breakers, or they didn’t do enough research to disqualify her as a contestant.
All of that drama, continued speculation about other incidents in Kirkconnell’s past and statements from people of color in the Bachelor ecosystem forced Harrison to issue a second apology on Saturday, which included word that he would leave the show for an unspecified amount of time.
The remaining episodes of The Bachelor are already filmed, so Harrison will still appear on camera. But so, too, will Kirkconnell, and with speculation growing that she makes it far into the season the show will eventually have to address the controversy in some way, without Harrison involved for now.