Matt James Episode 7 – The Woke Police

Hey friends, it is going to be a long one today. You can thank Chris Harrison, though I hear he may be hard to reach as he is in hiding from “the woke police.” Before we dive into tonight’s curated onscreen drama, we should address some offscreen (or at least, different-screen) drama from the week. The tl;dr version: Chris Harrison said some dumb stuff and is taking time away from the show. But if you are coming to this blog for the short version of anything, I fear you are in the wrong place. 

L’Affaire Harrison

A strange aspect of these times in which we live is that celebrities often find themselves standing behind their own poorly-considered or simply unpopular opinions at great personal financial cost. Curt Schilling thinks he should be in the baseball Hall of Fame and an analyst for ESPN and insured by AIG, but not so much that he will stop talking about his (unpopular) feelings about trans rights or the Capitol Insurrection (among other things). Gina Carano was part of the Mandalorian on Disney+ and set to star in her own show in the Star Wars extended universe. But she just had a few more points to make on social media of the “Trump supporters are like Jews and liberals are Nazis” variety. Now she is going to star in a movie for the Daily Wire, which is <checks notes> smaller than Disney. 

What does this have to do with the Bachelor Franchise? Well, Chris Harrison gets paid a pretty substantial amount of money to say “this is the final rose of the night” and “ladies, if you did not receive a rose, take a moment to say your goodbyes.” Like it is estimated that he makes more for an episode than the President makes for being the President for a year. So when he appeared on Extra and was interviewed by former Bachelorette and blog favorite Rachel Lindsay, he just needed to not step on his dick to keep cashing the $600k-per-episode checks. Of course he didn’t. Of course!

The background is that, as alluded to on this blog, contestant Rachael Kirkconnell has taken some heat on social media for alleged past bullying as well her attendance at an “Old South” formal that frankly requires more knowledge of the Greek system and Southern traditions than I have (thank goodness for Victor!). Also some “liking” of posts with MAGA gear, QAnon, and other stuff. 

You can watch Chris Harrison’s interview below, possibly while reading along, but a short summary would be that Harrison seemed to defend Rachael Kirkconnell and show a lot of empathy for her experience of being criticized while showing little empathy for Rachel Lindsay and others who may have been offended or hurt by these past acts. 

It wasn’t a great look that Chris Harrison spent much of the interview talking over Rachel Lindsay while repeatedly referring to “the woke police.” 

Anyway, Harrison has since apologized, though notably Rachel Lindsay stated on the Higher Learning podcast that he did not appear to have any concerns after the interview. Many of the contestants on the show issued a statement siding with Rachel Lindsay echoed by a similar statement from the men of the Clayshia season. In addition, Rachael Kirkconnell has issued an apology (something she had not done, though her status as a current contestant and frontrunner may have limited how much she could or should say).

Oh, and Chris Harrison said he would be taking a break from his hosting duties. Since the show is already filmed (including The Women Tell All), that probably means he won’t host After the Final Rose. Then we will see if he is back for next season of the Bachelorette or if his break will extend beyond one episode.

All of these developments raise a few questions for us to answer:

One, does the Bachelor franchise still have jurisdiction to punish Chris Harrison given that he’s a (maybe) former host? 

Of course!! 

Someone losing their job doesn’t mean they can’t still be punished by their old employer in various ways – otherwise, you’d just quit your job to escape further punishment. Right? It’s not that hard people!! There is not an “Extra” interview exception to Chris Harrison’s tenure as the face of the franchise where he’s immune from punishment. Are we still talking about Chris Harrison here?

Two, What did Chris Harrison say that was so bad?

The whole 13 minute interview was bad and you should just watch it yourself, but a few points stuck out to me as especially egregious

1. He accuses people digging into Rachael’s past social media as playing “judge, jury, executioner” (0:20 into the clip)

Really Chris? What consequences have Rachael suffered? 

She is still starring on America’s longest running and most popular reality dating show. She is accumulating a monetizable IG following of 372,000 users (and still growing). Who are these people “executing”? Unearthing past behavior of someone who voluntarily went on a national TV show is just doing discovery in litigation – no one is handing down a verdict. 

2. Minimizing and misrepresenting Rachael’s behavior (0:41)

“I saw a picture of her at a sorority party five years ago” 

“Is it not a good look in 2018? Or not a good look in 2021? … [It wasn’t a good look] in 2021 but that was not the case in 2018.”

“50 million people [went to Antebellum parties] in 2018”

“These girls were 18 years old”

First, there are lots of sorority parties (I’m an expert – I went to dozens of these in college – though I may have confused sorority parties with women’s basketball games), but there are a lot fewer “Old South” antebellum parties, especially since they were banned by the national KA organization in 2016, after the organization that recognizes Robert E Lee as its “spiritual founder” deemed it too offensive. Second, it wasn’t five years ago, it was three (2018). Third, celebrating an era explicitly associated with slavery has NEVER been a good look, regardless of whether it was before or after a Minneapolis cop played “judge, jury, executioner” for a black man accused of using a counterfeit $20 bill. Fourth, Chris Harrison THINKS 50 million people went to antebellum sorority parties in 2018? How popular does he think these things are? This country has been vaccinating people nonstop since the end of 2020 and we just hit the 50 million mark last week. There are only 20 million students in college. I guess Chris Harrison thinks that every college student not only goes to an antebellum party, but gets a plus-one and a half? Maybe he is rounding up to the nearest 50 million? Fifth, Rachael was 21, not 18. 

All these misrepresentations serve to minimize a 21 year-old white woman’s culpability and leaves Chris Harrison looking like that retired A-hole in Mar A Lago defending his 39 year-old son as “a good kid.” And to what end? To minimize the intent behind going to a slavery party? I love to read Chris Harrison’s text messages about Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, George Floyd, etc.; I’m certain they will contain similar messages excusing any prior transgressions. Right?

3. “The woke police is out there… who is Rachel Lindsay? Who is Chris Harrison? Who is whatever woke police that’s out there? … Who the hell are you?” (4:35) 

We, Chris Harrison, are fans of the show and fans of accountability. Rachel Lindsay is a Black person marginalized and denigrated by the existence of these antebellum parties and the larger population that thinks that attending one of these parties is no big deal. And we (and POC audiences in particular) have an absolute right to ask for accountability from the show and PEOPLE WHO VOLUNTARILY GO ON THE SHOW.

The people who care about what the show and Rachael say in response are fans of the show. Someone who doesn’t watch the show isn’t wading into this and pulling out Rachael’s old IG likes – there’s enough in the world that we’re all dealing with. The fans of the show drive the conversation – and Chris Harrison’s contempt for fans of the show in this exchange is galling.

It is a small point, but the term “woke police” has probably never been used in a genuine effort to improve understanding and reach common ground. Chris Harrison used it (rounding up to as one does) fifty million times in this interview. 

Three, Should Chris Harrison have (maybe) lost his job? 

Some people think that for all of Chris Harrison’s hand-wringing of the “woke police” – he himself became a victim of the “woke police.” And there are smart, well-intentioned people out there that think the “woke police” is maybe going a bit too far. Right, people are having these conversations. Many smart and thoughtful people wrestle with questions about culpability and forgiveness and their intersection with social media and evolving standards of acceptability. It is basically the biggest non-pandemic story going. It is very easy for people to have opinions on multiple such situations among just the staff of the New York Times. Someone with Chris Harrison’s resources could and perhaps should be familiarizing himself with the debates before wading in.

I have my thoughts on this – but let’s separate people facing consequences for their political beliefs from the “woke police” to what happened to Chris Harrison here: He got temporarily fired from his job for being really bad at doing his job. This is different in context, but not in concept, from any one of us facing consequences for doing a bad job at work. 

Chris Harrison’s job is a really good one, and a really easy one: appear on screen for about one minute each episode and be the public face of the show off it. Chris Harrison got his job back in 2002 because he was an white male. If you were looking at reality show hosts back in that era: Ryan Seacrest, Jeff Probst, Donald Trump, TJ Lavin – they were, save for Julie Chen, all white males. Chris Harrison had another thing working for him – he appeared non-threatening and was, as he claimed on the premiere episode, “happily” married. No one would confuse him for being the actual Bachelor.

Fast forward 20 years, Chris Harrison is no longer happily married – he is divorced and now dating an entertainment reporter sixteen years younger than him who is covering the show. He’s now wealthy and, because of that, many fans wanted to cast him, during the time he was single, as the lead of the show. He’s remained the host because of his longevity and, more importantly, his professionalism in publicly representing the show (because, let’s be honest here, anyone can say “ladies, it’s the final rose this evening.”)

In that context, his Extra interview was a horrible representation of the show. 

The Bachelor franchise has had its own racial awakening in the last year or so – having gone 40 seasons of the original and the –ette while casting just one lead of color (I’m going to pretend Juan Pablo never happened). It wasn’t until after the George Floyd protests and a prominent public campaign for better POC representation that the franchise FINALLY cast its first Black lead on its flagship show – for this season. 

It was in that context that Chris Harrison, with decades of media training under his belt, appeared for an interview with the only Black lead in Bachelorette history and projectile vomited casual racism all over himself and the show’s audience. The most prominent public face of the franchise could have just said: (1) slavery parties are wrong; and (2) we need to hear from Rachael. Chris Harrison failed to do that. 

This was a much less-important version of Mike “Heckuva job Brownie’s” predicament after he screwed up the response to Hurricane Katrina. But. A screw-up nonetheless – and thus, an indefinite leave of absence. 

Four, Where should the Franchise turn next?

I mean… the obvious answer is Victor, right? Let Victor host the show!

To be honest, I don’t think I would give up my current job as a Bachelor co-blogger – where else can you get exposed to dozens of fans around the globe and get paid zero dollars per hour?

Several former cast members talk on television for a living. Among them, Rachel Lindsay, though she has said she will be stepping away from the Franchise at the expiration of her current contract. I don’t think the show was particularly pleased with her for being an outspoken liberal voice, so much so that they seem to have (allegedly?) sought out Matt James, a man who seems to be much less overtly political and less liberal, to be the second Black lead. In addition, Rachel Lindsay taking over as host might be awkward for anyone who really liked Chris Harrison, since Rachel Lindsay was present with a microphone when Chris Harrison decided to drop his new single Fuck the Woke Police.

JoJo Fletcher guest-hosted the show for a couple of episodes. She and her fiancé (from the show) Jordan Rodgers have their own television show. Ashley I and Jared are frequent guests and in a show-created marriage. Ben Higgins has some television experience and has been rumored as a potential future host. Wells Adams is a frequent guest and a good television talker. A benefit of the show ecosystem is that it tends to select for people with an interest in a television career, and it has not thus far been so successful as to launch a lot of careers of people that wouldn’t look twice at a $600,000-per-episode opportunity. 

Aren’t you forgetting about Dale Moss, George?

I think Ben Higgins and Rachel Lindsay co-hosting might make sense for ATFR, but long term wise, the show should move past Chris Harrison. He no longer carries the background or gravitas of someone in a happy marriage who can effectively navigate media and celebrity status. My dream candidate is Michelle Obama (one can dream right?) but I’d settle for Jay Bilas. Chris Harrison could probably still play a role, perhaps in the Fred Williard role. He would provide comic relief and serve as a living reminder to the contestants about the importance of avoiding self-inflicted career damage.

Well, that’s it for this… oh. Right. We need to recap the show. Our supposed raison d’être. Oh, and Texas is in a once-in-a-generation cold snap, so Victor’s power is out. You get George, from Minneapolis, where it is a balmy seven degrees below zero. 

Last week our cliffhanger was the arrival of Heather “has been kissed” Martin during the cocktail party. And that is where we pick it up. 

Cocktail Party and Rose Ceremony

The other women are pretty annoyed to see Heather. And Heather tells Matt James that it was Hannah Brown who told her that Matt James would be great for her. Here’s the thing: no. This is not what a good friend would let you do. I am not saying Hannah B is at fault here, but if she didn’t actively try to dissuade Heather from trying this, then she is a bad friend. Matt James responds “obviously I’ve never met you, but we share a similar best friend.” It is suspicious when someone says “obviously I’ve never met you” while holding your hand with one hand and resting the other on your thigh. 

Matt James says he will “take some time” to think over whether this absurd idea is a good idea. The other women are going to use that time to try to drive Heather from the show. It is telling that the remaining cast are the survivors of the most vicious season of bullying in show history. The last time a new lady showed up at a cocktail party they accused her of being an escort! The women ask Heather reasonable questions like “why didn’t you meet him before?” and “are you just Bachelor hopping?” Heather swears she doesn’t “want to do this” which doesn’t go over well, and says she would much rather have “gone on a date with him without all of this.” Pieper basically demands an apology for Heather interrupting her time with Matt James, then interrupts the apology to tell Heather her presence is not welcome. Kit flat out calls Heather a bitch to her face. And Jessenia says Heather is not ready for an engagement. They just met her. Serena C tells a crying Heather “talk about it in an interview because I don’t want to hear it.” Somewhere Heather’s corner should be trying to throw in the towel. 

Soon-to-be-furloughed host Chris Harrison chats with Matt James outside the chateau. “Watch out for the woke police! They could be out here.” He doesn’t say. Instead he reminds Matt James that Heather was referred by someone he knows and that Hannah B spoke highly of Heather. Then Chris Harrison shakes Matt James’s hand and walks away to cash a gigantic check. “This gravy train is never gonna stop!” he sings as he skips away.

Matt James meets with Heather again and notes that she flew across the country and it was bold and she followed her heart. Also that’s not great during a pandemic, but they probably cut out the part where he gave responsible advice about slowing the spread of this disease. Matt James tells Heather he is falling in love with some of the women who are already there and he has to “follow [his] heart.” He walks her out to her rented minivan.

It is notable that before the aforementioned Extra situation, the offscreen story for this episode would have been that some former castmembers expressed discontent with the show over what they thought was bad treatment of Heather, including the below from Dylan of Paradise and Hannah B’s season. Whether or not producers engineered the humiliation of this woman was going to be the story until the woke police showed up to ruin everything. 

Matt James returns to the women and says “no one who is not on that couch will be joining this journey.” Tough break for Jessenia and Bri, who are on a bench. Matt James then picks up where he left off, saying “Pieper, should we finish that conversation.” Chelsea says “that was so hot.” And I think I agree? He remembered that he was talking to Pieper, and went back to her after dumping Heather. Matt James also told his girlfriends he wanted to “commend” them for how they handled Heather’s arrival. He may not be as effusive in his praise after reviewing the tape.

Time for the roses. Already with roses are:

1. Pieper – from the carnival date

2. Michelle – from the bowling date

Joining them in order are:

3. Bri (she works for a tech company)

4. Rachael (she is one of fifty million Americans who dressed up to attend an “Old South” party in 2018)

5. Serena P (she is our favorite Serena on the show)

6. Kit (her mom is famous and Kit is very young)

7. Jessenia (I was shocked he kept her around, I thought her story ended when MJ went home)

And the final rose goes to:

8. Abigail (she has a cochlear implant and a first-impression rose that went nowhere)

Goodbye to runway-model Chelsea, who was obviously too good for this, and Serena C, who might get to finally meet Matt James at After the Final Rose

Serena P One-on-one Date

Serena P gets her second one-on-one date, which doesn’t go over great with Abigail and Jessenia, who still have not had their first one-on-one date. Matt James tells the camera that he and Serena P are “in the friend zone” and they are going to try to bust out of it on a “tantric-yoga date.” A yoga date on this show is a great opportunity for young attractive people to demonstrate their attractiveness, and the yoga instructor basically puts them in positions that imply a lot of sex and we see that both Matt James and Serena P are quite flexible. Serena P expresses a fair amount of discomfort about this date, and says “I will never need to do that again” as soon as it is over. Matt James says he enjoyed it a lot. It seems Serena P doesn’t appreciate the PDA. Matt James, on the other hand, really liked it. 

Serena P says she moves “at a slower pace” and that may not be compatible with the premise of the show. Matt James notes that they may be “on different wavelengths.” Over a dinner they do not eat, Matt James says he loved “how honest” Serena P was. Matt James tells Serena P he “like[s her] a lot.” They talk about hometowns and Matt James seems to be fishing for Serena P to reciprocate his feelings, which Senera P sorta does eventually. She gets the rose, and we will be meeting Serena P’s family. Then they go ice skating. Serena P is from Toronto, so this is probably her speed. They kiss on the ice rink. Oddly enough for a date that ended with a ticket to hometowns, it seems like Serena P could take or leave Matt James. But she’s gonna have a lot of trouble getting back into Canada, so she might as well hang around for another week.

Nothing Group Date

Pieper, Michelle, Rachael, Bri, Kit, and Abigail will be going on this group date. The date appears to be… drinking wine together in a lodge. There is no date, or it is completely cut out of the show. We just see a cocktail party. That leaves Jessenia with the final one-on-one date. And Abigail is the only person left who has not had one.

Bri tells Matt James that she gave up a lot to be on the show. She resigned from her position at Parler Facebook (?). If it is Facebook, as has been rumored, she is the second contestant to lose a job there for this franchise, following in the footsteps of Ali Fedotowsky, who left Jake Pavelka’s season to return to Facebook when they threatened to fire her, and then left that job to be the Bachelorette. Based on the age and trajectory of the company, Ali probably left a lot more money on the table if she had an equity stake, but if we are going to look into Facebook through an antitrust-enforcement and an election-swaying/insurrection-planning lens, can we also talk about changing their policy toward this franchise? Maybe Bri should have told Matt James before resigning. What if he was planning to let her go? Pieper tells Matt James she is falling in love with him and they kiss. Minnesota teacher Michelle says she is “100 percent committed to” Matt James and they also kiss. 

Abigail tells Matt James that she has had a hard time not having much interaction with Matt James. Abigail asks Matt James if he sees a future with her, since she sees a future with him. Matt James tells Abigail that he was drawn to her initially and now has stronger feelings for other women. This is clearly on Matt James, who never gave Abigail time to build on the initial connection. He says he does not want to lead her on or lie to her. Abigail says she appreciates his honesty, and Matt James walks Abigail out. She is wearing a sleeveless dress and it is cold enough there that Matt James is in a turtleneck sweater and a jacket and was ice skating the day before. He says “I wish we had more time” and… you know? You could have had more time but you decided to spend it with other ladies. Tough break for Abigail, who seems lovely and deserves better.

With so much happening this week, it would be easy to forget how strange Abigail’s arc has been. She received the first-impression rose and appeared to catch Matt James’s attention right away. But he never gave her a one-on-one date. It is an unprecedented lack of attention for someone with the first-impression rose. Perhaps there is more to the story, but we basically just saw Abigail share some very personal insecurities including about her father’s abandonment of her and her sister, and her own worries that any children she has could inherit her hearing impairment. Oh, and Matt James never choosing to spend time with her. Justice for Abigail!

Matt James tells the other women that he walked Abigail out. Then he sits down with Rachael, who is hiding out from the woke police. Rachael starts sniffling a bit in a hopefully non-Covid way (it seems she is trying not to cry, but it could also be congestion). Matt James tells her that when she is not around he is thinking about her, and she makes him smile. “And I know you would never post anything on social media that would not go over well” he does not add. 

Matt James sits down with Kit and it is relevant that Kit has the most famous family member that would theoretically be met at whatever passes for hometowns. Kit says she needs to “be able to finish school.” She is quite young. Kit says “getting married and starting a family would need to be pushed” and “I wouldn’t want to have kids until I’m 25 or 26 so I’m a long-term investment.” Kit puts Matt James on the spot a bit, and seems to want him to either cut her loose now or commit to dating someone who is 21. Matt James doesn’t really do either, but he kisses Kit and does not dump her even though it kind of seems like she wanted him to.

Matt James gives the group-date rose to Rachael, who didn’t resign from any jobs this week. Then he takes Rachael for a surprise. The surprise is not watching Bri, Pieper, Kit, and Michelle cry, which happens as soon as Matt James walks Rachael out with the date-rose. Actually it is a private concert from Aloe Blacc, which is a legit-great surprise. But the emphasis is on the women who are not at the private concert. The ones who bared their souls and lost their jobs only to be left behind.

That night (or so the edit leads us to believe) Kit goes to Matt James’s room and tells him that she doesn’t have the clarity she needed, and that Matt James deserves someone who is more “sure.” She tried to get Matt James to dump her, and now she is dumping him. No Cynthia Rowley for us. Also, this is pretty late in the season for the lead to get dumped by a contestant. So ends a surprisingly strong season from Kit. She’s gonna go finish college now.

Jessenia One-on-one Date

This date is, uh, driving around an empty parking lot. If you are stuck in an empty resort, it beats riding your Big Wheel through the halls dodging creepy twins and elevators filled with blood. 

A car starts drifting around the parking lot, and it is a, let’s say, Mustang? A guy named Tony Angelo gets out. He is a “Professional Drifter” and also looks like Ted Cruz if he were… better. Matt James calls him “Tony DiAngelo, which is close enough. Jessenia takes the wheel and is actually pretty good at drifting. Matt James is… quite a bit less good at it. He manages to break both rearview mirrors in the empty parking lot. Then, at Jessenia’s request, he kind of tosses her clumsily onto the hood of the car and they make out. 

They go to dinner and Matt James asks about her family in anticipation of maybe meeting them. Jessenia says she is falling in love with Matt James, and he says “thank you for sharing that with me.” That is… not what he told Rachael. Matt James tells the camera that he is not feeling the “compatibility” that he has with the other women. Matt James tells Jessenia that he likes her but doesn’t like-like her, and while he has appreciated her being his “rock” during the season, he is not feeling what she is feeling. Matt James tells Jessenia that she deserves more than he can give, and walks her out.  

Rose Ceremony

This episode has been a bloodbath, with Heather, Abigail, Jessenia, Serena C, Chelsea, and Kit all leaving. Already with roses are Rachael (group date) and Serena P (tantric yoga). There seems to be no cocktail party, and since hometowns are next week we have one more person than there are spots on the hometowns dance card. Pieper, Michelle, and Bri are circling the remaining two spots. 

The third hometowns spot goes: Bri 

And the fourth and final hometowns spot goes to: Michelle

Tough break for Pieper, who did not seem too surprised to not hear her name called. Matt James walks to Pieper, which is not how it usually goes. He apologizes and Pieper just walks straight into the limo without looking at him. I sorta like this exit, no need to make it easy for him. Pieper cries through the limo exit and I feel for her. She says it feels like her “entire soul is stomped on,” which is both dramatic and, you know, we’ve all been there. 

At the end of the episode we see Michelle about to make a toast after the rose ceremony. “Before I make this toast, I want to make sure I look good for the cameras.” She says. Then she puts the rose between her teeth and does about ten legit pushups with her arms in tight to her body. I know the power is out in Dallas, but I think I heard Victor say “Katie who?” I mean, that was pretty cool and I think a pretty good burn on their boyfriend Matt James who is constantly working out. 

Next week we get whatever hometowns will be. Normally that is our favorite episode of the season. And it will almost certainly be yours because Victor will be back.

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