This time, however, Bachelor Matt James is new to everyone. He was to appear on Clare’s season, but as we’ll explain below, he was plucked to be a star before ever serving as a supporting character. Here’s everything you need to know about Matt James and his premiere as the show’s first Black lead.
Who is Matt James?
According to his official ABC bio, he’s a real estate broker living in New York City. He was 28 when his season was filmed and is now 29. As he said during Monday night’s premiere, he’s never been in love. And as his contestants and Chris Harrison continually remark, he’s very hot and VERY TALL. According to Instagram, he’s also pals with Tyler Cameron and former Bachelorette Hannah Brown. He studied economics at Wake Forest University, where he also played wide receiver on the football team. Matt is biracial; he was raised by a single White mother who split from his Black father when he was young. In a touching conversation with his mother, Matt talked about how 2020 taught him that nothing goes according to plan, making him realize there’s no “perfect” person out there for him. He said he’s looking for someone “who’s weathered storms, who’s resilient, strong.”
Before his contestants arrived, Matt sat down with Harrison and addressed the pressure he feels as the first Black Bachelor. “People want you to end up with a certain type of person,” Matt said, adding that he’s a product of interracial marriage and knows that whomever he picks, viewers will have strong feelings. After noting he doesn’t want to upset Black or White viewers, Matt said, “But I’m both of those! How do I please everybody?”
He’ll learn soon enough that pleasing everyone is not possible on this show. However, Matt hopes that “being in this position normalizes this for other people of color,” he told USA Today.
Christianity is clearly very important to Matt, which he showcased in his first few moments with his contestants, leading them in a group prayer. He thanked God for “bringing us all together, healthy” and asked God to “bless this time we have together.”
Why is this season historic?
“The Bachelor” franchise, which started in 2002, has been criticized for years for its lack of diversity — in 2012, two African American men who auditioned for the series filed a racial discrimination class-action lawsuit. Then in May, as the country faced a reckoning over racial injustice and police brutality, ABC announced James as the show’s new lead.
“We don’t want this, in any way, to seem like a cure-all and seem like, ‘Hey! Look what we did here!’ We know this is a few grains of sand in a very big hourglass,” ABC programming executive Robert Mills told Variety. “It’s taken a while to get where we are and we will continue to go further, and I acknowledge it may not be enough.”
Rachel Lindsay, who was the first Black lead of “The Bachelorette” in 2017 and is an outspoken critic of the show’s “embarrassing” lack of diversity, said on a podcast that it was great to see James’s casting — but it was also the bare minimum the producers could do, and still didn’t address “the internal, embedded, deep-rooted issues in this franchise where it needs to change structurally.”
Where are they filming?
Though watching the two-hour episode without a mask in sight might fool you into thinking “The Bachelor” was filmed on some planet far away from the coronavirus pandemic, Matt’s season was made similar to Clare Crawley’s. Only instead of being shot at the blistering La Quinta resort in Palm Springs, Calif., in the heat of summer, the cast and crew are at Nemacolin, a resort in Farmington, Pa. (They quarantined and were tested ahead of time.)
If this wooded setting looks familiar, Bachelor fans might remember it from JoJo Fletcher’s 2016 season of “The Bachelorette.” It appears there’s a lot more to do here than at the La Quinta. There’s wildlife on the grounds, paintball, a zip-line, slot machines and a spa. And if you reallllyyy miss the Bachelor mansion in Malibu, it’s available for rent via Airbnb. Just $6,000 a night!
Who had the most outrageous introduction?
Contestants know that if you don’t want the humiliation of going home the first night, you better have a memorable introduction when you meet the star of the show. Kaili, a 26-year-old hostess from Chicago, tried her best: She arrived wearing only lingerie, and coyly asked a rather startled Matt if he could help her decide which dress to wear. Unfortunately for Kaili, she was instantly upstaged by Katie, a 29-year-old bank marketing manager from Washington state, who launched into a monologue about how she brought something special from home … and then revealed her vibrator.
Matt burst out laughing, while the other contestants gasped while watching the interaction from the window: “What?! No, she did not!” one exclaimed. Producers loved this scene so much that they also played it at the beginning of the episode — but they were also scandalized enough that they placed a black bar over the device on screen, as to not offend viewers’ delicate sensibilities (or maybe network television regulations).
Who got the first-impression rose?
Matt isn’t the only cast member making history this season. Abigail, a 25-year-old client financial manager from Beaverton, Ore., is the show’s first deaf contestant. Matt instructed the women to be vulnerable with him, as the show’s leads often do. After she told him about the challenges she has been through, Matt “recognizes that she’s a fighter” and gave her the first-impression rose. They kissed. It was one of the purest first impressions we’ve ever seen.
Who is likely to be this season’s villain?
Kit, the 21-year-old fashion entrepreneur from New York, seems ripe for the role. She’s the youngest contestant, appears exceptionally smug, and is already the most famous, as she’s the daughter of designer Cynthia Rowley and launched her own clothing line as a teenager. However, Victoria, a 27-year-old from Los Angeles whose only job description is “queen,” was so obviously thirsty for the title (and, obviously, a spot on “Bachelor in Paradise”) that it would be almost cruel to deny her the designation.
Victoria was carried in on a throne by four men, wore a tiara and introduced herself as “Victoria, like the queen.” Everyone obviously immediately despised her, and no doubt were ecstatic that she immediately tripped and fell after her royal arrival. However, in a preview of the season, viewers saw those wily producers invite even more women to join the show in future weeks — so Victoria may face some evil competition.