8:53am PT by Jackie Strause
Colton Underwood on Contestant Starting a Dialogue About Sexual Assault on 'The Bachelor'
Colton Underwood's biggest moments on his season of The Bachelor include times he needed a break from the cameras, and the one time that he forgot the cameras were even there.
The latter happened when contestant Caelynn Miller-Keyes opened up to him about being a sexual assault survivor on the Jan. 28 episode of the ABC reality dating series. During the powerful conversation, Miller-Keyes, a Miss USA runner-up who has used her platform to speak out about sexual assault, revealed to Underwood that she was drugged and sexually assaulted while she was in college. Despite taking all the right steps to report her attackers, the group of men got away with it; only one was expelled.
Speaking with The Hollywood Reporter, Underwood says that conversation was the only moment of all three of his franchise stints — Becca Kufrin's The Bachelor, Bachelor in Paradise season five and now his cycle of The Bachelor — where he was unaware of the cameras and laser-focused on the moment in front of him.
"At that point, the cameras do sort of go away. They respected our space and privacy," he explains of the show trimming down production to give Miller-Keyes a safer space to open up. "We were able to have our conversation and not be surrounded by audio mixers and producers and cameras. I can’t say enough good things about how it was handled."
Though the conversation didn't air entirely unedited (portions were cut out for time), Underwood says that the dinner part of his one-on-one date with Miller-Keyes was an authentic representation of their conversation. "The fact that they left that as raw and real as possible was super important. It is such a sensitive conversation that it deserves to be left as real as it was," he says.
In response to Miller-Keyes opening up, Underwood in turn explained that part of the "complicated" reason he is a virgin at age 26 is because his first love was also a sexual assault survivor, and he understood the struggle with intimacy from being on the other side of that relationship. Though he did not mention his ex by name, Underwood has dated Olympic gold medalist Aly Raisman, one of hundreds of women to accuse USA Gymnastics team doctor Dr. Larry Nassar of sexual abuse. (Nassar is now spending the rest of his life behind bars.) After the Bachelor episode aired, Raisman commended Miller-Keyes for her bravery for sharing her story on national television.
"The reason I did not speak on anybody’s name is because they did not sign up for this show, I did," says Underwood. "And out of respect for her and what she’s doing with her platform and how powerful her voice is, the last thing that I want to be is a distraction. I think it’s really important that we continue to support women that are really encouraging and making a movement, and making waves in their own ways."
Mainly, Underwood credits a "brave" Miller-Keyes for starting a dialogue about sexual assault on The Bachelor, a franchise that has had its own complications with the way it portrays women and casts contestants in the #MeToo era.
"For people to talk and to really share their experience is not an easy thing, so the fact that Caelynn could do that, and so eloquently, just shows how brave and how impressive she is as a woman," he says of the impact of her story. "That moment was bigger than the show itself. For me, the takeaway, even after watching it back, is that we really need to spend more time listening and understanding what makes a person who they are. We all have different life experiences, whether great or tragic, and it's about supporting each other, being there to listen and to not being afraid to say, 'Hey, I don’t know what you’re going through, but this is my experience.' I hope it shows people who watched to be confident in who they are and also to not hesitate to speak out when they think that something is worth standing up for in life."
Underwood said the candid conversation pushed his relationship with Miller-Keyes forward, and that he shared the reasons behind his virginity with other contestants when those relationship arrived at that point. Whether or not those conversations make it to air is yet to be seen.
The Feb. 4 episode ended with Underwood walking away from the cameras, representing one of a handful of times the star says he needed a moment to himself. A heavily teased "fence jump" from the trailer represents another time later in the season, during the overnight dates in Fantasy Suites week, when Underwood actually went AWOL (though ABC reality chief Rob Mills confirmed recently that he wasn't gone for long).
"There are definitely moments that almost broke me," he says about what's to come on the season. "I needed lots of moments to myself during filming and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. I’m somebody who has been so used to internalizing my feelings and needing to just confide in myself to get through things, and now all of a sudden I have these people all around me — cameras and audio guys constantly around me."
He continues, "In dealing with situations like this, I just needed to get away and to really be alone to figure it out. That’s how I process."
One of Underwood's suggestions to producers going into the season was to give viewers a more authentic look at the Bachelor process, which the star has done by breaking the fourth wall to speak to viewers in video chats. His more dramatic moments have also seen the cameras following him into the production bay to show more behind the scenes. In perhaps the biggest hint that Underwood's conclusion is indeed "unlike any other season" — something promised by ABC — the network is devoting two nights to his finale. The only other Bachelor finale to air across two nights was Arie Luyendyk Jr.'s shocking and controversial ender.
"Everyone goes through this with their own twist and that’s what makes the show so great, is that you have the freedom to do what’s best with you in the moment and that’s why this works. I just did what was best for me in the moment," says Underwood about how his season ends. Though he clarifies that he does not have a say in the two-night treatment from ABC, he adds, "But going through it and living it and filming it, I see why they did what they did."
Underwood has yet to confirm whether or not he finds love in the end. When speaking to THR, he did say he's "the happiest" that he's ever been. Whether or not that means viewers will see a traditional proposal in the end remains up for debate (until the finale airs on March 11 and 12).
"You come into this show realizing what you want to get out of it and what you’re ready for in your life," says Underwood. "Things change. Life happens and life changes, and you have to be willing to adapt. Relationships are all about compromise and you have to do what’s best for each relationship. I think you’ll see how that plays out, and the internal and external struggles I have going on through this show."
The Bachelor airs Mondays at 8 p.m. on ABC.