'The Bachelor': Is Arie Now the Franchise's Biggest Villain?

The ABC reality dating cycle began with a shock casting and ended with an even more unexpected finale. THR's show experts break down Part 1 of the finale.
Courtesy of ABC; JB Lacroix/ WireImage
'The Bachelor' finalists Becca Kufrin and Lauren Burnham; Inset: Arie Luyendyk Jr.

[This story contains spoilers from the March 5 episode of the two-night Bachelor finale.]

The Bachelor finale lived up to the hype — and now everyone knows what he did.

The first part of a two-night ending to Arie Luyendyk Jr.'s cycle of the ABC reality dating franchise had been called "phenomenal" and the "most dramatic" ending in show history. The Hollywood Reporter's show experts would prefer to call the switcheroo devastating and cringe-worthy to watch — but agree that the unprecedented event made for must-see Bachelor TV.

After telling both of his finalists, Lauren Burnham and Becca Kufrin, that he loved them, Arie went into the final day of production unsure as to who he would propose to. It wasn't until that morning, after he had already introduced both women to his family and continuously expressed his love and reassurance to each of them, that he made up his mind. He proposed to an ecstatic Becca and completely blindsided Lauren by breaking up with her at the site of his soon-to-be proposal.

That's when The Bachelor broke format. Showing viewers home footage of Arie and Becca during their secret rendezvous after filming wrapped, the winning couple appeared to be as adorable as can be. But Arie confessed during a never-before-seen, post-show one-on-one that he had decided to call off the engagement and break up with Becca in hopes of a potential reconciliation with Lauren.

He then delivered his second blindside of the night to his now-fiancee, Becca, who must have been told that producers were filming their reunion for a segment for the After the Finale Rose reunion special, which will air on Tuesday. Their breakup played out unedited with split-screen footage to give both Arie and Becca their proper exposure. The moment was raw and nothing was left on the cutting-room floor — a first for the veteran franchise. Just weeks after the proposal, Becca never saw the ambush coming.

When making a brief live appearance at the end of the episode, she was shaking watching it back. "Brutal," she uttered to a room of rousing applause, one firmly in her corner. "When it all happened, I feel like I kind of blacked out and so much was going through my mind that I couldn't take it all in or really even focus on what I wanted to say. To watch that back now, of course I had feelings for him and I loved him, so it's a hard heartbreak."

She revealed that she and Arie have not spoken since that day: "After he left I went through all the emotions. I stayed in L.A. and cried for probably four days straight and grieved the loss of that relationship and the future that I thought we were going to have. I'm angry at times. I feel betrayed for a lot of the time because I feel like I was lied to for so long."

On Tuesday morning, she tweeted a close-up of herself making a face during the first cast shot, before the season even began, with the caption: "Deep down, I knew."

Tuesday night has promised to bring Bachelor Nation many answers when Arie, Becca and Lauren all come face-to-face in front of a live audience. Without offering any spoilers, the second part of the finale will provide fans with an update on how Arie's bid to win Lauren back played out and will reveal his current relationship status. Below, THR editors Jackie Strause and Kimberly Nordyke try to make sense of Arie's choices and break down the shocking first half of the epic finale.

Jackie Strause: Kimberly, will you be my Chris Harrison while I attempt to sort through my emotions? I can't believe that after first debating his controversial casting, this is where we ended up.

Kimberly Nordyke: Well, you definitely know something is up when there's still lots of time left in the show after the proposal and we're not jumping straight into the After the Final Rose special. For once, Chris Harrison may not have oversold it: This may actually be the "most dramatic" finale in franchise history. It was painful and devastating and heartbreaking, and yet Becca couldn't have handled it better, in my opinion. I can't imagine what she was going through, and yet she held it together very well for as long as she could.

Strause: We’ve been the fly on the wall for breakups before, but even when it’s the runner-up getting his or her heart broken at the proposal site in the end, we know it’s a little produced. I’m always noticing a stray hair in one shot that isn’t in the next and wondering how many times the producers made them re-do a part of the speech, no matter how awkward a somewhat scripted breakup might be for those involved. But we have never seen unedited footage of a show couple breaking up after the season and with such raw emotions (something Chris Harrison called a first for "network reality TV"). At one point, there were minutes of complete silence — apart from Becca's muffled weeping — where Arie sat on the couch and tried to be there for her until he eventually said, “Ok, I’m gonna go.”

Nordyke: Along those lines, I often notice that voice tones and volume tend to change when we're hearing someone speak while they aren't onscreen, which leads me to believe they splice dialogue together, and I'm never sure if reaction shots are actually from the moment we are led to believe they are from. But with this split-screen setup for the breakup, you got to see exactly how each was reacting to the other. You actually got to see the entire conversation in real time, as it played out. These were the most genuine moments ever aired on this franchise.

Strause: I need to ask you: Does Arie seem genuine? I could feel both Lauren and Becca’s hearts respectively breaking while watching, and yet I cannot emotionally connect with Arie’s plight. He hasn’t been great at expressing himself all season, but to blindside not one but two women? Both women said they had fears, but neither had doubts, which means he gave them zero indication that they weren't "the one." He has to be the worst communicator we’ve ever seen in Bachelor Nation and then he went behind Becca's back to producers. Is he the franchise's new No. 1 villain?

Nordyke: Given my anti-Arie stance since he was announced as the Bachelor, is it weird that I'm actually not mad at him? In real life, you wouldn't stay with someone in a similar situation, so why should he stay with someone just for a TV show? I've often felt like some of these couples have stayed together far longer than they wanted just to give producers and viewers the happy ending they want. I know viewers are going to be upset, shocked and downright angry — especially with how he did it — but as for the why? I'd rather him break up with Becca than one day find out they were in a phony relationship just for the cameras. I certainly feel for Becca in that she had her heart broken on national TV without any warning.

Strause: I see your point. I understand that in order to be the lead of this show, you have to open yourself up to love. There is, of course, the potential that you could fall for more than one person —it’s happened before (Ben Higgins, Jason Mesnick). But what I have never seen before is someone act so confident and reassuring to both finalists when it served him. I can't imagine what it's like to have the world judge your dating life, but his biggest mistake was agreeing to break it off with Becca for the cameras. It's fitting that Jason Mesnick pays him a visit on tomorrow's episode — the former Bachelor has openly spoken about how much he regretted not pushing back against the producers, who also had him break it off with Melissa Rycroft on camera during his After the Final Rose.

Nordyke: I never thought Arie was serious about finding a wife from the start, so to learn that he fell "in love" with two people is not the ending I expected. I definitely didn't think he'd up with one woman, much less wanting two! But if you are in love with two people, then are you really in love with either one? If you're getting engaged and asking someone to marry you, you should be pretty sure about that person. It's a lifelong commitment, after all. Maybe he doesn't even know what he wants.

Strause: We need a lot of questions answered tomorrow, but a few are burning. First, how did this conversation with Arie and Lauren happen and why was it allowed? I’m quite sure that it’s written into the contract that the runner-up will have no contact with the Bachelor or Bachelorette until the After the Final Rose special. Not only did the producers bend those rules, it’s clear that Becca knew the conversation was happening, even though she clearly didn’t get the details after the fact. Next, I want to hear Lauren’s side of everything. I have a lot of questions for her. Since Arie has spoken openly in the press — including to THR — about how he is happy with how things turned out and that he has no regrets, one can only assume that his romantic gesture to win Lauren back turns out in his favor. How could she take him back — and how can they last?

Nordyke: Molly took Jason back and they are still together, married and with a child, so I wouldn't rule it out. That being said, I always felt Jason — who had already been married and was a single father when he was the Bachelor — came across as more serious about finding a wife than Arie has. Who can forget Jason's crying scene on the balcony? I've not seen that much emotion from Arie, even when he was breaking up with Becca.

Strause: Tuesday's show will also reveal the new Bachelorette. Becca has to be a shoo-in now — but what if she is still too heartbroken? The only reason she wouldn't be the Bachelorette is if she turned them down. Though, after surprising her not only with an ex-boyfriend but with a breakup on camera, could we blame her?

Nordyke: She handled two situations — the ex-boyfriend surprise and the devastating breakup — with grace and maturity. She has a lot of sympathy now, and viewers will be rooting for her. I think she'd be a good pick, if she's up to it. Hopefully, we'll find out tomorrow night!

What do you think Bachelor Nation? Do you sympathize with Arie, or are you as blindsided as Lauren, and then Becca, was? Sound off in the comments below, and check back tomorrow for more show coverage from THR when the two-hour After the Finale Rose airs at 8 p.m. on ABC.