'The Bachelor' Franchise Controversies: A Timeline of Bad Behavior and Scandal

Moving beyond reality TV drama, the veteran ABC franchise continues to come under fire for off-camera scandals.
Courtesy of Craig Sjodin/ABC
Star Becca Kufrin with the cast of 'The Bachelorette'

The Bachelor franchise is no stranger to controversy.

Since its 2002 debut, the ABC reality dating competition franchise and its forthcoming spinoff series have seen their fair share of headline-making stories. The drama of the earlier years of The Bachelor and The Bachelorette were mainly relegated to on-air moments, giving the hit series the momentum it needed to churn out 36 cycles to date — plus three spinoff series, reunion specials, one aftershow and six TV weddings (including original Bachelorette Trista Sutter's vow renewals).

The more recent years, however, have seen the franchise making news for scandals that have continued beyond its regularly scheduled programming. The 2016 season of The Bachelorette with JoJo Fletcher introduced a troubling trend of violence with villain Chad; after making history with the show's first black lead, Rachel Lindsay's 2017 season of The Bachelorette was accused of race-baiting for drama; that same year, spinoff series Bachelor in Paradise was temporarily shutdown over a sexual misconduct investigation; Arie Luyendyk Jr.'s cycle of The Bachelor brought about unprecedented backlash and questioned the franchise amid the #MeToo era; and most recently, a contestant on Becca Kufrin's current season of The Bachelorette was convicted of indecent assault and battery — the news breaking while he remained an eligible suitor on the show.

Below, The Hollywood Reporter takes a look at how the franchise's biggest controversies have played out and continue to influence the show.

Bachelor in Paradise Couple Called Off Engagement Day After Finale (September, 2018)

Jordan Kimball and Jenna Cooper got engaged on the Sept. 10 finale of Bachelor in Paradise. The fifth season of the summer spinoff series ended with the pair pitching their own TV wedding to Chris Harrison during the reunion show, with Kimball even setting June 9 as the date for an on-camera Paradise affair. The same night the episode aired, however, a Reality Steve report — with accompanying screenshots — accused Cooper of cheating on Kimball and faking the relationship to better her business. In text messages apparently sent by Cooper, she says she and Kimball "aren't together for real" in messages to a man claiming to be in a relationship with her. "I don't even like him, let alone love him. I'm better than him and once I'm able to I'll break it off for good and make up some story and make up some story to make him look bad if it will make you feel better," she writes in one message. Cooper has called the report "untrue" and said she is seeking legal counsel to investigate. But Kimball said he believed the texts were sent by Cooper and called off the engagement — only one day after they went public together. ABC has not commented.

Bachelor in Paradise Star Arrested for Domestic Battery (September, 2018)

Former Bachelor and Bachelor in Paradise contestant Amanda Stanton, who made a brief cameo during this summer's Paradise cycle, was arrested Sept. 10 in Las Vegas on a battery domestic violence charge. Police and hotel security responded to a claim that Stanton had battered her boyfriend, Bobby Jacobs, after a fight in their hotel room at the Encore hotel, where Stanton was staying for a bachelorette celebration. "Amanda is embarrassed and ashamed this happened and sincerely apologizes to hotel security and the Las Vegas Police Department," her rep, Steve Honig, said in a statement. "Amanda is a gentle, respectful person who has never gotten physical with anyone under any circumstance. That evening she had a few drinks at a bachelorette party and when hotel security asked her and Bobby to quiet down, she got a bit rambunctious. Amanda gave Bobby what she thought was a playful shove; hotel security did their job and reported the incident to the police, who in turn did their job. Despite Bobby explaining this was not an ill-intended shove, the police still had to do their job which Amanda completely respects and understands.”

Bachelor Alum Shares Claims Accusing Bachelor in Paradise Star of Sexual Harassment (August, 2018)

Bekah Martinez, a memorable contestant from Arie Luyendyk Jr.'s season of The Bachelor, took to her Instagram account on Aug. 2 to share a series of anonymous claims she has received from other women about Bachelorette star Leo Dottavio. Dottavio, a Hollywood stuntman who made it to the top six finalists on Becca Kufrin's season of The Bachelorette (which airs its finale on Aug. 6), most recently appeared on The Bachelorette: Men Tell All and summer spinoff Bachelor in Paradise. On her Instagram story Highlight video, Martinez posted multiple screenshots from different women who have reached out to her claiming that Dottavio has allegedly harassed them or made unwanted sexual advances in the past. Martinez said she discovered the first claim from a show Reddit page. When reached by THR, ABC and show producers Warner Bros. TV declined to comment; THR has also reached out to Martinez. Dottavio told the New York Post that the original screenshot was photoshopped and that his lawyer is investigating the situation. He later released a lengthy statement on Instagram, where he denied any sexual harassment claims while admitting, "I am not a perfect person nor have I ever claimed to be." Dottavio attended the Bachelor in Paradise reunion show on Sept. 11, but his interactions at the taping were cut from what made it to air.

Bachelorette Contestant Accused of Being "Verbally Abusive" On Air (July 2018)

Chris Randone, a contestant on the recent season of The Bachelorette, was accused of being "verbally abusive" by star Becca Kufrin and some of his fellow contestants during his time on the show. After publicly feuding with controversial contestant Lincoln Adim (see below), Randone was eliminated on the July 2 episode. The following day, he took to Instagram to apologize for his "disrupting" behavior. Typically, such a statement would be saved for the upcoming reunion episode. "Now that my journey has concluded and going through the thousands of hate mail, death threats, and negative comments made about my mother. I finally found it within myself to post a response," he wrote, however, in part. Vowing to do better — when he returned to the franchise this summer on Bachelor in Paradise — he added, "I lacked emotional intelligence which led to my disrupting behavior that was uncalled for. I was insecure which was unattractive. Thinking I was entitled was not only embarrassing but a disgusting mindset." Randone ended up getting engaged to Krystal Nielson on the Bachelor in Paradise finale and the pair are still engaged.

Bachelorette Contestant Convicted for Indecent Assault and Battery (June 2018)

Sparking debate about how the Bachelor franchise vets its contestants, a contestant from Kufrin's season of The Bachelorette has been convicted of sexual assault. Lincoln Adim, who remained in the reality dating competition until July 2, was convicted of indecent assault and battery for groping and assaulting an adult female on a harbor cruise ship. The incident in question occurred May 30, 2016, but Adim was convicted on May 21 of this year — after filming on the season wrapped and one week before its TV debut. Of Adim, who by law was expected to register as a sex offender, show producers Warner Bros. TV said no one on the show was aware of the incident or charges when he was cast. "We employ a well-respected and highly experienced third party who has done thousands of background checks consistent with industry standards to do a nationwide background check in this case," read the statement in part. "The report we received did not reference any incident or charge relating to the recent conviction — or any other charges relating to sexual misconduct. We are currently investigating why the report did not contain this information, which we will share when we have it." On July 13, the DA's office filed a notice of appeal in a bid to make Adim wear a GPS monitoring device; the case is scheduled for further hearing on July 27.

Previously, arrest records or legal issues have come to light (most notably, former Bachelor Chris Soules is facing trial over a fatal car crash), but rarely has such an issue come up with a current contestant. The minds behind the Bachelor franchise launched a companion reality dating show to air along with The Bachelorette this summer called The Proposal. ABC had to cancel the show's second episode, however, after a contestant named Michael J. Friday was accused of facilitating a woman's sexual assault last year. In response to the vetting problems on both of his shows, creator Mike Fleiss took to Twitter to say, "For the record, I am horrified that any of these abusive assholes are on our shows. We are working very hard to find ways to do better." Adim became a source of tension on the show as well, feuding with fellow contestant Randone (see above) before both men were eliminated on the July 2 episode, in the show's sixth week. Adim, whose social media accounts are private, has yet to comment since his elimination. Photos of the contestant have been scrubbed from the ABC press site, though his bio remains.

Bachelorette Contestant's Offensive Social Media Behavior Exposed (May 2018)

Shortly after the current season of The Bachelorette premiered, an early frontrunner on Kufrin's cycle came under fire for offensive social media behavior. Published screen grabs showed Garrett Yrigoyen liking Instagram posts that mocked undocumented immigrants, the trans community, liberal feminists and Parkland, Florida, student David Hogg, among other things. After Kufrin was forced to address the situation during the first week of her cycle, Yrigoyen took responsibility for the posts and apologized. The public statement broke tradition; typically, a contestant will not speak until he or she is eliminated and Yrigoyen is still competing on the season. The incident marked the second time a contestant's social media activity had gone undetected. After Yrigoyen was revealed as Kufrin's winner, he addressed the scandal, with Kufrin by his side, during the post-finale live After the Final Rose special and in subsequent interviews, including to THR. They each defended their relationship — the pair remains engaged — and Yrigoyen vowed to "grow and become better" in the future.

Bachelor Arie Luyendyk Jr. Offends Viewers in #MeToo Era (March 2018)

Some critics already felt The Bachelor was taking a step back amid the #MeToo era with the "Kissing Bandit"-nicknamed lead, and the reaction to Arie Luyendyk Jr.'s finale continued that conversation. In a finale shocker, Luyendyk called off the engagement with his winner, Kufrin, for a chance with runner-up Lauren Burnham. ABC's cameras filmed the Bachelor's breakup with Kufrin and aired the sequence in an extended finale they billed as "unedited." She went on to be named the next Bachelorette and Luyendyk and Burnham got engaged, but the backlash reached new levels (a Senator introduced a bill to ban Luyendyk from Kufrin's home state of Minnesota and billboards targeted the star), while some viewers took to abandoning the franchise. Luyendyk has since criticized producers for "editing" his finale. Since the #MeToo movement began, the series has also been sued for sexual harassment and a former Bachelorette, Meredith Phillips, came forward with a misconduct claim that she alleges occurred when filming her 2004 season. 

Bachelor in Paradise Halts Production Over a Sexual Misconduct Investigation (June 2017)

Bachelor in Paradise suspended production only days into filming its fourth season when a female contestant, later identified to be Corinne Olympios, accused male co-star DeMario Jackson of sexual misconduct. After an internal investigation by WBTV found that no misconduct occurred, production resumed and a shortened run of the summer series aired. The show subsequently introduced new drinking and consent policies and used the off-camera developments, which became a national news story, as a teaching moment that aired when the show returned. The incident raised questions about safety on set, as well as how race played a factor (Jackson believed the situation would have played out differently if he were white). The franchise also broke with traditional programming to air sitdowns with both Jackson and Olympios; the pair then reunited for the finale special.

Racist Tweets From a Bachelorette Contestant Are Unearthed Mid-Season (May 2017)

Lee Garrett, a contestant on Rachel Lindsay's history-making 2017 season of The Bachelorette, caused controversy both on- and off-camera after racist, sexist and homophobic tweets of his were exposed. Lindsay, the first black lead of the franchise's 15 years, saw her season spotlighting tensions between the black and white contestants, including a racially charged episode involving Garrett as he was making news off-camera. The show said it was unaware of the tweets when Garrett was cast and later announced changes to the vetting process. Garrett was later brought back for the reunion episode so Harrison could explore the topic, but that did not stop viewers and critics from accusing the show of race-baiting for ratings. "We need to be able to say, 'white,' 'black,' 'racism,'" Harrison said of the Men Tell All episode, which also side-stepped the simultaneous Bachelor in Paradise controversy (above).

Contestant Threatens Bachelorette Co-Stars, Chris Harrison (May, August 2016)

Chad Johnson, a contestant on JoJo Fletcher's 2016 season of The Bachelorette, escalated the series to never-before-seen levels of violence. He incited his castmates, made death threats and physically attacked a co-star while competing on the 12th cycle. The violent behavior dominated much of the season's on-air drama until Johnson was eliminated and, despite his behavior, the unapologetic star — who was called "unstable" by a castmate — was cast on the following summer's Bachelor in Paradise. Johnson only made it through one episode before further death threats and an altercation with host Harrison got him kicked off the series. Johnson later blamed his behavior on alcohol. “I don’t normally drink, I work," he said at the time. “When you’re at that low of body fat percent — like 3 or 4 percent — drinks affect you way more."

Bachelorette Kaitlyn Bristowe Receives Death Threats, Is Slut-Shamed (July 2015)

Season 11 Bachelorette Kaitlyn Bristowe received a heightened level of misogynistic backlash for owning her sexual relationships on the show. During the annual reunion episode, host Harrison displayed hateful social media reactions from viewers after Bristowe said on camera that she had sex with returning contestant Nick Viall ahead of the "Fantasy Suites." His intent was to explore the "sexist double-standard" of how the franchise's Bachelorettes are treated compared to the Bachelors, and Bristowe revealed the reaction had risen to the level of her receiving death threats. “I like to think that it doesn’t matter what people think about me, and I’ve always tried to preach that and I’m going to be who I am no matter what,” she told Harrison. “But when it’s thousands and thousands of comments after comments just pouring in of people hating — I get death threats. That hurts.”

Runner-Up Exposes Fantasy Suite Sex With Bachelorette Andi Dorfman (July 2014)

After rejecting Viall, season 10 Bachelorette Andi Dorfman and the runner-up reunited during the live After the Final Rose taping. During their conversation, Viall said, “If you weren’t in love with me, I’m not sure why you made love with me.” The remark was the first time a contestant on the show publicly acknowledged what goes on in the show's Fantasy Suites, sparking conversations to come about which stars have sex with their finalists during the overnight date without cameras. Years later, Dorfman opened up about the slut-shaming she experienced from the on-air reveal in her memoir. "The Bachelor is never called a manwhore. But when a woman who is in the same exact situation does it, she gets labeled a slut and it's all of a sudden newsworthy," she wrote in a column for THR. Also in her book, Dorfman detailed how her winner, Josh Murray, was an "emotional abuser" during their "volatile" relationship. He was later cast on the 2016 season of Bachelor in Paradise and the accusation became a source of drama between Murray and Viall, also a contestant.

Bachelor Juan Pablo Galavis Makes Anti-Gay Remarks (January 2014)

The choice of the bilingual Venezuelan contestant was initially praised, as Juan Pablo Galavis became the first Latino star of the franchise in 2014. While doing press only weeks into his season 18 debut, however, Galavis' anti-gay remarks cast a cloud on what could have otherwise been seen as a turning point for more diversity on the show. When asked if an openly gay or bisexual star could lead, Galavis said, "I don’t think it is a good idea for kids to watch that on TV.” The star later apologized, and WBTV called his comments "careless, thoughtless and insensitive." His season saw backlash from critics and viewers who voiced difficulty in separating the person from the star. His behavior on the show went downhill from there, including a non-proposal ending, and he was given the title of "worst" Bachelor in the show's history. Galavis' off- and on-camera behavior led ABC to distance themselves and cancel his follow-up Dancing With the Stars gig.

Winner Accuses Bachelor Jake Pavelka of Emotional Abuse (July 2010)

Season 14 Bachelor Jake Pavelka ultimately picked Vienna Girardi, but the franchise aired their breakup in an explosive televised special weeks after the finale. Sitting down in a pre-taped segment for the short-lived Bachelor Pad spinoff with host Harrison, the tabloid-dueling couple gave America a peak into their tumultuous off-camera relationship as they fought and lobbed accusations at each other, including Girardi claiming the Bachelor turned Dancing With the Stars "fame whore" is emotionally abusive. The interview ended with Girardi storming out in tears. Pavelka turned to Harrison and said, “Unfortunately, that’s what one of our arguments looks like." 

Contestant Exits Over Producer Relationship (January 2010)

Rozlyn Papa, a contestant on Pavelka's Bachelor season, was kicked off the show for having what was called an "inappropriate physical relationship" with one of the show's producers, who was also fired. Host Harrison informed her of the news during the season and then interviewed her about the relationship, which she denied, on the season's aftershow. Pavelka confirmed the relationship was inappropriate in post-season interviews, while Papa accused the show of exaggerating the story for ratings.

Jason Mesnick Swaps His Winner on Aftershow (March 2009)

Jason Mesnick's season had long been deemed "the most dramatic" of the franchise — but his off-camera behavior was strictly having to do with his own relationships. The season 13 Bachelor reversed his decision months after handing out his final rose, marking the biggest unprecedented show moment for seasons to come. After proposing to Melissa Rycroft in the finale, Mesnick rejected her for another chance with runner-up Molly Malaney during the post-finale After the Finale Rose special. Malaney accepted his offer and the pair are still married. Mesnick became the "most-hated man in America" and held that franchise title until Luyendyk pulled a similar swap in 2018. All those years later, Mesnick still recalled the all-consuming viewer response to his decision on the most recent ATFR: “This show can really mess somebody up. Unless you’ve been through it, you just don’t get it."

Bachelor Brad Womack Picks Neither Finalist (November 2007)

Brad Womack became the first Bachelor in show history to reject all of his contestants, marking the franchise's biggest "scandal" at the time. The 11th season finale outraged viewers when he broke up with finalists Deanna Pappas and Jenni Croft instead of getting down on one knee or proposing a relationship. He was deemed the "biggest jerk in America" and received substantial backlash, including personal emails from viewers and calls to his family. Still, Womack was later given a do-over as season 15's Bachelor four years later (nearly 9 million people watched his premiere). Womack is the only star to lead the series twice and following his first run, only one other Bachelor (Galavis) has decided not to propose on the finale.

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