7:01pm PT by Jackie Strause
'The Bachelorette' Finale Ends With a Proposal — and No Live Show — Amid Pandemic
[This story contains spoilers from the season 16 finale of The Bachelorette.]
Everything about this season's The Bachelorette has been unprecedented — and Tuesday's finale was no exception.
The 16th season of the ABC reality dating franchise came to a close with star Tayshia Adams revealing her final pick. And, for the first time in finale-night memory, the journey ended there — with an accepted marriage proposal.
After eliminating Ivan Hall over a religious roadblock between the two (an off-camera conversation that took place during their Fantasy Suite date), Adams' final two men were Ben Smith — who was back in the running after being eliminated the week prior — and Zac Clark. After an emotional week that included teary-eyed breakups and tense family sitdowns, Adams ultimately gave her final rose to Clark and accepted his proposal in a heartfelt and memorable TV moment.
"I came here because I was supposed to meet you. And I came here because I was supposed to fall in love with you," Clark, an addiction specialist, told Adams when he arrived to the proposal site in Palm Springs, California. "I love you because you believe in me."
The three-time franchise star responded, "I didn't know if finding true love was possible. I know that I told you that I love you, but it's more than that. You have showed me that I deserve a love with a man who won't run away."
With both Adams and Clark growing emotional and in tears, Clark popped the question to a resounding yes. "I can't picture another day, another moment, without you in my life. And if you let me, I'm going to choose you right now. I'm going to choose you tomorrow morning. I'm going to choose you next week and next year. I'm going to choose you forever, because I love you," he said.
The finale then ended with the pair celebrating their engagement while still on location.
Typically, that pre-taped ending would be followed by the After the Final Rose special, where stars from The Bachelor and The Bachelorette appear in front of a live studio audience to update viewers on the status of their relationship in the off-camera months since filming wrapped.
Due to the impacted production schedule amid the global coronavirus pandemic, however, there was no ATFR special for the first time since it launched with The Bachelor's 2013 season. Adams and Clark, who indeed are still engaged, will be updating viewers on social media and in press interviews instead.
Recent seasons of the ABC franchise have bucked show tradition by ending in relationships, instead of engagements, and with the status of those relationships often changing in the period of time between when filming wraps and the live special. Those unpredictable endings have resulted in recent cycles of The Bachelor and Bachelorette adapting finale format to go back and forth between the live show and the pre-taped location footage across one or two supersized nights.
The exception, of course, is Clare Crawley, who was the initial star of the current season of The Bachelorette and who left the show after getting engaged early to her frontrunner, Dale Moss. The pair are still together.
But Adams was the star who carried the season through to finale night and on Tuesday, her ending only featured pre-taped footage.
"It pains me there’s no [After the Final Rose] live special this #TheBachelorette season," host Chris Harrison explained on Twitter after the episode aired. "Due to being pushed into the holidays and the difficulty of bringing people safely together during this time it just wasn’t possible. But hopefully we’ll be back for #TheBachelor."
While lacking in the live show element, the fact that the season was able to air at all was a production feat in the pandemic era. The entire season of The Bachelorette was produced differently in order for ABC and producers Warner Bros. Horizon to film a safe and successful show. Amid new COVID-19 era protocols, the cycle filmed this summer in a bubble and entirely on location at the La Quinta resort in Palm Springs, where contestants and crew quarantined and were tested multiple times.
Harrison has praised the "Herculean" effort that went into creating a safe set that had no COVID-related incidents. They applied their production playbook to the forthcoming season of The Bachelor, with historic star Matt James, and even filmed the Bachelorette reunion show in The Bachelor bubble in order to meet protocol.
"It's a miracle that the season happened," Harrison told The Hollywood Reporter at the beginning of the cycle. He echoed that sentiment when later talking about the effort that went into bringing Adams into the bubble as their mid-season star. "We really wanted it to feel like a Bachelorette season. We don’t want it to feel like 'COVID-Bachelorette.' We really wanted it to be the same intimate, fun show that we always do," he said.
Once Adams took over, she ushered in a season that many vocal viewers of the veteran franchise had long been wanting. As the first Black and Latina Bachelorette, and only the second-ever Black lead, Adams and her finalists helped to bring the franchise into 2020 by spotlighting emotional and topical conversations around race, addiction and mental health. Filmed at the height of the country's racial reckoning, Adams and Hall, who are both biracial, discussed the Black Lives Matter movement, racial injustice and police brutality on the historically white ABC series, which in the past has shied away from airing conversations about race or politics.
Going into the finale, Rachel Lindsay, who was the franchise's first Black lead when she starred on The Bachelorette in 2017, had hoped that with a lead of color in Adams, the show would feature more conversations around race and dating, and how to navigate an interracial relationship after leaving the show.
Leading up to their proposal, Adams and Clark spoke in depth about their past marriages and Clark's years-long journey of sobriety as a recovering drug addict and alcoholic. Adams told viewers, "We can have hard conversations and it's still good; we can talk through everything." But conversations about how race would impact their future as a couple never aired. Crawley, who is Latina, and Moss, who is biracial, were also never seen discussing race.
Lindsay, who is in an interracial relationship and married to her winner Bryan Abasolo, appeared on Monday night's episode of The Bachelorette, but later said that the parts of her sitdown with Adams that touched on these topics didn't make it to air. "2020 has been one for the history books and there is a lot of racial injustice that is going on and they were in a bubble," said Lindsay on her Bachelor Happy Hour podcast, which she co-hosts with fellow former Bachelorette Becca Kufrin. "It’s hard to be an interracial couple, period, coming out of this franchise, and so I asked a lot of questions about race and just more so asking Tayshia if she had asked those questions and just making sure that they were prepared and on the same page."
Lindsay, who is an attorney and media personality, had been vocal about the franchise's need to diversify in wake of America's embracement of the Black Lives Matter movement this summer. Amid growing public call for more inclusivity, The Bachelor announced its first Black male lead with James for season 25.
In addition to casting the most diverse group of contestants seen since Lindsay's historic Bachelorette cycle, the franchise also diversified behind the scenes, hiring more people of color among the producers and crew. "I think the best thing we ever did was realizing and admitting there was an issue, and then saying, 'Let’s get to work and let’s do better," Harrison had told THR earlier this season.
Those changes began to be reflected on Adams' season and will continue to be seen onscreen with James when his season premieres Jan. 4.
"I’m glad that more and more people will continue to see themselves represented on the show," Harrison told THR about The Bachelor. "I’m proud of the work our entire team has done. It takes a long time to turn around a big ship. Are we all the way there? No. But, have we made great strides? Absolutely. And I’m really proud of it."
The Bachelor returns Jan. 4 (at 8 p.m. on ABC). Keep up with Live Feed (here) for more Bachelorette coverage to come with an interview from Adams, as well as full coverage of The Bachelor in 2021.