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[This story contains spoilers from the March 12 episode of The Bachelor.]
For only the second time in recent memory, The Bachelor did not end with a proposal.
When Bachelor Colton Underwood took the live stage during the second night of a two-part finale on Tuesday, the star of the latest cycle in the long-running ABC reality dating series revealed that he and his on-and-off frontrunner, Cassie Randolph, are currently dating — but they’re not engaged.
The real-time update came after The Bachelor aired pre-taped footage from the remainder of the season showing how Underwood fought and convinced Randolph to stay and give their relationship a second chance after her dramatic exit in the fence-hopping Portugal episode. “I’m not telling you that I love you, I want to show you and I want you to see exactly why and how much I’m willing to give up and give to us,” Underwood told Randolph about breaking show rules and taking a risk to be with her.
ABC devoted two nights to the conclusion of Underwood’s season and the expanded show, hosted by Chris Harrison, jumped back and forth between the pre-taped season (which wrapped filming months ago) and a live stage in Los Angeles where viewers were updated on where the Bachelor and Randolph stand today.
“We’re in love,” Underwood emphatically said about their relationship when making his first public appearance with Randolph on Tuesday. Sitting by his side, she jumped in to say, “We’re super in love.”
Though they said they have talked about being engaged, the pair still has “a lot of room to grow” and are “enjoying dating right now,” said Underwood, who recently moved to L.A. to be closer to Randolph. The couple have spent weekends together in Bachelor safe houses since filming wrapped and Randolph described their relationship now as being “better than I could have ever imagined.” Adding, “He is legitimately my best friend. I don’t regret anything that happened because it got me to where I am now and I’m so happy and we’re so happy together.”
In the past 12 seasons of The Bachelor, Underwood is one of only two Bachelors to not propose in the finale. Last year’s Bachelor Arie Luyendyk Jr. even famously proposed twice — once in the pre-taped finale before changing his mind and then proposing again on live TV to his now-wife, Lauren Burnham, in the second night of their conclusion, the only other time ABC has devoted two nights to a Bachelor ending.
Earlier seasons of The Bachelor were much less predictable when it came to the final episode. Six of the first nine Bachelor seasons ended with commitments to continue dating, but no rings; in 2007, Bachelor Brad Womack famously rejected both of his finalists; and in 2009, Bachelor Jason Mesnick was the first Bachelor star to break up with his winner after filming and embark on a relationship with his runner-up (and now-wife, Molly Malaney).
But from 2008 and on, controversial Bachelor Juan Pablo Galavis was the only male lead to not propose in the end — until Underwood came along.
“I’m looking forward to a lifetime of happiness with you,” said Underwood to Randolph on Tuesday’s stage when giving her the final rose. The 27-year-old had promised to Randolph, who is 23, that he wouldn’t pressure a proposal if she wasn’t ready in his fight to win her back.
The Bachelor‘s success rate has long raised questions about the supposed fairytale endings, which often come with the male star popping the question with a Neil Lane sparkler. Only three of the 22 Bachelor stars are married to their winner or runner-up from the show. And after Luyendyk Jr.’s much-criticized flip-flopping, the debate about whether there should be a proposal in the end grew much louder.
“I feel like there needs to be more flexibility if that person needs more time,” Luyendyk Jr. admitted to The Hollywood Reporter after his finale aired about the pressure of the TV proposal. Though Harrison has long said that the show doesn’t require an engagement in the end, Luyendyk Jr. described how the lead can put pressure on himself, given what the contestants, producers and audience are hoping to get out of the season. (It’s worth noting that The Bachelorette, by comparison, has had a proposal at the end of all 14 seasons; six of those couples remain together.)
Going into his season, Underwood agreed with Luyendyk Jr.’s assessment about the TV engagement being rushed. “This show and The Bachelor isn’t for a marriage,” he told press, including THR, ahead of his premiere. “Of course you want it to end in a marriage; it’s for a proposal in its end. And it’s typically to fall in love and to find your person to spend time developing a relationship and spending time on a relationship and on your personal life — and that’s exactly what I did. I wanted to make sure that I did things my way.”
He added, “I know that sounds sort of brutal to say, because there has been a format to the show and there has been successes had for a reason, but everybody loves differently. Everybody goes through this process differently. I’m included in that.”
Underwood proved throughout his season that he did things differently and bucked what he called the “unwritten” rules of the show. His season broke more of the fourth-wall than ever before, as cameras followed the star into the production bay and during behind-the-scenes moments. Then, most notably, he told Randolph she was his pick in the end — despite there still being two other women in the competition (a big no-no) — and he temporarily quit the show when she decided to break it off anyway.
The steps Underwood has taken since the Portugal fence jump were unprecedented on the franchise. Underwood broke it off with his remaining two women and, with zero women left in the competition, went to fight to bring Randolph back to the show. She agreed and for the first time ever, their season ended in a Fantasy Suite bedroom instead of at the typical Bachelor proposal site.
The final moment viewers were left with was Underwood hinting that he is no longer a virgin — closing the door on a topic that has buzzed around his celebrity every since his 2018 stint on The Bachelorette.
Underwood, a former football player from Indianapolis, told the world he was still a virgin at age 26 when appearing on Becca Kufrin’s season of The Bachelorette. During his season of The Bachelor, he provided more insight behind his decision, confessing to contestant Caelynn Miller-Keyes, a sexual assault survivor, that his biggest love was also a survivor of sexual assault and that he related to the intimacy struggles from the other side of the relationship.
The continued publicity and ABC marketing about his virginity has made Underwood fodder on morning and late-night shows alike, with the network’s own Jimmy Kimmel particularly harping on his personal choice (Underwood and Randolph later appeared on Jimmy Kimmel Live! on Tuesday night to face the music; Kimmel also correctly predicted that Randolph would win his season).
Underwood has understood the collective interest in his sexual life, given his platform, but after speaking candidly about his own choices thus far, the star is shutting off talk about his sex life now that another person is involved.
“Heading into the Fantasy Suite I wasn’t thinking about anything but fighting for our relationship,” Underwood said on Tuesday. “I know I’ve been very open and candid about my virginity, but since there are two of us now in this relationship, it’s something that we’re going to keep to ourselves.”
Harrison responded with a resounding, “I’ll take that as a yes!”
The end of The Bachelor marks three back-to-back appearances from Underwood on the ABC franchise. Now that he says he has finally found “the one,” what comes next professionally remains to be seen.
“The interesting thing about where I was at coming from going into the show is that I was leaving the game of football, which was my biggest crutch and something that I leaned on heavily,” he told THR at the recent Women Tell All taping of his post-Bachelor life. “I didn’t really have a career and I didn’t really know what I was going to do with the rest of my life and I still don’t. I’ve enjoyed the entertainment side of things. I’ve enjoyed filming television shows, I don’t know exactly what that means, but I’ll definitely keep my options open and stay in this industry in some magnitude.”
Tuesday’s finale also brought with it the announcement of ABC’s next Bachelorette, as the female spinoff goes into production this week and returns on May 13. Hannah Brown, a contestant who placed seventh on Underwood’s season, has been cast for the starring role of the 15th season of The Bachelorette.
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