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Emmanuel Acho is set to host this season’s After the Final Rose special with Bachelor Matt James, which airs March 15 following the pre-taped finale of the current 25th cycle. The on-air personality and bestselling author is being called in to replace Harrison amid an ongoing racism controversy for the franchise.
“It’s both an honor and privilege to be hosting After the Final Rose. This is an incredibly pivotal episode on one of the most storied shows in television history,” said Acho in a statement.
During the live finale, Acho will sit down with James to discuss his season, his final decision and where he is now, as well as cover the current events about the franchise. Three women currently remain in the competition, and those women — Bri Springs, Michelle Young and Rachael Kirkconnell — will all be present for the one-hour special.
In a rare public statement for a current star, James recently addressed the issues that have come to light since filming about Kirkconnell. “The reality is that I’m learning about these situations in real time, and it has been devastating and heartbreaking to put it bluntly,” he said, in part. If Kirkconnell wins, James’ season would follow a pattern established by several recent seasons, where developments after filming change the ultimate ending by the time the live show airs.
Acho had been publicly suggested as a finale replacement for Harrison by Rachel Lindsay, a franchise alum and the first Black Bachelorette who has found herself also at the center of the developing controversy. (The star deactivated her Instagram account over the weekend after receiving abusive online messages.)
Harrison has been the only host of the franchise since it first launched in 2002. On Feb. 13, he announced that he would be taking an indefinite hiatus that would include the live finale, which is the only event of the season that had yet to be taped. The announcement — which he made on his social media after consulting with ABC, the home of the franchise, and show producers Warner Bros. TV — followed problematic comments he made during an interview with Lindsay that lent support to Kirkconnell, who has emerged as a frontrunner for James, amid racist allegations that had been surrounding her since the start of the season.
During the 14-minute interview for Extra, Harrison refused to denounce the allegations, which included resurfaced photos of the Georgia native, now 24, attending an “Old South” plantation-themed college party in 2018. When Harrison was pressed about the party, he argued to Lindsay, “Well, Rachel, is it a good look in 2018, or is it not a good look in 2021? Because there’s a big difference.” He questioned the “lens” of 2021 compared to 2018 and asked people to give Kirkconnell the “grace” and “compassion” to explain herself.
The interview received swift backlash over both his problematic defense for the contestant and his treatment of Lindsay, prompting him to apologize on social media for “wrongly speaking in a manner that perpetuates racism.” Kirkconnell has since apologized and recently spoke out in a seven-minute video. The cast of her season had also released a joint social media statement “denouncing any racist behavior and any defense thereof.” That was followed by the cast of the 2020 season of The Bachelorette and the three leads of those seasons — Bachelorettes Clare Crawley and Tayshia Adams and current star James — also denouncing Harrison’s interview and standing united with Lindsay.
The ongoing controversy has prompted weeks of dialogue among the stars of Bachelor Nation, including Lindsay, calling for change, accountability and action when it comes to seeing better representation on the franchise. “We got complacent,” Lindsay explained on her Higher Learning podcast for The Ringer, referring to the 2020 calls for the franchise to diversify in wake of the national racial reckoning. “In 2020, we said, ‘Do better. You need to have more leads of color. You need to have an apology. You need to have people in power that are of color that are making these decisions. You need to have storylines that are diverse.’ And they did some of that. And then we said, ‘Ok.’ And then look what happened last week. So, if anything, it teaches you that you can’t stop, you have to keep going. Just because some changes are made, doesn’t mean that it’s all good.” As for Harrison, she said, “You need to show me that there’s been some change within you. And disappearing from the public eye is not the change that I need to see.”
The current events have derailed the currently airing historic season with the first-ever Black Bachelor, casting a cloud over a year that was meant to set right the franchise’s diversity woes. Heading into the most recent seasons of The Bachelorette and The Bachelor, the producers made changes behind the scenes and in casting in an effort to set the veteran ABC franchise on a more inclusive track. The show hired more producers of color, brought in a diversity team to work with the cast and crew, and cast leads of color and the most diverse casts in the history of the show.
Now, weeks away from The Bachelor finale, the firestorm has prompted many stars in Bachelor Nation to join Lindsay and call for renewed change moving forward. Those calls grew louder amid silence from the franchise; two episodes have aired since the controversy without an onscreen mention and no plans have been announced to edit Harrison from the pre-taped show.
With Kirkconnell remaining in the competition, her first opportunity to address the off-camera drama will be during the After the Final Rose. Whether or not Harrison can return to the franchise and host the next cycle The Bachelorette, which was set to go into production when The Bachelor wraps before the controversy unfolded, also remains to be seen.
Acho is a New York Times bestselling author and the host of Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man. His groundbreaking online series to drive meaningful dialogue around racial ignorance and insensitivity launched in June 2020 and has more than 80 million views to date. The former NFL linebacker is also a Fox Sports analyst and co-hosts FS1’s Speak for Yourself.
The Bachelor: After the Final Rose airs March 15 (10-11 p.m.) on ABC immediately following the season finale (8-10 p.m.).
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