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Arie Luyendyk Jr. broke the cardinal Bachelor rule one week out from his finale. During alone time with his final three women, the ABC star told both Becca Kufrin and Lauren Burnham that he loved them — and he even told Kendall Long that he was falling for her, too.
It has long been understood on the reality TV juggernaut that the leads of The Bachelor and The Bachelorette are not to vocally express that they are falling in love with contestants. In many seasons’ past, a contestant will drop the L-word and the Bachelor or Bachelorette will remain tongue-tied, gagged by a googly eyed smile and unable to confirm that he or she indeed feels the same way. Presumably, the lead would only fall in love with the final pick and saying it out loud would give away the ending too early for viewers.
But on the 2016 season of The Bachelor, the producers allowed star Ben Higgins to break that rule. He famously told both of his finalists, Lauren Bushnell and future Bachelorette JoJo Fletcher, that he loved them.
This propelled the series into dangerous territory.
When a contestant hears the star professing their love, that man or woman assumes they are the final pick. Ben Higgins aside, most Bachelors or Bachelorettes save that moment for the end, and it’s usually a precursor to getting that final rose. When it’s said to the runner-up, that scenario makes for a devastating break-up.
And while it also makes for good TV — and ratings — it will surely become a roadblock on the road to the altar for the winning couple.
After Ben’s dual profession of love, he ended up picking and getting engaged to Lauren Bushnell. But his ex, JoJo, went on to become the following cycle’s Bachelorette. Not only was Ben a constant TV topic while he and Lauren were attempting to move past the show, but Lauren was constantly reminded that her fiance did, in fact, love another woman at the same time that he loved her — and she got to watch it play out live.
The pair admitted that it was a major point of contention in their relationship when they embarked on a short-lived TV spinoff. They ended up calling off their engagement the following year, and the split made for more TV fodder when Ben opened up about it, through tears, on the recent Bachelor Winter Games spinoff.
Now, flash forward to Arie, who is embarking down the same treacherous path.
On Monday night’s penultimate episode — from a viewer’s perspective — neither Becca, 27, nor Lauren, 25, could possibly have any idea that they weren’t Arie’s top choice. During the annual Fantasy Suite week, Arie’s three finalists all chose to take advantage of an overnight date without the cameras. But it was during his on-camera, one-on-one time with both Lauren and Becca that he dropped the L-word, multiple times, to each woman.
He reassured Lauren, who expressed fears about having her heart broken, and he told Becca that he had “no doubts” about their relationship. To viewers, Arie, 36, seemed to be leaning toward Becca, telling the camera, “There’s a part of me that wants to end this now and propose here.”
But then Becca’s ex-boyfriend arrived in Peru for an unexpected visit, making a failed attempt at trying to win back his ex of seven years. Though Becca swiftly sent him on his way, the stunt could relevel the playing field for Arie between his top two picks — making the final decision an even closer one.
When sending Kendall on her way during the final rose ceremony before the finale, he said of his final two women: “I just really realized how in love I am and how I know that this is going to end up in a proposal. That really gives me a lot of hope and excitement and I feel so good going into next week.”
With The Bachelor airing during the #MeToo era, some have criticized the season as being a step back for female empowerment; other critics have simply labeled Arie as a boring lead. The producers and one castmate, however, have promised an ending that will make up for the rest of the season, either way.
In fact, the network has expanded the finale to be a two-night event, playing out on Monday and Tuesday across a whopping five hours of television. The three-hour finale airs Monday at 8 p.m., followed by a two-hour After the Finale Rose special on Tuesday at 8 p.m. on ABC, where both Lauren and Becca will be present. The ABC release promises a “jolting, must-see” ending to Monday, and a “gut-wrenching” conclusion on Tuesday.
Adding to the excitement, ATFR will also reveal the identity of the new Bachelorette. Standouts Bekah Martinez, Seinne Fleming, Tia Booth and Kendall will all be in attendance.
No matter what happens next week, the winning woman will again be faced with the same post-show hurdle of starting a relationship knowing that her fiance was also in love with another woman when he proposed. While it certainly proves that the Bachelor and Bachelorette format works when it comes to finding love on the show, what will it mean for the newest couples’ chances at making it in the long run?
The ABC press release asks: “What was behind his unexpected decision that blindsided both of them? What will the women have to say to Arie when they see him?”
The franchise success rate has long been a topic of discussion. Five combined seasons of Bachelor in Paradise and the recent Winter Games have produced more long-lasting couples than the all 34 Bachelor and Bachelorette seasons combined. Only two couples, Sean and Catherine Lowe and Jason and Molly Mesnick, remain together from The Bachelor (and the latter was memorably not Mesnick’s final pick.)
With the runner-up facing potentially “the worst heartbreak in Bachelor history,” she’s likely a shoo-in to become the next Bachelorette, and start the whole Ben-Lauren-JoJo cycle all over again. What are the chances Arie’s winner can move beyond his other public declaration of love — or that Arie indeed made the right choice in the end?
Only time, and perhaps another TV special or two, will tell.
The Bachelor airs its finale on Monday and Tuesday nights at 8 p.m. on ABC.
Feb. 27, 10:20 a.m. Updated with ABC release, finale tune-in information.
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