'Bachelor' controversy: Is the NASCAR date cruelty or closure?
Image Credit: Isaac Brekken/ABCEver since ABC ran the promo for next week’s episode of The Bachelor in which Brad Womack takes eight women on a group date to Las Vegas Motor Speedway for the NASCAR Racing Experience (and an epic let’s-all-walk-in-a-straight-line-holding-our-helmets camera shot), some viewers have been outraged. Emily Maynard, one of the women vying for Brad’s hand, lost her fiancé, NASCAR driver-turned-car owner Ricky Hendrick, in a 2004 plane crash. She was supposed to be on the Hendrick Motorsports plane taking Ricky and a small group of others to a race in Martinsville, VA, but she stayed home that morning because she felt sick. All 10 onboard were killed. Later that week, Emily found out she was pregnant.
On the show, we’ve seen Emily tell Brad a vague version of the story because she wanted him to know she has a daughter. She didn’t name Hendrick (she referred to him as “the absolute love of my life”), or say he was a NASCAR driver, but she did say he “worked in racing.” In the clip embedded below, Brad takes Emily aside because he can see that she’s forcing a smile at the racetrack. “I don’t want you to think that I’m ungrateful, or that I’m not excited to be here at all or anything,” she says. “Honestly, it was like, I just wanted to move on.” She also tells him the track ABC sent them to for this fun-filled date is where Ricky crashed and suffered what ended up being a career-ending shoulder injury in 2002. Brad gets it: “I feel like a jerk,” he tells her.
So why didn’t Bachelor producers feel like jerks? While many fans are disgusted — “It really just makes me sick that the producers would exploit Emily by forcing her into a Nascar date. The show should be making a public apology for their insensitive behavior,” commented Ani on EW.com’s Bachelor recap — an ABC spokesperson tells EW, “The only thing we can say is that viewers need to watch and make up their own minds about the date.” A rep for Las Vegas Motor Speedway tells EW, “This episode was brought to LVMS by representatives of The Bachelor. We were not aware of any of the participants in the show at the time of filming.” And a rep for NASCAR, a notoriously tight-knit organization, tells EW, “NASCAR worked with the show on the integration of NASCAR Racing Experience. It’s important to note that Emily’s fiancé didn’t pass away in a racing accident. She has been to many racetracks since that tragic plane crash. There’s no issue here.” Watch the promo and sneak peek clip below.
In my opinion, ABC has a point: We should watch the full date — not just Emily’s negative reaction, which ABC is choosing to promote — before we judge. Perhaps the experience does end up being cathartic for her in the end. But I also think any time you’re dealing with a tragedy someone has personal ties to, they should have the right to decide if and when they’re exposed to a situation that’s going to trigger memories, so they can emotionally prepare. It’s different obviously, but as someone who was in New York City on 9/11, I despise films that have 9/11-related story lines and don’t advertise it (looking at you, Remember Me).
So what do you think, Bachelor fans? Is this cruelty for the sake of “good TV,” or the best way for Brad to know if Emily is really ready to move on? On Warner Bros.’ Bachelor site, 75 percent of people responding to a poll asking fans for their opinion on Emily being sent on the NASCAR date have answered, “It’s cruel and completely inappropriate.” (Thirteen percent said, “It’s the best thing for her and Brad,” while 12 percent could apparently not care less and voted for “It sounds like a lot of fun.”) In a poll on ABC’s Bachelor site, 55 percent of fans are saying the NASCAR group date is the date they’re most looking forward to in next week’s episode.