4. Season 5 (Jesse Palmer)

Matt James is speaking out on the recent controversy surrounding The Bachelor.

On Monday, the current lead and first Black male star of ABC's long-running reality franchise issued a statement on Instagram about host Chris Harrison's decision to step aside after defending current contestant Rachael Kirkconnell's past racist behavior.

"The past few weeks have been some of the most challenging of my life, and while there are several episodes left of the season, it is important that I take the time to address the troubling information that has come to light since we wrapped filming, including the incredibly disappointing photos of Rachael Kirkconnell and the interview between Rachel Lindsay and Chris Harrison," James wrote.

"The reality is that I'm learning about these situations in real-time, and it has been devastating and heartbreaking to put it bluntly. Chris's failure to receive and understand the emotional labor that my friend Rachel Lindsay was taking on by graciously and patiently explaining the racist history of the Antebellum South, a painful history that every American should understand immediately, was troubling and painful to watch. As Black people and allies immediately knew and understood, it was a clear reflection of a much larger issue that The Bachelor franchise has fallen short on addressing adequately for years," he added.

James went on to say that "this moment has sparked critical conversations and reporting, raised important questions, and resulted in inspiring displays of solidarity from The Bachelor nation. It has also pushed me to reevaluate and process what my experience on The Bachelor represents, not just for me, but for all of the contestants of color, especially the Black contestants of this season and seasons past, and for you, the viewers at home." 

He ended his statement with a promise to "continue to process this experience."

"And you will hear more from me in the end," he said. "My greatest prayer is that this is an inflection point that results in real and institutional change for the better."

Earlier this year, Kirkconnell — who is still vying for James' heart this season as a potential "winner" — came under fire when photos resurfaced on social media showing her at "plantation-themed" fraternity formal in 2018, along with other racially insensitive past behavior. Harrison then defended Kirkconnell in an Extra interview with Rachel Lindsay, the first Black lead in the franchise, against what he called the "woke police" on social media. "We all need to have a little grace, a little understanding, a little compassion. I've seen some stuff online, again this 'judge jury executioner' thing where people are just tearing this girl's life apart and diving into her parents and her parents' voting record," he told Lindsay. "It's unbelievably alarming to watch this."

Kirkconnell has since apologized for her past "racist and offensive" actions. Lindsay, meanwhile, blasted Harrison in an episode of the Higher Learning With Van Nathan and Rachael Lindsay podcast, and indicated that she will leave the franchise when her contractual obligations have expired: "I can't take it anymore." Harrison then apologized for "the pain my words have caused... I have no one to blame but myself for what I said and the way I spoke." Harrison also revealed that he'll be "stepping aside for a period of time" and will not be hosting the After the Final Rose special that will follow The Bachelor's season finale. "I am dedicated to getting educated on a more profound and productive level than ever before."

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4. Season 5 (Jesse Palmer)
The Bachelor

This romantic reality competition series follows a gaggle of women vying for the Bachelor’s heart — and a wedding proposal. Will you accept this rose?

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