The energy felt off from the beginning of The Bachelor finale, when host Jesse Palmer delivered the show’s “heartfelt condolences” to the people of Nashville in the wake of the mass shooting that took place at a private Christian school on Monday.
Without missing a beat, Palmer dutifully pivoted from sending thoughts and prayers to Nashville to introducing yet another Most Dramatic Bachelor Finale Ever—and the whiplash-inducing tonal shifts kept coming from there.
Nothing captures the American dystopia better than The Bachelor live finale starting off with an acknowledgement of the Nashville school shooting
— Stephanie Lamm (@stephanierlamm) March 28, 2023
For the most part, this season of The Bachelor has been uneventful. There were some limo entrances here, many shots of our Bachelor Zach Shallcross showering there, and, inevitably, one racism scandal. The proceedings remained pretty bland until Fantasy Suites last week. It was then that our Bachelor made one tactless decision that would officially earn him the not-so-coveted title of “New Most-Hated Bachelor Ever.”
Retrospectively, it was never a good sign that Shallcross jokingly referred to Fantasy Suites’ reputation as “Sex Week.” At first, our Bachelor said he wanted to preserve his chastity, and he kept that promise for exactly one date. After one date with Ariel Frenkel, however, Shallcross chose to be intimate with finalist Gabriella “Gabi” Elnicki and, subsequently, season winner Kaity Biggar. During the finale, Elnicki confronted Shallcross for revealing on screen that they had been intimate after privately promising discretion.
Elnicki became tearful as she spoke with Shallcross during the live finale discussion. Candid and raw, her words captured the audience, which cheered her on while fans on social media called out their support.
Speaking with Shallcross on stage during the finale’s “After the Final Rose” discussion, Elnicki said that when she and Shallcross decided to be intimate, “We decided that it was going to be between us.” When Shallcross told her he’d decided to tell the other contestants what happened between them, she said, “I was blindsided.”
When Shallcross joined Elnicki onstage during “After the Final Rose,” she told him that while she understood he was trying to be honest by telling her fellow contestants that they’d had sex, she wished that he’d warned her that he planned to tell the others, and to use her name.
“I feel ashamed, and from a moment that felt like love to me,” Elnicki said. “... I thought it was love. I thought it was more than a TV show. And I get it, sex sells, but now I’ve become a narrative. And it’s really painful.”
Shallcross apologized repeatedly to Elnicki on stage. “There’s no excuse for the way I handled things,” he said. “... I know that I went against my word, and in reality, it hurt you. In my mind, it was just this secret that I had to not have, but in reality it was much more than that.”
Before long, however, it was time for Palmer to pivot once more. Elnicki held her face tight as the host told her, “I just know that you are going to find the love of your life very soon.”
The Bachelor has given itself the villain edit before—perhaps most notoriously during Colton Underwood’s season in 2019. The season’s promotion revolved around a clip in which its Bachelor jumped a fence after a perceived betrayal by producers. Still, Elnicki’s words cut deep—at least, for the time she was on screen. There was nothing unusual about the shift to Shallcross’s engagement story, but somehow, the moment felt particularly tactless. Nonetheless, the clip played on as if none of the preceding moments had happened, and the audience happily clapped as Shallcross and Biggar discussed their plans to move to Austin.
It’s been years since a Bachelor lead left the show betrothed, but the circumstances surrounding this season’s engagement feel a little less than romantic. After so many Peter Webers, Clayton Echards, and Zach Shallcrosses, this franchise is starved for a new Sean Lowe. In the meantime, however, at least we’ve got Charity Lawson’s upcoming season of Bachelorette in June.