Imagine you’re the last of a large family to get married, and everyone at your sister’s wedding is excited about your upcoming one, which is sure to be as lavish and over-the-top as everyone else’s. So in between “The Electric Slide’ and “The Cupid Shuffle,” your dad grabs the mic and says “Surprise! Your dream wedding starts NOW!”
All of a sudden they’re slapping a fake veil on your head - you’re still wearing the bridesmaid’s dress from your sister’s shindig. They’ve even propped you up against a cardboard cutout of the Mexican resort you wanted to go to and expect you to be excited about it. And even though you smile and wave and hug Grandma, all the while you’re thinking “Daggone! Can’t a girl get her own thing?”
This, more or less, is the fate that befell the effervescent Rachel Lindsay, who was recently named the first African-American lead in ABC’s never-ending “The Bachelor/The Bachelorette” franchise. On Monday night’s season finale of “The Bachelor,” on which perennial runner-up Nick Viall finally got a woman to agree to marry him, Lindsay was greeted with enthusiastic applause and a lot of questions from host Chris Harrison about how excited she must be to start her season. And then Harrison announced a surprise, one he’d been promising all evening - Rachel’s season was about to start now. That moment. In a studio, tacked on to the engagement of the dude who dumped her.
And just like that, Lindsay was meeting four of her future suitors, driven onto the set in a limo, literally against a backdrop of the Bachelor mansion. A backdrop, y’all, like the fake Old West saloons you get goofy photos taken in front of at the fair. She didn’t even get the fancy dress or the silly, melodramatic voiceovers where that year’s Bachelor or Bachelorette looks soulfully into the ocean and talks about their hopes and dreams. She got no preparation to meet a group that, Harrison breathlessly reminded her, could include her future husband, like a white guy who actually told a “Once you go black, you never go back” joke. This should have immediately gotten him run over with the limo.
Did I mention the dude who dumped her was still in the building? It was cute and all, and she handled it like a champ, but I swear I saw in Lindsay’s eyes the slightest hint of “I don’t even get a real building?”
Of course, every part of this thing is overproduced and full of artifice, and it’s not like Lindsay’s tackling Rosa Parks levels of Civil Rights history here - she’s an apparently successful lawyer, daughter of a Federal judge and now the lead of a silly dating show. But a woman of color being the sought-after one is a big deal, not just in this franchise, but in this culture that treats us like curiosities or sexual conquests but not the ones you bring home to Mama. So any suggestion that Lindsey’s “Bachelorette” reign is important enough to be ratings bait but not enough to get its own, separate, fanfare, feels like an asterisk.
It would be tempting to believe that her historic casting has something to do with the rush, that somebody at ABC is so nervous how America will deal with a black Bachelorette and the chance of a possible, eventual interracial match that they want to keep the momentum going before somebody gets mad. I mean, I’m sure somebody’s already mad, but not enough to tank the ratings.
After all, the network was so pumped to announce Lindsay’s upcoming position that they scooped their own season, publicizing her tenure weeks before the end of this season, while she was still occurring in previously-shot episodes as still in the running for Nick Viall’s heart. Of course, Nick’s season was pretty snoozy, and more than one fan has suggested ABC wanted to get ahead of Internet spoilers and keep people interested.
And after Nick’s televised engagement to Vanessa, a pretty Canadian with whom he appears to have no chemistry, maybe the producers were like “No one’s gonna hang around for the third hour…wait…Is Rachel still here?” No matter what the reasoning, no matter how pretty they dress her when she finally gets to the Bachelor mansion and meets the remaining 16 suitors who hopefully have better jokes, a little of the shine has been taken away.
It reminds me a little of the Oscar night debacle when the team from “Moonlight” found out they were first movie with a predominately black cast and the first with LGBTQ themes to win Best Picture, not from Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway reading their name from the envelope and hearing their theme music played as they stream to the stage, but in a thudding swirl of confusion. It wasn’t done on purpose, and the poor folks from “La La Land” had to give the Oscars they’d legitimately thought they’d just won to someone else. But that moment will always be tainted, always be less than everyone deserved.
No matter what happens, Rachel’s season is going to be a little less shiny. Yeah, it’s a silly show. But if she’s gonna get to do it, she should get to be as shiny as everyone else.