In a case of something like poetic justice, "The Bachelor" came to its explosive and controversial close this season just as Times reporter Amy Kaufman was embarking on a book tour for her recently published "Bachelor Nation: Inside the World of America's Favorite Guilty Pleasure" (Dutton). Still she managed to talk to three former Bachelors about their, and her, take on the events.
Arie Luyendyk Jr. has had a pretty bad week.
Sure, the star of this season's "The Bachelor" got engaged to a woman he describes as the love of his life. But he has also suffered the wrath of millions of viewers outraged by his decision, on Monday, to dump his brand new fiancee, Becca Kufrin, because he was still in love with "runner-up" Lauren Burnham. Who he had also just dumped.
It would be one thing if Luyendyk had stopped there. After all, Bachelor Jason Mesnick infamously pulled the same move with his top two women back in 2008. At the time, he too became Public Enemy No. 1, but he and his runner-up, Molly, went on to get married, in a ceremony that aired on ABC, and are now described by #BachelorNation as "friends of the show."
Alas, Luyendyk seemed far more callous than Mesnick. He decided to break up with Kufrin during one of their "Happy Couple" weekends — secret rendezvous the program's producers organize at private homes during the period between the proposal and the show's finale a few months later.
When Kufrin flew from her home in Minnesota to Los Angeles for one such get together in January, she thought she and Luyendyk were going to spend a lovey-dovey couple of days together.
Instead, without shedding a tear, her then-fiance told her he no longer wanted to be with her because he still had feelings for Burnham.
Sadistically, or so it seemed to many, he then lingered for an awkward amount of time as Kufrin cried and tried to avoid him in different rooms of the house. And then, when he met up with Burnham again just a few weeks later, he told her he was "1000%" over Kufrin.
The backlash from #BachelorNation was swift and unequivocal. An anonymous group of fans — with, apparently, hundreds of thousands of dollars to spare — purchased 17 billboards across the country, including one in Times Square, telling Luyendyk: "Not okay. Just leave."
Meanwhile, in Kufrin's native Minnesota, state Rep. Drew Christensen wrote a bill that proposed banning her ex from the entire state. Particularly telling? Even former stars of the show were outraged:
Still, the question remains: How could Luyendyk have been so heartless? (Kanye wants to know.) Why did he openly tell two women that he loved them? Was he forced into proposing by producers? And why did he allow cameras to film every moment — raw and! unedited — of his break-up with Kufrin?
To get some perspective on the situation, I reached out to three former bachelors — Ben Flajnik, (2012), Sean Lowe (2013) and Nick Viall (2017). For context, Lowe is the only one of the trio who is still with his final pick — he and Catherine Giudici got married on ABC in 2014 and are expecting their second child this year. Flajnik spent about seven months with his fiancée, Courtney Robertson, following the "After the Final Rose" special; Viall and Vanessa Grimaldi lasted about one month less than that.
Was Arie's first mistake that he said "I love you" to two women? What happened to the unspoken rule that you weren't supposed to utter those three words to anyone before the proposal episode?
Sean Lowe: I only felt like I loved Catherine, of course. But I wasn't going to say it all until we got engaged, because I don't want to risk hurting someone. There's absolutely no way I would tell it to multiple women because that obviously means you're going to have to break up with one of them and that's gonna be devastating. If you truly love someone, you're not gonna turn around in a couple of days and break their heart. ...I just felt like it would be more special if I said it for the very first time while getting down on one knee. It's really a silly concept. It seems ridiculous when we stop and think about it today, but that's kind of the world you're living in at the time.
Ben Flajnik: I definitely wasn't about to tell two women that I loved them both. I don't think it was really allowed, to be honest with you. And it's just kind of a classless move to tell two women you love them at the same time. What's the point? You're digging your own grave. You're just gonna get yourself in more trouble.
Nick Viall: I was really cautious, because the whole time I was fully aware that when I would get to the end, I would relate more to the runner-up than the winner, because I knew what it was like to get dumped. [Viall was the runner-up on two seasons of "The Bachelorette," getting dumped by Andi Dorfman and Kaitlyn Bristowe before becoming the bachelor.] For as much as it worked out and I've moved on, I was a big, giant mess for a few weeks after each season.
The best advice I got was when I had dinner with [2016 bachelor] Ben Higgins and [his then-fiancee] Lauren before the season. Ben said 'I love you' to two girls, and obviously there's the physical aspect of things, so Lauren was just like, 'Listen, if you have a feeling of who you might pick — if you have an idea, just protect that relationship throughout the process because it won't be as easy to say, 'Well, I was the Bachelor, so I got to do those things.' It just doesn't work that way.' There's a lot of lines I didn't cross. I'm not gonna get into detail, but I felt like I tried to protect the relationships as much as I could.
Sean, you're the only Bachelor who is married to the woman he picked on the season finale of his season. Does engagement even mean anything on "The Bachelor" anymore?
Lowe: This show has been on for 22 seasons, and me and Jason Mesnick are the two guys [who] have gotten married because of the show. So the engagement ring doesn't mean a whole lot in the context of the show. It's not a promise, like it was for me, that 'I'm going to spend the rest of my life with you,' because that usually doesn't happen. Honestly, that's just how I was raised. I wasn't going to make the decision to propose unless I was certain. But after doing that, I knew, she's the one I'm going to be with forever. We've definitely had our fair share of problems, as any relationship will, but we just decided we're not gonna give up, we're going to work it out because we love each other so much. I'm sure my faith had something to do with that too.
If you felt you were truly not ready to propose, do you think the producers would have let you walk away without dropping a knee?
Viall: There's no denying that every lead feels the pressure to get engaged, and that doesn't necessarily come from producers. I think every lead is aware of the fact that the only two people who didn't get engaged -- Brad Womack and Juan Pablo [Galavis] — weren't well-received. Bachelor Nation is opinionated, and they weirdly kind of demand an engagement so they feel like they didn't waste their time. For me, I felt like I was given this opportunity by the show and Bachelor Nation, and I got a lot of support when I was announced, and I was very grateful for that. I felt like, if this doesn't work out for me — everyone's gonna — there was that pressure. When Vanessa and I broke up, I felt like I let myself down and let people down. It's this weird thing. You really tried.
Lowe: In Arie's defense, too, you are going to feel a certain amount of pressure from the show. And the producers, they'll phrase it like, 'Of course, the audience wants the fairy tale ending.' You're very aware that the producers are pushing you in one direction. I don't mean at all to throw my good buddy Arie under the bus. I know he's getting raked over the coals right now, and it has to be extremely difficult. I don't want to pile on, but I had to have serious questions answered [before I proposed].
During the finale, Juan Pablo, who was the bachelor in 2014, tweeted: "Feel bad for HIM, People STILL don't understand that we SPEND only like 40 hours total with EACH of the final 3 contestants." Do you think most of the final couples don't work out because it's truly impossible to find a partner in such a short amount of time?
Lowe: I totally get what Juan Pablo's saying. I think that has a large part to do with why the success rate is as low as it is. I think honestly, I just got really, really lucky that Catherine was on that show, because I just kind of felt that it was right. But if it was any ordinary girl, I don't think there's any way that was enough time.
Flajnik: It's so hard, because you're in that contained environment and falling in love or being infatuated are obviously very different things, but the feeling is the same. I think a lot of it is more just infatuation. And it's really just a gamble at the end.
For the first time this season, viewers got to see footage from a Happy Couple weekend. Were cameras ever present when you filmed on your Happy Couples?
Lowe: No, never. Basically, we got engaged in Thailand, I flew back to Dallas, she flew back to Seattle, and every two weeks, the show would fly us to L.A. and rent a house. It was always a different house, and it would be in different parts of L.A., but it was really nice. They would have a handler — a low-level producer — who would get us anything we wanted. We would make out grocery lists, or if there were restaurants we wanted to get takeout from, he would go get it for us. We even had a production nickname — Bonnie and Clyde.
It was so much fun, because we were engaged and it was absolutely killing us that we couldn't be in public together. The weekends were always really carefree — no cameras, just me and Catherine having fun, being silly together, watching movies together and eating good food. Never, ever cameras. I don't think Catherine and I ever got out of sweatpants.
Viall: The producers understand the challenges the show brings. And they are friends. A lot of them are good people who try their best to make the relationships work. So the Happy Couples weekends, it's about trying to give us time together. It's definitely a decompression. There's a lot of outside stressors. I had been through it before, but everyone who goes through that show, when they come out of filming, there's a fear of being on TV. And there's a social media effect.
Bachelor Nation was pretty outraged that production filmed Arie and Becca breaking up, but Becca said it actually gave her closure to watch the footage. And she's agreed to be the next Bachelorette, so clearly she doesn't have any hard feelings. Do you think filming that intimate moment crossed an ethical line?
Lowe: I absolutely thought that was over the line. It's kind of tough for me to say because I know [creator] Mike Fleiss and [executive producer] Elan [Gale] and all the people who make the show, and they're all great people. I also know that they have a show to make, and at the end of the day, that's all that really matters. But this poor girl, she goes through the whole crazy experience of competing for Arie's love and he gets down on one knee, all her dreams are coming true, she's engaged to the man she wanted to be with. At that point, I think the show is over. That's what she signed up for. Everything else should be her and her fiance, and it should be carefree and she should just be loving that part of her life. Those Happy Couples were just about us and nothing else — just being normal. So for the cameras to capture Arie breaking up with her — which means Arie contacted the producers first, and then they brought Chris Harrison in — everybody knew what he was gonna do except for her.
He could have put his foot down. There are things that I put my foot down on, and they can't make you film anything. I'm not blaming it on Arie, because I know that they can be very persuasive. He does share some of the blame. That was the show just taking it too far. Hopefully, the show recognizes that, and they won't do that again.
Flajnik: The way I figure it is they weren't gonna let Arie change his mind or get a new ring unless he did this. My thought is that if he wanted to make this decision, he had to have agreed to film it.
Are you surprised that Becca wants to go back on the show after going through that?
Lowe: Here's kind of the dirty thing that no one wants to talk about, but in that age of Instagram, you realize if you're chosen as the Bachelor or Bachelorette, you've just walked into a ton of money. And for the normal person, that's really hard to say no to. On top of that, you're the star of the show and you get to travel the world. You have the chance to continue living in this fantasyland, and once it's over, you're going to make a boatload of money. That's impossible to say no to. I hate to be the cynic, but I know that's a real factor.