Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Matt James wins over Bachelor Nation in The Bachelor season 25 premiere

Kaili, Matt James
Kaili, Matt James
Photo: Craig Sjodin/ABC (Other)

After 24 long seasons, The Bachelor finally kicks off season 25 with its first Black Bachelor. And the franchise made an excellent call with Matt James, a tall, shy broker who also works with underprivileged kids. Tonight Matt underwent the impossible task of meeting 32 women in a single evening—the most in Bachelor history—and then having to weed out eight of them. He was exceedingly nervous pretty much the entire time, but somehow that just made him one of the most endearing Bachelors we’ve had in a while. Unlike Colton (“I’m a virgin!”) or Peter (“I’m a pilot!”), Matt genuinely appears to believe that this Bachelor process could actually work (“I think it can,” he tells his cute mom), despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

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Part of his appeal that can be traced to the fact that Matt is a Bachelor Nation newbie: never appeared on The Bachelorette or Bachelor In Paradise before this, although he is close friends with Bachelorette dreamboat Tyler Cameron and almost appeared in Clare Crawley’s season. So Matt’s befuddled charm appears to be genuine, as he tries to come up with words other than “Likewise” and “I like it” as he meets a plethora of perfect strangers, hoping to find a true love match. Sure, it seems impossible, especially when you consider the multitude of recent Bachelor breakups. But those crazy kids Tayshia and Zac just ended The Bachelorette on a positive note, so who knows? Matt at least appears to be sincere about his intentions, which may make him a better Bachelor than most.

He’s also a groundbreaker for the franchise, a position he wisely discusses with host Chris Harrison—“the pressure I’ve put on myself as the first Black Bachelor”—before meeting a single contestant, acknowledging that whether he dates a Black woman or a white woman, somebody out there is bound to be up in arms. It’s a thoughtful move that helps bring the issue of race to the forefront, at least for a few moments. Fortunately, some contestants from tonight’s diverse crop also point to Matt’s unique status in the Bachelor world, underlining how important it is to see that kind of representation (again, finally) in a popular reality series.

Granted, it’s the Bachelor premiere, so things don’t stay serious for long; to stand out amongst the fray, the women show up in everything from goat feet to football gear. Kaili appears in lingerie and a few dresses to choose from; Katie just brings her own vibrator. The problem with bringing a vibrator as a prop, though, is that you are then stuck carrying it around all night, and will likely be known henceforth as “vibrator girl.” Sometimes a gimmick isn’t enough, though, a painful lesson learned by continually-twirling-on-her-toes professional ballerina Alicia (I binged all of Tiny Pretty Things over break. Not proud.)

Even amidst the plethora of women, what would be really great this season is to see them actually build each other up instead of spending their whole time tearing each other down in pursuit of the same man. I know, I must be wanting to watch an entirely different show. But you would have hoped that the Bachelor-powers-that-be would have learned their lessons from last season, in which contestants who were barely old enough to drink legally like Mykenna and Hannah Ann clogged up the works with neverending drama and probably couldn’t be relied on to be able to pick a lifelong mate at that age anyway. (Swinging in the opposite direction, the next Bachelorette season didn’t really work out either, though, when 39-year-old Clare Crawley decided on contestant Dale the nanosecond he stepped out of the limo.) And yet, here’s 21-year-old Kit, among the youngest Bachelor contestants ever, already shooting daggers at self-proclaimed “Queen” Victoria—I mean, rightly so, Victoria sucks—but declaring herself the king, CEO, president. They’ll probably keep these two around for weeks just to verbally catfight each other, adding to The Bachelor’s non-feminist agenda. I know they need to show all those moments for the “drama coming up this season!” clips, but it would be nice to see some actual genuine friendships evolve out of The Bachelor this time.

Especially since Matt himself seems so genuine, it casts a hopeful glow over the whole season. Yes, I know he’s already pushed himself on Cameo, and he and Tyler have too much merch. I’m not even a religious person, but like contestant Rachael, I couldn’t help but get choked up a bit when Matt decided to kick off the first night with a group prayer, being true to himself and his faith. He knows he’s not the smoothest talker or a player like Bachelors past. Like any normal person would be, he’s overwhelmed by the process of meeting so many beautiful women at once, and on TV to boot. But his connection with first-impression-rose recipient Abigail was really very sweet, as she talked about her deafness and he greatly admired her openness and honesty. It happens to me every season; I’m ready to toss the whole thing off as a pointless social exercise that gives me a few hours of mindless TV every week—and then a moment like Matt handing Abigail the rose on the couch pops up and I’m sucked in for real. Dammit, Bachelor. You got me again.

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Stray observations

  • My pick for the final four: Abigail, Chelsea the breathtakingly stunning model, Sarah the San Diego broadcaster who went home to be a caretaker for her dad with ALS, and lawyer Kristin, basically because of this tweet:
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  • Honesty I feel like Matt’s hardest job must have been remembering the names of all those women he just met.
  • Victoria looks so shiny onscreen I feel like the makeup artists backstage must hate her as well.
  • The pre-game prayer got a “Whoo!”
  • Props for the “buzzkill” vibrator joke. Oh God, she named it MJ.
  • From the previews: Never-been-kissed Heather (from Colton’s season) just shows up? Really? I am so against this fairly recent trend of people just appearing on The Bachelor and The Bachelorette whenever they feel like it. Respect the sanctity of the rose ceremony, people!
  • This is just a drop-in for this momentous Bachelor premiere—but watch this space for the possible occasional recap or roundtable, depending on how this season goes!
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Gwen Ihnat is the Editorial Coordinator for The A.V. Club.