As a former Bachelor producer and co-creator of the reality spoof show UnReal, Sarah Gertrude Shapiro knows a thing or two about the mechanisms behind the world of reality television production. In fact, she has built her career on it. With this in mind, Shapiro has some pretty blunt thoughts about her former show and the controversy surrounding Chris Harrison and Rachael Kirkconnell.
I felt like Chris sort of claiming that he didn’t know if a picture at a plantation would’ve been a good look in 2018 — he’s like, ‘How would she have known? The lens in 2020 didn’t exist yet.’ — really touched a nerve for me because UnREAL very much served this storyline in 2016 and the genre was very much put on notice by that season within the entertainment community. It was definitely talked about. Like, UnREAL had a Black male lead before the other show had [one] … and so I absolutely know he was aware of that and I just call complete and utter bullshit on that being his defensive.
For those unfamiliar with Chris Harrison or don't subscribe to the "Bachelor Nation" fandom, Harrison received serious backlash for defending contestant Rachael Kirkconnell who was accused of liking racially insensitive posts and going to an Antebellum-themed party prior to her run on The Bachelor. In an interview with contestant Rachel Lindsay, who criticized Kirkconnell, Harrison accused her of being the “woke police” and “tearing [Kirkconnell]'s life apart.”
Needless to say, Sarah Gertrude Shapiro's statement is a huge shot taken at Chris Harrison. Her show UnReal, which was inspired by her time as producer on The Bachelor, does in fact address the uncomfortable race dynamics in reality television. In the first season, characters laughed off the fact that Black people don't last long on reality TV, with one producer even saying, “It is not my fault that America is racist.”
Reality television has been criticized for stereotyping and for rarely featuring people of color – more so than “scripted” television arguably because reality TV isn't held in as a high regard as serialized storytelling. It doesn't quite stop at The Bachelor, either. The Bravo network is home to the Real Housewives franchise, which has only recently started adding more women of color, despite being on the air for more than 15 years.
I think it’s such a move in the right direction. Like, watching Chris’ interview on Extra, I was like, ‘This is a master class in oppression, and it feels so dated.’ Like, it feels like such a dinosaur. Him cutting [Lindsay] off and talking over her and saying like, ‘Well, I don’t know which group is right in this case,’ and it’s like, well, obviously the group that’s oppressed probably knows more about it than you do. He just seems so behind the times, and I think that it’s such an appropriate decision to just update the franchise. Take a look at the executive producer ranks, take a look at the host, like, bring it into 2021.
In ABC's statement about the host change-up, it calls Chris Harrison's exit an “absence,” implying that he might make a return to his hosting duties. Harrison has since apologized and regrets his controversial comments, but it's possible that a return would draw a mixed response from the public.