'The Bachelor' finale: Matt James picked Rachael Kirkconnell but then dumped her amid racism controversy
By Elizabeth Kwiatkowski, 03/16/2021
The Bachelor finale featured Matt James dumping Michelle Young and giving his final rose -- but no engagement ring -- to Rachael Kirkconnell before announcing on After the Final Rose the couple subsequently split up amid Rachael's racism controversy, leaving them both heartbroken.
The Bachelor broadcast began with Matt saying he was "all in" with both of his Final 2 bachelorettes: Michelle, a 27-year-old teacher from Edina, MN, and Rachael, a 24-year-old graphic designer from Cumming, GA.
Matt gushed about how Michelle "has the checklist" of everything he was looking for in a wife, someone who is smart, kind, patient, strong, and understanding.
Matt explained he was very attracted to Rachael and she pushed him to be open and vulnerable, which were emotions he tended to run away from in his past.
Matt said he wanted to be a husband and have kids, and he planned to walk down a different path than his father Manny James, who had cheated on Matt's mother and wasn't around much for his children.
Matt told the cameras he was very excited to introduce Michelle and Rachael to his older brother John and mother Patty James, and Matt shared with his loved ones how he hoped to feel ready for an engagement at the end of the process.
"There's nothing I want more than for Matt to find love from a woman that truly cares about him. I think it's a longshot that Matt will be engaged at the end of this, but I'm going to give him my opinion and I trust him to make the right decision given that," Patty said.
Patty teared up when she met Michelle first, and Michelle bragged about Matt being "a world changer," which is what she was looking for in a man. Michelle then told John that she could trust Matt and he seemed to be a man of his word.
Michelle revealed her last serious relationship ended in January 2020 but it probably should have ended long before that because it "became unhealthy."
John admitted he hadn't seen Matt in past relationships because Matt had made a habit of sheltering his feelings and keeping his personal romances with women close to his chest.
John said he could tell that Matt was happy and that's all that he cared about, and John told the cameras in a confessional that Michelle seemed like a good match for his brother -- as long as Patty liked her.
Michelle then sat down with Patty and said she believed Matt was The One for her. Patty cried and wished she could have given Matt a better childhood and a stronger family unit to set an example for him, but Michelle acknowledged she didn't view how Matt was raised as a disadvantage since it made him grateful for so many other things.
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"I am very much in love with your son, and for me to feel this deeply about somebody so quick is something that surprised me. But it also doesn't scare me because I'm very confident in what I feel for him," Michelle told Patty.
Patty noted it was an "honor" to hear how Michelle felt about Matt and she hoped her son would end up with a woman who would nurture him and love him.
Patty and Matt had a private conversation next, and Patty pointed out how it was obvious why the super sweet Michelle had made his Final 2 bachelorettes.
Matt leaned on his mother for counsel, and Patty said she could see Michelle becoming a member of the family. The girls totally hit it off, and Matt appeared overjoyed and said Michelle had set the bar very high.
"I'm continuously pinching myself that someone like Michelle is still here. How did she not get swooped up?!" Matt said in a confessional. "I am extremely excited about where we are at in our relationship... Today couldn't have gone any better."
Later on, Matt introduced Rachael to his loved ones, and Matt gushed about how Rachael brought out the best in him. But Matt said if Rachael didn't receive his family's stamp of approval, they wouldn't be able to move forward as a couple.
Rachael confessed she was "so nervous" because this was the last really big step in her relationship with Matt before a potential engagement.
Rachael explained to Patty and John that she had trouble opening up in past relationships but she decided to trust Matt and be vulnerable with him, which allowed Matt to do the same.
John asked Rachael how many serious relationships she's been in, and Rachael shared she only had one serious boyfriend in high school and then another towards the end of college. Rachael said she had never truly been "in love" with someone.
"This probably sounds crazy, but I just feel like [Matt] is the other half of me that I needed," Rachael revealed.
"He makes me feel really safe, he makes me feel comfortable, and he is so funny and goofy... He is really understanding and a great listener. Every time I see him, my heart is racing and I get butterflies."
Patty could tell that Rachael and Matt could be themselves around each other, but Patty wanted her son to find "enduring love" before proposing marriage to someone.
Rachael sat down with Patty and insisted she was "in awe" of Matt and realized she was going to fall in love with him on Night 1 when they first met. Rachael said her faith in God is very important and the first thing Matt did on his season was say a prayer.
"I truly felt it in my soul that this was where I was supposed to be... that this was God's way of putting us together," Rachael cried. "I don't know how I would've met him outside of this."
Patty said her heart resonated with Rachael, who then assured Matt's mother that she was truly in love with Matt and viewed him as the most incredible man in her life.
Rachael gushed about how Matt was everything she had prayed and dreamed about, and she hoped Patty and John could see where her heart was at.
Matt's family also liked Rachael a lot, and so Matt was in desperate need of some clarity since both women had warmed Patty's heart.
Matt said he was falling in love with both women and had "no idea" what he was going to do, although a life-changing decision awaited him.
Matt was worried to say "I love you" again because it meant something very different to him now than it meant in high school and college.
Patty also warned Matt that while saying "I love you" is a huge deal that makes life wonderful, people "fall in and out of love" and it's not "the be all, end all." John also advised his little brother not to jump into a huge commitment like an engagement if he truly wasn't ready.
When Patty reiterated that love isn't something that will carry two people through an engagement or marriage, Matt was transported back to a dark place and thought about how his father wasn't ready for marriage and then ended up being unfaithful.
Matt's family made him really question whether he was ready to make an everlasting oath and commitment.
"The assurance I was looking for in those conversations was replaced with some doubt," Matt confessed, adding, "Rushing into something I'm not ready for is not something I want to be a part of. And now, what am I going to do? I don't know."
Matt appeared to be deflated and conflicted after his Final 2 women met his family, and he found himself taking a step back in the process when he was about to make one of the most important decisions in his life.
Matt therefore looked to The Bachelor host Chris Harrison for support and guidance. Matt explained his parents' marriage had failed and he didn't want the same thing to happen to him.
"The more information I'm learning about myself and my family and my mom and what it takes to have a healthy relationship, the more I'm starting to pump the brakes on, 'Is this something I'm ready to commit to right now?'" Matt lamented.
Chris acknowledged Matt had been singing a totally different tune one week prior and seemed ready for an engagement at the time, and Matt said he still felt that way because Rachael and Michelle had all the qualities he was looking for in a future wife.
However, Matt didn't want to propose marriage just to make a woman happy, and he hoped to make the right decision.
"The right decision for me is taking my time and not doing something because that's what I should do -- it's what I need to do," Matt explained.
"So what you're saying is you don't want to get engaged? You don't want to propose to anybody at the end of this?" Chris asked.
Matt said he didn't know but the easy thing to do would be getting down on one knee for the winner when he wasn't actually ready for that.
Matt told Chris that he had been nothing but real with Michelle and Rachael and wanted to continue the process open-minded and with an open heart. Matt wished he could figure things out and ultimately determine the right thing to do.
Two days before the potential engagement, Matt enjoyed his final date with Michelle.
"I'm ready to do the real world with Matt, and that's what makes me feel warm and fuzzy inside," Michelle said. "I really do feel like Matt is my person."
For their date, Matt and Michelle rappelled down the side of their hotel building, and the couple coached each other the entire way down.
Michelle told Matt that being with him felt surreal and everything had fallen into place for them.
Matt said he had a lot of thinking to do in the next two days, but first, he got to spend a romantic evening with Michelle in her hotel room. This marked the couple's last moments together before the Final Rose Ceremony.
"I want to make sure I can get there, because I'm not sure I can at this point," Matt noted in a confessional.
When Michelle and Matt reunited, Michelle expressed how Matt had become her teammate and she was definitely in love with him. The bachelorette said she couldn't imagine another man being her partner and he's the guy that she wanted.
"It's hard picturing leaving here without you," Michelle said, before presenting Matt with two gift bags.
Inside the bags were jerseys that read "Mr. James 1" and "Mrs. James 2." Michelle was ecstatic to give Matt that gift, but inside Matt apparently felt guilty and terrible.
"I'm holding up our jerseys... and right now, in this moment, I have doubt about our relationship," Matt said. "I don't want to tell her anything that's going to break her heart, but when you care about somebody, you're honest with them, and I've just got to let her know."
Matt said he had never expected to have feelings like this for anyone on this journey and it was "a lot" to handle.
Matt became quiet and Michelle asked The Bachelor star what he was thinking about because she could tell the wheels were turning in his head.
Matt explained he had been thinking about the next step and was having doubts -- but shouldn't be having doubts one or two days before a proposal.
"This was the first time I've felt anything outside of wanting to be with you forever," Matt told Michelle.
"Having any doubt in my mind at this point is scary. I've been pushing through that feeling today and trying to get there because of how I feel about you and how life would look like with you. The easy thing for me to do would be to tell you what you want to hear."
Michelle suddenly changed her body language, turned away from Matt and broke down crying. Michelle wasn't sure whether she should fight for Matt, and so she begged him to be honest with her.
"I don't think I can get there with you," Matt confessed.
Michelle wiped away her tears and admitted it was hard to think about Matt having a stronger connection with somebody else. Matt also had tears streaming down his face, and he attempted to comfort and console the bachelorette.
Michelle felt Matt had flipped a switch with her, and she said she had put everything on the table and that was all she could have done for him.
Matt then walked to the hotel door, hugged Michelle goodbye and whispered, "I'm sorry."
Michelle dropped to her knees and cried with her face in her hands once Matt left, and Matt eventually paced back and forth outside. Matt insisted he never wanted to hurt Michelle but he owed her his truth.
"It's not a good feeling to put somebody through that heartache, especially for somebody you really care about, and I really care about Michelle," Matt said.
"I am questioning, 'Was saying goodbye to her tonight the right thing to do?' I don't know. Right now, I'm just trying to stay afloat."
Chris approached Matt when the Bachelor was crying outside of the hotel and asked if he was okay.
"No," Matt replied. "Naw, I'm not."
"I'm sorry, man," Chris said. "I'm very sorry. It's tough to let an incredible woman like that walk away."
Matt agreed and said that was "the hardest part" because he had never felt this way about someone before and it had been a long time since he cried.
"A part of you loved her," Chris noted.
"Yeah," Matt obliged, "but I wasn't IN LOVE with her."
Matt apparently didn't know where to go from there, and he couldn't forget about how his mother had warned him that feelings fade, which really shook Matt to his core considering his parents had once loved each other.
Matt said his father didn't even take accountability for his actions although Matt and John were basically left to be raised by a single mother who had been hurt.
"I refuse to put [Rachael] through what my mom went through. The last thing I want to do is bring someone into a situation that I'm not ready for," Matt explained.
One day from the Final Rose Ceremony, Matt confessed he didn't have clarity and didn't feel ready to propose to Rachael even though she was his last bachelorette standing. Matt said he didn't want to repeat his father's mistakes and he was scared.
"At this point, I don't know how to go on. How do you go on from there?" Matt pondered to himself, before asking Chris for some time alone.
"I feel like everything I thought I was working towards is starting to crumble, and I don't know what I'm going to do."
The next day, Rachael was thrilled about her last date with Matt and said she felt totally confident in their romance. Rachael was madly in love and pictured every day of the rest of her life with Matt.
Rachael gushed about how she couldn't wait to see Matt, but Chris came knocking on her door.
Chris explained that Matt felt "emotional" and "lost" and needed some time to think and so they wouldn't be enjoying a date that day. Chris told Rachael that he'd let her know as soon as possible what was coming next.
Rachael, who dressed in a sexy black outfit and had her hair and makeup done, flopped down on the couch after hearing the bad news. She said she felt "hurt and confused" and never expected Matt would not want to see her.
"I feel pretty in the dark right now. He never expressed any kind of worry or concern or confusion, not even once. I feel very blindsided. What happened?" Rachael wondered.
Rachael said Matt had made things easy for her up to this point and so he was clearly having doubts about her, which really hurt her heart.
Matt told the cameras that at the beginning of the process, he had envisioned his spirit being in a different place at this pivotal moment. Matt feared his love for Rachael wouldn't be sustainable, and he thought about what it means to be a man, a husband, and take accountability for things.
Despite his mixed emotions, Matt sat down with the show's jeweler Neil Lane, who agreed love and commitment are not easy things to keep and maintain.
Matt decided to look at engagement rings just in case, and Neil said a ring connects two people and represents his heart. Matt took a liking to a pear-shaped diamond with a halo and diamonds on the band.
Matt asked to hold onto the ring, and he sat at a table by himself and stared at it.
"To me, this is more than a ring. It represents what my father couldn't give to my mother," Matt explained.
"It represents a lot of broken promises, and if I put this ring on Rachael's finger, I wouldn't ever want it to come off. Tomorrow is a big day, and I'm just thinking to myself, 'Am I ready?' I don't know."
It then became time for the Final Rose Ceremony. Rachael woke up in the morning feeling scared, confused and upset after "the hardest day" of her life. Rachael hated hearing that Matt felt confused, and she worried Matt didn't see her being his wife someday.
Rachael suddenly received a note from Matt under her hotel room's door.
"Rachael, I'm so sorry for making you wait. I've had a lot on my mind these last few days. You deserve answers. Meet me at the lake," the brief letter read.
Before Matt walked to the Final Rose Ceremony, Chris stopped by for a quick chat with The Bachelor star.
"What I feel now, I've never felt before," Matt explained to Chris. "That's what I came looking for. That's what I'm holding onto going into this conversation with Rachael. I love Rachael, and the more I say it, the more sure I am in that feeling."
Matt hoped the right decision would come to him once he saw Rachael again, and Chris wished him the best of luck.
Matt then walked into "the biggest moment of [his] life" and stood amongst flowers, hanging lanterns, beautiful wooden accents and a fireplace in the middle of the woods.
Matt had a beautiful diamond ring in his pocket and recognized what that commitment would mean both to Rachael and himself.
"Is love enough?" Matt questioned.
Rachael arrived to the Final Rose Ceremony in a green and black sequin dress, and she was anticipating one of the best conversations of her life -- or one of the worst.
"I've never wanted anything more in my life. I'm really scared that I'm going to walk up there and pour my absolute heart out to him one last time and that's going to be it; he's going to break my heart," Rachael lamented.
Rachael and Matt hugged when they finally reunited, and Rachael took a deep breath to collect her thoughts.
Rachael told Matt that his absence the previous day "changed everything" for her and she hated walking into the Final Rose Ceremony on that note.
"But I hated -- hated more than anything -- the thought of you hurting and you being confused and you not wanting to see me, because I want to be there for you when you are hurting," Rachael explained.
"When you're hurting, I'm hurting. I don't know what happened yesterday, but I do know that I'm not going to run just as it gets tough. I don't know if you still want this, but regardless, I feel so unbelievably lucky just to have felt what I felt for you."
Rachael added, "I've never felt a love like this in my entire life, and at the end of the day, I just want you to be happy. But I just know with all my heart that I love you and I will choose you every day from here on out, if you let me."
Matt teared up during Rachael's speech and revealed he had signed up for The Bachelor to find love, which is exactly what he had found with her.
Matt said he wanted to be everything for Rachael that his father wasn't to his mother.
"As I'm wrestling with what I'm going to do today, the easy thing for me to do would be to brush those feelings and emotions off and to make you happy and to propose to you today, but I couldn't do it to myself," Matt explained.
Matt had seen what rushing into a marriage does, and he said that's not something he wanted for Rachael or for "us."
"And that's why I can't propose to you today," Matt noted.
"But that doesn't mean I want to lose you. When I think about the life I want to live, I think about living that life with you, and I want to leave here with you. I want to commit to you and to every day, building on what we started here. And the truth is, I love you."
"I love you too," Rachael replied.
Matt elaborated, "I am in love with you and I do see you as my wife and I see you as the mother of my kids. I see those kids being crazy... I just want to make sure my love is enough for you."
"Of course it is," Rachael responded. "Of course it is!"
Rachael told Matt that she's the most amazing person she's ever met and she pictured their life together after this and growing old together.
The couple then kissed in front of the warm fire and Rachael took a sigh of relief.
With that being said, Matt handed Rachael his final rose and the pair embraced.
"I am so, so happy. I found the love of my life. All the ups and downs, even yesterday, it was worth it!" Rachael exclaimed.
Matt and Rachael then took off in a horse-drawn carriage, and Matt gushed about how his love for Rachael felt real.
"It doesn't get more real than this," Matt said with a big smile.
After the Final Rose: Matt and Rachael confirm they've broken up
The Bachelor: After the Final Rose hosted by sports analyst and former NFL player Emmanuel Acho then commenced.
Michelle sat in the hot seat first and told Emmanuel that she never saw her breakup conversation coming and it caught her "very off-guard." Michelle said it felt like all of the blood had left her body in that moment and it was "a lot" to take in.
Michelle apparently didn't receive the closure she needed and admitted she was "not okay" after the split.
Michelle therefore asked to speak with Matt for just a couple of minutes -- without interfering in his relationship with Rachael -- and Matt allegedly refused to meet with her.
"I really was [in love with him]," Michelle vented to Emmanuel.
Matt then joined Michelle on the stage and admitted he had experienced a very rough past few months. Matt said he was still trying to process things.
"The moment you left, I completely crumbled. I had to walk away without closure, and I had to fill in the gaps of what our relationship was, and I wasn't okay. I wasn't okay at all," Michelle confessed in tears.
"And producers were in my room seeing how bad I was hurting, and I asked you for a conversation, and it wasn't a conversation where I was trying to change your trajectory or change your mind... It was so I could have inner-peace when I left Pennsylvania, and you said, 'No.'"
Matt apologized for how Michelle felt and said there was no justification for why he didn't have that conversation with her. Matt said had he known how she was feeling, he would have fought to talk to her.
Matt complimented Michelle on how well she carried herself through the show, with grace and poise. Matt said he respected Michelle and cared about her, and Michelle confirmed she's no longer "in love" with the Bachelor.
On leavingThe Bachelor with Rachael as his girlfriend, Matt said he felt like he was on "an extended honeymoon" and "everything was great," just as one might imagine.
"I dismissed those rumors because that's what they were to me," Matt said. "You hear things that are heartbreaking, and you just pray that they're not true. And when you find out that they are, it just makes you question everything."
Matt said growing up in the South, Rachael's actions brought back some tough memories. He explained that once Rachael issued a public apology, he was able to check himself and figure out where he was at.
"I wasn't okay," Matt admitted. "Because it was in that moment, in the conversation that I had, that Rachael might not understand what it means to be Black in America."
Emmanuel therefore asked Matt where he and Rachael currently stand in their relationship.
"As Rachael said in her apology, there's a lot of work that needs to be done. I have to take a step back and allow her to put in that work. And I'm looking forward to seeing her do that work," Matt noted.
"So you guys are no longer together?" Emmanuel asked.
"No," Matt confirmed.
Emmanuel asked what that breakup conversation was like, and Matt recalled it being "as tough as you can imagine" as well as "heartbreaking."
"If you don't understand that something like that is problematic in 2018, there's a lot in me that you won't understand," Matt said, referring to Rachael's attendance at an antebellum/plantation-themed fraternity party at her Georgia college. "It's as simple as that."
Emmanuel asked Matt how he'd respond to people implying he never really loved Rachael and broke up with her over actions three years ago that weren't intended to be malicious.
Matt said he wanted those people to support people of color who want change in the world.
Emmanuel then asked Matt if he could teach Rachael and grow with her if he truly felt committed to her, and Matt replied, "I'll say this: Those feelings don't go away overnight."
Emmanuel questioned if Matt should condemn Rachael in 2021 for her actions in 2018, and Matt said he still cared about Rachael and no one is irredeemable but it's not a situation he can really help her with.
Matt repeated how he thought it would be best to step back and let Rachael do the work she needs to do on her own.
Rachael later joined Emmanuel on the stage and walked viewers through her breakup. Matt allegedly called her on the phone and "blindsided" Rachael.
"But once that initial reaction went away, I thought about how strong I thought our relationship was. So for him to end things, he must have been very, very hurt by everything," Rachael recalled.
"It was hard because I lost the love of my life, but in the process of that, I hurt him while doing so... I love him so much and I always will. And I do feel like I finally do know what real love feels like."
When Matt and Rachael reunited on After the Final Rose, she apologized again and said knowing how much Matt loved her, the breakup must have been very hard for him as well and she didn't recognize that initially.
Matt said seeing Rachael under these circumstances was disappointing, devastating and heartbreaking.
After falling silent for what seemed like minutes, tears welled up in Matt's eyes and then he told Rachael, "The most disappointing thing for me was having to explain to you why what I saw was problematic and why I was so upset. And that's why it was problematic."
Matt said he was on the track to getting married and Rachael's actions made him question whether she fully understood his "Blackness" and what it means to be a Black man in America and what it would mean to their future children.
"This was the last conversation I thought we'd be having. I didn't sign up to have this conversation, and I knew that I had to take a step back," Matt explained.
Matt told Rachael that she needs to do work -- and she must do it on her own -- and "that's why we can't be in a relationship."
Rachael insisted she had signed up for The Bachelor to date Matt for who he is and all of his forms, including the fact he's a Black man.
"I don't think I can have these same feelings for someone else," Rachael cried.
Emmanuel asked Matt if the door is slightly open for relationship reconciliation, and Matt reiterated how he still had feelings for her and seeing her so upset hurt him.
But Matt admitted he didn't want to be emotionally responsible for Rachael's tears, although he also didn't want Rachael to be canceled or called out.
Rachael concluded the segment by saying she just wanted Matt to be happy and what's best for him. Rachael repeated how she was sorry and thanked God for putting Matt in her life to begin with.
"I'll always be thankful for the time that we shared and the time we did have together," Rachael said.
"I don't know if it will ever not hurt hearing those things," Matt replied.
Emmanuel announced he does not believe in "cancel culture" but does believe in "accountability."
In addition, Rachael also answered questions about her racism controversy in which she had liked offensive posts on social media and posed in photos deemed racially-ignorant and racially-insensitive. Check back with Reality TV World tomorrow for a more detailed report about Rachael's comments on After the Final Rose.