‘The Bachelor’ After the Final Rose: Hard Conversations and Two Broken Hearts (RECAP)

Spoiler Alert
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The highly anticipated After the Final Rose special doesn’t hold anything back. Host Emmanuel Acho introduces himself as “filling in” for The Bachelor staple Chris Harrison, and promises to discuss the racially insensitive comments that came to light following the finale. So how does Matt James face runner-up fan favorite Michelle Young and controversial contestant Rachael Kirkconnell? Let’s jump in and find out.

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Tayshia Adams and Kaitlyn Bristowe will pick up hosting duties next season.

Michelle Reveals How Matt Really Treated Her

Emmanuel immediately asks Michelle to join him onstage. She discusses her shock and pain following Matt’s blindsided breakup. Even worse, she says, Matt refused to talk to her afterwards. “I wasn’t OK. I needed to say my piece because I didn’t get the chance to, and so I asked if I could talk to Matt for two minutes — not to change his route, not to get in the way of the relationship he was pursuing,” Michelle explains. “He refused. I think I deserve my two minutes to get my closure and move on.”

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Before Matt comes out to see Michelle, Emmanuel asks her thoughts on the controversy surrounding season winner Rachael Kirkconnell, whose social activity includes likes for racist posts, and a photo of her at an antebellum party (she has since apologized). “I felt hurt by what I was seeing. It was a prime example of not being educated,” Michelle opens up. “I feel like Rachael has a good heart, I do, but I feel like there’s a lot of learning. It comes off very inconsiderate.”

Emmanuel presses on and asks Michelle her thoughts on Chris Harrison coming to Rachael’s defense (which ultimately resulted in him taking a hiatus from the show, and his not hosting the upcoming season of The Bachelorette).

“It was another weight that was added on to the already really difficult feelings,” Michelle confesses. “All of these issues that everyone’s talking around and addressing and apologizing and making statements but not actually changing anything. There’s a point where you’re just so exhausted.”

And finally we get the moment we, and Michelle, have been waiting for: She faces Matt, who has since grown a beard (sorry, Matt, we recognize you). He applauds her for handling the season “with grace” — an eerily familiar phrase for Bachelor Nation fans — and it’s clear Michelle doesn’t want to waste time explaining how Matt hurt her. Instead, she just gives him some advice.

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“You taught me a lot about relationships, what I’m looking for and what I’m not looking for…I hope you move on with kissing with your eyes closed and I hope you come up with more phrases than ‘thanks for sharing,'” she says. If you weren’t already part of the Michelle Young fan club, it’s impossible not to be now.

Matt & Emmanuel on the Pressures of Being the First Black Bachelor

Emmanuel asks Matt how much pressure he was under as the first Black Bachelor.

“You want to make sure you’re on your best behavior in terms of how you’re speaking, how you present yourself, because for a lot of people, it’s the first time having someone like myself in their home,” Matt admits. “I think that any other lead would be asked one thing: to find love, to find someone they’re compatible with. I find like the position I stepped into was to take on the weight of everything going on in the country in that time frame surrounding social justice and within the franchise surrounding diversity and inclusion.

“I think it’s just what we’re conditioned to do as Black men: Making people comfortable with your Blackness,” Matt continues, adding he was conscious of not coming off as “threatening.” But he credits the show for breaking down his past conditioning against the showing of emotion.

Emmanuel Acho, After the Final Rose, The Bachelor

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Are Matt & Rachael Still Together?

Rachael’s racially charged posts were made public after the series ended production, and Emmanuel checks in with Matt about how things played out in real life, outside of the tabloids.

Matt reveals that he first fell in love with Rachael due to her authenticity. After taping the finale, Matt says with a smile, it felt like “an extended honeymoon period” with Rachael.

Emmanuel asks when Matt first became aware of Rachael’s problematic social media past.

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She urges fans who have been defending her to 'please stop.'

“While all this controversy is swirling around who Rachael is and things she might have attended and pictures she might have liked and people she’s associated with, I’m trying to be there for her,” he says. “I dismissed them as rumors because that’s what they were to me. You just pray they’re not true. And when you find out that they are, it just makes you question everything.”

It was after Rachael’s public apology that Matt decided he didn’t want to be with her anymore. “Rachael might not understand what it means to be Black in America,” Matt says. He points out that Rachael has a lot of work to do, but he’s “looking forward to seeing her put in that work.” As of now, however, they are together.

Emmanuel asks Matt why, if he really loved Rachael, he stand by her throughout the scandal. “You can still really care about somebody and want them to do better,” Matt says. “I don’t think anybody is irredeemable. [But] it’s not a situation I think I can help.”

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‘It’s About to Get Uncomfortable’

Emmanuel invites Rachael to join him onstage. “I don’t want to sit here and victimize myself,” Rachael starts off. She says she was “living in this ignorance.” Emmanuel asks who Rachael “blames” for this lack of judgment, which he likens to prejudice. Rachael says that she doesn’t want to bring up that she was raised in the South, and that she has no excuse for her actions. Emmanuel says that he does not think Rachael is a racist, but that her actions were racially insensitive, which could be construed as racism.

As for Matt, Rachael says she was “blindsided” that Matt broke up with her. “For him to end things, he must have been very, very hurt by everything,” Rachael says. “I love him so much and I always will.” She also tells Emmanuel that she’s not ready to see Matt. Well, tough luck, Rachael.

Matt & Rachael Confront Each Other

It’s time for the Matt and Rachael show, and Emmanuel does a fantastic job mediating their conversation. There actually does seem to be some sense of closure between the exes. Rachael even rubs his shoulder as Matt sits in silence, trying to form the words to accurately describe just how much pain he’s felt recently.

“The worst part was having to explain to you why it was so problematic to me and why I was so upset,” Matt finally confesses to Rachael. “So when I questioned our relationship, it was on the context of you not fully understanding my Blackness and … what it would mean for our kids. It broke my heart. I didn’t sign up to have this conversation.”

Rachael tells Matt that he was the only reason why she signed up for the show, and she accepted all of him — including his race — before stepping foot in front of the cameras. She says she will never find a love like they share ever again. So will there be a reconciliation?

“The feelings I have for you don’t go away overnight,” Matt admits. But “the work and the reconciliation that needs to be done is work that I can’t do for you. … The last thing I want is for you to be cancelled or people calling you out for these things. I want them to be calling you in.” Yet that “work” she needs to do is something Matt believes Rachael has to do on her own.

What Now?

Rachael repeats that she’s sorry to Matt, and that she’ll always be thankful to God for meeting him. Emmanuel asks if Matt wants to share “one final embrace” with Rachael, and Matt just shrugs it off. “I don’t know if it will ever not hurt hearing those things,” he says.

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'I will continue to process this experience, and you will hear more from me in the end.'

“Well thank you both for being here. I know it was difficult,” Emmanuel says. “Rachael, continue to grow, and I applaud the steps you’ve taken so far. Like Matt, I don’t agree with cancel culture but I believe in accountability, and I see you’ve been accountable. Matt, I’m sorry things ended this way, but good luck to both of you on your future journeys.”

The Next Bachelorette Is…

Matt and Rachael exit, and Emmanuel finally announces who the next Bachelorette(s) will be. Surprise! It’s Katie Thurston and Michelle Young. They will be having two separate Bachelorette seasons, with Michelle’s filming in the summer so as not affect her teaching schedule.

“I’m excited that I get to have somebody bond over with this and get to share notes as we go,” Michelle says with a smile. “I really do think that this process works.”

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“I’m ready to find love and not just the temporary kind — I’m talking forever, my husband,” Katie echoes.

And with that, Emmanuel wishes them both well and thanks Bachelor fans. “It’s been an honor to help navigate these important conversations,” he concludes. Can he always host the ATFR specials?!

That’s it for Season 25! On to more — in some ways, hopefully less — drama with Katie’s first Bachelorette season.