When the first super-sized promo of Matt James’ 2021 Bachelor run premiered, ABC planted one season-long mystery: Why would Matt wind up sobbing by the finale? Towards the end of the trailer, viewers see Matt crying in a confessional. Then, he’s sitting on a curb in Nemacolin and host Chris Harrison asks if Matt is “okay.” Matt responds with a broken-hearted “No.”
Many wondered if Matt’s tears were caused by the abrupt exit of his favorite contestant in the final weeks of filming, à la Colton “Fence Jump” Underwood. But, to me, another theory always seemed more likely: Bachelor producers found Matt’s painfully estranged dad, Manny James, and brought him to Pennsylvania for an on-camera confrontation. After all, Matt has been talking about the emotional effects of his parents' decades-old split — and his own subsequent non-existent paternal relationship — since the season 25 premiere. Matt seems genuinely broken up about this lacking connection.
The preview for the last two episodes of The 2021 Bachelor proves that my speculation is correct. Matt's father Manny is headed for The Bachelor in either the Fantasy Suites episode or the finale (the latter chapter, which traditionally hosts the Bachelor’s family, is more probable). The appearance of Manny promises to be the latest disheartening and distracting development in a season determined to uphold so-called “drama” over true romance.
If you watch the promo closely, it appears Matt’s meeting with his father and his teary day of filming were shot on the same day. In a hotel room, Matt sits down with Manny. “When I needed you — you weren’t there,” Matt tells his dad. “Do you know what I went through with your mom?,” Manny responds. “I don’t want you to make excuses,” Matt shoots back. Manny reminds his son that “nobody’s perfect.” During this exchange — which professional Bachelor spoiler Reality Steve suspects was a production surprise to the Bachelor — Matt is wearing a simple black crew neck sweater, with a close crop haircut and no jewelry (like a now-popular chain).
Matt is wearing the exact same outfit for his most distressing finale promo moments. Directly before we glimpse Matt and Manny’s conversation, Matt says, “There’s still a lot of fear based on what I’ve seen in my family in the past.” About 20 seconds later, the promo gives us the shot of Matt weeping into the camera during a confessional. Then we see him red-eyed in an elevator, wearing the same outfit with this fuzzy black jacket on top (considering filming times, this section of the season was recorded in chilly Pennsylvania in late October or early November). Finally, we view an extended cut of Matt and now-disgraced Bachelor host Chris’ curbside conversation. As Matt tries to keep more tears at bay, Chris says he is “sorry” and asks Matt, “Do you know if you can do this anymore?” “To be honest with you, I don’t know, Chris,” Matt admits before taking a deep breath, crying some more, and stepping inside a Bachelor SUV. We know Matt doesn’t leave Bachelor filming for good, since the promo also shows the lead-up to a finale engagement.
It’s still no surprise that Matt may be a wreck after seeing his father, whom he has repeatedly said has never been a fixture in his life. While Matt hasn’t spoken about any part of his life in-depth this season on The Bachelor, he did share a little insight into his family with Bri Springs during their “Week 2” one-on-one date. Bri was also raised by a single mother.
“When I was growing up, when I needed him the most, my dad just wasn’t around,” Matt tells Bri. “I was constantly questioning myself. It’s like, ‘Why isn’t my dad around? It’s like, ‘What’s wrong with me? What’s wrong with my brother?’”
Matt and Bri then bond over their mutual childhood gravitation towards friends with big families including a mom, a dad, and bunches of siblings. “I’m like, ‘This is what a family should look like!,’” Matt explains. Bri confirms that she wants that “big family” experience for herself and Matt lights up at the idea, eventually giving her a rose.
As The Bachelor season 25 arrives at its finale, it should be laser-focused on revealing the romantic highs this relationship has reached since “Week 2.” Every finale previously has respected the finalist couples enough to give them that level of attention. We even saw that last year, when Peter Weber’s mom Barb Weber took control of The Bachelor — her ultimate goal was counseling her son into what she believed was the right relationship. Bringing Matt’s dad onto the show for a decades-in-the-making clash does not fit into this thoughtful formula. It's obvious that none of Matt's finalists are in the room or are the subject of the deeply personal, sad discussion. Instead, the conversation is destined to divert attention away from Matt’s relationships and eat up screen time that could go to one-on-one dates and tender moments.
If this were the first time The Bachelor season 25 allowed time-gobbling intrusions to horn in on the evolution of Matt’s relationships, such a decision could be understandable. Matt is clearly processing the influence of his parents’ failed romance on his own capabilities of a partner. But the appearance of Manny is the latest addition to a string of time-sucking 2021 Bachelor digressions. Various cruelties involving Victoria Larson dominated hours of footage at the beginning of the season. The introduction of five new contestants weeks into filming led to multiple “J.V. versus Varsity” arguments that had nothing to do with Matt. The ultimately meaningless arrival of Heather Martin was spread over two entire episodes. As the “Women Tell All” special confirmed, The Bachelor produced shoehorned these tedious escapes into episodes to the detriment of actual dates.
At least two group dates were cut out of the season entirely, therefore removing the relationship building — and context — they could have offered.
Going into the finale, viewers should be waiting with bated breath to take in the extravagant charm of at least two relationships (Matt’s coupling with finalist Rachael Kirkconnel is obviously harrowing due to real life forces). Instead, we need to prepare to feel devastated about his dad.