At a strip mall just outside Jupiter, the Florida seaside town named for the Roman king of the gods, Tyler Cameron is holding court.
First, he has to stop and chat with the cashier at the acai bowl café. “We went to high school together,” he tells me. It’s hurricane season, with approximately 1000% humidity, but Cameron remains sweat-free, spilling out of a bicep-hugging striped polo shirt and khaki shorts that his tree-trunk thighs threaten to rip at any given moment. Then there’s the woman who wants to say hi to his “extremely shy” rescue Harley, who’s hiding behind Cameron’s stool. His best friend, Katie, and his real estate agent — Katie’s mother, Dawn — drop by too, total coincidence, since he plans to see both later today.
The stream of friends and well-wishers is so uninterrupted, he can barely get through his breakfast of a bagel topped with almond butter, granola, honey, and sliced bananas, all washed down with a fresh juice and a wellness shot. Cameron designed it this way. “[COVID] really brought me home, and I realized I love being home,” he says. “I love being with my friends and the people that matter the most to me. New York, L.A., it was fun but I was always alone. I was never with my people. You know?” He also happens to be the owner of a nearby franchise of the same acai bowl café, but we’re here to talk about his book, You Deserve Better, a half memoir, half dating guide for men and women, out this week.
Members of Bachelor Nation know Cameron as the modest but politely, persistently woke fan favorite from Hannah Brown’s 2019 season of The Bachelorette. Though he lost to Jed Wyatt, Cameron emerged the real victor after news broke that Wyatt had a girlfriend before he entered the show, prompting accusations that Wyatt was not looking for love and was perhaps hoping to use the ABC show to launch his music career. On the show’s After the Final Rose finale special, Brown asked Cameron out for drinks and he said yes; days later, Cameron was spotted on what looked like a date with Gigi Hadid in New York City. The takeaway was not that Cameron was just as bad as all the other guys after all, but that he was a bona fide catch whose appeal transcended the world of The Bachelor.
For a brief moment after the show ended, the world was Cameron’s for the taking. But instead of making frantic maneuvers to lengthen his 15 minutes, Cameron has taken his seemingly unlimited starpower (and his 2 million Instagram followers) back to his hometown 90 miles north of Miami, putting down professional roots and keeping his relationship of six months with model Camila Kendra mostly private. He still rents a riverside apartment in New York City with former Bachelor Matt James (a friend since before the show), and he has appeared on the show a couple of times since his own season wrapped. For the most part, though, Cameron says he’s trying to put the Bachelor-verse (and all its recent controversies) in his rearview mirror, claiming, “I don't want to be a part of it.”
Cameron, 28, was born and raised in Jupiter, which he calls “a little boat town.” If he has his way, he’ll die here, too; his kids will live here, as will their kids, and their kids too, each generation constructing another layer of the cake that he hopes will become The Cameron Dynasty of South Florida. He’s grown up almost entirely on one street, first in a house with his parents, then down the block, then into his mother’s house after her unexpected passing in early 2020. “I say I lived the Huckleberry Finn lifestyle,” he says. “I had this friend, every day of the summer, she'd come pick me up on her boat. I just had to be home by dark. Like, who lives that way?”
He came up in the South’s football pipeline, meaning his future was cemented the moment he first put on the helmet in seventh grade. In high school, he earned the nickname “Bam-Bam” because, he writes, he was a “bruiser.” “I was always just Tyler Cameron the football kid, Tyler Cameron the quarterback,” he tells me. “I was the best athlete in Palm Beach County, and was one of the best in the state — one of the best in the country. I knew I could just lean back on that.”
Teachers let him waltz out of finals with good grades despite failing the exams. Enrolling in Wake Forest in 2012, he thought he’d breeze his way through college, too, but professors made fewer accommodations for him there. He failed his first semester with a 1.8 GPA; he recalls his English teacher kicked him out of her class after catching him plagiarizing a paper. “I didn't even write it — my mom wrote it,” he says, grinning. “My mom plagiarized.”
He graduated from Wake Forest a year early and enrolled in Florida Atlantic University, where he could pursue his MBA and spend his last two years of NCAA eligibility playing football. “I thought I was going to be a quarterback in the NFL,” he says. In You Deserve Better, Cameron writes that he spent his college years drinking a little too hard and sleeping around a little too regularly. “My dad never really had the birds and the bees talk,” he says. “It was more like, ‘Tyler, focus on football. You're not dating girls, and if you disrespect a girl, I’ll break your arm.’”
In 2017, during a training minicamp for the Baltimore Ravens, the team’s doctors spotted shoulder injuries he’d sustained playing college ball, permanently ending his dreams. “I’m the kind of person, if I feel like something is good, I go for it,” he says. “I’m all in, 100%, all gas, no breaks and I just go. And I find out the hard way or if it works or if it doesn't.”
He returned to FAU to complete his business degree, which required him to actually learn everything he’d skipped the first time around. “I treated it like a job,” he says. “I sat there for seven hours out of the day, and I just studied and learned. But I was doing better than I ever was beforehand, and I felt so confident because I would actually be able to do something and learn how to do it. I got better grades actually doing the work than I did cheating.”
After graduating, Cameron decided to follow in his father’s footsteps and obtained his general contractor license. During a break on a job site, he applied to a WWE open call he’d seen online. “I would love to run around like Ric Flair in a red Speedo,” he remembers thinking. He’d also recently signed with a modeling agency, and his friends, excited by his willingness to put himself out there, suggested he apply for more shows, which led to him stumbling upon a Bachelorette casting notice. Producers bit quickly; after a Skype call, Cameron auditioned for producers in person in Fort Lauderdale, then again in Los Angeles. He was cast two weeks later.
Cameron thought he’d go home on the first night of The Bachelorette. “I’m like, ‘Man, I’ve got $200 to my name and I work for my dad’s construction company. I’m not shit, you know?’” he says now. But Hannah kept him around, and his star-making moment came during the fantasy suites episode, when The Bachelor offers unfilmed, off-mic sleepovers between the lead and whichever contestants he or she chooses to invite. Brown told Cameron not to stay the night because she worried their physical attraction would overpower their burgeoning emotional connection.
“Tonight, fantasy suites, it has a connotation of sex,” Cameron replied. “For me, it’s way more than that... I would never press you or pressure you at all. I want you to be 100% comfortable and confident in whatever we do together. I look at the man I am today: It’s not the same kid I was nine weeks ago. You got me to open up so much… I can stand here today and tell you I do love you.”
When the episode aired, fans swooned and Brown herself tweeted, “most respectful. ever.” Cameron says that Karey Burke, then the head of ABC Entertainment, told him “you’re the feminist icon this show needed.” For a moment, the romcom ending seemed to be on the table: The morning after their post-finale drinks date, paparazzi caught Tyler leaving Hannah’s West Hollywood apartment. He says he didn’t see the cameras but has a theory about who sent them. “No one knew I was there that day,” he says. “I don’t think she would have done it, but I definitely bet you some of the producers knew we were hanging out to stir up some excitement.”
“Once I had a real relationship, to experience what love is, and what romance is, and seeing someone else light up because you’re trying to do something to make them happy — I realized that that’s what being a man is.”
Watching himself become the internet’s woke boyfriend during the summer of 2019 was, he says, a trip. “I was having issues with why I was getting so much praise for the show,” he says. “At first I was drinking the Kool-Aid. I thought it was great: ‘Tyler’s this and that... a feminist icon,’ all those things. There were articles written, like, ‘Tyler Cameron gives master class on consent.’” But eventually, he realized what a low bar the articles implied. “I’m like, ‘If my brothers didn’t do that, I’d whip their ass.’ We all should be holding each other accountable. That shouldn’t be something that gets that much praise — that’s a scary thing. To me, that made me realize the dating culture is a dark place.”
Cameron’s two younger brothers were the original imagined audience for his book, a guide on how to treat their partners and themselves in relationships that he hopes normalizes the outlook fans saw on the show. “I grew up in the locker room as a very impressionable kid,” he says. “You see these guys hooking up with all these girls, and you’re like, ‘Damn. That’s what a man is. That's cool.’ I made the mistake of falling into that, and then once I had a real relationship, to experience what love is, and what romance is, and seeing someone else light up because you’re trying to do something to make them happy — I realized that that’s what being a man is.”
After breakfast, Cameron pilots his Toyota pickup truck through intermittent torrential rain showers to a nearby house he’s considering buying to Airbnb out to vacationing northerners. His Herculean form ducks and twists as he strides around the three-bedroom property, firing off informed queries to Dawn about property values of similar units on the block (here, $180,000; down the street, “a million or more” depending on the acreage), the likelihood of renting it out for just under $3,000 (high), the impracticality of the main bedroom’s dual-sink bathroom (there’s no use of the dated terms “master” or “his and hers” all day).
When Cameron’s mother died of a brain aneurysm seven months after his season finale, Cameron moved back to Florida full time and the paparazzi followed, swarming his palm-tree-lined block. “Oh my god,” he says, wincing at the memory. “We’re here in Jupiter, Florida, not Rodeo Drive — not anything special. I thought those people took photos of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, not some Jimmy Joe from Jupiter. Our every move was being watched.” Every female friend bringing him food and offering him support was immediately a new girlfriend. When Brown flew to town to console him, it was “a romantic reunion”; then, it was that he’d used her for clout. (“We were just trying to work on becoming friends again, and everyone was, of course, jumping to conclusions,” he says.)
Soon, COVID was in the United States, and lockdown meant that he and his brothers were all living together again, wrestling with big emotions in close quarters. “I'll tell you what: We fought,” he says. “There were some screaming matches. Crying. Tears. But also a lot of love too, and a lot of growth, and a lot of conversations. Things that we probably wouldn’t have had happen for a long time, or maybe never would've happened if it wasn't for COVID.”
More than a year later, Cameron seems content to have traded the spotlight for the stability of small-town life. Much of his income comes from paid social media posts, he says, and he got a healthy paycheck for his short-lived, delightful Quibi show, Barkitecture, on which he built opulent homes for the dogs of the rich and famous. He has a few more shows percolating, but he talks like someone who doesn’t expect to be famous forever. Some land he bought nearby has already “appreciated a ton,” he tells me — he could make $70,000 selling it today if he really wanted — but he’d rather build on it because “the value of learning is more to me than that $70,000.” He’s invested a lot of money into another nearby acai bowl spot and is eyeing two or three more. “Just to get the franchising rights is $35,000, and then to build out or to buy a store is like $250 to $300,000,” he says. Plus, he adds, “I don’t spend shit. Every dollar I make, I want to try and make it grow.”
Typically, people in Cameron’s position go on to be the star of The Bachelor or appear on Bachelor in Paradise. Though he says he’s had conversations with producers about becoming The Bachelor four separate times, he tells me, “I just don’t think that would help my trajectory and what I want to do.” He’s spent the last two years distancing himself from the show — which, in 2021, seems like an awfully savvy move on his part.
This year, during James’ season as the show’s first Black male lead, racially insensitive social media posts from the eventual winner Rachael Kirkconnell emerged. They depicted Kirkconnell, who is white, wearing Native American attire as a costume, and attending an antebellum plantation-themed ball. In February, Chris Harrison, the show’s host for 50 seasons, defended Kirkconnell during an interview with former Bachelorette Rachel Lindsay, asking fans to “have a little grace, a little understanding, a little compassion” toward the disgraced contestant. A day later, he apologized; last month, ABC announced that he’d be stepping away from the show, netting a reported eight-figure payout for the rest of his contract. “You know how there’s the golden parachute?” Cameron asks. “That was the golden ax.”
While the machine that catapulted him to stardom was imploding, Cameron was watching and listening. He and his quarantine crew had recently thrown a pool party and caught justifiable shit for it online, which revealed to Cameron how large his platform had become. “You live long enough to see yourself become the villain,” he says. “I learned from my mistakes.” Former stars of the show have commented on everything from Harrison’s departure to a recent PPP loan scandal involving other contestants because, as Cameron sees it, “it gets them back in the light, and gets people buzzing about them again.” Personally, he prefers to stay on the sidelines: “All the Bachelor stuff, the Chris Harrison stuff, I stay out of it. It’s not that I think I'm better than them. It's just for my own peace. Things in the Bachelor world, I stay far away from.”
A registered independent voter in Florida, Cameron chose not to tell his followers who he supported in the 2020 election — “that’s probably a privilege,” he says — though our conversation suggests absolutely no love lost for the 45th president. He explains why he didn’t throw his support behind either candidate, alluding to the Michael Jordan joke: “‘I will never tell the people what I am, red or blue, because people that are red buy my shoes, people that are blue buy my shoes. So, why would I do anything to deter anyone?’"
When he shared a video of the political commentator Van Jones speaking about how he felt better about his children’s safety following President Biden’s victory, captioned simply “that was powerful,” Trump voters jumped into his DMs in droves. “I was like, ‘You know what? Fuck all of you all. I’m deleting that shit. You’re all getting nothing else from me. And that’s that.’” He tells me he’d rather learn off-camera, keeping his conversations private instead of speaking out of turn. He says he’s had phone calls with Rachel Lindsay over the past year, from whom he says he’s learned plenty.
“I get anxiety, I get hurt, you know? Sometimes I wake up and I'm just throwing up all morning because I’ve got too much going on in my head.”
Whatever you see on his Instagram these days, he says, is Tyler the business, not Tyler the person, to the chagrin of his managers and publicists, who want him to get intimate with his followers again. “I learned I can post to support things but things don’t change unless you get into the community and make changes yourself. The real change comes from going into your community and impacting and helping people that need help.” His new charity foundation, in honor of his late mother, will help pay the tuition of first-generation college students. His other passion project, ABC Food Tours — a nonprofit founded by James — brings students experiencing food insecurity to restaurants all over New York. “I’m not really a super biblical person, but there’s one saying that I love,” he tells me. “‘Through love, serve one another.’ Simple as that.”
Tomorrow, he tells me, he’s starting therapy. “I suffer from what a lot of people suffer,” he says. “I get anxiety, I get hurt, you know? Sometimes I wake up and I'm just throwing up all morning because I’ve got too much going on in my head. [...] As guys, you’re typically like, ‘Shut up, don’t show emotion. We don’t talk about it. Just be a man.’ That weight’s a heavy burden.” Then, a few days after that, he’s finally getting the COVID vaccine — Johnson & Johnson, he thinks, just to knock it out all at once. Then it’s back to New York to tape an episode of Watch What Happens Live With Andy Cohen to promote his book.
But first, Tyler’s getting back in his truck to pick up his girlfriend (who lives not far from Jupiter) for a weekend in, away from the public eye, watching movies and ordering takeout. This is the part of his life that genuinely excites him; everything else is just a paid post.
“People are like, ‘You're a sellout, you're posting an ad.’ Man, fuck you. I’m going to make my money. I’m not going to just do stupid stuff all the time, but selectively, because guess what? Now that money that I made from doing this has allowed me to buy land here, to build this, and to grow this and create a big career for myself. It’s opened doors for me to do a lot of great things.”
“At the end of the day, all I want to do in life is to have a family,” he says, growing animated. “I want to coach high school football and get kids to college. That to me is the dream, you know? Maybe I’ll have a house on the water with a boat in the backyard and have my little shits running around everywhere. I want the Cameron gang to walk on the basketball court, and everyone’s like, ‘Oh, shit. The Camerons are here. What kind of scene is going to happen now?’”
Photographs by David Urbanke