Longtime fans of The Bachelorette know that this franchise sometimes goes for shock value — what else is a 15-year-old reality TV institution supposed to do to keep audiences interested? But on Rachel Lindsay's season, it seems like things may have gone too far. Since night one, Lee Garrett has been picking fights with other contestants like Kenny and Eric, and considering what we know about Lee outside of the show and the fact that another contestant, Dean, has alleged that Lee is intolerant, fans have been quick to allege that these fights could be coming from a place of prejudice. And because this is the first season that has featured a black Bachelorette, it's especially frustrating that Lee made it through yet another rose ceremony on The Bachelorette.
Before this season even premiered, Lee was already considered controversial. In May, some tweets were uncovered from his now-private account that were offensive and racially insensitive, which made it troubling that he was cast for the show at all. (When Bustle reached out about these tweets and Lee's casting on the show, ABC and Warner Bros. declined to comment.) And since Rachel being the Bachelorette is such a huge milestone for a franchise that has struggled big time with diversity, it's a letdown that someone like Lee would be among her contestants — or anyone else's. Someone who spends his time spreading hateful and racist rhetoric doesn't belong in the lineup of any star's potential husbands, but it's particularly dangerous with Rachel and her diverse group of contestants to have someone there who has a problematic past and admits he finds enjoyment from riling people up.
As Sean Lowe noted in his book, For The Right Reasons, casting includes a heavy screening process, but as far as we know, the tweets really did slip past their radar. According to a statement Chris Harrison made via Twitter, producers had no idea the tweets existed before filming:
For those asking, no, of course we didn't know about the offensive tweets from Lee's account. None of us were aware of them Very unfortunate— Chris Harrison (@chrisbharrison) June 2, 2017
So far, Rachel hasn't commented directly on Lee herself — although she did mention him when she shut down former Bachelor contestant Leah Block's insensitive tweet comparing Rachel's season to an episode of Love & Hip Hop. How much Rachel actually knew about Lee during filming is still a mystery, but it's assumed that producers are looking out for her when they cast her men, so to see Lee on the show is disappointing.
On last week's episode, Lee continued his feud with Kenny, a black 35-year-old wrestler, calling him "aggressive" and constantly trying to egg him on. But then, during a talking head interview with producers, Dean tried to explain what Lee's true motivation was. Putting it as politely as possible, he claimed:
You'd think after that, Lee would be a goner, but that's not what happened at all. Although the rose ceremony won't air until this Monday night's episode, we already know he'll survive it since the promo from last week shows him on a two-on-one date. (Unless, for some reason, there is no rose ceremony during Monday's episode.) Was Rachel kept in the dark about the extent of Lee's behavior even after Dean's comment? She certainly knew he was at least picking fights with other contestants, because she was involved in conversations about it herself.
The Bachelor franchise has been known to dismiss contestants when their behavior becomes inappropriate, like when Chad Johnson was sent home on Bachelor in Paradise last summer after getting belligerent towards other contestants. So where will the line be drawn when it comes to Lee? If it's been alleged that he is starting fights due to "intolerance" at what point does that become a dismissible offense? When does he stop being presented like any other antagonistic contestant on the show?
It's possible that Lee will simply leave the show when Rachel decides to not give him a rose, possibly on the two-on-one date. It's never been officially confirmed that producers have a hand in who the lead gives roses to, but it seems quite likely that they do encourage the Bachelorette to keep certain contestants around for entertainment value. As former Bachelorette Ali Fedotowsky told E! News in 2014, sometimes producers would "help" her pick who to keep. She explained, "I think I chose the majority of the guys who stayed the first night, but after that I couldn't really distinguish the last couple so I had the producer 'help' me pick, and I'm sure they would suggest I can't get rid of the 'interesting' ones." But what Lee is doing definitely isn't entertaining or interesting, especially during what is supposed to be such a milestone season. ABC had no comment for Bustle regarding whether producers play a role in which contestants the Bachelorette keeps around.
No matter how much drama Lee creates (or how many viewers he may draw in), it's not OK to put Rachel and her contestants through his intolerance, if that is really what is happening. The Bachelorette isn't always the most "real" reality show on TV, but the relationships that emerge from the show do carry on to real life. It's incredibly damaging to suggest to Rachel that she could have a future with this man, and even most frustrating that the show is giving him the airtime and attention he so desperately seeks.