Can ‘The Bachelorette’ Recover From Its Front-Runner’s Instagram Scandal?

Can ‘The Bachelorette’ Recover From Its Front-Runner’s Instagram Scandal?

On Wednesday, ABC’s latest Bachelorette took a step unprecedented in the show’s 14-season history: Just two days into her season, Becca Kufrin sat down for an interview with Entertainment Tonight to address a contestant’s Instagram likes.

Even before the premiere on Monday night, fans had begun to circulate screenshots of Garrett Yrigoyen’s Instagram account liking offensive posts, including memes mocking the Parkland shooting survivors, undocumented immigrants, and trans and genderqueer children. When Yrigoyen was awarded the coveted first impression rose by Kufrin, signaling that he could be a front-runner, the outcry intensified.

Last Friday, an anonymous Instagram account, @imwatchingyuuo, posted screenshots of Yrigoyen’s “likes” on posts of offensive memes. The account sent the images to Ashley Spivey, a one-time “Bachelor” contestant who frequently tweets about the franchise.

“My first reaction was that I thought they were disgusting,” Spivey told HuffPost in a phone conversation on Wednesday. She checked on the veracity of the screenshots, then began to circulate them on her Twitter account.

HuffPost reported the story on Monday night, after we independently found other instances of Yrigoyen’s Instagram liking offensive images and posts mocking feminists. 

In her interview Wednesday, Kufrin, whose own Instagram history has indicated her support for Hillary Clinton and the Women’s March, urged viewers to “be open to everyone,” but said that if she learned such a thing about a significant other, she would “confront” the issue with him. “We would have a discussion about it,” she told ET, adding, “I am a strong woman and I do believe in certain things, but again, that’s what’s so great about our country ― everyone is entitled to their own opinions.”

For a franchise that typically prefers to let controversies play out on-screen, heightening drama during the season, the alacrity of this damage control mission was remarkable. It wasn’t just Kufrin. ET also spoke to Robert Mills, ABC’s senior vice president of alternative series, specials and late-night programming, about Yrigoyen’s Instagram woes.

 “It’s kind of hard to do anything now when the show has been shot,” said Mills, who stated that the network hadn’t come to any “definitive” findings about whether the account was actually Yrigoyen’s, “but I think that we will certainly look into how we would address this on the show once we get all the facts.”

“Bachelor” Kremlinologists perked up. Without saying anything of note, Kufrin and Mills had managed to say a lot — namely, that the show was softening the ground for its early favorite.

Will the show’s unusually quick press salvo be enough to allow “The Bachelorette” to evade the wrecking ball that appears on track to demolish this season’s leading romantic narrative? Or is this season doomed from day one by its unpalatable front-runner?

HuffPost got on the phone with Spivey to discuss how this controversy unfolded, how “The Bachelorette” could handle it going forward, and how the show should be navigating the era of social media and political polarization. We spoke before the statements from Kufrin and Mills had been released.

Let’s start at the beginning of this whole affair. When did you first hear about or see these likes on Garrett’s account?

That account, @imwatchingyuuo, sent them to me on Friday morning. I’d already seen mention that Garrett maybe wasn’t a great person on the “Bachelor” subreddit. And then once I saw those screenshots, I was like, oh, of course, I know what’s about to happen.

What did you see on the “Bachelor” subreddit?

People were like, I’ve been going through his likes and there’s some shady stuff.

So you don’t know who’s behind the @imwatchingyuuo account? 

I have no idea. I know that there are three Reddit users who they give credit to doing this deep dive on Garrett. But I’m not sure that any of them are actually behind the account.

What did you do on Friday when you got those screenshots? What was your first reaction?

My first reaction was that I thought they were disgusting. I went ahead and started looking at the account, Merica Supply Co, which a lot of them were posted under, and I couldn’t see if he liked them because I wasn’t following him.

So, I started checking with people who were following him to see if they were matching up. I didn’t just, like, automatically tweet them out. I wanted to check with people first before I did that.

As soon as you had checked in to verify that those were real, you thought, “People need to know”?

Right. I could only imagine, me being in the beginning stages of an engagement, where I hadn’t known a person for that long … and I feel like I would want to know this. I also feel like, in a lot of other cases, especially in online dating, people always look to someone’s social media to get a good read on who the person is, so I don’t really understand why this is any different.

It’s sort of a weird thing that’s happened with the show, that they used to ask you guys to deactivate your social media, and they’ve really relaxed that kind of restriction, but the contestants still don’t get to access it during the show. And Becca doesn’t, it seems like, get to look at it. Do you think that is a tenable solution? Where do you think they’re going wrong there?

Even in terms of Garrett, if he would have just kept his account private, like it was while he was on the show, this maybe wouldn’t have happened. I’m not saying that would have been a good thing, but people wouldn’t have started looking into everything.

And one thing I think is interesting is, he had a link in his bio for his Instagram account, for, like, a small arms dealer, and once he got off the show he took that off, which tells me that someone on production told him that it wouldn’t look great, and that’s why he took it off, because I don’t see him doing that voluntarily. So, someone had to know that something was already up, you know?

And coming from the audience side, what kind of reactions did you immediately see from other “Bachelorette” viewers?

There were a lot of people who agree that these views were heinous and not OK, but then there’s definitely another faction that’s like, “These are differing opinions, that’s why you don’t agree with them, just because he’s a Republican or conservative is why you hate him.” Which is not the truth. That could not be farther from the truth. Or people are just like, “Him liking that [means it is] just something he finds humorous. That’s not him as a person.”  

But what I would argue is, he was consistently liking these posts. And I think if you’re consistently liking something like that, that says a lot about you as a person.

Yeah, he was seeking out that content. That was part of his regular social media diet.

Exactly. And I mean, the thing that was most consistent is that he has a strong distaste for liberals. Not even talking about all the hateful stuff. That’s what I think is so baffling, is if you hate liberals so much ― and that’s something that was pretty widely known about Becca ― I just automatically don’t trust your intentions for coming on this show. Because I don’t see that going away so quickly.

We were discussing James Taylor [a contestant on “The Bachelorette” Season 12] as an interesting example of someone who [has shared offensive views on social media], and nothing about him came out while it was airing. So are we just existing in a very different landscape than we were even a year or two ago?

I think that now, especially with things like Reddit, or being able to actually do this research … I don’t know why people didn’t do it more before. Maybe they did and just we didn’t feel so polarized back then, to show the stuff about people. I just feel like now you just really can’t ignore it.

Is there a line that ABC should be drawing in terms of what they look for in people’s social media or how they are advising people to handle their social media? Because it seems like this is the first time this has happened with such a front-runner, but Maquel Cooper had an issue this past season; the season before, obviously, Lee Garrett. So this is something that’s happening consistently. It just hasn’t conflicted with their storylines until this season.  

Well, that’s the thing. Did they handle the Lee thing correctly, is up for debate, but they definitely tried to do something about it. And then in terms of Maquel, I think that has a lot to do with why she wasn’t invited even to the “Women Tell All.” They really wanted to distance themselves from her post. So that’s why there’s got to be a way that they can address this, where they could at least just say, you know, Garrett’s likes don’t represent what we feel should be represented in our company.

Do you think that production probably didn’t have any idea beforehand, that they just didn’t check? Or do you think that they might have had an inkling, and they thought, it’s not going to be a big deal, so it’s fine?

I think that they had to have had an inkling based on what they made him remove from his bio.

[Note: ABC declined to comment on whether “The Bachelorette” producers saw or requested the removal of an arms dealer link from Yrigoyen’s Instagram profile, and Warner Bros. has not responded to a request for comment.]

Obviously this show is, at its core, about the lead picking the person they believe to be right for them. And yet, these people also are essentially gifted with, by virtue of being so public on TV, massive platforms. What is the extra responsibility that people who go on this show have, that maybe hasn’t been made explicit to them? Do they have an extra responsibility?

That’s where I really feel like “Bachelor” production should make sure that we’re getting the best people for this show. They had to know, in some way, that maybe this person wouldn’t make for the best fiancé for Becca.

I don’t think everyone should aim to have the biggest social media platform, and that’s what I guess is bothering me about the whole Garrett situation. Because if he would have just deleted all of his social media accounts, and then spent this time maybe thinking about how he portrays himself on social media, and then gave some sort of apology at the end of it, or said he took the time to really learn about why liking those posts were wrong, then I would think that maybe his intentions could be pure. But him opening the new account on Sunday makes me believe that he’s just like everyone else that just wants a big social media following. He just seems like everyone else, right?

[Note: Several accounts exist under Yrigoyen’s name on Instagram. This account, opened just days after the old account’s deletion, is followed by several castmates from the show and is reported by TV reporter Reality Steve to be Yrigoyen’s legitimate account.]

Like, he doesn’t want to miss the opportunity to get followers during the show.

Based on your experience with the show [during Season 15, which aired in 2011], do you have any insight into how this might be being dealt with by the studio and ABC behind the scenes?

Back then, when I was on, it was so different. I want to say my season was the first time that we really could even participate in a lot of Twitter stuff that was going on, and we had to keep ours private, or not interact over Twitter. Because we even started, I think, halfway through the season, [production] told us, “You won’t go to the ‘Women Tell All’ if you keep on [tweeting].”

A lot of us didn’t even have Instagram yet. I think I got it that year, and I definitely deactivated my Facebook and didn’t open it back up until the season was over. I don’t know if they could even do that anymore, because a lot of people do rely on in terms of either businesses or getting sponsorships as soon as they’re done.

I don’t know how they’re going to deal with it. I would tell everyone, just stay off social media. It’s not that hard.

Do you think that’s a valid, enforceable thing for them anymore? Was it a decision they made to allow more social media use, or was it just, like, they’re throwing their hands up in the air, we can’t stop [contestants from using social media] anymore?

I feel like their hands are up in the air. There’s no way that they can control this stuff.

There has to be a way to look at accounts that these contestants are following and figure out what people are liking.  I mean, you can do it on Twitter. That part’s not hard.

I think that everyone should start looking at social media in a different way after this. It’s not private!

That’s a good point. Do you think they’re going to address it in a bigger way at the end of the season? Do you think they’re holding off, or that they’re hoping it will just run its course and people will forget before before the finale?

I think that they’re hoping it will just go away. But I don’t see people not still being very angry about it by the end of the season.

I think they’re really doing a disservice to themselves by not addressing it, because the longer they wait on making a statement ― I mean, they could just have Garrett make the statement. They don’t have to make the statement. The longer they wait on this, I think a lot of people just are going to look at him and see [a] bigot. They’re not even going to focus on the love story.  

Do you think, in this moment, there is a demand or a need for this show to move away from this kind of apolitical fantasy world that they have really been careful to hew to?

I think they should make it a bigger focus. I feel like now, it really does have a big part in whether or not the final couple will be compatible. And maybe even not necessarily about politics, so much, but just, do you believe in human decency? Just, like, bring up three issues: Do you believe in conspiracy theories? Are you OK with racism? Do you believe in same-sex [marriage]? Something like that. These aren’t even hard questions. They should be things that you should find out about the person who you’re going to get engaged to.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

Do people love “The Bachelor,” “The Bachelorette” and “Bachelor in Paradise,” or do they love to hate these shows? It’s unclear. But at “Here to Make Friends,” we both love and love to hate them — and we love to snarkily dissect each episode in vivid detail. Podcast edited by Nick Offenberg.



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