A fresh season of The Bachelor started airing in January 2021, and you know what that means—a new very tall, very handsome man to alternately swoon over and angry-tweet about every Monday night, a new group of catfight-prone women battling it out (sometimes literally) for his heart, and a new set of baffling stunts disguised as "dates" and "bonding activities" for the group. Right away, lead Matt James seemed especially captivated by a handful of his initial contestants, including Rachael Kirkconnell, who not only had a few meaningful interactions with James right off the bat, but was also shown having even deeper conversations with him in the promo for the rest of the season.
Kirkconnell eventually won the season and got his final rose—but the two broke up in the months thereafter, for reasons they both discussed in the March 15 edition of After The Final Rose. Here's what to know about her.
She's been at the center of a racism controversy.
During James's season, Bachelor fans dug up screenshots of racist Instagram posts that Kirkconnell had "liked," including a photo that included a Confederate flag, as well as a pro-Trump post. In addition, Kirkconnell was photographed at what was allegedly a plantation-themed ball; she wore what looked to be an antebellum-themed dress. Her cousin confirmed that the posts were real.
Chris Harrison added fuel to the fire by defending Kirkconnell in a painful-to-watch interview with Rachel Lindsay, who was the first Black woman to be cast as The Bachelorette, on Extra: "These girls got dressed up and went to a party and had a great time and they were 18 years old." He repeatedly referred to the "woke police," and said of the "plantation ball" photos: "Is it [not] a good look in 2018, or is it not a good look in 2021?...[The franchise] is not in the business of dealing with every problem that you have."
As you can see in the clip, Lindsay emphatically disagreed, pointing out that Kirkconnell was actively "celebrating the old South" by attending the party and should not be defended by anyone. Harrison was widely condemned for the interview, and he quickly apologized: "What I now realize I have done is cause harm by wrongly speaking in a manner that perpetuates racism, and for that I am so deeply sorry."
Bachelor Nation was not convinced. Days later, amid calls for him to resign permanently, Harrison stepped aside from his hosting duties in light of the backlash. It's not clear when, if, or how he'll be back.
But one voice was missing for much of the controversy: Kirkconnell's. After Harrison stepped aside, Kirkconnell posted a heartfelt apology of her own to Instagram, writing: "At one point, I didn't recognize how offensive and racist my actions were, but that doesn't excuse them. My age or when it happened does not excuse anything. They are not acceptable or okay in any sense. I was ignorant, but my ignorance was racist...As I was thinking about what I wanted to say, I couldn't help but think about how sick people must be of reading these kinds of statements; how a person didn't realize the trauma that their actions would inflict on other people. It must get so exhausting. I want to put my energy towards preventing people from making the same offensive mistakes that I made in the first place, and I hope I can prove this to you moving forward."
Reality Steve's take? "As you can see, Rachael’s apology was 10x better than Chris’...[What I heard was] she was going to own it, she was embarrassed by her actions, she knows it was racist, and even was aware her apology wouldn’t be enough and that it would take time for her to earn people’s trust. At this point, that’s really all she can do." He also alleged that Kirkconnell had wanted to speak out sooner: "Rachael has wanted to speak out for weeks now. But production was telling her not to. She’s 24 years old, everyone in America is calling her a white supremacist/racist, she has a giant NDA contract that she signed..."
Then James himself spoke out:
Kirkconnell was forced to asked fans to stop defending her actions. "“If you are in my comments or defending me anywhere, telling people that I did nothing wrong, that there’s nothing to be hurt about, there’s nothing to be angry about or offended about, please stop,” she added. “That’s not our place to tell people what they can and can’t be offended about. That’s wrong, and that’s part of the problem.”
ABC went on to announce that Emmanuel Acho would be hosting "After The Final Rose" in lieu of Harrison. When it aired on March 15, James was candid about why he and Kirkconnell had broken up: "You want to believe that you know your person better than anybody else knows your person,” he said. “When she spoke out and publicly acknowledged that she would do better and she apologized is when I was finally able to take check on myself and see where I was at, and I wasn't OK...Rachael might not understand what it means to be Black in America...It's work I can't do for you."
He continued: "And so when I questioned our relationship, it was in the context of you not fully understanding my Blackness, and what what it means to be a Black man in America, what it would mean for our kids, when I saw those things floating around on the internet. And it broke my heart."
Kirkconnell, meanwhile, fully owned up to her actions. "There's no excuse," she said. "I lost the love of my life and in the process of that, I hurt him while doing so."
She's from the South.
Kirkconnell is a 24-year-old from Cumming, Georgia, a suburb outside of Atlanta. She attended Georgia College & State University—where she made the Dean's List twice, FYI—and graduated in 2019 with a degree in marketing. She now works as a graphic designer and, judging by her Instagram, appears to have settled in the Atlanta area.
According to her official ABC bio, Kirkconnell's likes include doodling, good movies, and charcuterie boards, while her biggest pet peeve is slow driving. Relatable! Her Instagram also shows off a love of travel, beach days, wineries, and, of course, feral donkeys.
She had never been in love.
Buried among the requisite claims of loving low-key date nights and having a tight-knit family in her ABC bio is Kirkconnell's claim that she's never been in love, despite being a self-described hopeless romantic. Not only does she need that romance to be "huge and life-altering," but she's looking for a partner who will help her live every day to the fullest.
She also added, "At the end of the day, love is what makes your life more special than others. Life can be hard and really difficult and dark at times, but if you have someone by your side that loves you more than they love themselves, that makes it all worth it in the end."