A fresh season of The Bachelor is airing, 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. This time around, the man in question is Matt James, a newcomer to Bachelor Nation, while our new favorite girl gang includes marketers, models, and Queen Victoria herself (kinda).
Right away, James seemed especially captivated by a handful of his initial 32 contestants, including Abigail Heringer, who received the all-important first impression rose, and 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. Rumor has it that we'll be seeing plenty of Kirkconnell all season long—so here's everything you need to know about her in the meantime.
She's been at the center of 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 has said that the posts are real.
While not commenting on the specific posts, James told Entertainment Tonight: "Rumors are dark and nasty and can ruin people's lives. So I would give people the benefit of the doubt, and hopefully she will have her time to speak on that."
Chris Harrison then defended Kirkconnell in a painful-to-watch interview with Rachel Lindsay 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. Harrison later 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."
Following Harrison's apology, 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."
In the days following his interview with Lindsay, Harrison stepped aside from his hosting duties in light of the backlash. It's not clear when or how he'll be back.
Reality Steve had this to say: "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..."
On Feb. 22, James himself shared a statement:
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's 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. Her first love has a lot to live up to: 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."
This actually makes Kirkconnell a pretty good match for James, who shared on night one that he's made a habit in past relationships of putting up walls before things get too deep, and has since mentioned in interviews that his experience on The Bachelor helped him "grow as a man" and, yes, even open himself up to love.
There's a good chance that it's Kirkconnell who helps him learn to break down those walls, since... (Spoilers below.)
She goes far this season—like, really far. (Spoilers!)
If you trust Reality Steve's intel, Kirkconnell is the winner of James's season. They're still together now, apparently, although RS doesn't know if they're engaged (though I'm guessing so?). The other frontrunners were reportedly Bri Springs, Michelle Young, and Serena Pitt—but it was Kirkconnell who stole the lead's heart. "From the beginning of December on, it seemed like everyone and their mother in Cumming, GA was telling me they 'heard' Rachael won," RS writes, adding that he eventually "got the confirmation [he] needed."
There are a few clues that Reality Steve is correct. For one, the Instagram account @BachSleuthers discovered via some Spotify stalking that James has been listening to one of Kirkconnell's playlists. Which is, um, telling—I mean, do you listen to your ex's Spotify playlist?
That said, according to Reality Steve, James and Kirkconnell broke up at some point before the season finished filming and when the finale aired, hence James calling her photos "incredibly disappointing" in his statement. As with Zac Clark and Tayshia Adams, there may be no After The Final Rose to check in with them—especially now that Chris Harrison won't be a part of it. We may have to wait until the season finishes to hear directly from them both.