Towards the end of Colton Underwood’s season of The Bachelor in Spring 2019, I wrote about the virgin-athlete’s obsession with show contestant Cassie Randolph, and her apparent lack of interest in him. Leading up to the finale, the pair had a disastrous hometown date: Randolph’s father couldn’t have been less interested in having Underwood as a future son-in-law, and Underwood failed to understand why. When the final contestants were whisked away to Algrave, Portugal, Randolph and Underwood spent most of their date in perpetual make-out, interrupted before the night’s festivities by the surprise appearance of Randolph’s dad, who advised her to end things if she wanted to end things. And so, when Randolph cut things off, struggling to shed a single tear in front of him, Underwood did what any mature man would do: He hopped a fence and ran from the show’s producers.
The show might have retained composure if Underwood had ended there, releasing Randolph from a relationship that had soured due to untenable expectations and pursued the remaining two contestants, who both seemed at least moderately interested. Instead, he went after her.
For the excruciating finale of the season, Underwood chased Randolph—surprising her in her hometown of California to “show” how much he loved her, as he explained to host Chris Harrison. Just a few days earlier Randolph had told him, repeatedly, that she “could not get there” with him; now Underwood felt he could convince her to take him back. On-screen, his continuous pushing was presented as the height of romance—but to me, and I presume for many women watching—it was recognizable as a form of intimidation, obsession confused with love. Randolph acquiesced, and the pair began to date. It lasted less than a year.
Their relationship met its inevitable demise followed shortly by allegations of abuse, making the show’s framing of the origins of their relationship feel especially gross and frankly, dangerous. On Tuesday, a court renewed a temporary restraining order Randolph filed against Underwood for a month, as their lawyers attempt to work out “their problems amicably,” according to Entertainment Tonight. Still, earlier in the day, news broke that Randolph had filed a police report alleging that Underwood put a tracker on her car. Clearly, The Bachelor is founded in antiquated, heteronormative readings of love, and Underwood and Randolph’s relationship reflected a strained power dynamic that always lurked below the surface.
Underwood announced the breakup publicly on Instagram: “Sometimes people are just meant to be friends—and that’s okay.” Randolph wrote her own, which has since been deleted, “Colton and I have broken up, but have decided to remain a part of each other’s lives. With all that we have gone through, we have a special bond that will always be there.”
Both remarks seemed innocuous, designed to temporarily satiate publicity and stave off any guessing from the perpetually tuned-in Bachelor Nation audience. That is, until three months later when it was revealed that Randolph had filed a restraining order against Underwood, citing “Domestic Violence Prevention.” In September, the details of the case became public knowledge when E! acquired the filing, suggesting a much darker narrative than what had been suggested onscreen.
Randolph accused Underwood of stalking and harassment, alleging that he had placed a tracking device on her car, appeared in an alley outside her bedroom window at two in the morning, walked by her apartment multiple times a day, and used alias phone numbers to “anonymously” send harassing text messages to Randolph, her friends and family, and, malevolently, himself, to give the appearance that they were all victims of the same anonymous stalker. (He eventually admitted to sending the texts, according to the restraining order.) As TMZ reports, two weeks after the order was approved by a judge, Randolph filed a police report against Underwood for the tracking device. Her lawyer, Bryan Freedman, offered only the following statement: “It was her intention to first, try and work through this process privately in a manner that gives both her and Colton safety, security and respect. We are confident this is possible.”
As the collapse of their relationship has become public, the final episodes of Underwood’s season look not just awkward, but now, almost sinister, as the show dutifully spun infatuation into something noble and whimsical. In the universe of The Bachelor, the romantic lead is not just searching for love, but entitled to it, and any action is simply a means of obtaining the desired end result. But when all behavior is forced into the easy narrative of courtship, there’s no room for discomfort, let alone abuse. The Bachelor hopes its audience will side-step this form of interrogation, so the fairytale can continue and the franchise will endure, as if nothing ever happened.
And of course they will. They already have: the next season of The Bachelorette will begin airing next week.
In Underwood’s memoir, released in April, the TV star describes asking Randolph’s dad Matt for permission to marry her during hometowns. He recites her father’s actual response: “Marriage is a lifelong commitment... Too often, I think, it’s done without enough thought. So I feel, as far as the hand in marriage, that would be a premature blessing.” Underwood offers his own interpretation of the very direct message. “What he really meant: Get out of my house and take my daughter on another date, dude. Takeaway: Not a fan of The Bachelor.”
“I tried to brush it off, but Matt’s response was a lot to process. I was pissed and frustrated,” Underwood writes. He comes across as petulant, especially considering what happened next: He waits days to tell Randolph he failed to acquire her father’s blessing, while assuring her that “family is everything.”
Eventually, she gave in to the manipulation, but breaking her down was no easy task. “Cassie is the Queen of I Don’t Know, and she really didn’t know what to do,” Underwood writes of confronting her on the show, and admitting he only wanted to be with her. “I told her that I didn’t care about getting engaged at the end of the season. I didn’t care about the show anymore, either. If she needed more time to get to know me, I wanted to give her that time. Whatever amount of time she needed. I didn’t know how to be any clearer: She might be ready to walk out, but I wasn’t done fighting for us... It was too much for the Queen of I Don’t Know.”
Fighting for love is only romantic if those feelings are reciprocated, and what the show sold as romance was actually coercive. Underwood’s memoir makes it clear that he had no real read on Randolph’s true feelings or even those of her father. There’s nothing “confusing” about a woman saying she is unsure she can “get there” with you. Instead of treating her like an autonomous human being capable of conception, or emotion, such as love, Underwood thrust his scripted and convenient fairytale upon her—that she was simply “confused” about her nascent love for him, and that one day, she would appreciate the fact that he was really fighting for them—that is, for a relationship didn’t even exist yet. It’s possible he still believes he’s fighting for her by waiting outside her apartment in the middle of the night, as the restraining order stated, so far into the fantasy The Bachelor franchise commodifies that even after the cameras stop rolling, he’s allegedly resorted to stalking.
“[Colton] really isn’t ready to accept it yet and would love nothing more than to get Cassie back. He is gutted that all of this is happening in front of the whole world,” a source close to Underwood told Hollywood Life in the weeks following the restraining order. “He is struggling to see the writing on the wall and that is Cassie seemingly moving on, he doesn’t want to accept it.” Clearly, tracking an ex’s car and harassing her on burner phones far exceeds any rational description of figuring “out their differences,” but the source, like the show, spun the narrative to make Underwood appear hopelessly besotted—just another extension of his courageous fight for love, Randolph’s safety be damned.
In revisiting the final scenes of Colton Underwood’s Bachelor season for this piece, I found myself curious about his other relationships. Though no other restraining orders appear to have been filed, there are overwhelming differences in the way Underwood speaks about his romances and the way his exes do. Ex-girlfriend Aly Raisman, the Olympic gymnast, rarely speaks of their fling, telling People last year, “We have not talked in a really, really long time.” Two weeks after, Underwood, on a pre-Bachelor press junket, told hosts of the “LadyGang” podcast that Raisman was his “first love,” and “worst heartbreak.” Naturally, Underwood controlled the narrative, the nuance of Raisman’s perspective was sacrificed by The Bachelor for the image of a Prince Charming ready to be sold to America. With Raisman, the discrepancy appears slight, with Randolph it is much more damning.
It’s probable that more information surrounding the dissolution of Underwood and Randolph’s relationship will become public, as Randolph continues to seek legal recompense with another court hearing takes place on November 6. But since the beginning, Underwood has been showing audiences his cards—he’s a man on a mission, incapable and uninterested in hearing her needs, all in the name of love.
As it stands, Underwood has yet to comment about the restraining order. I doubt he will. Whatever the result, The Bachelor will continue on, selling a romantic fantasy at any cost.