Los Angeles Times
‘Bachelor’ ready to speak his truth
Colton Underwood’s new book delves into manipulation he faced on ABC’s reality show.
Colton Underwood woke up in a panic, gasping for air, his bed sheets soaked. Instinctively, he knew: He had been infected with the coronavirus.
He wasn’t certain where he’d been exposed — possibly at a celebrity ski event in Beaver Creek, Colo., last month — but lying in his bed in L.A., he started to panic. He logged onto Amazon, buying cans of supplemental oxygen. His girlfriend, Cassie Randolph — the woman he ended up choosing at the end of his 2019 stint on “The Bachelor” — began making frantic calls.
The following day, March 18, Randolph’s family in Huntington Beach found a local practitioner who could administer a drive-through COVID-19 test. Forty-eight hours later, the results were in: He was positive. So he isolated himself on the third floor of the Randolphs’ beachside abode, taking “the combination of drugs that the president recommended,” hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin.
Within five days, his fever was gone, his cough had eased and his body aches had subsided. So he tweeted about the medicine that made him feel better.
“But I had to take my tweets down because people were threatening to sue me for false claims,” Underwood
said, referencing the controversial drugs, which have been in short supply and can cause dangerous side-effects. “I was receiving death threats. It’s scary.”
Now, Underwood is steeling himself for another delicate situation: Promoting his new book. On Tuesday, Simon and Schuster published “The First Time: Finding Myself and Looking for Love on Reality TV.” Underwood, who was billed as “the virgin Bachelor,” famously jumped a fence and tried to run away from the cameras.
In a Skype conversation from his self-isolation den last Friday, the 28-year-old spoke candidly about his health, his sexuality and his complicated feelings toward the “Bachelor” franchise.
How do you feel about your book coming out right now?
This is such a weird time, not only for myself but for everybody, and I don’t want to seem careless going around promoting my book. But I also think it’s an interesting time where people want to read something.
When did you start thinking about writing a book, and did you write it on your own?
I went into book discussions probably three or four weeks after my “Bachelor” season aired. I did seek out a ghostwriter for help, because I’m not the strongest writer. We sat for about four or five months and I think we had a little over 40 or 50 hours of back-and-forth.
I just felt like it was really important for me to take back control of my story. They did what they needed to do to make a TV show — but at my expense. This was a very therapeutic way for me to sort of take ownership in it.
You write that you warned producers during your season that they were coming “annoyingly close to crossing the line” in playing up your virginity. What were they doing?
We’re in a time where we’re so aware and conscious to the women in our society. I’m still emotional, and I still have feelings too. If a guy would have gotten out of the limo and popped a cherry in [“The Bachelorette”] Hannah Brown’s face, it would have been a much different reaction than when it happened to me. But I just went along with it and kept my mouth shut. I was realizing “I’m OK with you guys poking fun every once in a while,” but when it becomes my narrative — when it becomes “Hey, let’s get this guy laid” instead of “Let’s find love for him” — that’s when it was challenging for me.
Do you think that the show did want you to fall in love?
There were lines crossed in my relationship with Cassie that I found out about after the show. There were things they said and did that compromised my relationship with her. If you’re gonna make a show, at least give me a fair shot to end up with the girl that I’m falling in love with. I had to take it into my own hands and be extreme with it. They value their TV show more than the love story they always promote. If I didn’t stand up for myself, I probably wouldn’t be with Cassie today.
You talked about some of this in an episode of “This American Life” — how you were angry at production for some of the tactics they used, like flying Cassie’s dad to Portugal so he could tell her he didn’t think she should get engaged.
I got in a lot of trouble for that podcast. It was approved through them, but what I said in there violated my NDA, which I didn’t even realize. My whole thing was: “This is 2020. People don’t want to feel like they’re getting tricked.” I’m not gonna sit here and keep playing this game.
Were you worried, then, about how much you’d be able to reveal in the book?
I’m actually out of contract now, finally. I wasn’t when I was writing the book, obviously. I wanted to follow all the rules and be professional. That was the hardest part for me. I was trying to always be professional, and I felt like at times I didn’t get that in return. I was told to be a good little boy and keep my mouth shut and it’s like, “come on, guys, treat me like an adult.” And you can’t tell me, ‘Oh, don’t take it personal, it’s nothing against you.” It’s like, ‘What do you mean? It is. It’s my life.”
You did answer one burning fan question: What the men on the show do when they become sexually excited.
I had a little signal I gave producers like, “Hey, you have to chill.” Every time I yawned, that was my signal. Producers would be like, “Cut! We have to get him out of the water!” My grandma texts me — I gave her a copy of the book and I said, “Hey, just want to let you know there’s some things that might make you uncomfortable.” She’s like, “You know what? I always wondered about boners on that show.”
You write about questioning your sexuality as a teenager, revealing that your dad caught you looking at gay porn in high school. There was social media chatter about your sexual orientation.
When I was “The Bachelor,” everyone was like, “Oh, he’s a virgin Bachelor, well, he has to be gay.” I grew up in a very hyper-masculine society. My dad didn’t catch me looking at gay porn, per se, but just me Googling: “How do I know if I’m gay?” That was the question that almost broke his heart a little bit. We talked and then never talked about it again. I was scared my community would judge me as this football player that’s supposed to be OK and walk with God. I realized throughout writing this: It’s OK if you don’t do everything to a T.
You said that, after being on “The Bachelorette,” producers wanted you to go on “Bachelor in Paradise” to pursue an old flame, Tia Booth, if you wanted to be considered for “The Bachelor.” Didn’t you feel bad for stringing Tia along?
One hundred percent. Finally, at a rose ceremony, I looked over at her and I was like, “What am I doing to this poor girl? I need to be honest with myself. I can’t keep listening to producers saying ‘I need to give it a shot.’ I know in my heart of hearts that this isn’t for me and I probably never should have come here.”
OK, so explain that to me: How do you get talked into things? Like asking four different men for their daughter’s hand in marriage?
I might have been brainwashed a little bit. Asking for permission for marriage was something I grew up valuing . ... When I told [the producers] I felt value in asking the fathers, they wanted me to ask all four. That was very, very hard on me.
So then why did you go through with it?
I wish I had an answer for you. [The producers and I] would meet and I would be like, “I can’t do it, I can’t do it.” With Tayshia [Adams] — I’m probably going to get in trouble for saying this, but whatever — at first, I didn’t ask, because I valued her being engaged before and I didn’t want to do that to her. I didn’t ask when I sat down with her father. And at the very end, [producers] were like, “You have to. You need to pull him again.” By that time, it’s 12, 1 in the morning and I’m like, “OK, can we wrap this up?” It’s like “Well, you know how to wrap this up. Go have that conversation.” They can do a better job of taking a step back and letting the contestants have control over their love and their story.
How did you ultimately decide to come back to “The Bachelor” after jumping the fence?
The therapist played a much bigger role than what people think.
Do you think there’s a way for someone to go on the show and maintain their integrity?
That’s the hardest part for me. I think this year is the opportunity for it with Clare [Crawley, the next Bachelorette]. Hopefully you don’t have to manipulate a 38-year-old grown woman to do things.
What would you say to critics who argue that you knew what you were signing up for?
Totally a fair thing to say. On “Bachelorette” and in “Paradise,” I saw such a small glimpse of what they really could do as far as pulling strings. Until you become the lead, you don’t realize the magnitude of what goes into making this monster of a franchise. You have to stand up for yourself and realize you have a life after this and “The Bachelor” just moves on.