It's no secret there's been a ton of negativity surrounding this season of “The Bachelor.” But while fans, celebrity and otherwise, have shared their distaste for Season 18 star Juan Pablo, it's also been one of the most talked-about seasons in the series' 14-year history. Which begs the question: Does a detested Bachelor actually make for a more successful season?
When host Chris Harrison announced on The Bachelorette’s “After the Final Rose” special in August that Juan Pablo was the franchise's newest star, the immediate reaction was mixed. Fans seemed excited to finally have a minority Bachelor, but Juan Pablo was also viewed by some as a questionable choice.
Unlike past seasons that starred a previously rejected contestant, viewers knew very little about Juan Pablo. Eliminated in Week 6 on “The Bachelorette” without having had a one-on-one date, all we really knew was that Juan Pablo was a former professional soccer player from Venezuela with a 4-year-old daughter. How would he interact with women one-on-one on camera? How would he handle himself in interviews? How was he with his daughter? The only thing anyone knew with relative certainty: Juan Pablo was sexy, which, to be fair, is a very important characteristic when choosing the lead.
"You have to go with how you feel at the time and the information you have at the time, and, for us, Juan Pablo was easily the best choice at the time," Harrison tells TVGuide.com
Heading into the January season premiere, ABC played up Juan Pablo's Latin background with its "Juan-uary" promos. The network even announced three Sunday specials, culminating in a three-year ratings high for the show's premiere. But then came controversy. Just before the third episode, Juan Pablo infamously said in an interview that he didn't think the show should have a gay or bisexual star because gay people were "more pervert." The soundbite made headlines everywhere, and angry viewers and non-fans alike tweeted their disgust. Juan Pablo posted an apology, but the dust never really settled.
A couple weeks later, viewers were talking about Juan Pablo's late-night swim with Clare, which Juan Pablo later used to shame her. (He claimed he regretted the seemingly innocent rendezvous.) Towards the end of the season, another oddity occurred: Contestants left the show because they couldn't see a future with Juan Pablo. Whereas during most seasons the rejected women cried hysterically upon their eliminations, some of this season's ladies were honest in their lack of interest. Notably, opera singer Sharleen exited just before hometown dates saying, "There's a little voice in my head telling me that this is not right...The idea of proposal doesn't seem like something that is possible for me."
During fantasy suite week, Andi also left the show on her own accord, telling Juan Pablo that he had no respect for her, was immature, and couldn't care less about getting to know her. But, as is often the case, the supposed backlash against Juan Pablo actually translated to more buzz about the show.
"I've done more interviews — random ones from Sports Radio to The New York Times — about this season and the controversy surrounding him, including the remarks off-camera," Harrison says. And perhaps even more telling, at the "Women Tell All" special, for the first time the fights weren't between the girls, but with the star.
But has Juan Pablo actually hurt the franchise? Consider last season's star Sean Lowe, who was arguably the most liked Bachelor to date and who eventually married his winning contestant Catherine on an ABC special. But Sean's season had the lowest-rated premiere in the show's history and his finale garnered 10 million viewers, just a smidge ahead of Ben Flajnik’s Season 16 finale, but less than Seasons 13, 14 and 15. (It's worth noting that, after an initial spike generated from Juan Pablo's insensitive comments, viewership has been steadily dropping. Perhaps the Olympics or the return of “The Voice” are to blame, or maybe viewers lost interest around the same time Sharleen and Andi did.)
So, is Juan Pablo truly a "bad" Bachelor? "I don't know how you answer that," Harrison says. "Do you answer yes only if they go on and get married? Because there are plenty that haven't that were good too. I look at our fans; the ratings have been fantastic, the buzz around the show is insatiable and that makes for a good Bachelor. ... People want to follow Juan Pablo because he's unpredictable. People more and more want to talk about this and ask questions. Sean's decisions were cut and dry whereas Juan Pablo you're leaving scratching your head. So, a season like this draws you to discuss.
"We need you to love the Bachelor or hate the Bachelor because we need you to have an opinion," Harrison continues. "Apathy is what kills us, when you just don't care what happens. With Sean, there weren't any negatives and it was just a matter of who the lucky lady was going to be. With Juan Pablo, it's how are we going to land this plane with no landing gear and the pilot is passed out? I like the fact that there are both ends of the spectrum here. All I hope for is for you to have an opinion about Juan Pablo. Some people love him and will defend him, but then there are those who can't stand him and he gets on their last nerve."
Despite the way his missteps have created buzz, Harrison insists that the producers didn't cast Juan Pablo to be a lightning rod. "We didn't go into Juan Pablo's season thinking this guy is going to be really controversial on- and off-camera," Harrison says. "We thought he'd be the Latin version of Sean. [We thought,] he's a good family man looking for love, and turns out he's not in the way Sean was."
So, looking back, would Harrison have done it differently? "I have no regrets about him being the Bachelor," Harrison says. "It's a very different season, and, in my opinion, not a bad season. He's not a bad guy. When you have a very specific Bachelor with a different culture, a somewhat different language, yes it's going to narrow down the field and the women who will fall for this guy. But I think it's been very interesting. I can't even explain what a different journey this was for me and our fans. We're on a roller coaster and we're all just hanging on for dear life and have no idea what's coming next."
The Bachelor's three-hour finale airs on Monday at 8/7c on ABC.