The finale of Arie Luyendyk Jr.'s season of “The Bachelor” this week has caused quite the stir. But it's not the first time a Bachelor has proposed to the wrong woman. Kirkland's Jason Mesnick and his wife, Molly, give their take.
For 22 seasons, ABC’s “The Bachelor” has encouraged love-seeking contestants to fall head-over-heels in front of the cameras, and for fans to fall right along with them. But when this season’s bachelor, Arie Luyendyk Jr., proposed to Becca Kufrin and then dumped her weeks later for runner-up Lauren Burnham, fans took to social media. They bashed the “heartless” bachelor, called for the cancellation of the show and compared the fiasco to the finale of season 13 with Kirkland-native bachelor Jason Mesnick.
In 2009, Mesnick reneged on his choice for the final rose, just as Luyendyk did. During the finale of season 13, Mesnick dumped Melissa Rycroft for runner-up Molly Malaney. The decision was met with a firestorm of bad press for the couple.
“From the day People magazine had a really negative cover on us, we really had to team up and say if we’re going to do this, we have to do it together,” Mesnick said. “It really sucked for a little while. But when you know where your heart’s at, you follow it. The challenge comes when you’re trying to weave through how this becomes part of a TV show, and that’s not something that any of us, whether it’s me or Arie or Molly or Lauren, has any idea how to deal with.”
This season’s finale made that abundantly clear. ABC aired the long, unedited breakup: a blindsided, sobbing Kufrin sitting beside a silent, guilty Luyendyk, who stayed in the room after Kufrin repeatedly asked him to leave.
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“Becca handled it flawlessly. The way ABC handled it was garbage,” Molly said. Jason agrees, explaining that Luyendyk was shocked by how negative it looked on TV as compared to his own perception.
Because they were in a similar position only eight years ago, Molly and Jason were invited to the set of the “After The Final Rose” special, which aired Tuesday night, to counsel Luyendyk and Burnham.
“We just saw Arie backstage, and he and I talked about how in last night’s episode it appeared that he wouldn’t leave — but realistically, the producer was telling Arie, ‘You need to stay here and make sure she’s OK. Go and check on her,’ ” Jason said.
Jason and Molly assert that despite the producers’ pervasive input, the bachelor does get to make his own decisions around who gets the rose each episode. “As long as you have your top couple girls, you can pick your own (winner),” Jason said.
Where the bachelor doesn’t have influence is in the fate of the rest of the cast.
“This is an insider scoop,” Molly said, “people are always wondering why the villain stays on the show for so long — why is he keeping her? It’s because the lead, the Bachelor, is keeping his top girls, and production is choosing who else stays.”
This formula allows production to mold a story for the season, while still ending up with a couple that may have a shot in the end. Or, in the best case for ratings, a situation that generates a lot of good drama for the finale.
“I remember (during my season) they told me ‘Bachelor’ might be canceled that year because the ratings were so bad the previous season. But because I did this thing, the show came back. They loved it,” Jason said. “It all comes down to ABC saying, ‘Hey, we’re going to film this thing that’s in the best interest for us and is going to suck for you. You could do everything behind the scenes, but the audience will be curious what happened.’ ”
And yet many fans feel this season went too far. Enraged, Bachelor Nation took to their social media accounts, starting the #CancelTheBachelor hashtag and writing in defense of the scorned Kufrin. Responses ranged from starting Becca a “beer-money” fund to suggesting that “The Bachelor” mistreats women for profit.
Neither Jason nor Molly says they see what happened as quite that malicious.
“I think what they’re trying to do with Becca: ‘Feel bad for Becca because we want to set her up to be the Bachelorette. Because when ‘The Bachelorette’ comes back, you’re going to remember her pain and root for her. And then there will be another guy next season and you’ll root for him and he’ll be the next Bachelor. It’s all a recycled thing, they want you to feel and hurt and cheer for her,” Jason said.
“I’ve been rooting for Arie all season,” Molly said. “I think, obviously, toward the end he made some poor decisions on how he went about things. But I do believe he has a good heart.”
Eight years of marriage and a daughter later, the Mesnicks are one of the show’s biggest success stories. Molly says that despite the rocky start, they’ve been able to build a beautiful life together.
“I had a lot of reservations and questions (when he wanted me back), but that’s why we really took our time. Jason and I dated long-distance for ten months before I moved to Seattle,” Molly said. When asked about whether Luyendyk rushed into the engagement to runner-up, Burnham, so soon after his engagement to Kufrin, she just said, “It’s terrible.”
But Jason says the producers push for an engagement at the end. “My last day, I told the producers I don’t want to propose, and the executive producer came down and said, ‘That’s not how this works,’ ” he said.
The Mesnicks settled in Kirkland, where Jason was born and raised. Since their season, Molly has taken over as a co-host of the popular local radio show on KISS 106.1, “Bender & Molly,” and Jason is a real estate broker. Despite the drama, neither regrets the time on “The Bachelor.”
“I guess it would be really terrible if either of us said, ‘Yeah, I totally regret going on “The Bachelor,” ’ because we ended up together and we have a family together,” Molly said. “I think both of us, with all of the hate and backlash that came from our finale, still think all the positives totally outweigh all that.”