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Some of The Bachelor's Most Notorious Villains Were There For the 'Right' Reasons

Ben Higgins, Arie Luyendyk Jr., and Clare Crawley all said they were in love, and that was the problem.
  • Clare Crawley, Ben Higgins, and Arie Luyendyk Jr. all rocked Bachelor Nation with their declarations of love. (Photos: ABC; Primetimer graphic)
    Clare Crawley, Ben Higgins, and Arie Luyendyk Jr. all rocked Bachelor Nation with their declarations of love. (Photos: ABC; Primetimer graphic)

    Countless contestants on The Bachelor and The Bachelorette have been called out for not being on the show “for the right reasons” over the course of the franchise’s 21-year history, most commonly because they’re found out to be looking for fame or Instagram followers instead of the love of their life. The worst of that bunch appeared on the show with partners waiting for them back at home, like The Bachelorette Season 15’s Jed Wyatt, or took their opportunity in the spotlight to insult every woman they dated, like The Bachelor Season 18’s Juan Pablo Galavis.

    But as bad as the Jeds and Juan Pablos of the franchise have been, those who are there for the supposed “right reasons” might be even worse. Some of the most notorious villains of the franchise were in fact there to find “the one,” but in the process they weaponized love to ruin the lives of people they supposedly cared about.

    In many ways, Ben Higgins changed everything. The star of The Bachelor Season 20 was the first lead to not only say “I love you” before handing out the final rose, but say it to two different people, Lauren Bushnell and JoJo Fletcher. Rewatching the season, it’s hard to know from his delivery if he really meant it or not — Higgins was never the most emotive of bachelors, earning the nickname “Oatmeal” from Vulture recapper Ali Barthwell because of his lack of expression. But because he broke the unspoken rule, it was assumed that he was feeling so deeply in love that he just had to say it, expectations of Bachelor Nation be damned! That’s what this show is all about after all, right? Finding love on this wild journey? What reason for being “here” could be more right?

    Fletcher felt differently when she was dumped on the day she was expecting a proposal. While it’s never easy to be the runner-up (well, except for that one time on The Bachelor Season 22, which we’ll get to), it was made worse for Fletcher because she was lulled into a false sense of security. Her reaction to hearing the words “I love you” said it all. She let her guard down at that moment — he wouldn’t have said it, she decided, unless he really was going to pick her.

    And it wasn’t exactly a fairy tale for Bushnell, either — even though she got the ring, it came with the knowledge that her fiancé was still harboring feelings for another woman. Just before popping the question, Higgins told producers in an on-camera confessional that he could see himself married to Fletcher as well. (Is it so easy to forget that these moments are being recorded for their future fiancées to see?) Less than a year after getting engaged on the show, Bushnell and Higgins called it quits, and the double confession of love was referenced as a cautionary tale in seasons to come.

    Clare Crawley has the distinction of publicly dumping the most people at once in the franchise’s history to nobly, at least according to her, follow her heart. She is something of a legend in Bachelor Nation for appearing on four separate series: The Bachelor, Bachelor in Paradise, Bachelor Winter Games, and The Bachelorette. Unlike others who continually show up because they’re desperate to hold onto their 15 minutes of fame, Clare was simply desperate for a husband.

    Clare first appeared as a contestant on Juan Pablo’s season of The Bachelor, and she was instantly disliked by her fellow contestants for taking up all of Juan Pablo’s time. On group dates, they’d be huddled together in a dark corner or a hot tub. In one of the series’s most controversial moments, she snuck away to see him after hours without cameras around to get even more intimate, causing an uproar among the other contestants and the pearl-clutching members of Bachelor Nation. Still, she made it to the final two, where Juan Pablo slut-shamed her for having sex with him and then dumped her, cementing his villainy and giving Clare a brief reprieve with some audience sympathy.

    However, when Clare took on the lead role in Season 16 of The Bachelorette, she earned the title of “worst bachelorette ever” for exhibiting similar behavior and immediately zeroed in on one man: Dale Moss. She quickly isolated every other contestant, using her confessionals to pivot the conversation to her feelings for Dale as often as she could. By Episode 3, she decided to choose Dale, who did propose, and dump the remaining 16 men. (Because the season couldn’t simply end there, production brought on Tayshia Adams from Season 23 of The Bachelor to step into the lead role and date those 16 men plus four new additions.)

    Clare used one of the franchise’s most-uttered words to justify her decision: “I spent years knowing what I don’t want, and it’s given me so much clarity coming into this to focus on what I do want.” All the Bachelors and Bachelorettes ever want is clarity, so if she had it, why not just leave? She not only angered the remaining contestants and fans with her choice, but seemingly became persona non grata in Bachelor Nation as well — during her season’s “Men Tell All” episode, she tweeted that she wished the show’s producers would have allowed her to be in attendance. She hasn’t been featured on the series since, even though many past contestants (especially the leads) frequently return to offer advice and show support. She and Dale split less than a year after announcing their engagement.

    Arie Luyendyk Jr., though, is the worst of them all. He also told his final two women, Becca Kufrin and Lauren Burnham, that he loved them both during Season 22. But he didn’t simply dump one and keep the other. He proposed to Kufrin and then orchestrated a heinous and completely unnecessary on-camera break-up, using love as a scapegoat. The Bachelor franchise often throws around the phrase “the most dramatic episode ever,” and this season finale may be the most deserving of the descriptor.

    In Bachelor Nation, it’s not uncommon to call off an engagement before the season’s finale airs, or break off the engagement off-camera and marry the runner-up, which Season 13 bachelor Jason Mesnick famously did (and he’s still happily married to Molly Malaney 13 years later). But Arie not only dragged a camera crew into catching Becca completely off-guard with the break-up, but he also then proposed to Burnham during his season’s after show while Becca was watching from the wings, rubbing their relationship in her face all over again.

    “I’ve just had a change of heart,” Arie told Chris Harrison before showing up at Becca’s front door. “I know this isn’t going to be a popular decision, but it’s worth it to me, and I’m doing it because I love Lauren.”

    He used the same reasoning when delivering the bombshell to Becca: “I just have to follow my heart.” Technically, that’s why he was on the show in the first place, to “follow his heart” and find his wife. And, yes, Arie and Burnham are one of the few couples from the series who are still together. But none of that makes the public humiliation he put Becca through any less onerous.

    Their break-up was shown in split screen using unedited footage, allowing viewers to see Becca realize her future as she knew it was crumbling right in front of her in real time. For as often as The Bachelor and The Bachelorette are dismissed as silly, just-for-fun reality TV, this moment was a sobering reminder that very real feelings develop and very real plans for the future are made between the couples who find each other on the show.

    The show’s structure does rush people to the altar and create scenarios that will deliver increasingly dramatic seasons of TV But 21 years into the franchise, it’s safe to assume that most people do know what they’re signing up for, and a certain level of heartbreak is expected in the process.

    What makes each of these people villains is that they went out of their way to disrupt aspects of the long-running format of the series and introduce the unexpected to exacerbate that heartbreak even more. But technically, no one broke any rules. In the end they did exactly what the show wants all its leads to do: fall in love. They just made more enemies than most in the process.

    Brianna Wellen is a TV Reporter at Primetimer who became obsessed with television when her parents let her stay up late to watch E.R.