Speaking to Robin Roberts, Underwood explained it had taken him years to come to terms with the fact he is gay, even going so far as to appear on one of the most heteronormative shows on television while struggling with his sexuality.
"I've ran from myself for a long time. I've hated myself for a long time," Underwood said.
Underwood’s years of turmoil and struggle were clear on his face during the interview, in which he was visibly emotional and nervous. He explains his childhood growing up as part of the Catholic Church made him feel being gay was a sin, and that anti-gay slurs he heard during his sports career (he played football at Illinois State University and briefly in the NFL) only added to the shame he felt. He discussed deeply personal issues, alluding to suicidal thoughts and self-hatred.
Underwood, 29, said that when he was chosen as the Bachelor in 2018, he thanked God for “making me straight,” saying he viewed his selection as a sign that he could have the straight relationship he thought he needed. He repeatedly discussed his virginity during his season, leading him to be called the “virgin Bachelor.” Underwood savvily embraced that label, writing a cheekily titled autobiography, The First Time, which came out in March 2020. All this led to fame for Underwood, but ultimately, he realized he had been running from his true self all along.
The interview became an instant media sensation, and Underwood received a warm embrace from thousands of people online. Longtime host of the franchise Chris Harrison (currently on hiatus) returned from a self-imposed Instagram exile to effuse about how proud he was of Underwood. Andy Cohen, Dan Levy, JoJo Siwa, and several other gay celebrities congratulated Underwood online. A video from his season featuring comedian Billy Eichner, who had told Underwood on the show that maybe he could be the “first gay Bachelor,” went viral.
Soon, it became clear that Underwood’s star is only going to continue to rise. Multiple media outlets reported on Wednesday that Netflix is filming an unscripted series with Underwood about his new life as an out gay man, featuring several prominent gay celebrities, including Olympian Gus Kenworthy. There is even talk, according to TMZ, of bringing Underwood back as the Bachelor, this time with a group of male suitors.
I am genuinely happy for Underwood and the fact that he is able to live his life in a true and free way. I have no doubt he has struggled, and I am glad he is in a better place. However, I am disturbed by the extent to which the media and Underwood himself are completely sweeping a huge issue under the rug: Underwood’s alleged stalking and harassment of his ex-girlfriend, Cassie Randolph, which Underwood has neither publicly confirmed nor denied. Since the allegations first emerged last fall, Underwood, through the press, has successfully been able to write his own narrative of the events, a strategy that has left his reputation virtually intact. Randolph hasn’t had the same kind of success shaping the narrative of what happened.
I have no doubt he has struggled, and I am glad he is in a better place. However, I am disturbed by the extent to which the media and Underwood himself are sweeping a huge issue under the rug.
Last September, Randolph, the winner of Underwood’s Bachelor season, filed a temporary restraining order against him, saying he had been stalking and harassing her after their May breakup. According to court records, Randolph said Underwood sent unsettling text messages to her, her friends, and her family; repeatedly called her; and placed a tracking device on her vehicle to view her whereabouts.
According to Randolph, Underwood also began stalking her apartment and her parents’ home in Huntington Beach, California, after they split, harassing her about male friends visiting her, and sending her text messages like, “I am going to keep you accountable.” The incidents culminated in Underwood allegedly sending Randolph threatening messages from an anonymous number and then saying he had also been under attack. Court records state that Randolph then found the tracker on her car and filed the temporary restraining order and police report. The court granted the temporary restraining order but didn’t rule on the allegations.
Many fans of the show, especially many women who had experienced intimate partner violence, were dismayed and outraged by the news. Underwood never publicly commented on the restraining order, but tabloids gave Underwood plenty of chances to defend himself. Us Weekly reported Underwood had been “completely blindsided” by her allegations, with a source painting him as the victim.
“Colton was absolutely in love with Cassie. It was clear she did not feel the same way about him, which of course, upset him. It was really hard for him,” the source told Us Weekly. “She literally broke up with him as soon as he was healthy enough to move out [from COVID-19].” The source also told the magazine that Randolph had been “very nervous about losing her fanbase” after the split and that Randolph had been seeing her ex “shortly after” the breakup with Underwood. Randolph did not respond to the Us Weekly report.
After news of the restraining order and the tabloid defenses of Underwood broke, her Instagram comments were flooded with hate. People accused Randolph of “playing” Underwood, being “manipulative,” and “ruining Colton’s life.”
Underwood was able to continue taking control of the narrative of the split. In November, People reported that Randolph had dropped the restraining order after the former couple were able to settle the matter privately. Randolph didn’t speak publicly, but Underwood did.
"Today Cassie asked the court to dismiss the temporary restraining order against me. The two of us were able to reach a private agreement to address any of Cassie’s concerns," he told the magazine. "I do not believe Cassie did anything wrong in filing for the restraining orders and also believe she acted in good faith. I appreciate everyone’s respect for privacy regarding this matter."
Meanwhile, Randolph stayed mostly silent, and a source told Us Weekly that she just wanted the public back-and-forth to end.
“Cassie just wants to move forward in life with stuff she has going on like settling into her new place. She definitely doesn’t want to bring up her past again,” the insider told Us Weekly. “It’s exhausting for her to deal with his ‘version’ of things, so she’s chosen to not make any remarks or give into it anymore.”
Still, Underwood continued to bring the relationship into the public eye. In January, he released a new chapter of his memoir, in which he promised new details on his split from Randolph. He again insists Randolph blindsided him with the breakup, writing that she was “struggling to find the right words and reasons that made sense. None did— at least not to me.”
Given everything that has happened, it is unfathomable that, amid all the coverage of Underwood’s coming out, no one is asking Underwood to fully account for the allegations against him and reflect on how Randolph has been vilified online by his defenders.
On GMA, Roberts did — briefly — address the temporary restraining order in a voiceover, but only asked Underwood if he had anything to say to Randolph.
"I would like to say sorry for how things ended. I messed up," he said. "I made a lot of bad choices."
But his apology feels rather hollow. After all, there is a big difference between making a “bad choice” and allegedly harassing and stalking someone. While Roberts, and those participating in the glowing news coverage of Underwood’s interview, were unwilling to ask Underwood to confront the allegations head-on, there is one group that hasn’t forgotten: the fans. Several went on social media to point out that Underwood has never truly owned up to his alleged actions, or really, taken accountability for perpetuating a narrative that led to online harassment of Randolph by his supporters.
Many criticized the opportunities being heaped on him, saying it seemed clear that Underwood was attempting to rehab his image.
“Colton coming out and then announcing a Netflix special in what seems to be an attempt to bury the fact that he stalked and harassed his ex-girlfriend, going as far to put a tracker on her car, is just *chef’s kiss* we love that. Good job, @netflix,” wrote one woman on Twitter.
That’s the rub. Underwood is totally within his rights to speak his truth, and even to benefit in his career from his new status as the first gay lead of the Bachelor franchise.
But for him to do so without acknowledging the real hurt and pain he caused, for both Randolph and the fans, feels wrong. It’s fine to continue to stay in the public eye and share your truth after making big mistakes, but this feels more like sweeping serious allegations under the rug than an atonement.
As for Randolph, she continues to remain silent about Underwood on social media. “She was not made aware in advance that he was going to be on GMA doing a tell-all,” an insider told Us Weekly. “To be honest, she hasn’t really had time to navigate how she feels about it yet.”●