‘Bachelor’ stars Matt James, Rachael Kirkconnell still talk

“The Bachelor” star Matt James has confirmed he is “pursuing” a relationship with finalist Rachael Kirkconnell after their season of the competition program ended in a racism controversy.

In a new interview with People magazine, James briefly discussed his post-“Bachelor” interactions with Kirkconnell after the pair were recently spotted together in Los Angeles and New York City. The 25th season of the dating show saw James, its first Black lead, present his “final rose” to Kirkconnell. She is white and came under fire for an offensive image from her past after production concluded.

“I’ve seen Rachael a handful of times,” James told People for a story published Wednesday. “I’m not pursuing any relationships right now outside of that. I said I was going to focus on my relationship with her and that means focusing on it.”

Unlike most “Bachelor” leads, James did not continue dating or propose marriage to Kirkconnell at the conclusion of his season, which saw the pair address a controversial photo of her attending an antebellum South-themed party in 2018. Kirkconnell has apologized for her actions, which she chalked up to “ignorance” during ABC’s “After the Final Rose” special, hosted by author Emmanuel Acho.

After Kirkconnell apologized and professed her love to James during the reunion show, James encouraged her to educate herself further and commit to antiracism work without his assistance. When asked by People for his thoughts on Kirkconnell’s progress, James shifted the conversation to an upcoming marathon for which he is preparing.

“[T]hat’s something you could talk to her about,” he told People. “A lot of what I’m focused on right now is the work that I’m doing in the community and with the [marathon] training.”

James also shut down speculation as to whether he or his fellow “Bachelor” star and best friend Tyler Cameron will appear on this summer’s season of “Bachelor in Paradise.”

“There’s a negative chance I’ll be on ‘Paradise,’” James said. “There is a negative chance Tyler’s on there as well. I think we’re good on that.”

The People interview comes months after “The Bachelor’s” longtime host, Chris Harrison, who is white, announced he was “stepping aside” upon drawing criticism for insensitive comments he made about the Kirkconnell scandal. (In conversation with Rachel Lindsay, the franchise’s first Black Bachelorette, Harrison sympathized with Kirkconnell and downplayed the harm of her past behavior, prompting rebukes from both Lindsay and James.)

ABC subsequently tapped Acho to replace Harrison for Season 25’s “After the Final Rose” broadcast and announced last month that former Bachelorettes Tayshia Adams and Kaitlyn Bristowe will host the next season of “The Bachelorette.” Harrison has since apologized for his statements and vowed to return to the franchise.

After repeatedly voicing concerns about the franchise and the outcome of James’ historic season, Lindsay cut ties with the “Bachelor” machine Wednesday by announcing her departure from her “Bachelor”-backed podcast during its 100th episode. The final installment of Lindsay’s “Bachelor Happy Hour” will debut May 4.

As for James, the real estate agent and former football player told People he hopes to inspire change going forward.

“Just being at the center of meaningful conversations, that’s what I’m looking to do,” James said. “I really enjoyed the conversations I had over the past few months and I think it’d be a lot of fun to be a voice on important issues. That’s where I see my future and where I’m pursuing opportunities.”

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