The Bachelorette revealed another engagement on its season 18 finale.
Michelle Young, the former Division 1 basketball player and elementary school teacher who stood out as the runner-up on Matt James’ controversial season of The Bachelor earlier this year, returned to the work-in-progress franchise this fall to lead her own cycle with a confidence in the reality TV process.
“The story is going to be told accurately,” she had told The Hollywood Reporter from the start. “It is going to be told in a way that all walks of life can understand, but is really going to showcase those diverse love stories.”
In the end — as it was revealed on Monday’s three-hour live finale — Young was right. She found love with Nayte Olukoya, got engaged and is now house-hunting with the sales executive, who plans to relocate from Texas to Young’s hometown in Minnesota. The pair will also be starting their life together with a $200,000 gift from the ABC franchise, to use as a down payment.
Below, Young and Olukoya, the first Black couple across 43 seasons of both The Bachelorette and The Bachelor, speak with THR about their historic journey reflecting a long-awaited shift in the storied ABC franchise and why representation on TV matters.
Michelle, you came into The Bachelorette saying you weren’t setting out to make history. But now, it can’t be lost on you that you and Nayte are making history in this franchise. After you settle down from the high of being in love and finding your person, what significance does it hold for you to become the first Black couple from The Bachelor and The Bachelorette?
Michelle Young: For us, it’s just so incredibly important that we were able to show so many people a Black love story. In the past, there have been diverse cast members, but those stories didn’t necessarily have the opportunity to be shown. But this season with how things have ended with both Nayte and I, this love story is shown and I think it’s something that will continue to be shown [on the franchise] — for those who want to tune in.
Nayte Olukoya: For me, I’m just really happy that representation was able to be shown on television. I always think about growing up and just not really seeing a lot of people who look like me on TV, especially maybe not always in the best light. It is really cool. I have a little sister who is one of very few people of color in her school. I think it’s important for the younger generation to be able to see the story that Michelle and I do have, and to see people who look like them falling in love on television — and being as beautiful as we are! [laughs]
Nayte, you celebrated the Top 4 being all men of color in a recent Instagram post and Michelle, you shared with the men how you haven’t always felt seen in the past. After everything you have each been through and then opened up about on the show to now arrive at this point, how seen do you feel by each other? And how seen do you feel on a larger scale?
Michelle: I think it’s just a very powerful moment and it’s something that is only going to get more powerful moving forward. As much as we’re in love and all these different things, that’s definitely been our focus: really, truly him being focused on me, me being focused on him; using our voice for good, using the platform that we have for good to move forward. But yeah, this definitely was not planned, it just kind of happened!
Nayte: When I took to Instagram, I know it’s not some absolutely crazy, historic moment in the grand scheme of things, but I was proud to be a part of the first time that the Top 4 individuals were all Black. And now being the first Black couple, it is exciting. It’s the first, so it’s new. To be a part of that is always going to be special.
This franchise has come a long way after putting in work to diversify itself both in front of and behind the camera in the last two seasons. Michelle, when you spoke about why you signed on, you expressed confidence in the show despite its recent missteps. Why were you so confident that you would be represented and supported, and was it a gut feeling you had that you would find love?
Michelle: When I walked into it, I definitely had non-negotiables. I had things that I really sat down and spoke about that were incredibly important to me if I was going to take this opportunity. For me, sticking true to who I was and what I believe in — I felt like if I was going to do that, I was able to make the gains that I wanted to make. And I think that’s why we may be here, after experiencing some of these things. And it’s not this one ingredient list. There are so many layers to this entire experience. But I am very, very happy with how it’s turned out and where it’s going.
Nayte kept you guessing a little bit. When watching the show back, did you understand why people were questioning his intentions and if he was committed? Or, was that not your experience?
Michelle: It was moreso that you have this person who has never been in love before who is falling in love for the first time. It was hard for me to be vulnerable and when you add all those factors in and say, “Ok, now do it for the camera, the producers and all of these other men who were also in the mix,” it’s not this easy thing. What I can say is that I wasn’t just banking on a gut feeling with choosing Nayte. We had conversations and I was able to get the answers that I needed to get. There’s only so much air time! But I really did feel like I found my person and I was very confident in my decision when I made that. And even watching it back, this man has become significantly more vulnerable. Even more vulnerable than me, at this point. So, he’s very good at it. He’s leading the relationship!
There is a lot of focus around if couples last in this franchise, which reflects the reality of relationships. Nayte, would you like the opportunity to defend yourself now?
Nayte: No, I don’t think there’s any need for me to defend myself. As of yesterday, the show is complete and now it’s mine and Michelle’s turn to tell our story the way we want to tell it, and so there’s no need to defend anything. Her and I are always going to be organic and natural with each other and, for whatever we do decide to share with the world, they’ll see that.
You shared some of your future plans: Nayte, you are moving to Minnesota, where Michelle lives, and you two are house-hunting. The franchise also, in a first and to much surprise, gave you a $200,000 down payment for your home. What does that gift mean to you as you start a life together?
Michelle: House shopping was a very early conversation. Both Nayte and I talked logistics and looked at it very realistically: He’s in Texas, I’m in Minnesota. How are we going to do this? How are we going to navigate a relationship? And we both just wanted to dive in. So, we’ve been house shopping and the show knew we were house shopping. But we had no idea that we were going to be given such a generous gift. It gives us momentum and we so appreciate it. Not that we wouldn’t have necessarily gotten there ourselves, but the support is just so crazy appreciated.
Michelle was very open about falling in love with two people [Olukoya and runner-up Brandon Jones]. In the end, it became clear where her heart lies, but it looked difficult to get there. As a couple, how do you move forward to a place of acceptance that gets you to the place you are at now?
Nayte: Realistically, from day one, if you are a part of this journey, you have to accept the fact that this is unnatural and that everything that’s going on isn’t necessarily the true cadence of naturally meeting somebody and falling in love. There are 30 other guys and one Michelle. So, Michelle and I had that conversation like an hour after the engagement. She told me exactly how everything finished and exactly where her feelings were. When you’re already in this environment, you kind of just need to understand that this is what happens. Some people may only fall in love with one person, some may fall in love with two individuals and some may simply not fall in love, right? But in this environment, things like that can happen and did happen. And you just have to accept it and move on. It doesn’t change where I’m at, it doesn’t change where she’s at. We’re just going to continue moving forward. It’s part of the whole process. At the end of the day, you are on group dates with 12 other guys. Even that is weird! It’s part of the journey and experience, and it isn’t really going to phase us.
One person who could use your advice would be the next Bachelor star Clayton Echard, who — as it’s been revealed in the trailer for his season — not only falls in love with three women but was also intimate with two. What is your advice for Clayton in navigating this experience now that he’s done filming, but can’t tell anyone what happened?
Michelle: It’s incredibly difficult to go through this and to be vulnerable and really challenge yourself to be vulnerable, and then have it be on display for everyone to have their opinions about it. That can definitely get to you. But my advice to Clayton is just to completely trust himself in staying with who he is. There are going to be really tough days where you feel like everyone is against you. Those tough days don’t neccessarily last, but it can definitely feel like a lot and it’s just such an unnatural situation that a lot of people aren’t typically in, being a lead as a Bachelor or Bachelorette. So, leaning on your family and friends and just really having those vulnerable conversations outside of the show would be my advice. Whether that’s talking to somebody, talking to friends, talking to family; really opening up about what you’re struggling with, because that’s something that you do so much while you are filming. But once you are wrapped and you go back to your normal life, sometimes it’s easy to fall back into being guarded. And it’s just so important to stay truly honest with where you are at in the process because it’s going to have highs and it’s also going to have some lows.
You mention your families. During the live finale, Michelle, your mom and Nayte clearly have moved on from the doubt she expressed on the show, and both of your moms appeared to be the best of friends. How has their support helped to make you two stronger?
Michelle: I don’t know how early on it was, but Nayte and I had already been speaking of our future and what we would want this to look like after the show. We spoke about that so frequently even while we were still filming. And so we talked about bringing our families together, having holidays where, if it’s possible, to have two families come together. Just different things we wanted and having our families be able to talk and have those separate, individual relationships.
As soon as we got off the show and the family members knew how it was going to end, they started connecting and we started connecting. I texted Nayte’s sister, our moms chat; our families are very connected. They truly have pulled together and have shown support for us and really understand that this process is difficult. We are kind of on the back-end of it, as far as being in the public eye to a certain extent, but it was really nice to have these two parties come together to support us and listen to us while we’re navigating through all of this.
Michelle, what advice would you have for the franchise in terms of specific things that worked for you that you would like to see continue? And same to you, Nayte, from a contestants’ perspective?
Michelle: Just truly finding people who genuinely want to fall in love, but also continuing to create this line of support for contestants and for the lead when you are on the show. Because there are so many different challenges and layers and obstacles that you have to overcome. With Nayte and I, and us being able to navigate through those obstacles and having the tools to navigate those obstacles, being able to hopefully provide those tools for future couples could also help those relationships last as well.
Nayte: Honestly, the communication with the whole production team and producers. It was always just a text or phone call away, people are always checking in to make sure everything is solid. Seeing what you are doing, asking you what you thought about this, that and the other. I felt like there was always someone who genuinely cared to know how I was feeling, what I was thinking. It’s not like right when filming is done, they don’t care about you. It was nice to know that a lot of people on the team are going to be individuals that I stay in touch with for a very long time. And that during the whole time this was airing they cared enough to reach out and have genuine conversations, not even about the show, but just as true friends. I like that a lot.
The Bachelorette finale aired Monday on ABC and is streaming on Hulu. The Bachelor season 26 with Clayton Echard premieres Jan. 3.