Again and again, Lee gave the producers the story that works so well for reality TV: He gave them a Journey.
He was just joking, he said, at first, of the tweets in question. (“I’m facetious. I make jokes when I’m uncomfortable in inappropriate times.”)
And then: He admitted that “I wasn’t as considerate as I could’ve been in a lot of ways.”
And then: “I understand where you’re coming from.”
And then: “I feel like I have a lot to learn in that area. And I feel like I said things that I should not have said. And they were inconsiderate.”
And then: “I don’t—I, I don’t like racism at all. It bothers me morally. It bothers me inside. And I don’t like it.”
And then: “But also, I have to think about how I’m making you guys feel. You know, there are things that I can learn. There are things that a lot of people can learn.”
And then: “You know, if I hurt anybody, in any kind of way, with a bad joke, or anything like that, then I apologize.”
It went on like this: Lee, having chance after chance to admit that what he had put out into the world was more than “a bad joke”; Lee, after each opportunity, effectively declining. Lee, sticking to the talking points—there are things I can learn—while refusing to have a true conversation. Lee, Lee, Lee. (“It hurts a lot,” he said, at one point, apparently referring to the pain of being called out for being racist.)
The special, indeed, dedicated so much time to Lee’s Journey that, when he finally made a concession about the tweet that compared the NAACP to the KKK—“that tweet was racist, and I denounce it”—the show treated it as a kind of moral victory. The audience applauded. As Lee’s fellow contestant, Anthony Battle, who had earlier in the special called Lee out for “racist thoughts that are implicitly embedded in your mentality,” put it: “This is a growing experience for everybody.”
But it wasn’t, fully. It was a growing experience for Lee. And it was very barely that. “Where you go from here is up to you,” Chris Harrison, the show’s host and the moderator of this supposedly cleansing conversation, told Lee by way of conclusion. “And hopefully you lean on these guys and have that direction.”
“These guys,” though, owe nothing to Lee. Josiah Graham, the contestant who, as People summed it up, gave Lee “a history lesson” about the NAACP, owes him nothing. Kenny, who accepted a conciliatory hug from Lee at the end of one of their exchanges, owes him nothing. Viewers owe him nothing. And, certainly, Rachel Lindsay, whose “historic” season of The Bachelorette was hijacked by a man and his hatred, owes him nothing. “You turned it into something so ugly,” Rachel told Lee, when Harrison brought her out for her moment among the men. She added: “I didn’t want to give any life into you, your opinions, or your brief time on the show.”
She didn’t want to. “The show,” however, definitely did.