Quick Answer: JoJo's casting on The Bachelorette was surprising for two main reasons. For one, the selected Bachelor or Bachelorette is usually the second runner-up from the previous season. Second, it was all but confirmed by ABC that another contestant, Caila Quinn, would be taking over the Bachelorette mantle. The decision to oust Caila, who is half-Filipino, in favor of JoJo also highlights the show's diversity problem.
The next season of The Bachelorette (2003 - ) premieres on May 23rd with The Bachelor's (2002 - ) Season 20 runner-up, JoJo Fletcher, as its titular bachelorette. Many viewers were surprised to hear that JoJo was going to be the next Bachelorette when it was revealed on After the Final Rose, the special that aired after the last season of The Bachelor. The reaction was due to a couple of factors. For one, it’s unusual for the next Bachelor or Bachelorette to be the first runner-up from the previous season. It’s common practice for the show’s producers to pick someone from the previous season to fill the next main suitor role; former ABC executive, Paul Lee, even stated that the show has a “farm team” to employ this practice. However, in the most recent past seasons, the third place finisher usually becomes the next Bachelor/ette. The last Bachelor, Ben Higgins, was the second runner-up on Bachelorette Kaitlyn Bristowe’s season, and Bristowe was the second runner-up on the first season in which she appeared.
The third place finisher is a popular pick because the audience is familiar with the person and thus is emotionally invested in the upcoming season. But if the runner-up is picked, it’s considered to be too short of a time period for them to have gotten over the Bachelor/ette who has (in the audience’s eyes) just dumped him or her. The time between their break-up and the filming of the next season may be around five months — ample time for the new Bachelor/ette to be ready for love again — but hey, hell hath no fury like a Bachelor/ette fan scorned.
The Bachelorette, JoJo Fletcher, with The Bachelor, Ben Higgins
So why does JoJo’s casting break this tradition of third placers as the next Bachelor/ette? The choice could be seen as ABC's attempt to assuage any major fan concerns about JoJo's experience as a contestant on last season’s The Bachelor. The season ended with Higgins proposing to Lauren Bushnell but saying “I Love You” to both of the final two, JoJo and Lauren. This didn’t go over too well, as saying “I Love You” at all goes against the unspoken Bachelor code. Many fans believe that JoJo becoming the Bachelorette is the show's way of making up for that situation.
JoJo's casting, then, undermines the show's traditional structure of selection. But the casting decision was even more unexpected because a number of magazines and blogs publicized that a different woman would star in the show's new season. Every source from Reality Steve to US Magazine confirmed that third place finisher Caila Quinn was going to be the next Bachelorette. In conjunction with this last-minute casting change, the producer of the show, Mike Fleiss, even sent out a couple of veiled tweets that touched upon the issue:
The tweets — which seem to allude to JoJo's and Caila's respective backgrounds as Texan and Filipino — can be seen as ignorant at best, outwardly offensive at worst. Fleiss' unsettling treatment of ethnicity also speaks to the show's historically uncaring attitude towards issues of diversity. Indeed, there has only been one Bachelor/ette of color to date on either show: Season 18's Juan Pablo Galavis, who is Venezuelan. With the apparent casting of Caila, who is half Filipino and a fan favorite, Fleiss and other executives seemed to finally be breaking the show's controversial casting pattern — that is, until they decided to reverse and cast JoJo. Could JoJo’s casting be seen as ABC's choice to intentionally ignore controversy about never having person of color as the Bachelorette? Although JoJo has expressed pride in her Persian roots — her mother was raised in Iran — during her time on The Bachelor, she was touted as a "born-and-bred" Texan (a fact perhaps exemplified by Fleiss' comparing her to "BBQ chicken"). Also, JoJo fits a similar mold as the last few Bachelorettes, including the aforementioned Bristowe, Andi Dorfman and Desiree Hartsock. They all have a similar look: slim brunettes with predominantly white features and outgoing personalities. Caila doesn't exactly fit into this homogenous mold, and this could be one of the reasons why JoJo was made the Bachelorette, seemingly at the last minute.
Regardless of the intentions or behind-the-scenes maneuverings that led to JoJo’s casting, fans are, for the most part, excited about the decision. No one was betting on a season with the much-liked runner-up, so although The Bachelor franchise still has work to do to make the show more inclusive, fans can look forward to a season with the bubbly, outgoing JoJo.