“[It] doesn’t mean I’m not grateful for the opportunity that they provided me. I do appreciate them changing my life in such a great way. But they also hold a big responsibility in making sure that the mental health of their contestants and of their money makers, to be very honest with you, is taken care of,” Underwood, 30, exclusively told Us Weekly on Tuesday, March 15, while promoting his new show Beyond the Edge.
The former athlete believes that the people behind the successful dating competition series could do more. “They benefit greatly off of our faces, off of our likeness [and] off of our stories,” he said. “The only thing that they can do better is to follow up and make sure that you are mentally OK before they make decisions to make better TV over your mental health.”
Viewers originally met Underwood when he joined Becca Kufrin’s season of The Bachelorette in 2018. After ending season 14 single, the former NFL player appeared on season 5 of Bachelor in Paradise before he became the season 23 Bachelor.
The former athlete left the show with Cassie Randolph in 2019, but the duo called it quits one year later amid a tumultuous relationship. Four months after they announced their split in May 2020, Us confirmed that Randolph, 26, was granted a restraining order against Underwood after she claimed he was stalking and harassing her. The case was dropped in November 2020.
The Indiana native later opened up about his personal life when he came out as gay.
“This year’s been a lot for a lot of people and it’s probably made a lot of people look at themselves in the year and figure out who they are,” he shared during an interview with Good Morning America in April 2021. “I’ve ran from myself for a long time, I’ve hated myself for a long time. I’m gay. I came to terms with that earlier this year, and the next step in all of this was sort of letting people know. … I’m the happiest and healthiest I’ve ever been in my life. That means the world to me.”
Looking back at his time on the hit ABC series, Underwood admitted that he wouldn’t have changed the opportunity.
“Genuinely in my heart of hearts, I can’t thank them enough for letting me be a Bachelor. I truly do not believe I would’ve came out of the closet if it wasn’t for the franchise and having that life experience,” the Indiana native shared with Us. “And while I’ve read the comments that my season was a waste, it saved my life at the end of the day. So in my opinion, it wasn’t a waste. If I help one or two men or women out there that are still struggling with their sexuality, then I consider it a very beneficial season.”
Underwood, who recently announced his engagement to Jordan C. Brown, opened up about the big lesson he learned from having others weigh in on his life. “People are always gonna have opinions and people are always not gonna agree with the decisions that you make in your life. But at the end of the day, it’s your life and it’s your happiness,” he told Us.
He continued: “So I would rather make a decision that is unpopular, but makes me happy and makes me fulfilled and makes me loved than to bow down to what the public wants to see or was expecting to see or hear from me.”
The former professional football player would like to see current Bachelor Clayton Echard take that advice, adding, “I haven’t watched the season, but my heart goes out to Clayton and I hope he has an amazing support system and group around him heading into the finale of the show.”
Since leaving the Bachelor franchise, Underwood was excited to have a change of pace with the new reality series Beyond the Edge. The upcoming CBS series features nine celebrities as they ditch their everyday lives to live in a Panama jungle.
“I needed something lighthearted and fun and competitive. While a lot of people might not view the jungle as that, I needed that because I put so much of myself into reality TV, that it was just really nice to have that moment in the jungle, away from phones, distractions and opinions,” Underwood detailed to Us.
Even though the experience was enriching, Underwood revealed that the adventure came with its own set of challenges. “There was definitely moments that I was exhausted. I was done,” he said. “I did not feel like I had a lot in me, but you know, at the end of the day, when you’re playing for a charity and you’re looking around at the other people that are standing by your side, trying to work, it’s really motivating and inspiring.”
Beyond the Edge premieres on CBS on Wednesday, March 16 at 9 p.m. ET. It will be available to stream live and on demand on Paramount+.
With reporting by Christina Garibaldi