Colton Underwood Talks to the Times About His 'Coming Out' Series

Sunday December 5, 2021
Originally published on November 30, 2021

"Coming Out Colton" lands on Netflix on Dec. 3. The reality series has been in the works since last spring when its subject, former "Bachelor" contestant Colton Underwood, came out on "Good Morning America."

What added drama to his coming out was that he had been billed as the Virgin Bachelor when he appeared on the 23rd season of the show. But in an interview in the New York Times this week, he acknowledged the six-part series is his way to make amends for going on "The Bachelor" in a failed attempt, he said, to "bury being gay."

Underwood started filming the series shortly before he appeared on "GMA." The Times describes the series as "a heartfelt but carefully packaged diary, in which Underwood reveals his sexual orientation to unsuspecting family members, friends and others, and gets a crash course in gay." He also wants to make amends for his troubled relationship with Cassie Randolph, his ex-girlfriend, who had filed a restraining order against him at one point.

"I've lived my life so publicly straight, and I ran from a community I've belonged to my entire life," he explained to the Times. "I knew there was going to be a lot of people who didn't understand. Maybe at the end of these six episodes, people still don't understand. But at least I've tried to undo the wrongs."

Assisting Underwood in the series is his friend, Olympian Gus Kenworthy. "Compared to Underwood, Kenworthy is a gay sage: He teaches Underwood what cisgender means ("cis means that your gender that you identify with is the same as the gender you were assigned at birth," he explains in one scene) and sits with Underwood for a history lesson at the Stonewall Inn," writes the Times.

Underwood is also seeking the assistance of people who aren't white gay cisgender men, including Nicole Garcia, a transgender Latina pastor. In an email, Garcia said Underwood could be a role model, especially to let young athletes know they "can be male, athletic, gay and be successful, loved and respected."

He also used the series to come out to family and friends who did not he was gay beforehand. What we see, Underwood told the Times, is their genuine reaction to the news that he is gay. "Initially, that didn't sit well with his mother, Donna Burkard, the first person he comes out to on the show. (Underwood's parents are divorced but on good terms.) Burkard said her son's revelation was a surprise, and she was uneasy with the camera but resigned to it. Then her mama bear emerged."

"We decided if we could help a single family, and hopefully multiple families, by showing the love and support that I believe I displayed, other gay men and women in hiding could see a flicker of hope that their parents are going to respond with open arms," she said in a phone interview.

The Times describes Underwood's father, Scott, as "his biggest protector," but wished his son hadn't come out in such a public way. "I'm not saying I'm upset about it, but I would have preferred it had been done differently," he told the Times by phone. But his son is "an entertainer, let's face it," he continued. "That's what he's chosen to do for his career."

He added: "Am I going to say it's for fame?" he added, referring to his son's decision to star in the series. "No. Did he come out on TV for money? Sure. But who in reality entertainment doesn't leverage their life and put it all out there for money?"

Whether or not Underwood would be able to monetize from his coming out experience made him the subject of an online petition for Netflix to cancel the series. As of late November, it has over 35,000 signatures. The main complaint against Underwood stemmed from "stalking and harassment allegations that Randolph outlined in a restraining order she filed against him in September 2020. Randolph was the woman Underwood chose to marry on 'The Bachelor,' but their season didn't conclude, as most do, with their engagement." Randolph lager dropped the order, and the two reached a private agreement that prevents much from being said publicly. Underwood has apologized for his behavior.

Underwood first pitched the series to Netflix as a reality series about Underwood and Randolph as a couple. "When their relationship ended, Jenkins said, the show's direction pivoted. Underwood met with him to explain that he was considering coming out," adds the Times.

"We saw the positive of him sharing his story," said Jenkins, an executive producer of "I Am Cait," a series about Caitlyn Jenner's life as a transgender woman, with which "Coming Out Colton" shares L.G.B.T.Q. reality show DNA.

Asked about Underwood's motives, Jenkins said: "He already has fame and — not to speak out of turn — but this documentary is not going to make him rich."

When Netflix's director of unscripted series Damla Dogan was asked if the show fits in the streaming service's queer programming strategy, especially following the accusations of transphobia in Dave Chappelle's most recent comedy special, "The Closer," Dogan said, "It would be unfair to Colton to put the weight of all L.G.B.T.Q. representation on his shoulders."