'Bachelor' Jason and Molly Mesnick on How His Switcheroo Allowed Leads to 'Break the Formula' (Exclusive)
By Jennifer Drysdale
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Bachelor No. 13 Jason Mesnick is known for two reasons: one, for originating "The Mesnick," named after his sobbing over a balcony, and two, for pulling the franchise's first-ever switcheroo, ending his engagement to his final pick and pursuing a relationship with his runner-up.
That second move will sound familiar to newer fans of the franchise, as Arie Luyendyk Jr. (season 22) did the same thing in 2018. The following year, Bachelor Colton Underwood also made his own rules, hopping a fence and sending home his final two in favor of pursuing a woman who quit at the final three. The next Bachelorette, Hannah Brown, asked her runner-up out for a drink on After the Final Rose after her failed engagement to her final pick, and our most recent Bachelor, Peter Weber, ended his engagement to his final pick, reunited with his runner-up, ended that, and is now dating a woman who placed fifth on his season.
"I think our season certainly paved the way for people to break the formula," Molly Mesnick (Jason's runner-up and now wife) tells ET's Lauren Zima. "If someone were having reservations on, 'Oh did I make the right decision?' Like, 'OK, just change your mind, because that can work too.'"
In Molly's mind, the Bachelor franchise does a great job of bringing people together to find the right person -- it's just about the circumstances lining up correctly. "Think about [Bachelor in] Paradise," she notes. "So many people meet and get together that way. It's just another form of meeting people."
"Yeah, it ends up being a big fraternity or sorority. People date each other, they swap, they date. It's gross," Jason jokes.
Jason, the franchise's first-ever single parent lead, went from being loved by fans to being loathed by them after he ended his relationship with his final pick, Melissa Rycroft, on a very tense, audience-less After the Final Rose. Molly, who was supposed to be the next Bachelorette, was shocked as she emerged onstage to Jason, who confessed he had just ended things with Melissa and wanted to date her instead.
"We were living in the era of tabloids, so we were on the cover of literally every magazine in the store," Molly remembers of the time. "It was never really a good title."
Jason recalls his and Molly's People cover story being headlined with "Bachelor Betrayal." "I was like, 'Oh man, this is going to be bad,'" he says, recalling comments like "We hate you" and "You're terrible."
The former Bachelor isn't sure whether he needed to say goodbye to Molly on that proposal day in New Zealand in order to realize he couldn't live without her. However, he is sure he wasn't in the right mindset to propose to anyone at all.
"I tried not to propose and that wasn't what was supposed to happen," he reveals, implying pushback from production.
"I remember letting Molly go... she's saying, 'You're making a mistake.' In my mind, I don't ever make mistakes. But when she said that to me, I'm like, 'Oh my God, am I?'" Jason says. He didn't get engaged to Melissa expecting to break up with her about two months later, but admits that Molly pointing out his mistake "put me in a tailspin."
Jason takes full responsibility for his poor handling of his breakup with Melissa, who had been asking him about moving in together for weeks before their split.
"I knew how bad it was going to be in general. I knew that what I was doing to Melissa, and I knew how things were going down, I knew how the public was going to view us, and that I was bringing [Molly] into this whole thing," Jason says. "I just wanted it all to end, because I thought when the cameras stopped that day, we were done. Here we are, 11 years later, and we're not done."
However, as the couple noted on Monday's episode of The Bachelor: The Greatest Seasons -- Ever!, time heals all wounds. There are no hard feelings between Jason and Molly and Melissa, who is now happily married with three kids.
"Coming full circle, I think we're better off because of all of this. I think Melissa's way better off because of all this, and I think we're all where we're supposed to be in this crazy story," Jason shares.
He also thinks the Bachelor franchise is better off now, as they've leaned into letting leads take control of their own stories. Season 17 Bachelor Sean Lowe is still the only male lead to marry his final pick in the show's 24 seasons. The amount of Bachelors in relationships with other women from their seasons now sits at three (Jason, Arie and Peter).
"The formula works better," Jason declares. "I think what the world needs to realize is this is two months of our lives... we're just regular people trying to figure this thing out."
Molly notes it can be even more difficult to find the right partner on The Bachelor or The Bachelorette these days, amid the allure of Instagram followers and fame. The couple attribute their success to staying grounded and returning to their normal life in Seattle post-show.
"No offense to anyone who wants to move to L.A. or New York and follow the money, but most people who move down there are single and doing something else now," Jason points out.
"Sean and Catherine Lowe, Trista and Ryan [Sutter], Ashley and J.P. [Rosenbaum], like, all the couples who are successful have gotten away," Molly chimes in.
"I think it's very easy to follow this fame or whatever you get for a little piece of time, but after that, it's over," Jason says.
The father of two thus wouldn't recommend his kids try to find love on the franchise. "No way," Jason insists -- but admits his son, Ty, who was just 3 when Jason's season was filmed, has "watched the whole thing" on Netflix.
"The good thing is he thought it was kind of boring. He went straight to playing his video games, so that was probably helpful," Jason muses. For Molly, it was "by far the worst week of my life."
"I was like, 'Why do you want to watch this? Why do you want to see your dad making out with a bunch of girls?'" Molly recalls of her horror, which Jason cracks is his "last hurrah."
Ty is now 6 feet, 2 inches tall and gearing up for his sophomore year in high school. He's a "hot commodity" the couple joke -- especially since the daughter of one of Jason's former contestants recently reached out.
Stephanie Hogan joined the season as a single mom, searching for a father figure for her then-3-year-old daughter, Sophia. On Monday's Bachelor: The Greatest Seasons -- Ever!, Sophia admitted to Chris Harrison that she had recently contacted Ty on Instagram, and he replied, asking for her Snapchat. "He's cute!" she gushed to the host.
Jason and Molly's 7-year-old daughter, Riley, is still much more under her parents' watch. She's seen their 2010 televised wedding -- "She just likes the pretty dresses," Jason says.
As much as Jason and Molly's season of The Bachelor is in their rearview mirror, Jason still harbors some regrets. He confesses to ET that he's thought about whether he could have done what Bachelorette Clare Crawley is rumored to have done -- shut down production after finding her match -- but says he knew there were "100 people's jobs at stake all involved in making the show." (ET recently learned that Tayshia Adams has stepped in as Bachelorette in Crawley's place, but both women's journeys will be featured when the show airs in the fall.)
"I would have done a lot different. I would have never proposed, it just wasn't the right thing for me to do it, and as a responsible single dad, the thing I shouldn't have done is any kind of proposal to someone back then," he said. "But it all worked out."
The Bachelor: The Greatest Seasons -- Ever! airs Mondays at 8 p.m. ET/PT on ABC. See more from our interview with Jason and Molly on Tuesday's ET.