NEW YORK — "The Bachelor" had a change of heart, leaving his fiancee in a lurch and viewers up in arms.
Jason Mesnick, a 32-year-old single dad, proposed to Melissa Rycroft in Monday night's season finale of the ABC reality dating show. But in the subsequent "After the Final Rose" special, taped six weeks after Mesnick's proposal, he told Rycroft he was dumping her because he still had feelings for the runner-up, Molly Malaney.
Hurt and angry, Rycroft said: "Don't call me and don't talk to me. Leave me alone."
Mesnick said he hated himself for what he was doing. Rycroft gave her ring back and walked off stage.
Then Malaney came out and she agreed to give Mesnick another shot at love.
Every season of "The Bachelor" promises to be "the most dramatic yet," but the results of the Mesnick love triangle are sparking passionate discussion on Internet message boards and forums.
A post-finale recap on Entertainment Weekly's Web site called Mesnick "an even bigger jackass than we thought." More than 1,700 comments have been posted in response, many lashing out at the Seattle account executive for burning Rycroft in such a jarring fashion. Especially since Rycroft, a 25-year-old sales representative from Dallas, had professed her love for him and excitement over being stepmom to Mesnick's 3-year-old son, Ty, from a previous marriage.
"Jason is such a loser and Melissa deserves a guy who is not a dog in disguise," said a commenter named "sprunginto." "With regard to this finale being better or worse than any other, it was really not a whole lot different except that the love birds managed to fall out of love in less time than usual, allowing ABC to milk this as a `shocker.'"
Mesnick even alienated one of his most public cheerleaders: Elisabeth Hasselbeck, who lashed out at him and the show Tuesday on "The View."
"I really thought he was a good guy and he had his act together. ...I am DONE with `The Bachelor'!" said Hasselbeck, aching for those "three hours of my life I will never get back."
Mesnick said on Jimmy Kimmel's talk show Monday that his relationship with Rycroft took a turn for the worse when production ended and they returned to reality. He said the chemistry was off and Rycroft "knew exactly what was going on" before her rejection at the "After the Final Rose" taping.
"I lived my honest, true life, and I developed feelings for two girls," he said, defending the switch.
ABC representative Cathy Rehl said Mesnick was unavailable for an interview Tuesday. Rehl did not respond to interview requests for "Bachelor" host Chris Harrison and producers.
Monday's two-hour season ender was the highest-rated program of the night with 15.45 million viewers, according to Nielsen Media Research. It's the most-watched "Bachelor" finale since November 2003, when Bob Guiney picked Estella Gardinier. (That relationship fizzled out and Guiney married soap-opera actress Rebecca Budig in the summer of 2004.)
Part Two of "After The Finale Rose" is slated to air Tuesday at 10 p.m. EST.