Matt James and Rachael Kirkconnell’s Bachelor love story has been a journey — on and off screen.

ABC named the 29-year-old Wake Forest graduate the season 25 lead in June 2020, subsequently revealing that the series received a record number of submissions for contestants. Among the 38 women who had the opportunity to meet Matt was Rachael, a 24-year-old graphic designer from Georgia. While she didn’t receive the coveted first impression rose (Abigail Heringer did), she caught Matt’s eye on night one. (Season 25 of The Bachelor filmed at Nemacolin Resort in the fall of 2020 and premiered in January.)

“She was beautiful, wow,” he said after she walked out of the limo.

After several group dates, Rachael scored one-on-one time with Matt during the February 1 episode of the show. During the evening portion of the date, the pair revealed they were falling in love with one another.

“Night one, what she chose to use her time with me to speak about was very intentional. And it wasn’t something that wasn’t going to progress our relationship,” Matt said of Rachael on Us Weekly’s “Here for the Right Reasons” podcast on February 2. “And then when I saw on the first group date, and I’m referring to all these instances that aren’t one-on-ones, because that was how our relationship was lived out, you know, I hadn’t had that one-on-one time with her yet. And when I had that day to spend with her and really get to know her better, it just affirmed everything I had already felt.”

While Matt and Rachael were dropping L-bombs on the series, she was making headlines for her past racially insensitive actions, including photos of her at an “Old South”-themed frat party in 2018. The controversy escalated after Chris Harrison asked for fans to have “grace” for Rachael as they navigated the scandal. The Georgia native broke her silence on February 11, two days after the host’s interview and more than one month since she initially came under fire. Rachael’s mother, Kim Kirkconnell, also defended her daughter and hinted at how the situation might affect their potential happy ending.

“If he chooses Rachael, and stands by her, then you know Matt does truly love her,” Kim told The Sun on February 25. “If he chooses Rachael, and then leaves her, then it was not meant to be, and there is someone else out there for her.”

Fans will learn the status of Matt’s relationships with Rachael and his other finalist Michelle Young during The Bachelor: After the Final Rose on Monday, March 15.

Scroll through for a complete timeline of Matt and Rachael’s relationship:

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