ABC’s reality series The Bachelor has had its share of surprising endings, but Jason Mesnick‘s on-camera breakup with fiancee Melissa Rycroft and subsequent reunion with runner-up Molly Malaney has been by far the most shocking. But online rumors persist: Was the show’s outcome fixed?
As Bachelor creator Mike Fleiss tells PEOPLE, “That’s patently untrue. It was Jason’s choice in New Zealand who he proposed to.” But after the show wrapped, Fleiss says, “He was not in love with Melissa anymore and he was in love with Molly and he needed to make a change.”
In fact, no one saw this coming, says Fleiss, who upon returning to the States “was in the process of trying to talk Molly into being the Bachelorette.” “She was finally starting to come around and saying she wanted to do it, and she had spoken to her family,” he says. “I thought she would be a fantastic Bachelorette, so likeable and beautiful and telegenic.”
A week later, Fleiss learned that Jason and Melissa were not getting along, and that he had never stopped thinking about Molly. “My first thought was, ‘Oh, too bad,'” Fleiss says. “My next thought was, ‘Wow, that’s almost too good!’ I knew that was a remarkable twist. “At that point, the decision was made to bring all three parties into the studio to film After the Final Rose, the most shocking After the Final Rose in Bachelor history,” Fleiss says. “It was never anyone’s plan.”
Host Chris Harrison also tells PEOPLE, “We haven’t shown breakups before, but we’ve never had this situation. We couldn’t not show that.”
While Harrison maintains Jason was “head over heels in love with Melissa,” he adds, “There’s nothing we can change or do about” his eventual change of heart.
Says Harrison: “We just had to show it. We were holding on by the seat of our pants.” –Cynthia Wang, with reporting by Kimberly Lansing