Bachelor in Paradise's Pieper James Says She's Still Dating Brendan Morais, Talks Backlash
"That's just all they are, is rumors," James, 23, told Becca Kufrin on Wednesday's episode of the Bachelor Happy Hour podcast. "I mean, I can understand [with] Brendan unfollowing me [on Instagram] and that kind of thing why people maybe came to the conclusion that we split. But we're still together."
"The reason we didn't choose to go public [with our relationship status after the finale] like everybody else on the show was just because, obviously, our experience was a little bit different. We tainted our own experience in that way," she continued. "So we are kind of working on ourselves and each other, and we're focusing on being a couple before taking that public."
The pair came under fire on the most recent season of the ABC series for seemingly starting a relationship before going on the show this summer. The drama culminated in the two exiting Paradise together.
"Obviously, this hasn't been an easy thing to go through," James said on Bachelor Happy Hour. "Obviously, I wasn't there the whole time. I didn't see it all, so [I'm] seeing it all play out. But we're together. It was a rumor that we broke up. That's where we stand right now."
Morais, 31, arrived first in Paradise and struck up a romantic connection with fellow contestant Natasha Parker, 33. But when James hit the beach a few weeks later, she and Morais almost instantly solidified themselves as a couple — raising suspicion amongst their castmates, Parker in particular. (Morais and James also admitted to hanging out on several occasions before filming.)
Following a confrontation with the rest of the cast where the couple was accused of plotting to gain a larger social media following from the show, Morais and James decided to leave.
The two, who swiftly lost followers on social media amid the blowback, both publicly apologized as the episodes aired.
While James told Us Weekly she hoped to "make things right" with Parker, Morais said in an Instagram Story last month that his actions were "wrong on so many different levels." (He also claimed in a seven-minute apology video that he was "not in an exclusive relationship" with James when he came to Paradise.)
Asked whether going through the drama strengthened them as a couple, James told Kufrin, 31, "I think it did."
"When you're first in a relationship with somebody, there's this very happy period where you don't have to deal with a lot of conflict and anything like that," she said. "And obviously, because we were dealing with conflict ... it did make us stronger in a way."
"Right away, we knew how we communicated in arguments," she continued. "Right away, we knew how we dealt with, like, exterior bad things. I'm not saying, you know, it was peaches and rainbows the whole time, but it was good to have that feedback and know down the line if something comes up how we both deal with those things."
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James also acknowledged she didn't necessarily give herself "a genuine Paradise experience" after arriving with her sights set on Morais. But she doesn't regret pursuing her now-official boyfriend.
"At the end of the day, I'm happy with my decision. I'm happy with Brendan, as controversial as that might be to say," she said. "I just kind of did what I always do and followed my gut and my heart and connected the dots. That's the experience I got."