Colton Underwood is on the mend.
Just a few weeks before the release of his memoir, “The First Time: Finding Myself and Looking for Love on Reality TV” (Gallery Books, pp. 288), the 28-year-old ex-NFL player-turned-“Bachelor” star found himself battling the novel coronavirus.
He’s spent the last two weeks isolated in a third-story room at the home of 24-year-old girlfriend Cassie Randolph’s parents. Y’know, the woman whom Underwood famously jumped a fence for when she decided to leave “The Bachelor”? They’re going strong a year and a half later (though one anecdote in the book reveals they briefly broke up last August).
Underwood told USA TODAY in a phone interview Friday he was scheduled to be “officially released” from his self-quarantine Monday and would be allowed to rejoin “and hang out and do puzzles” with Randolph and her family, none of whom have shown any COVID-19 symptoms.
“It’s been a crazy last week and a half or so, but I’m feeling a lot better,” Underwood said, adding the Randolphs have “been sort of my saving grace and they’ve been unbelievably kind to step up and take care of me.”
The “Bachelor” alum has kept fans in the loop about his health battle with posts on social media: Some lighthearted, like his photos of food-blog-worthy avocado toast made by Randolph’s father; others serious, like some slightly out-of-breath video updates and a description a “rough” experience feeling like he only had “access to 20% of my lungs.”
“You are not alone” is Underwood’s takeaway message from his battle with the virus, and also what he hopes comes across in his memoir.
“It’s okay not to have it all figured out,” he said. “I just hope (the book) helps (readers) realize that they’re not alone – that there’s people… going through similar situations.”
“The First Time” (a cheeky reference to Underwood’s much-discussed virginity throughout his appearances on “The Bachelorette,” “Bachelor in Paradise” and then “The Bachelor”) is full of interesting tidbits and insights from his time in the reality dating franchise. (What was going on behind-the-scenes during future “Bachelorette” star Hannah Brown’s infamous “Roll Tide” speech? What did Underwood really think of firecracker contestant Demi Burnett?)
But it’s also a thoughtful exploration into what it means to discover oneself: Underwood, primed for a football career since he was a teenager, had to reinvent his world after saying goodbye to the NFL in 2016.
“I’m a walking contradiction,” he writes at one point.
Among other instances of self-discovery, Underwood reveals that he wondered if his hesitancy to sleep with his high school girlfriend meant he was gay.
“Maybe (if I had been gay) it would have helped me to know myself better and sooner. Maybe I wouldn’t have stayed a virgin,” he wrote. “Maybe I wouldn’t have asked ‘Who am I?’ as often as I did and suffered as much angst because I didn’t have an answer. Identity was such a big question mark with me. Yes, I was a football player. But what else was I? Was there anything more?”
He also writes openly about his past relationship with three-time Olympic gold medalist Aly Raisman, whom he said he “didn’t reach out to” while writing the book but that he wishes her “nothing but the best.”
The two were introduced through mutual friends in mid-2016 and made their red carpet debut together that December. When Underwood began filming as star of “The Bachelor” in late 2018, he made it clear to the crew and contestants that conversations about her were off limits.
Raisman, 25, had served as a witness in the trial that year against former USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar, who is now serving a life sentence in prison for sexual assault. Underwood wanted to ensure that he was being “mindful of everything that she had going on at the time” and not dragging her into unnecessary drama.
“I wanted to just make sure that nothing I did on a TV show would ever distract her from what she was doing and being the voice and the leader that she is for everybody in our age demographic and all the young girls out there,” he said.
Now that the “Bachelor” cameras are off (though Underwood and Randolph haven’t ruled out a future TV show, he said), Underwood is enjoying the fruits of his “Bachelor” franchise labor: A newfound sense of self and a relationship with a woman who “still gives me butterflies every time I see her,” as he writes.
“I feel like I’m still learning who I am as a human being and that’s not only my morals and my values and what I stand for, but that’s what I want out of life. It changes and I think that’s completely OK,” Underwood said. “Now, without football, I can say yes to a million different things and not have to worry about repercussions or focusing too much energy on something else and not another thing. I think that’s the most exciting part right now. And at the same time, it’s also the most terrifying, but I’m OK with that. It’s taken a while for me to get to that stage of being aware enough to know it and bold enough to try it.”