Second Bachelorette Lily McManus has spoken out about social media comments arguing the show's new format had taken the spotlight off a woman of colour in a leading role.
"It's quite a shame, because myself and Lesina are great friends and all I want to do is lift her up - that's all the show is about.
"It's not about upstaging anyone as we're not in competition with each other, it's as simple as that. We just want to empower each other, so it's a shame people aren't seeing it that way."
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During last night's explosive episode of The Bachelorette NZ, it was revealed that McManus - a 22-year-old former contestant on The Bachelor NZ and Celebrity Treasure Island - would be joining doctor Lesina Nakhid-Schuster, 32, who was originally cast in the leading role.
Following the shocking twist, many people took to social media to express their disappointment that Lesina - of Pacific Island, Caribbean, Lebanese and German heritage - had been "upstaged" by a Pakeha woman.
"Bad move Bachelorette. You obviously could not keep a women of colour bachelorette on there for long right? Pretty sure you'll lose viewers," wrote one person on the Bachelorette Instagram page.
"So a woman like Lesina, intelligent, kind and beautiful is not enough so they have to bring in the white girl. Would never happen on The Bachelor. Surprisingly cross about this," wrote another.
"It's a little disappointing that a WOC couldn't have the spotlight on her," wrote another.
"What a terrible decision! This totally cheapens the show and is an insult to Lesina," wrote another.
McManus has also spoken out against the backlash against the new format being "anti-feminist" as it theoretically pits two women against each other. There have never been two Bachelors in The Bachelor NZ.
"I can see how people might think that, as that's what I originally thought about it at the beginning – but that's only if you want to focus on the negatives here, and that's not really a good way to look at it.
"If we focus on the positives, I now have a friend here on the show that can help me through something that's really emotional, and I'm so glad I had her there because to do it on my own would be really tough."
McManus has also shut down the idea that she and Nakhid-Schuster will be "fighting over" the men.
"It is a TV show so things will be edited to look weirder than they are, that's just how television works unfortunately, but I promise in real life we are homies and that is always going to come first for us.
"If there's someone that she really liked and I really liked, to be honest I'd rather just give it to her and not have the drama. We have great communication, so we'd just sit down like the adults we are and talk it out."
Broadcaster TVNZ said: "The Bachelorette NZ focuses on two strong, successful women. With 3-4 episodes a week, the season can explore both Lesina and Lily's stories in full detail, and they'll be there to support each other through the trials of modern dating. Rather than pitting the women against each other, this season brings in a real friendship we think viewers will be excited to see. This twist was planned with Lesina and Lily prior to filming and with their collaboration we moved ahead."