From Fargo to The Bachelor mansion: Local contestant shares her reality TV story

Three people pose in a landmark statue
From left to right, sisters Myah, The Bachelor contestant Madison, and Meaghan Johnson stop for a photo at the classic landmark sculpture in Fargo, N.D.
Courtesy of Madison Johnson

Two bags full of dresses, Madison Johnson boarded a plane at Fargo’s Hector International Airport in September. It wasn’t your average trip.

“It was a secret,” the 27-year-old says. “It was a good-kept secret.”

Come Jan. 23, the whole world — er, at least her circle and reality TV fans — knew: It was the 27th season premiere of The Bachelor dating show, and she was on it.

So, how does a family-oriented small-town businesswoman end up on one of the highest-grossing reality television shows ever? Let’s rewind a bit.

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From Fargo to LA — and back to Fargo

The North Dakota city just across the river from Moorhead, Minn. isn’t a stranger to fame (need townies mention their claim to fame with the “Fargo” movie and TV show?) Johnson just didn’t expect herself to be a part of that.

Woman in green dress smiles
Madison Johnson, photographed in her Bachelor garb, said, "it's such a surreal experience and nothing can prepare you for that moment" of being on the show.
Courtesy ABC

Come dinner time months ago, she’s whipping up dinner for her two younger sisters.

“They were in the living room, and they were on their laptops and I was like, ‘What in the world are you guys doing?’ And they're whispering, laughing, giggling and I’m like, “okay, whatever they they're up to, it’s no good,” Johnson says.

Turns out it was pretty good, relatively speaking: They were applying for Johnson to be a contestant on The Bachelor, unbeknownst to her.

Three days later?

“I get a notification from The Bachelor,” Johnson says. “I knew right away that moment that the application was submitted by those two.”


Fargo. I love Fargo; I love being from Fargo, but it is a tight-knit community. Everyone knows everyone and the dating pool is a little bit smaller sometimes,” she says, noting her sisters also wanted to see Johnson put herself first.

OK, grab the remote. Let’s fast-forward now.

‘It’s such a surreal experience’

Los Angeles, California. The Bachelor mansion. Enter scene: Madison Johnson, contestant.

“The day of your limo exit comes and reality hits and you're like, oh my gosh, what am I doing here? What's my first name? How do I move left foot, right foot? It's such a surreal experience and nothing can prepare you for that moment,” Johnson says. (Oh, right — she accepted the offer.)

Cue the jitters of being nationally-televised amid 29 other women you’ve never met before — and potentially, your to-be husband “The Bachelor,” Zach Shallcross. Limo door: open.

Person talks in a suit
Zach Shallcross, on season 27 of The Bachelor, told Johnson before the rose ceremony he was sending her home to Fargo.
Courtesy of ABC

“I swear it was a blur for that five seconds … But then getting to meet him in real life, it was like a pinch-me moment,” Johnson says. “And even just being in the mansion and being in this place that is somewhat fictional, and to not know where to sit or how to interact. It's nerve-racking.”

She came prepared with a scarf, hat and blanket — to “prepare” Shallcross for the winters — and an “uff da” line or two.

“It was great to bring Fargo to LA and to be a part of The Bachelor franchise. It's something new. And it was it was a great experience,” she says.

Johnson was sent home that first night after a few interactions with Shallcross, though was there prepping for a week. She said the two just didn’t click. Her takeaway?

“It was a huge sacrifice and a sacrifice I wouldn't have changed,” she says. “I am so grateful to have met him, met the women and have experienced the entire show as a whole. But it was definitely difficult to then go home and then come back to reality.”

Reality TV vs. reality

Johnson says she hopes people remember every contestant is a full human with stories of their own, ones that go beyond seven minutes of screen time.

“You don't know what that person is going through today or what they've been through years ago,” she says. “Everyone has a different story.”

Here’s hers — the one she didn’t get to tell on the show.

Nowadays she runs her own marketing and consulting business, MJM Consulting Inc. Born and raised in the Fargo-Moorhead area, she did some raising herself at a young age.

“It hasn’t been easy,” Johnson says.

At 22, she got custody of her youngest sister Myah, related to her parents’ struggle with addiction. At the time, she returned home after one year of her master’s program in communication, at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, to care for her two sisters.

Three people pose
The Johnson sisters, from left to right: Meaghan, Madison and Myah Johnson.
Courtesy of Madison Johnson

“Never did I think I was gonna be a mom to a teenager at 22 but also I am so grateful,” Johnson says. “I am her home, and it's the greatest feeling to be able to provide for her and be there for her and my other little sister [Meaghan].”

The area has also been home for the Johnsons.

“I would never wish anything upon anyone that we have been through but at the same time, I think if someone's gonna experience it, we've got a great community to support you through it,” she says.

When Johnson thinks of Fargo, she says she thinks community — a community that wraps its arms around her amid national stardom or not.

That especially helped when internet bullies came out post-premiere.

“The feedback has been tough. Headlines are tough; the articles are gonna be put out there. But the fact that the people who know me, and even the people who don't know me, took the time to, you know, go to my Instagram or go to my TikTok and just get a brief overview of who I am as a person,” she says.

So, what happens now?

Johnson says she’s been connecting with new “lifelong friends,” AKA other show contestants. Checking in with her support system. Going to therapy.

And this month, she’ll be back on the show with the series’ Women Tell All episode on Tuesday, a kind of reunion.

Beyond that, she says she’s focusing on herself and her business, “and getting through the next blizzard, whenever that might be. So that’s kind of my motto at this point. And, you know, dating is never easy — but I’m definitely ready to jump back in.”