Being a contestant on The Bachelor means being wooed by a handsome man on extravagant dates in exotic locations, a televised pursuit of everlasting love that brings joy – but also for many, very public heartbreak.
Gia Allemand, who vied for Jake Pavelka's affection on season 14 of the show, "was fully capable of handling it," says former Bachelor and Bachelor Pad contestant Michelle Money, who saw Allemand on August 5 in New York. "It's so sad to think looking at her in New York, I thought she was okay. But now I look back and think, wow, is there something I could have done or said?"
Those closest to Allemand are now confronting such difficult questions following her death at age 29, her apparent suicide coming as a shock.
Four years ago, Allemand successfully passed the show's extensive vetting process, which includes background checks, criminal records and employment verification. She was cast as a potential suitor for Pavelka and while she didn't win his heart (she was second runner-up), she did go on to compete on the first two seasons of Bachelor Pad.
"We take finding a suitable partner for our Bachelor or Bachelorette very seriously," show creator Mike Fleiss explained to PEOPLE earlier this year. "Without that element, and without us playing for sincerity and a legitimate chance for a meaningful relationship this show wouldn't have lasted as long as it has."
To help contestants deal with the show's emotional ups and downs, a therapist is on set.
"We go to great lengths to make sure these people are okay," Bachelor host Chris Harrison says. "We have a support system. We don't just say, 'Hey, thanks for coming on The Bachelor and here's a T-shirt.' We're cognizant this is an emotional thing they are feeling."
As for Allemand's experience on the show, Money admits Allemand's "pure innocence" was at times a handicap. In Bachelor Pad's second season, Allemand voluntarily left the show in tears after learning she had been betrayed by a fellow contestant.
"She's super sensitive," Money says. "When she found out someone had been dishonest with her it was really emotional for her because she is so sweet and trusting."
Money adds, "I wouldn't put any assumption that The Bachelor franchise shouldn't have had her cast. The thing that's hard is you never know what's going on in someone's mind. Someone can be holding their head so high, but inside they're battling these demons."