Each season’s premiere episode of The Bachelor tends to follow the same pattern: it documents the current Bachelor’s pre-show love journey (and affirms his commitment to finding The One) and then it introduces a parade of semi-interchangeable ladies. All you need to know at the beginning is that there are two treatments on the first night: a woman either has potential or is a punchline.
Before we can meet the women, however, we learn about Nick. Specifically, ABC has the task of convincing their viewers that Nick is taking the process seriously; if he isn’t there for the right reasons, the whole thing falls apart. And so we get to witness a conversation between Nick and some of the least qualified people in America to discuss finding love: previous Bachelors from this very franchise. Chris Soules, Sean Lowe, and Ben Higgins are ostensibly there to give Nick advice about the show, but they’re really there to pull the viewers into the alternate reality ABC has painstakingly crafted.
Let me explain. In Real Reality, Chris Soules is not qualified to give advice on love. When he was the Bachelor, he was known for making out with more women on the first night than anyone else in Bachelor history. While he ultimately proposed to someone on the finale, their engagement ended two months later with basically no fanfare at all, probably because neither of them really cared. The season was so boring that not even a woman breaking the fourth wall to address the camera (in Chris’s presence!) about the extraordinary story of her late husband’s death was enough to keep people interested! So, it was boring, unsurprising, whatever.
But in ABC’s alternate reality, it is participation on the show that makes Chris Soules an expert on love. Chris Soules is a success story because ABC has decided to present him to us as one, and because they need someone to give Nick advice. So there he is.
Sean Lowe is arguably the only actual success story to come out of The Bachelor franchise, so his presence was totally legitimate. He also made the hilarious statement that “the thing about Nick is that a lot of people see him as a giant toolbag,” so at least you know he’s shooting straight. Actually, that statement pretty much encapsulates this entire season: the show recognizes the flaws in its hero and, in doing so, gives the impression that it’s being honest with the viewers. It uses Nick’s flaws to legitimize the entire process while still winking at itself, and that has made it more fun so far, but that means absolutely nothing at all about whether Nick is sincere. It’s toolbags all the way down.
ANYWAY, now that we’ve bought into the fantasy that Nick is there for anything other than personal promotion, we get to meet the women. The contestants emerging from a series of limos is one of the most entertaining parts of the entire season because we get to witness their hilariously ill-advised gimmicks. It’s perfectly natural to be worried that the Bachelor won’t remember you, and in real life, a real person might decide to allow a connection to develop organically and not put so much pressure on a first impression. But this is an alcohol-fueled deep dive into gender-based stereotypes where you have about fifteen seconds to convince the producers that you’re worth keeping around. It is not the time to be shy.
Here’s a round-up of just a few of this season’s introductions: Raven, a small-town girl with big (fashion-related?) dreams taught Nick her high school’s fight chant (“PIG SOOIE!”). Hailey informed Nick that she was not wearing underwear. Danielle L. had Nick lick maple syrup off her fingers (and then licked her own fingers for good measure. GIRL, WE GET IT). Lacey rides up on a camel and says to Nick, “I heard you like a good hump.” And, my personal favorite, Alexis the “aspiring dolphin trainer” emerges from the limo in a shark costume and proceeds to tell everyone all night that she is a dolphin. Alexis knows that costume has gills and giant shark teeth. Alexis is 100% messing with you, me, Nick Viall, and the Laurens and Ashleys of the world and girl is enjoying it. She will almost certainly happily totter home after week 2 or 3 having lived her best life, and I respect her choices.
(There are, of course, a number of women who introduce themselves, make some kind of gracious comment or observation about themselves or the show or Nick, and head into the Bachelor Mansion. These are the women with Potential. They get just enough screen time in the first couple weeks that we know them and find them sympathetic, but they aren’t the fun part of the show. In the beginning, we need the Alexises of the world to generate Twitter mentions and get the ball rolling. Those people would be the Punchlines.)
Once all the women have arrived, Nick begins a series of short conversations in which he learns the tiniest fraction of information about whatever woman he’s sitting with before someone else swoops in, asking “Can I borrow him for just a minute?” This is the least interesting part of the night, because these little chats are intercut with footage of the women freaking out about who’s “got time” with him so far and who’s going to get time before the night ends. But there’s an additional subplot muddying the water this season: one of the contestants has not only met Nick but has already had sex with him.
Liz, it turns out, was the maid of honor at the wedding of Jade and Tanner, who met on Bachelor in Paradise. Nick attended that wedding (as did many members of the Bachelor family), and it was aired on television. Apparently, Nick and Liz “connected” (gross) but she declined to give him her number the next morning. And now she shows up on the show, unsure if he remembers who she is.
It turns out that he does remember her, and they have an extremely awkward conversation about it before he ultimately gives her a rose (but with a look on his face suggesting that it was a producer-mandated rose, not because Nick wants to continue dating someone who has already informed the American public that she rejected him after sex. Which, like, I can’t really blame him for that one. Also, is Liz there for the right reasons? He just isn’t sure.)
On a final (and more serious) note, for the first time in franchise history, the First Impression Rose went to a woman of color. The first impression rose doesn’t matter that much, but given the mounting criticism of the franchise for its abysmal lack of diversity, it was significant that Rachel (an attorney in her 30s!) was singled out. I don’t think we can take anything on this franchise at face value, but it’s still encouraging to see.
At the end of the night, Nick eliminated a bunch of women I didn’t recognize, and kept a bunch of women I can’t yet tell apart. And we have definite drama on the horizon: how will the women react when they find out one of them has already seen Nick’s swimsuit area? I am, in a word, ready.
The Bachelor airs Mondays at 8 p.m. Eastern Time on ABC.