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‘The Bachelorette’ Premiere Recap: Katie’s a Sucker for Gimmicks

Even the ones including sex dolls, and especially the ones including cats

Getty Images/ABC/Ringer illustration

The Bachelorette felt different for about seven seconds. That’s it! You might not have noticed it if I didn’t point it out. ABC certainly didn’t point it out!

Longtime host Chris Harrison will be absent from Katie Thurston’s season of The Bachelorette. I noticed this change right at the beginning of the episode, when Harrison’s voice normally says “TONIGHT, on The Bachelorette … ” before an opening montage plays. (It’s been the same exact sound bite for years—it was probably recorded in 2010 or earlier.) Harrison is “stepping back” from the show after a controversy that requires at least three articles to spell out, so instead of his voice, there was another man’s voice, and for those seven seconds, the show felt different.

After that? It was just The Bachelorette. The absence of the man who has hosted just about every single episode of every single season of every single Bachelor franchise show should have felt monumental, but outside of the voice-over, nothing else about the season premiere seemed unusual. Hosting duties for the episode were filled by two former Bachelorettes, Kaitlyn Bristowe and Tayshia Adams, and they were great.

As we’ve written about before, hosting The Bachelorette is actually a pretty minimal job involving voice-overs, making a handful of in-show announcements, and occasionally giving advice to the Bachelorette. Kaitlyn and Tayshia didn’t just fill these minimal roles—they enhanced them. When Katie saw Kaitlyn and Tayshia, she actually let out a high-pitched screech of joy and said she was so happy to see them. She later said that it felt like she was going through the process with sisters. That’s never the way it feels with Chris—he is not anybody’s sister, because he is a 49-year-old man. Chris tries to calm new leads with his gravitas and his expertise from 40-plus seasons of hosting … but if anything, it sometimes felt like Chris made new contestants more nervous, as if they’re realizing in the moment, “Holy crap, I’m talking to Chris Harrison, he’s real and not just a person from TV.” It never feels like Chris wants to be friends with the show’s characters. He simply has to talk to them because it is his job—in recent seasons, the show has even joked that doing this show was interrupting his life of luxury.

But Katie treated Kaitlyn and Tayshia like buddies from the jump, and the episode felt more real because of that. Instead of standing aside as Chris would, Kaitlyn and Tayshia were active participants in the contestant introductions; they watched from a window in shouting range of Katie while eating popcorn. After meeting a new guy, Katie often turned around and talked with them; upon meeting the loquacious Quartney, she turned around and threw a few sly air humps their way. It was one of the funnier moments of the night and something that would obviously never happen if Chris were still around.

In recent seasons, the once-fun Bachelor franchise has been bogged down by the weight of its off-screen slip-ups. Monday night, I didn’t think about any of that once. It was just nice, unencumbered television. Now let’s just hope none of the contestants have problematic, easily discoverable pasts!

Most Successful Gimmick: Pretty Much … All of Them?

The greatest tradition of the opening night of The Bachelorette is a bunch of guys showing up in jokey costumes or unusual modes of transportation—and promptly getting eliminated in favor of guys who actually attempted to connect with the Bachelorette. Like insects, Gimmick Guys are essential to The Bachelorette ecosystem, but they die really quickly and they’re generally pretty gross to look at. I mean, unless you’ve got something to hide, why would you choose to ditch your physical appearance and personality and reduce yourself into one mediocre joke?

But this year was different—because Katie herself is a Gimmick Girl. On the last season of The Bachelor, Katie rolled up and presented Matt with her vibrator, and then proceeded to spend the rest of her first night causing a ruckus with her vibrator. Because Gimmick Guys and Gimmick Girls get eliminated so quickly, they generally don’t go on to become the Bachelor or Bachelorette. Some leads have done gimmicks as contestants—Clare pretended to be pregnant when she exited the limo, JoJo wore a unicorn head when she met Ben Higgins—but they weren’t Gimmick Girls. They just had gimmicks to start and eventually outgrew them. Katie, meanwhile, lasted only six weeks before finishing in 11th place—the lowest finish ever for a lead—and aside from standing up to in-house bullying, her most defined personality trait on the show was “owning a vibrator.” ABC—and Katie, to be fair—have leaned into this in promoting this season, to say the least:

So, as a former Gimmick Girl, Katie didn’t just tolerate gimmickry—she loved it. Connor B. dressed up in a cat costume, complete with Sharpied-on whiskers, and in a truly upsetting touch, repeatedly licked his “paws” to really hammer home the cat aesthetic. Katie was genuinely swept off her feet by it. While the other 29 men laughed awkwardly like, “Hey—what’s up with the furry?” Katie was swooning. She made out with Connor, accidentally smearing his cat makeup all over her face. (In case you’re wondering, he reapplied the makeup after they were done.)

James was wheeled up to the house in a massive wooden box covered in gift wrap and explained to Katie that he would reveal himself only if Katie sought him out inside the house. Katie eventually did seek out James—several helpful contestants wheeled him into a room to meet Katie—and was instantly taken by the surprisingly well-dressed man who hopped out of the box. I honestly don’t know how James lasted that long in that wooden box in a three-piece suit. (I didn’t see any breathing holes!)

Then there was Tre, who arrived on the show in a ball pit hidden in the bed of a pickup truck. Soon, Katie was in the “ball pit of love” with Tre, sipping champagne and reliving the romantic vibes we all felt in our local McDonald’s PlayPlace.

Even Cody, the guy who presented Katie with a blow-up sex doll, got a rose and survived to Week 2. Clearly, Cody saw Katie’s vibrator gag and was like, “OK, sex positivity is in—time to make my masturbation joke,” without realizing that a woman owning a vibrator has a slightly different vibe than a man sticking his penis into a flotation device with a vaguely female face. Katie had named her vibrator “MJ” because her season’s Bachelor was named Matt James; thankfully, Cody decided not to name his sex doll “Katie,” because that would’ve been upsetting. Her name is Sandy—nobody inquired as to why.

Normally, we can rule out Gimmick Guys from serious contention, but with Katie, we can’t be sure. One of these guys might actually win—maybe Connor will just dress up in a cat costume for three months and propose to Katie by pretending to cough up a hairball and then it’s actually a ring. And maybe Sandy the Blow-Up Doll will go on Bachelor in Paradise!

Least Successful Gimmick: The Gross RV

There was one exception to the Gimmick Rule, however: Jeff, who drove to the show in his RV. Jeff’s job title is listed as “surgical skin salesman,” and when I Google “surgical skin salesman,” I mainly get articles about how disturbing it is that a guy on The Bachelorette is a surgical skin salesman. It’s possible that Jeff fills a critical role in the medical economy, enabling people to get the materials they need to improve their lives—but without further explanation, I’ll just have to presume he flays corpses and deals flesh on the black market.

Jeff makes the smart decision to gloss over his career in defiling the dead and instead brings Katie to check out his RV. At first, I thought the motor home was a prop, like every other unusual mode of transportation ever to appear on the first night of The Bachelor. After all, this season was filmed at a resort in New Mexico, and the RV shared a striking resemblance to Walt and Jesse’s mobile cook site from Breaking Bad.

But Jeff quickly explained to Katie that he actually lives in the RV. While I have nothing against the concept of RVs, it should be noted that Jeff’s was … pretty gross. It was totally covered in stray laundry, and I think I got a faint whiff of mold through my TV screen. Clearly, Jeff is a guy who feels comfortable in his own skin, in addition to his career purveying other people’s skin. To be honest, though, I’m a bit skeptical that Jeff lives in the RV—his Instagram features no RV shots, which is surprising, because I feel like RV people like to talk about their RVs—but for whatever reason, Jeff decided to brand himself as the guy who couldn’t be bothered to clean his moving house. To make matters worse, Jeff kept eating celery throughout his entire one-on-one time with Katie—the loudest possible food you can eat. Katie briefly imagined life in a small and smelly confined space while Jeff chomped on veggies 2 feet away from her and decided to pass. Sadly, we didn’t get any footage of Jeff rolling away in the RV.

Least Screen Time: Landon

Every year, I try to identify the contestant who received the least amount of screen time before getting eliminated. They took leaves from their jobs, said goodbye to their families, bought new clothes, packed their bags, and flew across the country—only to immediately be told to turn right back around. Some of these guys at least get a mini-story line on Night 1—others get dumped into a 30-second montage during introductions, normally while the Bachelorette says something like “I can’t believe how many hot guys are here!” These guys get just enough time so you’re not confused if you see them in the background of another guy’s shot, but not enough that you end up emotionally attached.

Seven contestants were eliminated after one episode. Of these, Jeff the RV Guy got the most screen time by far. Next up was Marty, who made the poor decision to present Katie with a bunch of minerals he’s collected, boring her out of her mind. (One of the minerals was pyrite, which is fool’s gold, which feels like a pretty big red flag.) Gabriel got my attention by promising to give Katie “one of his favorite hugs,” implying that he has a long list of hug styles—what types of undiscovered hugs does he have in his arsenal? Behind-the-back? Inverted? Reverse cowgirl?—but it turned out to be just a regular hug with weird deep breathing. Brandon got a little bit of attention for riding up on a moped, but not much else. Marcus was unmemorable, but did get to have a brief conversation with Katie.

By my count, two contestants got less than 10 seconds of screen time. First there was Austin, a house flipper from Mission Viejo, who got 8.3 seconds of screen time (by my count) primarily aided by a lengthy hug. He told Katie that he was “excited to get to know you on a deeper level.” Alas, he got only 8.3 seconds, which is about as un-deep as you can get.

But the winner of the Least Screen Time Award is Landon, a shaggy-haired basketball coach from Texas in a beautiful pink suit, which unfortunately bought him only 6.2 seconds of screen time. To be fair, Landon is used to it—he played the second-fewest minutes on the 2019 Houston Cougars basketball team—but he was probably hoping to avoid benchwarmer status on reality TV.

I like to imagine that Landon was about to coach his team in the state championship game when he got the call to go on The Bachelorette came. “I can’t go,” he told his team, “we’ve been through too much together.” But then his star player (who views Landon as a father figure) spoke up: “You have to go coach Lando! We all have to pursue love—that’s what you’ve told us all season long! We’ll win the big game for you!” After an emotional group hug, he left for New Mexico. Then he got eliminated in a heartbeat. Also, the team lost the big game.