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‘The Bachelor’ Premiere Recap: Clayton Sets a New Record

… for the amount of contestants to leave on the first night, but still

ABC/Getty Images/Ringer illustration

The Bachelor is always on nowadays. The last season of The Bachelorette ended less than two weeks ago, and now we have a new season of The Bachelor, and a new season will begin filming in a few weeks. The new Bachelor is Clayton, a Midwestern guy from a small town who was briefly signed to an NFL roster as a tight end, although he didn’t play in any games—please do not confuse him with Colton, the Bachelor from three seasons ago, who was a Midwestern guy from a small town who was briefly signed to an NFL roster as a linebacker, although he didn’t play in any games. Bachelors and Bachelorettes used to be chosen because they had prominent and emotional story arcs on past seasons of The Bachelor and The Bachelorette—but Clayton seems to have been selected in part because he was available to film after being dumped early during the just-ended-two-weeks-ago season of The Bachelorette.

News broke that Clayton was the next Bachelor before his season even aired, and he then proceeded to play a confoundingly minuscule role in Michelle’s story. During the premiere, Clayton jokes that he received “eight minutes” of screen time on her season, but feels he was selected because he “believes in this process more than anyone else.” And who wouldn’t believe in the process after six whirlwind weeks not falling in love with somebody?

It seems that instead of leaning on fans’ prior connections, The Bachelor would rather have a blank slate.

This season is also supposed to represent a blank slate for the show itself. Most of the promos for the show were focused on the return to the Bachelor Mansion, a sprawling Spanish-style villa in the hills north of Malibu that the show had abandoned for the past four seasons due to COVID protocols. And there’s a new host: Jesse Palmer, another former football player who was the Bachelor all the way back in 2004. Palmer is replacing Chris Harrison, who didn’t realize how replaceable he was. Palmer quickly points out that he’s been practicing calling things “dramatic,” just as Harrison did.

Palmer opens by noting that “I was the Bachelor, but now I’m a happily married man.” He’s not married to the woman who he picked on The Bachelor, but that’s never been the point. Palmer says he can feel the energy because “so many men and women have met their soulmates right here on this very spot.” Citation needed—only one of the first 24 Bachelors is still with the person they picked on The Bachelor. Palmer says that he’s never met Clayton before, but notes that Clayton is “one of the most sincere men that has ever been on this show,” which is a pretty incredible thing to say about someone you’ve never met.

It’s supposed to be comforting watching The Bachelor premiere just two weeks after The Bachelorette finale. Everything is different, but familiar: We’ll always be able to watch a Handsome Hosting Robot stand in front of the Bachelor Mansion and introduce an NFL-adjacent tight end on his journey for love. The Bachelor is always on nowadays, and nothing can stop it.

Best Contestant: Claire

The premiere of The Bachelor is always a fun one, since it involves people weeping over a person they just met. No matter who the Bachelor is or what they say, contestants will lose their minds saying that he is the greatest man alive. For example: At one point, Clayton gave an introductory speech in which he basically said that he thought the women were beautiful and that he was excited—and we quickly got a reaction from a contestant named Hailey saying, “Clayton’s speech was so good and so endearing!

Which is why I truly enjoyed that Monday night’s episode featured what is probably a Bachelor First: A contestant who met the Bachelor, got some alone time with him and was just, like, not that into him. Our heroine for the week is Claire, whose job title is listed as “spray tanner,” although it’s unclear whether she is a spray tan professional or simply a spray tanning enthusiast. (You can tell whether someone is getting kicked off on the first night if they have an embarrassing title—also leaving Monday night was Ivana, the “Bar Mitzvah Dancer.”)

After Claire says she loves football, she leads Clayton over to a “tailgate.” They play some cornhole, and Claire wins. They talk football—Clayton states that he is a fan of the Oakland Raiders, which is unfortunate, because that team no longer exists. And they eat some wings—Clayton expresses his preference for drums, which works for Claire because “that means when we go out you can get the shitty ones and I’ll get the flats.” It’s also worth noting that Claire is clearly tipsy and slurring her words the entire time. Clearly, this woman rules.

Eventually, they are interrupted by Mara and Clayton awkwardly can’t decide whether to go with Mara or stay with Claire. She tells him that he can go off with Mara, and from that point on, she doesn’t have a nice word to say about Clayton. She didn’t like his Raiders fandom, didn’t like his wing preferences, and didn’t like the way he waffled when presented with two women. When Claire returns to the rest of the contestants, she’s notably unenthused. She says that she didn’t like Clayton’s vibe—that he was “too nice,” and that she’s not interested in being with “America’s sweetheart.” At one point, she says she hates Clayton. Eventually, Clayton hears about Claire’s comments and he kicks her off the show.

Nobody ever shows up, meets the Bachelor, and says they just don’t like the guy. That’s not just because the Bachelor is a really hot guy—although he is, and that helps. It’s because simply pretending to like the Bachelor helps you stay on the show, which means you get to gain Instagram followers and go on cool trips around the globe. Even people who clearly aren’t vibing with the Bachelor generally fight to stay around. Claire’s tan might be fake, but her inability to hide her disinterest in Clayton was some of the realest stuff we’ve seen on this show.

Most Notable Introductory Gimmicks: Kate and Sarah

There is no better way to get the Bachelor to remember you than a fun introductory gimmick! (Well, I guess you could be Really Hot. Actually, I think that’s probably a better method. But introductory gimmicks work too.)

That said, this year’s entries were pretty tame. A lot of women told Clayton that he is tall. There were a lot of bad jokes—Mara told Clayton that she is “saucy and spicy like marinara sauce” in a way that makes me question whether she knows how “marinara” is spelled and what marinara sauce tastes like.

But I’d like to highlight my least favorite and my favorite entries in this year’s Parade of Gimmicks. The worst was Kate, who asked Clayton to “hold her nips” and then presented him with two airplane bottles of liquor. Clayton took his shot and recoiled, saying “it’s got a little kick to it”—no crap, dude, it’s straight-up Jack Daniel’s. (For the record: Clayton did not finish his shot—Kate was shown later still holding the half-filled nips.) Kate’s intro was simultaneously cheap and a waste of money—the alcohol is free inside the Bachelor Mansion!

And the winner was Sarah, who decided to literally celebrate her entry to reality TV lifestyle by smashing a printer with a baseball bat à la Office Space. Sarah explained that she had a bad job when she decided to go on the show, but now that’s over. And Clayton has a job in orthopedic sales that he, too, can now probably ditch. This is actually a pretty succinct explanation of how their careers will go now—they’re Bachelor stars now! Goodbye office technology, hello sponsored IG posts!

Saddest Exit: Jane

Twenty-two women received roses Monday night, and two quit, which means seven are headed home after just one evening on reality television. I always like to celebrate these contestants whose time in the reality TV spotlight was tragically cut short by a man who thought other women were hotter.

  • Daria, a Yale law student, who would have been settling by dating Clayton.
  • Hailey, who asked Clayton to open a pickle jar for her; this would’ve won me over, pickles rule.
  • Lindsay D., a former winner of Miss Teen America, whose departure marked a rare first-night snub for a pageant queen.
  • Ivana, who refused to talk to Clayton to preserve her mysteriousness, a strategy that seems to have backfired.
  • Rianna, who never pronounced her name on camera and therefore I must assume it’s pronounced “Rihanna.”
  • Samantha, who showed up in a bubble bath and received the dreaded Bachelor Censorship Black Box over her bikini bottom even though she seems to have been appropriately clothed.

But the woman I feel saddest for is Jane, who pulled up in a vintage car because she is 33 years old. When she addressed it with Clayton, Bachelor producers spotlighted her age on her chyron and played a loud ringing bell sound, so everybody watching knew the great shame of her age. Thirty-three is not that old, even by Bachelor standards—we recently had a 39-year-old Bachelorette, and there are four 32-year-old contestants this season who weren’t eliminated. But the show made it seem as if she was approaching death, and literally compared her to an old-timey car that needs extra upkeep and should be driven only on special occasions. Maybe she can get into the new senior edition of The Bachelor.

Least Interesting Story Line: Salley

Normally The Bachelor’s season premiere rushes to introduce us to the 30 contestants. But Monday night, that was delayed so we could spend a significant chunk of time with Salley.

Salley was apparently engaged before committing to appear on The Bachelor—in fact, her wedding day was scheduled to be on the very first day of filming. Some might see this as a sign that a new journey was starting, but Salley was still emotionally caught up in her old relationship and decided she couldn’t be on the show. That’s fine, and totally understandable! But for some reason, Salley decided she had to say goodbye to Clayton … the guy she’d never met before. (It’s possible this decision was made for her by a producer.)

Since they had never met before, Salley and Clayton obviously had nothing to talk about. Clayton insisted that he felt a strong connection to Salley, and I don’t blame him—a hot person had appeared in front of him, and he wasn’t yet in Bachelor Mode, when it’s possible to cast off hot people who suddenly appear. Clayton even decided to give her a rose in an effort to convince her to stay—but she rejected it. (Yes, between Salley and Claire, Clayton got dumped twice on the very first night of his season, which has to be a Bachelor record.)

The whole endeavor felt like a waste of time for everybody involved. Salley didn’t have any emotional connection with Clayton; Clayton ended up confused because a woman he’d never met rejected him. It’s also unclear why we, the viewers, were supposed to have any emotional connection with either of the two people who had never met and who we had never seen before. As it turns out, it’s not interesting to watch people break up if they don’t have a relationship to begin with. The next time someone wants to leave the show before it starts, just let them!