Yes, Arie’s cringeworthy breakup will be burned in our brains forever, but the franchise and its spin-off, The Bachelorette, were making their mark long before we heard the phrase “I love that.” ABC’s Senior VP Alternative Series & Late-Night Programming Robert Mills and host Chris Harrison tell all about the show’s biggest “OMG, did that just happen?!” moments.
TRISTA AND RYAN SAY “I DO”
In 2003, Trista Rehn, runner-up in season 1 of The Bachelor, became the first Bachelorette — and the first success story when she chose and then married Ryan Sutter.
CHRIS HARRISON: We had done two seasons of The Bachelor by then and it had been good but there was something very different about this. It was the first Bachelorette, we were catching a lot of heat; it was controversial. But we knew when we had that moment with Trista and Ryan, it felt like we’d just captured lightning in a bottle, and looking back, Trista and Ryan really did legitimize the franchise. The wedding was just a natural progression of the success of the show. The thing that people probably don’t realize is we were in the middle of production on Meredith’s season of The Bachelorette, so we shot that night, got in a limo, drove out to the desert, and jumped into three days of wedding mode. And then we all hopped in a car, high-tailed it back to Bachelor Mansion, and jumped back into Meredith’s season. It was wild.
JASON MESNICK CHANGES HIS MIND
The phrase “pull a Mesnick” entered the lexicon when 2009’s Bachelor chose Melissa Rycroft, then changed his mind and reconciled with runner-up Molly Malaney on After the Final Rose.
ROBERT MILLS: There was a debate about whether Jason should be the Bachelor because we were so used to using new people that you hadn’t heard of. We rolled the dice because you heard so much about Jason. We had people writing letters that they were going to leave their husbands for Jason. They loved this guy. That was about the most excitement we’d seen for the Bachelor in years. We had a premiere party in January, and the producers said, “He’s still thinking about Molly.” We had to rent a soundstage quickly, and we filmed it without an audience. We sat on it for two months. This was pre-social media, so the spoilers weren’t as prevalent.
HARRISON: When that situation happened, it was so unlike anything we’d ever experienced and as producers, I always tell people, “Do we always make the right decisions? Probably not. But we really try to make the right decisions with the knowledge we have in that moment.” That’s what we did. We cleared out the audience, we did the after-show with just me in a studio alone with them. It was eerie, raw, emotional, and it was awkward at times, but it was stunningly compelling TV. I remember thinking to myself: I’ve never hosted anything like this and I’m not sure I’ve ever seen anything like this.
MILLS: America was so excited when he picked Melissa, and then to see this happen, it almost felt like Twitter was invented that night—there was finally a place for people to vent their hatred. We tried really hard for Melissa to be the Bachelorette, [but] she’d gotten back with her boyfriend, who now is her husband. When she didn’t do it and wasn’t going to be the Bachelorette, DWTS was the next week and Nancy O’Dell had fallen out due to an injury and that left a place for Melissa, and that was also this great story. She ended up finishing second that season.
BRAD WOMACK CHOOSES…NO ONE
In 2007, Brad Womack became the first Bachelor to opt for singlehood instead of either of the last two Bachelorettes standing, DeAnna Pappas and Jenni Croft.
HARRISON: We knew he was torn but I thought at the end he may end up choosing one or the other. It was really the day before and then heading into that final day where he let us know that he wasn’t sure he was going to choose anybody at the end of the day.
MILLS: We were going to shoot the finale on a Saturday, and I remember the producers calling me on Friday night saying, “He doesn’t want to pick anyone.” What he had said was “If you want me to pick someone I will, but it will be over two months after the finale airs.” We had to let him do what he was going to do. It aired, and people just were stunned. Brad was Public Enemy No. 1. That was when we saw the full power of this show because you saw how it touched a nerve.
In 2011, Brad Womack was brought back and given a second chance at love, officially becoming the only two-time Bachelor.
HARRISON: There was zero hesitancy [to bring him back] on my part because I thought Brad was one of the more genuine, good men we’ve ever had on the show. I knew he wasn’t scared of committing and I knew he wanted to find somebody.
MILLS: After Ali Fedotowsky’s season of The Bachelorette, the runner-up that season was a guy named Chris Lambton, and he was beloved. I have to give him credit: He thought long and hard about being the Bachelor and turned it down. He just wasn’t ready to do it. So that was when it was like, “Okay, now who do we go to?” There really wasn’t anyone that screamed Bachelor from Ali’s season, other than Chris or the guy she chose, Roberto Martinez, so after that, we really had to think: “What are some outside the box ideas?” Then a producer said, “I text with Brad Womack all the time and he’s always said he’d do it again.” Obviously it’s a great storyline: The guy who chose no one is going to come back and try and do it again.
JAKE AND VIENNA FIGHT ON THE AIR
In March 2010, Jake Pavelka proposed to Vienna Girardi in the season finale. By June they’d split, and by July they were at war.
MILLS: Here’s what I remember about this: Jake has his season, it’s massively popular, and I remember the girls on that season were wonderful. And then you had Vienna, and Vienna was so hated. But at the end of the day, he picks Vienna. Then he did Dancing With the Stars, and Vienna would be at the show every week, but it really felt like the Dancing stuff took precedence. Then when Jake was off Dancing and they actually had to spend time together, that’s when the wheels really came off. So this is around early June and we were shooting Bachelor Pad season 1 and Jake gave a statement to People about ending their engagement. [Bachelor creator] Mike Fleiss said, “Nobody’s getting the story, we should be the ones to tell it,” so we had Jake and Vienna come do this interview. It was insane. These two absolutely hated each other. Chris wasn’t really hosting, he was refereeing.
HARRISON: I was just trying to get them to this amicable parting of the ways. That was my goal. And actually, I thought I had achieved that. And then I took it one step further and said, “Is there something you want to take responsibility for?” Then all the sudden I realized I was just in the eye of the storm and it was about to get really bad. It was funny how everybody gave me grief after that that’s what we wanted because that really was the opposite of what we were trying to get out of that interview. We weren’t even going to air it because our goal was to have an amicable break and we didn’t achieve that. But then there were rumors flying that Jake had been physical [during the interview], and that couldn’t have been further from the truth. So because of that rumor, we ended up airing that entire thing.
ARIE PULLS A MESNICK
After finishing second in Emily Maynard’s 2012 season of The Bachelorette, Arie Luyendyk returned in 2018 as the Bachelor and found love with Becca—only to realize he wanted a relationship with runner-up Lauren. In the show’s first-ever uncut scene, Arie broke up with Becca and flew to Virginia and asked Lauren to take him back. (She did.)
MILLS: In December, [Arie and I] were talking [and] he said, “I just don’t want to watch when I say goodbye to Lauren,” which I thought was interesting. He didn’t mention Becca or his engagement. Then we started hearing: “He wants to call Lauren…he’s thinking about her.” And by early January, he couldn’t do it anymore. It was a drumbeat that just kept getting louder.
HARRISON: We did have a little bit of a template because we made some mistakes with Jason and Molly and Melissa where we kind of forced it a little too fast on the audience. Stuff that had happened over months for us happened over a commercial break for the audience, and they didn’t really have time to digest and process what was happening, and that was a mistake on our part. Whereas I think with Arie we all tried to walk them through that a little bit better, help everybody process it, show Becca and show how she’s turned the corner and really walk everybody through it.
MILLS: We started watching the [breakup] footage and it was so riveting, and then when we watched them side-by-side like you saw with the split screen, and it was really a no-brainer [to air the unedited cut]. We knew once we saw it that this was how this had to air. This was so real and this is something we’ve all dealt with, a breakup like this, and it just it was so relatable, you had to play that as raw and real and honest and in real time as possible.
HARRISON: If there’s a happier human than Jason Mesnick in the world, I don’t know.