Mike Fleiss has always been a hands-on producer. Back when his reality TV experiment The Bachelor first premiered on ABC, he was the one running around the set lighting every candle, stoking the flames in each fireplace, and making sure everything stayed lit during the long hours of production. “I was just maniacal about that,” he says. “I wanted it to be the coolest romantic vibe, sort of a hippie, Bohemian style, but the opulence of Malibu balanced that.”
Sixteen years later, with The Bachelor established as one of reality TV’s most successful franchises, Fleiss has a team to manage the candles and every other aspect of production. But he still has the show’s most important job: Choosing the Bachelor or Bachelorette. This year, he went with 26-year-old virgin Colton Underwood, a Bachelorette and Bachelor in Paradise veteran who loves dogs and has a love-hate relationship with social media. Many in Bachelor Nation howled in protest when Colton was announced, but after 23 seasons, Fleiss is used to the cycle of fan rage. Now, rose lovers, the evil genius behind The Bachelor explains his choice.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Why was Colton the right guy to be the Bachelor?
MIKE FLEISS: All the guys we could have gone with, they all have their pluses and minuses, you know? It’s always a very difficult choice. And people get angry no matter who we choose. The only person that we ever chose who didn’t seem to piss people off was Juan Pablo! It was like 100 percent approval for the choice of Juan Pablo. So it’s a hard thing to figure.
We like this guy. He’s interesting, he’s certainly hunky, he looks the part, he’s an all-American kid, a football player. The virginity thing is interesting. And we think that just the potential of [Colton losing his virginity] creates added stakes for this season. When we sat with all the guys that we were considering, Colton just seemed like a star. When you’re in the room with him, you’re like, that’s a big personality, a big presence. He just won us over. And he has grown from the time he was on Bachelorette. I think the Bachelor in Paradise experience did add to his maturity.
So you met with Blake Horstmann, Jason Tartick, and Colton?
We met with those three.
Jason and Blake both made it pretty clear on social media that they wanted the job.
Yeah, which isn’t necessarily a good thing, you know? It’s a hard decision to make every time. The Jason people are pissed, the Blake people are pissed — if we had chosen Blake, the Jason people still would have been pissed. Really, you can’t look for 100 percent approval, you’ve gotta make your best decision in terms of story potential. What the show is really about is the journey of coming in [single], and then going through the arduous process of finding that person and making a firm decision that will affect the rest of your life. I think Colton represents the biggest potential for that story to create a lot of drama and romance.
Did you like the fact that he’s similar to Sean Lowe, a blond former football player who was a “born-again virgin” when he joined the show?
I’m sure that played a role in it. We all loved Sean, and that was a great season, and we’re so happy for him and Catherine and their family. All of us look back at that as a very successful season, and Colton does have very strong similarities to Sean. But he’s a real virgin, not just a born-again virgin. I don’t know what a born-again virgin is. Could I be a born-again virgin?
I think so? Anyhow, when fans are angry, they really let you know about it on Twitter. Do your feelings ever get hurt by the mean tweets?
No. I usually “like” them. I know [the fans] all love me anyway. Deep down, they all love me.