'The Bachelor': ABC Casts Surprise Fan-Favorite as Next Star

Will you accept Arie Luyendyk Jr.'s rose, Bachelor Nation?

ABC has tapped the race car driver and former fan-favorite to lead season 22 of the reality dating show. The choice comes as a surprise, as Luyendyk Jr. has stepped away from the franchise spotlight since his 2012 stint on Emily Maynard's season of The Bachelorette.

"We've kept in touch over the last few years, but this just fit perfect, the timing of this really fit," the 35-year-old said of his relationship with the ABC franchise's producers on Thursday morning's Good Morning America while making the official announcement. "I was a little skeptical just because we've been in talks for a few years about doing it. But I just kind of went in with an open mind and an open heart and it kind of just hit me right now that I'm here."

The star said he kept the decision under wraps and even his family didn't know until the TV appearance.

After placing as the runner-up to Jef Holm on Maynard's season, Luyendyk Jr. was rumored to be taking over the next Bachelor gig. The role, however, went to Sean Lowe, who finished third. The following year, Lowe admitted that Luyendyk Jr. was ABC's first pick for the 2015 season, but that ABC ultimately went with Chris Soules because Luyendyk Jr. hadn't been on the air in two years. Luyendyk Jr. eventually spoke out, revealing that he only found out he didn't get the gig two days before Soules was announced. Now, the reality star will be returning to the leading role after a five-year TV absence.

"The decision was very last minute," a source reveals to The Hollywood Reporter. Though several names had been recently thrown out in the press, Luyendyk Jr. was not among them. Peter Kraus, runner-up from the most recent season of The Bachelorette with Rachel Lindsay, and the prior season's runner-up, Luke Pell, were also in the running. ABC had also approached former Bachelor Ben Higgins for a second round of starring, but the newly single Almost Famous host turned down the gig, explaining the timing wasn't right on his podcast. Higgins and Ashley Iaconetti agreed that the casting gets the show out of its current cycle of younger stars who are less serious about finding love when the co-hosts found out about the news live on their Thursday podcast.

Luyendyk Jr., who was born in the Netherlands, is a two-time Indy 500 winner and real estate broker who lives in Scottsdale, Arizona. He and his family immigrated to the U.S. when he was 3 and his father is famed Formula One racer, Arie Luyendyk Sr. The star said his racing experience will help him make decisive choices when it comes to picking his potential fiancee among 20-plus women.

"I'll be 36 in a few weeks, so for me, it's time. All my friends around me have kids and have grown up," he said, believing in the reality dating show process since he found love with Maynard. "I feel like I'm the last one of my friends to really take that last step."

Typically, the star of The Bachelor or The Bachelorette hails from the previous cycle. Host Chris Harrison had told THR that they were waiting for summer spinoff Bachelor in Paradise to air before naming their lead and though stars from those shows, such as Eric Bigger and Wells Adams, had been thrown out by Bachelor Nation, none were in official talks with ABC about the gig. Dean Unglert was a fan-favorite coming out of The Bachelorette, but lost his leading man support after his stint on Paradise (which airs its finale on Monday).

Lindsay ultimately gifted her final rose to Bryan Abasolo, 37, a Colombian chiropractor from Miami, Florida. Lindsay and Abosolo are still set to tie the knot, while a potential TV wedding remains up in the air. Kraus left in heartbreaking fashion, telling Lindsay he wasn't ready to propose and exiting before the final rose ceremony. Kraus' hesitations about proposing in the end remained a key point of debate among fans, many who initially wanted the Wisconsin star to get his shot at finding love.

According to the source, Kraus was put in a similar situation to both Pell last year and Luyendyk the year prior. The JoJo Fletcher castoff had his bags packed and was ready to fly to make the official announcement on his journey when ABC called him and told him Nick Viall was taking his place.

Kraus only found out this week that he wouldn't be getting the gig. Late Wednesday night, he tweeted: "Never let fear hold you back. Lesson learned."

Luyendyk Jr.'s casting comes amid years of ABC executives being under fire for the franchise's lack of diversity; While Lindsay made TV history as the first black Bachelorette from the most recent season of the female spinoff, a black Bachelor has yet to be cast in the show's 15-year history. Which is why some hoped ABC would cast Bigger as ABC's first black Bachelor. 

The 2016 season followed Wisconsin native Viall's journey to find love, before he got down on one knee to propose to Vanessa Grimaldi. Viall and the special education teacher from Montreal announced their split Aug. 25, five months after their TV proposal.

Bachelor creator Mike Fleiss had been tweeting a series of cryptic tweets, to the frustration of fans online, about the Bachelor announcement for days leading up to Thursday morning's official announcement. After many misdirect posts, Fleiss posted the hint, "Fasten your seatbelts, #BachelorNation !!! #vroom."

Luyendyk Jr. took to Twitter shortly after his GMA appearance to post a photo of himself with the show's signature rose.

The search for Luyendyk Jr.'s lucky suitors has been underway for months, whether or not the women knew who they would ultimately be vying for. Casting director Lacey Pemberton revealed to THR in May that the process of choosing new contestants begins "the moment in the previous season when they step out of the limo," long before their prospective husband has been officially tapped.

The new season of The Bachelor will premiere in January 2018. Keep up with the Live Feed for the latest on Bachelor Nation news.

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