The Bachelorette is Clare Crawley's season — until it isn't.
The 16th cycle of the ABC reality dating competition is only in its third week, but the show is already headed toward a major twist. Ahead of the season, spoiler reports claimed that star Crawley would find love early and that former contestant Tayshia Adams would step in to fill the lead role, making Adams the second-ever Black Bachelorette in the long-running franchise.
The show has not addressed the reports, but the trailers and season marketing have leaned into the theory about a major mid-season shake-up — with host Chris Harrison telling Crawley repeatedly in promos that she has "blown up" the show. Then, in the final moment of Tuesday night's episode, the trailer for next week revealed Adams' debut. Clad in a bikini, the Bachelor and Bachelor in Paradise star walks out of a pool and smiles at the camera.
Speaking to The Hollywood Reporter, Harrison admits that the tease was more than just a wink to viewers, who are collectively known as Bachelor Nation. It was time, as he puts it, to address the "elephant in the room," otherwise known as Adams' anticipated debut.
"We debated, how do we promote it? When do we promote it? How do we lean into it?" he says, while announcing the launch of his signature wedding ring line with Manly Bands (more on that below). "And I think we did it perfect last episode with that jarring, kind of slap in the face of, 'We’re done ignoring this. We’re here with you. We get it. This is coming to a head — stay tuned.' It wasn’t the wink-wink, nod-nod. It was the screaming at the top of our lungs: 'Here we go!'"
Viewers will get the answers to their questions when The Bachelorette returns for a special Thursday-night airing next week, moved off of Tuesday because of election night. ABC's press release on Wednesday confirmed that the contestants, frustrated over Crawley's tunnel vision for frontrunner Dale Moss, will get a "second chance at love" and, if they opt for it, a "surprise" is waiting for them.
"The big reveal of Tayshia at the end of the episode was to allow everybody to realize that next week, you’re going to get all the answers," Harrison confirms. "This week needed to be done to really set up and explain, 'We’re at a breaking point. We have to figure this out.' And, not in a negative way, but we’re at a breaking point. Next week, you will now get those answers and this is going to be resolved. And, one way or another, we are moving on."
Indeed, this season of The Bachelorette has made no secret that Crawley has fallen hard for Moss. Most of Tuesday's episode focused on the pair's relationship, much to the dismay of the other, frustrated contestants. "This might be a short season!" Crawley says at one point. In another hot mic moment, Crawley refers to Moss as her fiancé while talking to a producer.
Harrison says there came a point when the producers realized that they might need to change up the season in an unprecedented way. "There really wasn’t a lightbulb moment. It really happened very organically and, yes, it was quick," Harrison says of Crawley's snowballing relationship with Moss. "As producers, you always have to go with the flow and be ready to embrace change, and drama and whatever happens. And we’ve done a really good job of doing that over the last several years. Clare brought us a different circumstance and we had to lean into that."
But enacting any sort of backup plan required a few extra hurdles, given that the show was being filmed in a bubble at a resort in Palm Springs, in order to abide by COVID-19 safety protocols. Every person who came into the bubble had to quarantine and pass several rounds of nasal swab tests in order to be cleared to join the set. "There was nothing about this season that wasn’t extraordinary and stressful and insane," he says of the top-down feat that went into pulling off a COVID-free season. "A lot of things happen and move very quickly. There’s a certain amount of time where you can only do so much, because there are protocols you have to follow. It was a very delicate thing that we had to balance."
The result of those efforts will come to fruition, but Harrison makes clear that the goal of the 16th cycle of The Bachelorette was for Crawley to find love, first and foremost.
"This is Clare’s season. We really wanted it to be about her. She had waited and had been patient since she was named the Bachelorette. So this really was her journey, right up until the time it’s not her journey, and her journey is over," says the host and producer. "As soon as it’s somebody else, we’ll dive in and that person will be the cornerstone and our priority. But that was our main thing: Let’s lean into Clare, she’s the Bachelorette. I don’t care if it takes 10 weeks, 10 years or 10 days, I just want her to find love. And if she does? Great. How do we facilitate that? That was our most important priority. We’ll have plenty of time to bob and weave and change direction if we need to."
Harrison also stands by Crawley's performance as the Bachelorette, as the star has emerged as a nontraditional lead. "If the goal is to fall in love, then you definitely can’t say she did a bad job. She may have done the greatest job ever!" he says. "If you are angry or mad, are you mad because she fell in love with somebody and are you mad because she’s following her heart? It’s her life and her heart. And maybe we try to support that and see where it goes."
He also says that next week's sit-down to discuss how Crawley wants to proceed will answer further questions about how production handled the novel situation. "The ball is put in Clare’s court: 'What do you want to do? Where do we go from here?'" he says of the heavily teased conversation. "My only advice was that the road we’re going down now, currently, doesn’t end well for you or anybody else. So let’s make some decisions that set us all up for success. I think for some reason, some of this has drawn a negative connotation and it shouldn’t. Clare quickly had feelings for Dale. She started falling in love. That's the whole purpose of the show."
Harrison, clearly no stranger to leaning into love, is also celebrating his new union with Manly Bands to launch a line of men's wedding rings. The modern Chris Harrison Collection boasts 24 styles incorporating rose gold, diamonds and even dinosaur bone and wine barrel inlays. "I hope this starts a trend," he says. "I see the day, because I do this with all the rings, of having a bunch of different rings. I don’t always want to wear the same outfit, so why where the same ring? I want one to match that mood."
Whether or not Moss will be in the market for one of Harrison's bands remains to be seen.
"What you’re about to see is the culmination of everything that has led up until this moment," says Harrison of the Nov. 5 episode. "We’re coming to a head on a decision that needs to be made and where we’re going to go with this. You’ll be able to judge for yourself, and that’s why I want Bachelor Nation to watch. If [Clare has] fallen in love, then what do we do? Where do we go? How do we set [her] up to succeed? And I think you’ll see, that’s exactly what we did."