'The Bachelor': Age Will Be This Season's Hot Topic

Arie Luyendyk Jr. is putting a lot of pressure on his second turn with the Bachelor franchise.

The new star of ABC's long-running reality dating franchise steps into leading-man shoes when The Bachelor launches its 22nd season on Jan. 1. His last appearance, as runner-up on Emily Maynard's 2012 season of The Bachelorette, left him broken-hearted. "I haven’t really been in love since going on The Bachelorette," the former professional race car driver, now 36, admitted when speaking to reporters earlier this month

When Luyendyk's casting was announced in September, ABC's surprising pick was met with mixed reviews. Targeting what appears to be Bachelor Nation's collective short-term memory, the network reminded viewers about Luyendyk with "Remember Arie?" promos and a first-time televised Countdown to Arie special that aired Dec. 11. During the premiere — which will also launch with a recap of Luyendyk's Bachelorette journey and rough reunion with Maynard on the live post-finale special — the star will open up about not finding love since Maynard let him walk out of her life on live television — twice.

That's where the 29 women who were cast for Luyendyk's season come in.

After last season's historic cycle of The Bachelorette, some viewers pushed for Bachelorette third runner-up Eric Bigger to be cast as The Bachelor, so Bigger could follow in Rachel Lindsay's footsteps and be the first black male lead of the 16-year franchise. Instead, Luyendyk was named, and a closer look at his cast reveals a step back in the diversity department. Not only was Lindsay the first black lead, her cast was also the most diverse in history with nearly half of her contestants being non-white. Instead, Luyendyk's season falls more in line with The Bachelor than The Bachelorette: By comparison, Nick Viall’s season 21 group included eight non-white contestants; the previous Bachelor with Ben Higgins featured five; and 2015's season with Chris Soules featured only one.

More revealing, however, is the age gap between 36-year-old Luyendyk, now a realtor in Arizona, and his cast. Luyendyk's age is a refreshing statistic for the franchise, which has seen criticism in recent seasons for casting younger contestants who are more interested in fame and growing their social media followings than finding love. Even during the premiere, one of the contestants beams during her limo ride to meet the Bachelor on premiere night, "He's older. He seems ready."

The majority of the women are in their early to mid-twenties, with only six in their thirties. One contestant, Bekah M., does not have an age listed (she is reportedly 22), and the oldest is 33. Still, their collective job descriptions are impressive when compared to past seasons (there isn't a "ticklemonster" or "shark/dolphin" identifier in the bunch.)

Luyendyk, however, dismissed age as playing a determining factor when speaking to The Hollywood Reporter. Bachelor viewers should be reminded that his own age (then 30) was seen as an asset on Maynard's season, where two men in their mid-twenties who made her final four, Chris Bukowski and Jeff Holm, were questioned about whether or not they were ready to settle down with the single mother, who was 26 at the time. But it was Holm, then 27, who ended up beating out Luyendyk in the end. (They later split and Maynard is now happily married with a growing family.)

"I think it’s more about the person and if they’re ready for marriage and how mature they are," Luyendyk said, insisting that he doesn't have a type. "Some women are far beyond their years and some women are very immature in their thirties — I’ve dated younger, older."

But Luyendyk did admit that age "definitely plays a theme throughout the season," adding, "It’s more about being ready. I was open to a variety, and that’s something that the producers knew." After all, he still fell in love with two people.