8:24pm PT by Jackie Strause
'Bachelorette' Rachel Lindsay Meets Her Contestants Early in 'Bachelor' First
[Warning: This story contains spoilers from the season finale of The Bachelor.]
The Bachelor franchise delivered another first on Monday's live finale special.
Rachel Lindsay, ABC's next, history-making star of The Bachelorette, met some of her contestants early during the After the Final Rose special that followed the finale of The Bachelor.
After spending time with Bachelor Nick Viall and his winner, Vanessa Grimaldi, host Chris Harrison said he had a surprise for Lindsay when she joined him onstage. The Dallas attorney breaks a show barrier by becoming the first black lead in a combined 33 seasons of The Bachelor and The Bachelorette.
"I've been talking about this epic surprise for Bachelor Nation. The truth is, it's actually an epic surprise for you," he said to Lindsay, who appeared to have no idea what he had planned. "We've never done this before. You know, obviously, you're the Bachelorette. What you don't know is The Bachelorette starts right now."
He then screamed, "Come on out!"
Harrison had the backdrop showing the Bachelor mansion rolled onto the stage, while Lindsay continued to respond in disbelief.
"You ready to meet your first guy?" he asked.
"I'm normally not at a loss of words — I don't even know what to say right now," she said as a limo of her contestants pulled up outside. "I wasn't ready!"
One-by-one, four of the men who will appear on Lindsay's season then introduced themselves in typical premiere-night fashion. Two of the contestants were African-American (Demario, who brought along plane tickets and a ring to elope in Las Vegas; and Eric, who engaged her with dance moves) and two were white (Blake, who kissed her hand; and Dean who proclaimed: "I'm ready to go black and I'm never going to go back.")
When Harrison asked her if she'd met the man of her dreams, Lindsay said, "I don't want to jump the gun!"
Ahead of the reveal, Lindsay, who was eliminated late in Viall's season, said she's happy for her ex and his fourth franchise attempt ending in an engagement.
"I've kind of closed that chapter of my life, turned the page, ready to start a new one," Lindsay assured Harrison. "I'm so ready to get my season started."
She does, however, share Viall's main concern, saying her biggest fear is that it won't work.
"I'm putting myself out there. I did it during Nick's season, it didn't work out for me and here I am doing it again," she said. "I really, really want that [happy ending]."
ABC has traditionally used the After the Final Rose special to announce and debut its next Bachelorette, but the network broke its own tradition by revealing Lindsay's casting weeks ahead of Monday night's finale. The announcement preempted the end of her journey on the The Bachelor, as Lindsay placed third on Viall's season and was eliminated later on the March 6 episode.
"We need to let everybody know that Rachel is our Bachelorette — we would like to cast the show for her," Harrison had explained about why the network went early with Lindsay's casting.
Monday's surprise could be the result of a successful early casting call, given the expectations that Lindsay's casting will lead to the most diverse cast since the franchise's 2002 launch. Lindsay, for one, is hoping ABC will continue on its trajectory of including more diverse contestants year-over-year: JoJo Fletcher, the most recent Bachelorette, led a group that included 21 white and six nonwhite contestants, while the previous year, Kaitlyn Bristowe's season, featured four nonwhite men.
"I’m hoping that as a black Bachelorette you’re going to get to see a more diverse cast," Lindsay told The Hollywood Reporter about her barrier-breaking season, which has yet to begin taping. She imagines "a cast that’s reflective of what America looks like."
Still, she said she's open to dating men of all races and won't succumb to pressures for her to pick a black man.
"It’s my journey in finding love," Lindsay said. "Whether that person is black, white, red, whatever — it’s my journey. I’m not choosing a man for America, I’m choosing a man for me."
Earlier in the night, The Bachelor finale saw Viall, 36, and Grimaldi, a 29-year-old special needs teacher from Canada, get engaged. After expressing fears that he would be rejected mid-proposal for the third time, the four-time Bachelor star got down on one knee. "I don't want to fight it anymore because I do love you. I'm in love with you. So much about me being here has to do with the past. When I look at you, all I see is my future," he said.
Grimaldi, too, shared her doubts with viewers. But when Viall popped the question, she accepted with a resounding yes.
Grimaldi beat out runner-up Raven Gates. Viall, who himself was a two-time runner-up on The Bachelorette, struggled with delivering the break-up blow to his own second place finalist.
Ahead of the finale special, ABC and creator Mike Fleiss had teased a "Bachelor first" would take place during the After the Final Rose special.
Online speculation centered on several theories on the relationship status of Viall and his potential winner. Guesses ranged from a live wedding to Viall proposing on the special instead of the finale, which taped months prior. A winner has also never turned down a proposal on the finale.
But Viall and Grimaldi made their debut without any big twist.
Though the couple is still engaged, both Viall and Grimaldi were very honest about the struggles they've faced since the televised proposal.
"We know we have a long way to go," Viall told Harrison. "We're still getting to know each other, that's the reality."
During the live After the Final Rose special, the two discussed their future plans, which doesn't yet include a wedding date but will include Viall competing on the upcoming season of ABC's Dancing With the Stars, which tapes in Los Angeles and premieres on Monday.
Viall joins franchise alums Chris Soules, Sean Lowe, Jake Pavelka, Melissa Rycroft and Trista Sutter as former Bachelor and Bachelorette stars to appear on DWTS. Former Bachelorette Kaitlyn Bristowe, who picked Shawn Booth over Viall on her season, tweeted that she had asked creator Mike Fleiss to compete on the dancing show but that she "wasn't allowed."