There is a moment during the premiere of The Bachelor where star Colton Underwood points out that he is now dating six times the number of women he’s ever dated in his life. On the first night of the 23rd season of the ABC series, 30 women arrive, each hoping she will become the bachelor’s final pick.
Underwood’s dating history is no secret. The 26-year-old former football player went public with his virginity when he was a contestant on Becca Kufrin’s recent season of The Bachelorette. He later appeared on summer spinoff series Bachelor in Paradise before he was eventually announced as the new male lead of the franchise, opening up about the reaction to his TV declaration — both good and bad — along the way.
Now that the Jan. 7 premiere is looming, ABC has been heavily marketing Underwood as its first virgin bachelor in promos (they even enlisted Judd Apatow to make a 40 Year Old Virgin-themed poster). And when the women introduce themselves at the Bachelor Mansion, Underwood’s virginity will be the topic of many ice breakers and conversations.
The star, speaking to The Hollywood Reporter, says he takes no issue with the focus on his virginity — for now.
“I don’t mind making light of it and having fun with it — I can roll with the punches,” Underwood tells THR. “I’m used to locker room banter, and I can have fun with that side of things. Of course night one was maybe over the top, but it was also nice to have those jokes and be able to laugh and smile. That first night can be nerve-wracking and overwhelming, so moments like that have allowed me to stay loose and in the moment.”
Indeed, quips about his “v-card” have the star laughing on the premiere. But as the season gets deeper into his romances, is he prepared to answer the intimate question about whether or not he lost his virginity on the season?
“Obviously, people are invested in that now because that’s sort of been my story and what people know me for,” he says. “Hopefully after this, they know me for much more than just being a virgin.”
Underwood is no stranger to being in the spotlight for his love life, with his ex-girlfriend being gold medal Olympic gymnast Aly Raisman. But when he bounced from The Bachelorette to Bachelor in Paradise, the online reaction to his dating choices was a tough pill to swallow. The reality star opened up about the backlash he received during the Bachelorette reunion show, where he showed a vulnerable side and expressed hopes about changing the conversation around being a virgin. Once he was picked, he challenged ABC and show producers to help him destigmatize the personal choice.
Now that his season has finished filming, he feels that the producers stepped up to the plate. “I think people are going to have a better understanding not only of who I am, but the whole picture in regards to my virginity,” says Underwood about what viewers will see from him as the season plays out. “I will say this also: I pushed the production of this show just as much as they pushed me and allowed me to grow as a human being. I gave them a run for their money — quite literally — and I think they made me a better person. I hope at the end of this they can think that I made them better as well.”
One of the biggest talkers from The Bachelor promo is a moment where Underwood, in a fit of emotion, deftly jumps a fence and appears to run away from the cameras. (Watch the promo, below.) That moment, Underwood confirms, happens during Fantasy Suites week, when the lead gives his or her finalists the option to have an overnight date without cameras. That point in the journey carries much more weight for Underwood than any past star.
“Fantasy Suites week was the biggest week in the whole entire journey,” he says. But it may not be for the reason that viewers think. “The jump was the most emotional and the most physical that I had to be the entire season. I will also say that fence jump is the most pivotal moment. That was a game-changer. That night changed how everything went.”
Bachelor host Chris Harrison told THR that the show does not approach Fantasy Suites week any differently for Underwood. But Harrison has referred to the season as an “unpredictable” one, and even Underwood confirmed that viewers will see him doing things that leads who have come before him have not.
“I did things differently. I sort of changed the game in a unique way,” teases Underwood. “I think it’s going to be unexpected for some people, but it’s also something that people are going to have an interest in and really find out more toward the end. I don’t want to ruin or spoil too much. But I’m really looking forward to this being the best season ever.”
The 23rd season of The Bachelor with Colton Underwood launches with a three-hour premiere Monday, Jan. 7, at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.