The Bachelor franchise may discriminate on the basis of race, weight, hair color, and employment (personal trainers and “registered” nurses to the front, please), but no one can accuse the longstanding dating competition of ageism. This year’s surprise bachelor is Arie Luyendyk Jr., a throwback contestant from Emily Maynard’s Bachelorette season.
Way back on The Bachelorette’s eighth season, Luyendyk Jr.’s notorious make out skills earned him the dubious honor of bachelor nation fan favorite. Of course, in the five years since, we’ve seen a whole lot of six-packs attached to a whole lot of chiseled faces. That’s why The Bachelor’s decision to pull Luyendyk’s headshot out from their binders full of white men came as something of a shock, especially to the ex-race car driver himself.
Luyendyk Jr.’s disbelief is a leitmotif of his season’s premiere episode. Of course, incredulity isn’t an unnatural feeling to have when picking your future wife out of a televised lineup. In between montages of his life as an aging race car driver/recently accredited real estate agent, Arie discloses that, “This is the most important race of my life.” Rev up your engines, ladies, because there are a whole lot more racing references where that came from.
Arie wants you to know that while you may have forgotten crucial aspects of his Bachelorette heartache, he certainly hasn’t. He reminisces on his on-screen relationship with Maynard. “I just remember thinking in that moment that Emily really loves me, and I’m definitely going to marry her,” he explains in one particularly brutal voiceover. Arie thought wrong, as the sadists over at ABC remind us with some brutal clips of Emily dumping Arie in what appears to be a rainforest. Luckily for us, after five years wandering in whatever godforsaken corner of the Amazon the Bachelorette producers left him to die in, Arie has found his way back to his one true love: reality dating competitions.
(Also, I learned during this crucial background segment that Arie left his Bachelorette journal on Emily’s doorstep after their season ended, and she never even read it.)
Luyendyk Jr. proceeded to put all of his pain and heartache into racing (that’s a loose quote, but rest assured I could not make that shit up). As he explains to past Bachelor Sean and his wife Catherine, who have ostensibly been flown down in lieu of real-life friends, “It’s been five years…since then, I haven’t really been in love.” Throughout the episode, Arie really emphasizes this point—likely a response to the number of exes who have come out of the woodwork to criticize the race car driver turned real estate broker in the wake of his Bachelor crowning.
According to Reality Steve, the internet’s most reliable purveyor of Bachelor franchise spoilers, Luyendyk Jr. is “the biggest dog they’ve ever cast as lead in Bachelor history.” According to one Reality Steve source, Arie may have dumped his girlfriend of over a year in order to star on The Bachelor. While Arie has since deleted all of his photos with his ex, the woman, Sydney, is keeping hers up. She also tweeted, “The show would be perfect for @ariejr up until it comes to choosing just one.” Other exes have also claimed that Arie is a cheater; one woman, Jenna, wrote, “Should’ve watched it before I dated him for over three years. While he continued auditioning behind my back.”
Arie appears to have conveniently erased these women from his romantic history, instead referencing The Bachelorette repeatedly as “proof I can fall deeply in love.” And with that, we’re off to the mansion, where Chris Harrison welcomes us to a new season and a new star: “Arguably the best kisser we’ve ever had on the show.”
Chris Harrison is so, so gross.
Luckily there’s no montage of Arie swapping spit—just in-depth profiles of some of the contestants the producers are clearly rooting for (or betting on to flame out fantastically in the first episode). These ladies are fitness-obsessed, predominately white, majority blonde adrenaline junkies. Chelsea is a single mom and a real estate executive assistant. Caroline is also in real estate—“He’s a realtor so we have that in common”—plus, she “grew up around cars.” Caroline, sweetie: we all did. Tia is from Weiner, Arkansas, and gifts Arie a little toy penis to remember her by. Kendall plays the ukulele and has a real passion for taxidermy. Marikh owns an Indian restaurant with her mom and hopes that “Arie’s ready for my spice.” Krystal is an online health and fitness coach who volunteers for the homeless on account of a sad personal backstory. Bekah is an adventurous nanny.
Then it’s the moment we’ve all been waiting for, as limos full of Instagram fitness girls and social media managers cue up for first impressions. The intros are off to a relatively normal start, aside from Arie’s tendency to whisper “she’s so beautiful” to himself every time he meets a particularly toned blonde. The only problem is, once the peroxide wave starts, it never stops. Soon the mansion is flooded with not three but four Laurens—“Shut the hell up, you’re Lauren too?!”—and tensions couldn’t be higher. Chelsea complains that, “The hair is down and the boobs are out,” but no one forced Chelsea to wear a black turtleneck dress on The Bachelor. By the time Bekah the nanny pulls up driving a classic red sports car (I’m sorry, bachelor nation, but I refuse to learn anything about cars in order to recap this show), we can hear another contestant mutter “that bitch” from the window.
Everyone keeps talking about how “mature” Arie is—code word for “old”—and The Bachelor franchise has definitely changed in the five years since his debut. For example, in past seasons there were never this many social media managers. One of them, Jenna, gets out of the limo and immediately tells Arie that, “I’m actually pretty happy with the way that my life is going right now.” Because gloriously well-adjusted millennials often sign up to compete on national television for the love of a 36-year-old retired race car driver.
As interminable as this episode feels for all of us, it’s important to remember that these women were sitting around that mansion for hours with nothing to do but talk about Arie’s hot bod and down magnums of champagne. Some of the women—many of whom probably put themselves on starvation diets in preparation—get wasted quickly, and then their bitchy ramblings are preserved in the ABC archives forever. Still, a silver lining is remembering that drunk Bachelor contestants mostly just side-eye other women’s outfits and sexually objectify the bachelor—which is way less creepy than drunk Bachelorette contestants, who wax philosophical about how their soon-to-be fiancee will make the perfect, classiest wife and occasionally punch each other and/or the wall.
Chelsea has obviously been cast as the “aggressive” one—she grabs the first one-on-one time with Arie, and then insists on a second round before some of the other contestants have even had their first. Bekah pulls away from the pack with a generally hilarious and chill demeanor. Brittany scores the first kiss and brags that Arie’s “lips are like clouds.” Kendall breaks out her ukulele. As one Lauren astutely points out, “As the hours pass, people are only gonna get more crazy.”
Two standouts from this premiere are the girl who dresses up like “the kissing bandit” and wears a mask the entire episode, and Jenna. “Let’s talk about Jenna,” Arie solemnly intones. “She is a little bit wild.” He continues, “Does she do social media? Does she run a pedicure shop? She’s never been on a plane before…but I’m intrigued.” The confusion is warranted: somehow, Jenna has gotten her hands on a portable foot spa and is manhandling Arie’s feet.
As the night progresses, we continue to tightrope walk the fine line between manic pixie dream girl and just plain manic; one contestant hands Arie a detailed black and white portrait of the Bachelor driving a car, and we do not spend nearly enough time learning why/how this blessed portrait came to be. Quickly flashing between conversations, fated fan favorite Bekah finally gets her five minutes. There’s a surprising amount of chemistry between these two, even after Arie lists “excitement and pizza” as two of the three things that make him feel excited to be alive. Despite the fact that Bekah is cool and different—she has short hair—Arie ultimately awards the first impression rose to Chelsea, because men are predictable and dumb. Quickly rising to the challenge of her villain edit, Chelsea announces, “I’m not competitive by nature, but when I see something that I want, I go after it.” After a decisive rose ceremony, 21 contestants remain in the running.
And we’re off!