The world of The Bachelor and its attendant spinoffs is so saturated with hyperbole that it's often hard to tell when a season's arc really is the "most dramatic ever," as is often promised by host Chris Harrison. But even in a year that's been filled with dramatic superlatives, when it comes to The Bachelorette's 16th season, Harrison might actually mean what he says.
Gossip blogs and spoiler sites have been publishing various conflicting accounts regarding the new season, which premieres tonight and features 38-year-old Clare Crawley as the Bachelorette, but what they all seem to agree on is that Crawley (and/or the show's producers) threw an unprecedented wrench into the season, leading to a storyline that the show has truly never given us before. Here's everything we know about the main characters and how the season appears set to unfold.
[Be forewarned: this article contains spoilers for the upcoming season, although since every publication from Entertainment Weekly to Cosmopolitan has been running this as headline news for several weeks, it's probably hard to escape the news if this is something you're invested in.]
From the jump, Crawley was seen as an interesting choice due to not only her age, but her track record in the franchise. During her first appearance, on Season 18 of The Bachelor, Crawley hovered at the center of numerous personality conflicts, including several with the Bachelor himself, Juan Pablo Galavis.
Early in the season, after sparks flew during a one-on-one date, Crawley convinced Galavis to sneak out of the mansion and join her for a late-night romp in the ocean. Following their encounter, she drew criticism from her fellow contestants, and from Galavis himself, who accused her of setting a bad example by going too far with him too early in the process. Despite this clash, Crawley remained in contention until the final rose ceremony, when Galavis allegedly whispered something demeaning and vulgar to Crawley during a romantic helicopter ride on their final date. Saying she was unwilling to tolerate his attitude, Crawley called him out at the "After the Final Rose" reunion show., She went on to appear on two seasons of Bachelor in Paradise as well as Bachelor Winter Games.
Crawley was first announced as the next Bachelorette in early March, with filming set to commence within days, but everyone knows what happened next: a certain something shut down not just the pipeline of Bachelor/ette content, but the entire planet in general. After consulting with epidemiologists and creating a detailed plan to minimize risk, production eventually resumed in late July, with the cast and crew living in a production bubble at a Palm Springs resort.
Because The Bachelorette usually relies on the romantic backdrop of overseas trips and spectacular outings such as private concerts, picnics, and party boats, a season filmed entirely in one location might have seemed destined to be boring, but Crawley is said to have thrown the show a curveball less than two weeks into filming when she announced that she'd already found love. She and her new flame, 31-year-old ex-NFL player Dale Moss, departed the show shortly thereafter and are apparently still together.
Most sources seem to agree on that much, but there are conflicting reports on whether Crawley and Moss had been in contact prior to the start of filming. Many of the contestants had already been announced before production was halted back in March, so it's entirely possible that the pair could have already been corresponding. At the very least, Crawley would have had a luxury that no other Bachelorette has been afforded before now: the ability to Google the hell out of her prospective suitors and build up detailed dossiers on them prior to entering the house. (Wouldn't you?) But regardless of whether or not it was love at first sight, the connection was apparently strong enough that by day 12, Crawley felt there was no point in continuing to see others.
Luckily, The Bachelorette had a contingency plan in place, and replacement Bachelorette Tayshia Adams immediately stepped in to fill Crawley's stilettos. Adams, who vied for the heart of Colton Underwood on Season 23 of The Bachelor, and later appeared on Bachelor in Paradise, picked up essentially where Crawley left off, although a few additional suitors were introduced to give her a wider pool to choose from. From there, we can only assume that the season plays out as expected, with Adams narrowing the field on Production's prescribed time-frame until she eventually chooses a beau.
Though they haven't officially confirmed that these events are part of the upcoming season, ABC has walked a delicate line: because the series is routinely heavily spoiled, they can't completely hide the bare facts that two Bachelorettes are involved, and mostly, they haven't tried. (Even Chris Harrison has admitted in interviews that "Adams is not not the Bachelorette.") They're counting on the fact that, as we're frequently reminded, the journey is everything when it comes to this show. So even if we do know the broad strokes of what we're about to see, watching the story unfold and filling in the blanks should make this as wild a ride as we've been promised.
The Bachelorette Season 16 premieres on ABC October 13th at 8:00 PM ET.
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Jessica Liese has been writing and podcasting about TV since 2012. Follow her on Twitter at @HaymakerHattie.