The Bachelor Season 21 Premiere Recap: That First Impression Rose Tho

Photo: Courtesy of ABC.
It’s a tale as old as time: Boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy slut-shames girl, boy meets second girl, boy loses second girl, boy meets third girl, boy loses third girl to same boy he lost first girl to, boy meets fourth girl, boy (allegedly) abruptly dumps fourth girl in order to meet dozens more girls.

Such is the legend of Nick Viall, a veteran of two seasons of The Bachelorette and one of Bachelor in Paradise. Spurned first by Andi Dorfman, then by Kaitlyn Bristowe, then by Amanda Stanton, he’s now taking center stage as— according to Chris Harrison, anyway —“the most controversial Bachelor in history.”

But I’m sorry, I’m getting ahead of myself. I don’t want to be too forward—after all, you only just stepped out of the recap limo. So, hey. I’m Molly. My heart is open. I know who I am. I know what I’m looking for. And I’m ready for us to take this journey together.

I will say this for season 21: It wastes no time. Within about 60 seconds, Nick is already starring in a gratuitous shirtless montage. (Here I’m using a lesser-known alternate definition of “gratuitous,” which is “medically necessary, and in fact specifically prescribed by my physician.”)

But before Nick can woo any ladies—although not before he can shower on camera—the traditional Yalta Conference of former Bachelors assembles to share their wisdom. This year, it’s Ben Higgins, Chris Soules, and Sean Lowe. From ecru to eggshell to ivory to vanilla, the Bachelor palette truly numbers a thousand shades of white dude.

Loyal soldier Sean delivers some handy exposition on behalf of the franchise: “The fun part about Nick is that a lot of people see him as this giant toolbag, right? …But this summer on Bachelor in Paradise, he became, like, this really likeable guy, that’s maybe a little bit more mellow, maybe a little bit more humble.” If that sounds like a narrative arc that will be hammered almost unbelievably frequently throughout the course of this episode, congratulations—your reality TV reflexes are in fine form. Another thematic seed is also planted up top: Nick is insecure that when he ultimately proposes, the woman of his dreams won’t accept. To be fair, his batting average is not great.

And with that, it’s time to meet some of the season’s key players. First up is Rachel. We sit in as this Dallas lawyer “interviews” a client, shielded by the powerful legal protections afforded by attorney-client-reality show privilege. Later, she sings and dances while vacuuming, as you do.
Danielle L. owns a nail salon, the primary design motif of which appears to be shiny silver orbs. Vanessa is a trilingual special needs teacher. Josephine, a nursing student, meows at her cat. A small-town girl from rural Arkansas, Raven strikes me as Britney circa 2002 crossed with Kenneth Ellen Parcell, which is to say that I’m a big fan.

Then there’s Corinne, who already seems like she’s getting this season’s villain edit. “Corinne’s world is glamorous,” the 24-year-old Miami native observes in the third person, and it’s almost as if you can hear “The Imperial March” playing faintly in the background. She lives with her family, with whom she runs a “multimillion-dollar company” of an unspecified nature. (“I would describe myself as a very serious businesswoman,” says Corinne, which, same.) Best of all, she—a certifiably fully grown adult human woman—has a “nanny,” Raquel. Blink twice if you’re being held against your will, Raquel.

Alexis would like you to know how much she loves dolphins. That, you see, is Alexis’ personality: dolphins. Please note that this is now an Alexis fan blog. Danielle M. is a neonatal intensive care nurse with a soft, whispery voice straight out of an ASMR video. Elizabeth, hmm, “actually met Nick once before”—at the wedding of Paradise alumni Jade and Tanner, where she served as maid of honor. A producer asks if they spent the night together, to which Liz offers this Bill Clinton-esque response: “It depends on how you define that term.” (Which term? “Spent?” “Together?” “Night?” “The?”) Later, Liz clarifies that they did have sex, but that when he asked for her number, she declined. My only complaint about this deliciously contrived situation is that Liz’s history with Nick distracts us from the fact that she is a doula, a perfect reality show Mad Libs occupation I’d love to hear more about.

Before you can say “everyone in the casting department deserves an Emmy and also probably the Presidential Medal of Freedom,” the limos arrive, unleashing a swirling fever dream of cocktail dresses and ill-conceived gimmicks. (Stray observation: “You look great” is an objectively weird thing to say to someone you’ve never seen before, given that you have zero baseline for how they normally look—and yet we’re about to hear it over and over again.)
Lauren, last name Hussey (as in “hussy”), tells Nick, last name Viall (as in “vile”): “Together, you and I are a disgusting slut.” Do you think their kids will hyphenate? Ida Marie trusts falls into Nick’s arms. Grade school teacher Sarah dashes up to the mansion in sneakers, because she thought Nick “might appreciate another runner-up.” (I would probably start feeling bad for Nick now if he were literally anyone else.) Pro basketball dancer Jasmine G. brings out go-to Bachelor jeweler Neil Lane, having already selected her dream engagement ring.

Astrid, a plastic surgery office manager—reading those words, I spontaneously made the Italian-chef-kissing-fingers motion—addresses Nick in German: “I know you are very in touch with your sex life. Have you seen the breasts? They are real.” (And to think, poor Vanessa thought she had this on lock by breaking out the French for “I’m very happy to be here with you.”) Danielle M. presents Nick with a bottle of her dad’s homemade maple syrup (wholesome!), then gives him a taste via her fingertip (less so!). Raven, a perfect person, teaches Nick how they “call the hogs” back home.

Jaimi unveils her nose piercing by announcing that she has “balls.” Surgical unit nurse Briana listens to Nick’s heart with her stethoscope; travel nurse (?) Brittany puts on a latex glove and tells him to bend over. Susannah offers a beard massage. Josephine, who I am not convinced isn’t Kate Berlant working deep undercover, produces an uncooked hot dog that they share Lady and the Tramp-style. Lacey arrives on camelback, with an opening line to match: “I hear you like a good hump, and so do I.” American hero Alexis wears a shark costume that she repeatedly insists is a dolphin costume. (Hey, JoJo rolled up in a unicorn head, and she became the Bachelorette.)

My personal first-impression rose goes to Hailey, without whom the following wonderful exchange would never have been possible.

HAILEY: “Do you know what a girl wearing underwear says?”

NICK: “I don’t.”

HAILEY: “Neither do I.”

Thank you, Hailey.

Inside the mansion, the primary non-drama of the evening is that a lot of the contestants are wearing red dresses. Okay. Among the first women Nick chats with is Rachel, who comes off as smart, sane, and funny. She also wins points for quietly inciting her competitors toward insanity. “I dare you to go grab that rose and just walk in there with it,” she jokingly eggs on Raven when the first-impression rose appears. Later, she tells Dominique, “So listen, the girl that made out gets the first-impression rose—you know what you need to do.” A-plus work.
Corinne, who gave Nick a “hug token” when they first met, doubles down with a money bag—printed with a dollar sign, the kind that you’d expect to see old-timey bank robbers loading onto their getaway horse—full of tokens when they sit down together. “Hug tokens?” he asks. “You can pick,” she replies. Is this…a bribe? Classic Corinne. She snags the first kiss of the season, which no one (including her “uncomfortable” smooching partner) seems particularly thrilled about.

Our hero, as it turns out, does not excel at time management. As the night goes on—and as the booze continues to flow—the women who haven’t had the chance to speak to him grow increasingly upset. Jasmine G. claims the honor of the season’s first cry.

But Alexis is unperturbed. She lures Nick poolside, where she is, naturally, wading in her costume and producing convincing dolphin noises. After debating him as to whether her costume is in fact a dolphin or a shark (look, it’s definitely a shark), Alexis tells the camera, “I want to be the first dolphin to get a fucking rose tonight.” It would be difficult to overestimate the amount of money I would pay for a T-shirt emblazoned with that sentence.

And finally, Liz and Nick get to have their talk. To her surprise, he remembers her. (Or at least a producer was finally kind enough to clue him into what the hell is going on.) And not only that, but he has a genuinely incisive question: If she was into him, then why hasn’t he heard from her at all over the last nine months? You know, that whole big chunk of time when he wasn’t the Bachelor yet? After all, they have mutual friends. Liz is visibly thrown, explaining that a) “I truly believe that if we were supposed to cross paths again, we would,” which is clearly a lie and b) Bachelor in Paradise made her realize he was “way different than what [she] thought,” which, if it isn’t a lie, is a fascinating testament to the ability of a reality narrative to transcend even a viewer’s personal experience with another human being. (Probably a lie, though!)

It’s then that a delightful little piece of TV history is made: Rachel becomes the first black contestant ever to receive a first-impression rose. “It just seemed so obvious to me that you were the person I absolutely wanted to give it to,” Nick said, giving Rachel (who, at 31, is an encouragingly age-appropriate match for Nick’s 36!) the second kiss of the season. I know it’s early, but I’m prepared to call it: America, behold your next Bachelorette.

At the rose ceremony, the 21 remaining blooms are distributed among the 29 remaining women with little surprises. Lauren “My Last Name Sounds Like ‘Hussy’” Hussey, stethoscope-wielding Briana, trust-falling Ida Marie, and beard-massaging Susannah are among the eight contestants sent home.

The inevitably dramatic final rose goes to Liz, but more importantly, I am so pleased to tell you that dolphin-shark (and frontrunner for a marine biology-themed spinoff on Freeform) Alexis also survives night one, a development that draws a collective giggle from her competitors.

"I don’t get the laugh, guys,” she quips. And just like that, a reality star is born.

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