These days, a good Bachelor is hard to find. Which means that every Bachelor has two missions: To fall in love, and to prove to the viewers that he’s at all ready for that love. I hesitate to say that Colton Underwood isn’t ready for love — who is? — but, from the premiere of The Bachelor season 23, I can say definitively that he’s got a chip on his shoulder about all of this. Colton reads the comments section. He may even comment back. Which, like it or not, is going to make an interesting season. This is a man campaigning to be the Bachelor even as he plays the Bachelor. If you squint really hard and close your ears, this is almost as devastating as watching the 2020 election roll out of park.
Meanwhile, Bachelor Nation is campaigning to be... a new network? ABC treats this premiere like it's the Golden Globes of The Bachelor. There are "live viewing" parties across the globe and a pre-taped segment about Bachelor babies.
“I thought they met in, like, college!” Trista Rehn's son says in disbelief when he's informed how his parents met. This all adds to the mythology of the Bachelor: succeed on this show, and you might earn yourself a sullen pre-teen boy!
Somewhere in there, the show finds the time to play some intro packages for Colton's women. His contestants are a lot like him, actually: They’re young, imminently likable, and desperate to prove something. They are young reality TV upstarts desperate not to get pilloried online!
The first one introduced is a good prototype for the rest. She’s Cassie, and she’s a speech pathologist, and she love, love, loves the beach. She’s easy to please, too, telling the camera that all she wants is to “hit it off” with Colton. That seems doable, Cassie!
The following women are slightly more idiosyncratic: Hannah is Miss Alabama, and she describes herself as the “hot mess express,” Katie recently gave up dreams of being a dancer (“I wanted stability and security”), and Heather, like Drew Barrymore, has never kissed anyone. Onyeka’s parents, who do appear on-screen in the premiere, got married after only two weeks of dating. Nicole speaks Spanish and is having trouble finding a non-Casanova in Miami, and Kirpa’s sole wish for Colton is that he flosses regularly. (That is, surprisingly, hard to find in a partner!) Demi — who was recently spotted in NYC with Challenge star Paulie Calafiore — says she’s “hot-dogging” for Colton. Demi also gives us, incidentally, one of the most tragic moments in the episode: She reveals that her mother is currently in federal prison for embezzlement, while most of the women are pictured either working out or on the beach.
With the intros aside, the show must introduce Colton, the Man Who Wants Us To Want Him To Be Bachelor. This is, of course, after some more live viewing party drivel, which, yes, does include a live proposal of marriage. The show, at least in this episode, is mainly out to prove that Colton is hawt. He throws tires; he showers; he sits in the audience of a massive outdoor stadium for no apparent reason. None of this makes Colton all that more attractive as Bachelor. It’s as if the show is pointing to the bathroom inside of an apartment and saying, “See? The apartment has a bathroom!” Yes, we know it has a bathroom. We’re curious about the apartment’s other qualities.
“I get it. They think I’m not ready. And it’s a fine balance, because I’m not here to do it for the fans or to win people over. I’m doing it for me, ” Colton tells Chris Harrison in the first Harrison chat of the season. He reiterates that his virginity is not related to marriage. It’s related to love, and he was indeed in love with Becca. In fact, he was ready to sleep with Becca. He was ready to do the dong thing! (Heh.)
Ready or not, though, Colton has something far more formidable than just the Twitter masses to worry about right now. He has to meet and memorize the names of 30 thrilled women.
As the women pour out of the limo, Colton’s nerves are on full display. This may be the first season where the lead’s anxiety outreaches that of the contestants. Most of the women are comfortable, chatting amongst themselves and making friends with ease. This is a good reminder that The Bachelor is more often about female friendships than it is about romantic love. Demi is first out of the limo in bright yellow, with Tayshia close behind. Tayshia admits, somewhat refreshingly, that she doesn’t know that much about Colton. Heather insists that Colton is “rare,” and Nicole speaks Spanish that Colton makes no effort to understand. ("I like the sound of that! What does it mean?")
Caelynn is the show’s second pageant winner, the latest Miss North Carolina. (Remember, Hannah from Alabama is Miss Alabama.) Sydney tells Colton that she quit her job to come on the show — not unique to her — and Cassie brings plastic butterflies.
The season’s big limo stunts are sillier than usual, and perhaps more enjoyable because the people doing them seem in on the joke. Alex arrives dressed as a sloth and proceeds to move as slowly as possible. Caitlin pops a cherry-looking balloon and jokes that she’s already popped Colton’s cherry. Revian tells Colton he's a "stud muffin" in Mandarin, while Nina greets him in Croatian. Another girl, Bri, fakes an Australian accent. Tahzjuan uses her own name to build a pun and Hannah G. cracks a joke about how Colton doesn't wear underwear — something that was revealed in Paradise this year. Catherine, a DJ, brings her dog to the occasion, but the dog is snippy more than it is playful. Colton is overwhelmed by most of it: He seems disinterested in the virginity jokes, and flabbergasted by the attention, frankly. He may be as shy as he’s claiming to be.
The winners of the evening are the people who manage to make the night seem effortless. Hannah G., the underwear girl from the entrances, emerges as a power player when she asks Colton the only thoughtful question of the night. She wants to know: What’s more nerve-wracking, football or being the Bachelor? Colton is sweetly taken aback by this question. Does he not have people in his life asking genuine, sweet questions? Heal thyself, Colton!
“It was actually really similar — the pregame jitters and the anticipation to start things off,” Colton told her.
Caelynn also makes an impression as a young pageant queen who loves to travel, earning the first kiss of the evening. Later, Katie, the dancer from the East Coast, receives kiss #2. (The third and fourth kisses of the evening are Hannah G. and Tayshia.)
The one person determined to a win the night is Catherine the DJ, who interrupts not once, not twice, but three times. Catherine is quickly cast as the villain. "There's not much substance to them," she says about the other girls in the house. Even Colton seems aware that Catherine’s pushing it with both him and the producers. Meanwhile, Onyeka emerges as the girl who’s going to rescue the season.
“I heard you’re drowning in some bitches!” a snorkel-wearing Onyeka tells Colton, trying to rescue him from Catherine.
All of this is rather listless, given that Catherine probably won’t last. Lucy didn’t seem to like Colton. That’s a sign, right?
Thirty women, a deluge of sparkles, four first kisses, a Chris Harrison appreciation montage, one snorkeling joke, a rendition of Claire de Lune, and TWO proposals later, The Bachelor arrives at its conclusion. Seriously, running a marathon (for some) takes less time than The Bachelor does! Hannah G. receives the first impression rose for being able to put together a good question — should she be a journalist? At that, Nicole immediately begins to cry. This has been a long night for all of us. Three hours and no sign yet from the producers that Colton, virginity or not, has a vested interest in the female anatomy!
After all that, the sloth goes home — pretty quickly for someone moving so slowly before. Alongside her, Colton sends home the lovely Tahzjuan, who seems genuinely crestfallen.
"Are you kidding me?" she asks the camera. Unfortunately, this series isn't kidding.