For the past four seasons of The Bachelor franchise, Willard, a veteran actor with four Emmy nominations under his belt, has proved to be a friendly, welcome presence on the show’s group dates. And while we’re not questioning Willard’s expert comedic timing or incisive commentary, it’s fair to ask: How did this happen?
Willard first showed up on Arie Luyendyk Jr.’s season of The Bachelor during a group date that was all about dogs — Acrodogs, to be exact. The guest appearance made a whole lot of sense, given that one of Willard’s most recognizable roles was as a commentator in 2000’s Best in Show, which was all about show dogs and their eccentric owners. And in fact, according to executive producer Bennett S. Graebner, Willard’s on-screen experience with dog show commentary was exactly what led the Bachelor team to approach the actor in the first place.
“We needed a little extra kind of celebrity assistance outside of Chris Harrison,” Graebner told E! News last year. “Chris Harrison is great but sometimes he actually needs someone to talk to." Naturally, the EP thought of Willard, who also lives in LA and became a quick favorite of Harrison's.
If you go back and watch the dog segment, it's clear that we needed Willard's commentary. He offered dry wit to balance out Harrison’s earnestness, at one point, comparing the competition to “an old car, it’s having trouble getting started." Do we need to know about that time Willard's nephew "walked in with a piece of dog poop in his hand and he says, 'look what I almost stepped in'"? No. Does it make this incredibly weird group date more bearable for everyone involved? You betcha. His quips are just the sort of tongue-in-cheek attitude that help ground the absurdity of the competition in some much-needed reality.
It also helps, oddly enough, that unlike most celebrity guests (see: Mila Kunis and Ashton Kutcher, who were on Rachel Lindsay's Bachelorette season), Willard isn't a secret fan. He's just along for the ride. "I wouldn’t say he was a student of The Bachelor, it’s not like he watched the show religiously before he came to work with us, and yet he seemed like he had been a member of Bachelor Nation forever," Graebner told E!.
So when it came time to figuring out group dates for the next season, which starred Becca Kufrin as The Bachelorette, bringing Willard back was a no-brainer, even though that competition involved dodgeball, not dogs. That season, though, Willard was admittedly outshined by the quippy kids playing dodgeball.
The season after that, Willard returned to lend his two cents to Colton Underwood’s World’s Strongest Woman group date competition. That year, he wasn't even really that involved in the date, serving as an announcer for Rebecca and Terry Crews' strength competition, but mostly cementing his place as a Harrison favorite and perennial Bachelor easter egg.
Finally, on the last season of The Bachelorette, Willard lent his commentary to the most random (for Willard, anyway) group date yet: a roller derby showdown between two teams of men vying for Hannah Brown’s heart. It's alright if you forgot about that one — it was quickly followed by Cam Ayala's infamous date-crashing moment.
And now, Willard is back for a fifth time. Apparently, he's down to keep coming back as long producers ask him to. “It’s really fun. I’m always pleased that they ask me to come in and watch these things,” he told E!.
It's not clear whether or not Willard knows he's becoming a Bachelor nation staple by coming back again and again, but as long as it doesn't change his approach to these bizarre competitions, that's completely fine.