For years, Bachelor leads have been beloved (or less beloved) cast-offs from previous seasons. The logic makes sense: viewers are already invested in the lead's search for love, and contestants can come prepared with extensive knowledge about their new crush and uncomfortable jokes about windmills and virginity. But this January, for the first time in 13 years, The Bachelor is switching things up. Matt James isn't just new to falling in love — he's completely new to reality TV, too.
The Bachelorette has always been a former Bachelor contestant, but the flagship show has a different history. For its first 12 seasons, almost every Bachelor was a complete newcomer to the franchise. (The one exception was Bob Guiney, who led season 3 after appearing on the first-ever season of The Bachelorette.) It wasn’t until 2009 — or season 13 — that the practice of making a Bachelorette fan favorite the next season’s lead began; viewers were so devastated when DeAnna Pappas rejected single dad Jason Mesnick that he was brought back for a season of his own.
Since then, the Bachelor has always been a familiar figure, usually a former frontrunner from the past season of The Bachelorette. That said, there have been some curveball picks: it took Nick Viall several years after his first stint on The Bachelorette to get the Bachelor gig, and Arie Luyendyk, Jr. got a season six years after Emily Maynard turned him down. Brad Womack, who headed the show in 2011, was technically the last lead without a Bachelorette past, but he wasn't new to Bachelor Nation — at that point, it was his second time holding the title. Brad had previously been the Bachelor just four years before.
We haven’t seen Matt on TV yet, but to many Bachelorette fans, he isn’t a complete stranger. He’s best friends with breakout star Tyler Cameron and close with former lead Hannah Brown, and he was initially cast as a contestant on Clare Crawley’s season. “Matt has been on our radar since February, when producers first approached him to join Bachelor Nation, as part of Clare’s season,” ABC Entertainment President Karey Burke said in a statement. “When filming couldn’t move forward as planned, we were given the benefit of time to get to know Matt and all agreed he would make a perfect Bachelor.” Even though viewers didn’t get to know him on The Bachelorette, they agreed, too: ABC revealed that a record-breaking number of women applied for his season.
Matt was chosen after nearly 90,000 people, including contestants like Tyler C., signed a petition pushing for a more diverse cast, more screen time for BIPOC contestants, and a Black Bachelor. In an interview with Good Morning America, Matt called it an “honor” to be the show’s first Black lead in 24 seasons. “This is hopefully the first of many Black men to be in the position I’m at now,” he added.