It was an inspiring moment, when Bachelor Nation reached into its past and named Clare Crawley, who first appeared on The Bachelor in 2014, as the next Bachelorette.
Now also a veteran of Bachelor in Paradise and The Bachelor Winter Games, Clare remains best known for telling Juan Pablo Galavis off when he gave her the brush before not-proposing to Nikki Ferrell and shirking the usual declaration of love that caps off each season (even when the declarer later has second thoughts).
"I thought I knew what kind of man you were and—I'm not done," Clare said as a not terribly broken up Juan Pablo attempted to cut her off at the pass with some bemused "OK's."
"Do you know when I made my decision?" he asked.
"Doesn't matter to me," she replied. "I lost respect for you." She turned around. "Because, I'll tell you what: I thought I knew what kind of man you were. What you just made me go through, I would never want my children having a father like you."
"Whew," Galavis sighed as Clare strode off with host Chris Harrison, who had been standing by to offer a consolatory hug. "I'm glad I didn't pick her."
It was a "wait, I need to watch that again!" exchange, Juan Pablo's cavalier snark and Clare's refusal to pretend that she wasn't totally pissed off combining for one of the all-time shocking moments in Bachelor Nation history.
But Clare called the decidedly unromantic turn of events "a blessing in disguise."
"I went into this feeling I'm going to be 100 percent open and I'm going to be 100 percent myself and I'm going to think about what I do and, because I thought and then acted, I'm proud of that," the hairstylist-by-trade said on Good Morning America after the season 18 finale of The Bachelor aired.
That was six years ago. Later in 2014 she participated in the second season of Bachelor in Paradise, an idyllic sojourn to Mexico where the editing made it look as if Clare was communing with a raccoon.
As told to LA Times reporter Amy Kaufman for her book Bachelor Nation, the editor responsible for that creative choice identified himself to Clare at a Bachelor in Paradise wrap party. "I was literally like, 'Really? You're owning up to that?'" she recalled saying. "'Do you know how much grief you caused in my life from people actually thinking I was talking to raccoons?'"
Still, she persisted. Clare returned to the fold for The Bachelor Winter Games, which premiered in February 2018, and ended up engaged to Bachelor Canada alum Benoit Beauséjour-Savard.
"I just think she's the most amazing girl I've ever met!" Benoit gushed to E! News two years ago after proposing during the World Tells All reunion special.
They called it off that April, but kindly, and with respect for each other.
But now, Clare is going to be the belle of the ball, the Bachelorette herself, with more than two dozen (hopefully) eligible suitors to choose from and the chance to take the reins of her own story.
Already a fan favorite thanks to her legendary appearance on The Bachelor, her full-on grownup status at age 39 (she just celebrated her birthday on March 20) makes her someone to root extra hard for among the no-longer-in-their-20s set.
That coveted audience demo may start at 18, but it goes all the way up to 49, after all.
For a show that had seemingly been digging its own out-of-touch grave just a few years ago, The Bachelor-and-associated-programming has seen a resurgence in interest lately. Be it due to trumped-up story lines (He's a virgin! And he's jumping over a fence!), the addition of Paradise to the line-up to inject a little more devil-may-care steaminess into the proceedings as well as a few marriages that padded the flagships' batting average, or that our actual nation needs more distraction than ever from the real world, business is booming in Bachelor Nation.
And Clare being named the star of the 16th season of The Bachelorette was the biggest nod the franchise had made to the 21st century since Rachel Lindsay became the first black Bachelorette three years ago.
Which isn't saying a whole lot—please don't mistake our approval for effusive praise—but having a Bachelorette who's on the edge of 40 is a whole lot more interesting than trying to get worked up yet again over a 25-year-old's prospects.
No offense, Hannah Brown, best of luck to you.
In turn, the appreciations rolled in for Clare and what a high mark this could be for the Bachelor franchise, having a woman who was more representative of the women watching—longtime or newer viewers in their 30s who may or may not be married but can identify with someone who not only hasn't found Mr. Right yet, but who has also been thrown for a loop a few times by love and relationships.
You know, someone who's lived a little.
Immediately the subject turned to who would get to be in the running for Clare's affections—surely they'd be widening the search past the usual parade of twenty-somethings. And would we be seeing our first batch of 40-and-over-year-olds?!
The consensus was: hopefully.
Even watching the romantic trials and tribulations of 28-year-old Peter Webber and a bevy of women between 22 and 28, with we-barely-knew-ye Natasha the oldest of the group at 31, had producers wondering if they should shake up their usual system a bit.
"We'll look at everything," Rob Mills, ABC's Senior Vice President of Alternative Series, Specials & Late-Night Programming, told Entertainment Tonight about a month before The Bachelor's latest finale-followed-by-an-oops.
"I don't think you ever say you'd do anything differently, but I think it's that we need to look at things going forward. You see a lot of people talking about the age of contestants, I think that's something we'd probably look at and say, 'Does it need to be aged up? Are these girls ready?' This is a show about hopefully finding a life mate, and that has happened on this show. I think just making sure everybody's ready, and you can't ignore the fact that, not even for the right reasons anymore, but are you there to be an influencer? Are you there for Peter? Looking at all that. They all, I think, are very sincere; I think the girls are actually great, but you look at everything and take that into account moving forward as we think about who the next Bachelorette is going to be."
By picking Clare, they seemingly proved that they had, indeed, "taken a look at things." (Though let's not forget, she's also a tried and true franchise star, someone who they can count on for good TV.)
"I am looking for a man that is just like my dad. Strong, loving, gentle, compassionate and just a real, genuine, kind man," Clare said on GMA earlier this month when she was unveiled as the Bachelorette. At the same time, she was open to dating younger guys, she said, though she referred to the women on Peter's season, age-wise, as "babies."
"Honestly, for me, the most important thing is I want a man who will take off his armor, who is strong, but is willing to take off the body armor, open himself up and be vulnerable," she said. "And I think that is some serious strength right there. So, I want a man who can do that."
So, with all that in mind, when her lineup of suitors was announced on March 11, we couldn't wait to see the hunky salt-and-pepper parade.
Instead, the average age of these 32 men is 28.3.
They're all photogenic fellows with impressive physiques and killer smiles, to be sure, but only eight of them are 30 or older—and only one of them is older than Clare, 42-year-old Bret E. from Provo, Utah (who, yes, has a nice fleck of salt in his beard). Meaning 24 of them are 10 years or more her junior.
Now, we know that Clare saying she wanted a man who shared certain qualities with her dad didn't mean a slew of 60-year-olds, but... really? Of course the millennial set was always going to be generously represented, but they still felt compelled to check the new-to-shaving crowd for candidates?
"For me, it just is more years under my belt, more learning and knowing what I want, what I don't want," Clare, just shy of 39 at the time, said on GMA.
"I feel like my age is really an asset," she also told People. "I've gone through twists and turns and I know what I will and won't put up with. Twenty-three-year-old Clare had no clue what I wanted. And I'm glad that wasn't the end of my love story because I'm such a different woman now."
While a woman's increased self-awareness ideally lends itself to her treating herself more kindly and therefore dating more prudently, does the self-awareness that hopefully comes with age in a man mean he's figured out that going on The Bachelorette may not be the best idea?
It takes all kinds of people to make the world go round, and a guy's age isn't a character trait, any more so than other physical attributes beyond their control. And of course the majority of these gentlemen, when they apply, claim to be serious about wanting to find long-term love.
Also, as a friend pointed out—maybe she's into guys in their 20s. A heck of a lot of men get to play the game that way, so we don't begrudge a woman her right to do the same one bit.
But it was still a bit of a surprise that they still were plying this woman who obviously values her life experience with a slew of guys who—while we don't profess to know all of their life stories—simply aren't there yet. They "age up" the Bachelorette but leave the majority of the men closer to Peter's age? (And actually 16 of them are younger than Peter, including one who's 23, the same age Clare was, 16 years ago, when—in her words—she "had no clue" what she wanted.)
Of course, that was then, before the global pandemic.
Production on the 16th season of The Bachelorette should have been underway by now, but has been postponed for the foreseeable future, much like everything that requires more than a few people to be in close quarters at any one time, due to the spread of the novel coronavirus COVID-19.
Instead of greeting limos and stocking the bar at the mansion, Chris Harrison and crew are staying home and practicing social distancing—as is Clare, who wrote on Instagram March 13, "Talk about most dramatic season ever! In all seriousness, Everyone's health is the most important priority at this time, and as I'm sure you've heard, we are pressing pause for now on filming The Bachelorette. We are taking it day by day and even hour by hour as this is so unpredictable. All I know for sure is that my heart is so full from all the love and support this far, and am still so excited for my journey to begin! I've waited 38 years for these moments, what's a little bit longer, right!"
The same can't necessarily be said, however, for Clare's 32 potential husbands. Harrison said via Instagram Live on March 19 that, in all likelihood, they're going to have to recast.
"The chances are, for everybody to be able to put their life on hold and come back again is very slim," the longtime host, who's been with the franchise since the beginning in 2002, said. "So yeah, we are still casting, so if you have somebody you think is great for this beautiful woman right here..."
Clare, in on the chat, added, "Maybe this was put on hold for some divine reason...It's only to our advantage to maybe have other people come in or switch things up."
Um...yes. Now's the chance to get that average up. Clare is open to dating younger men, but being old enough to rent a car on one's own isn't a bad place to start. Being old enough to run for president is even better.
And if producers are worried that a bunch of thirty- and fortysomethings will be boring, that you need the 23-29 crowd to bring the drama... well, we can safely assure them that is not the case.