"A decision has not been made."
Sorry, Bachelor Nation, but you'll have to wait just a little bit longer to find out who will be your next Bachelorette as the powers that be are still knee-deep in the decision-making process as Colton Underwood's season of The Bachelor comes to an end. The silver lining? The start production on The Bachelorette is just around the corner, so an official announcement will likely go down, per recent tradition, at the After the Final Rose taping on March 12. Until then though? Let the speculation commence.
"It really is an ongoing debate," host Chris Harrison told E! News at the Women Tell All taping when we asked about the next Bachelorette. "As much as it's raging on social media, that's the same thing that's going on behind the scenes with us."
That means several women from Colton's current season are seriously being eyed as the franchise's next lead, and similar to viewers' feelings on the subject, producers kind of have the same mercurial approach when considering their final pick.
"It really is a fluid situation because it will ebb and flow depending on what we see in what situation," Harrison admitted.
So yesterday's frontrunner is tomorrow's possible Bachelor in Paradise cast member. (Remember when Caila Quinn was this close to being the next Bachelorette? Or how about when Luke Pell basically tattooed 'next Bachelor' on his arm before eventually getting the villain edit on Winter Games? Exactly.)
Picking their Bachelorette is often a bit more of a gamble for producers, simply because the filming schedule tends to favor The Bachelor as they have a bit more time to make their decision.
"What's great about this is that we have some time, we obviously have Paradise, it can air and we can see if anyone from there who's really popping," ABC's senior VP of reality and alternative programming Robert Mills once explained to us. When it comes to The Bachelorette, filming usually begins the same week The Bachelor's After the Final Rose special is taped, with the last two female leads Rachel Lindsay and Becca Kufrin meeting some of their suitors at the live special's taping just after they were officially announced as the Bachelorette.
That often means the preference of the men they are casting as potential contestants can't really be taken into consideration as much as it is for the women being looked at for The Bachelor.
Still, producers definitely read the feed, keeping a close eye on how Bachelor Nation reacts to contestants, yet try to remember that sometimes the loudest online feedback doesn't always represent the majority of the show's overall fanbase.
Series creator Mike Fleiss loves to engage the viewers on Twitter, often asking for feedback. "Now who do you think should be our next #TheBachelorette?" he wrote on Feb. 18, before later adding, "Very close race..."
A week later, he once again tweeted about the topic, writing, "No official decision will be made until #BachelorNation weighs in..."
And, of course, there's gotta be that the hook and driving storyline that producers can ride throughout the season, with the show being given a true gift by Arie Luyendyk Jr. when he infamously blindsided Becca by dumping her for his original runner-up Lauren Burnham. Instant Bachelorette material.
With Colton, the franchise got its first-ever virgin Bachelor and you know they milked that cow dry. Plus, he was the most popular guy from Becca's season on social media and earned a lot of sympathy during his run on Bachelor in Paradise after a somewhat aggressive Men Tell All outing.
While it's not a total dealbreaker (see: Colton's performance), the Tell All special is pretty telling when it comes to the final decision, as the production team gets to see how a contestant handles pressure and can gauge the response from the live audience. A tell-tale sign is if they are brought on stage for a one-on-one sitdown with Harrison; that basically means they are in contention. (And gives a slight edge to the women eliminated prior to hometowns, as usually the final two or three women do not attend to avoid spoilers.)
"We want to see the reaction of the audience, reaction from [the media], how they reacted to what happened," Harrison said of what they look for at the taping.
Of course, there are still three women—Cassie, Hannah G. and Tayshia—left in the running, so Harrison said, "Obviously, how this plays out the next couple weeks will have a big say in this, too."
As for the current Bachelor himself and which of his exes he'd sort of be OK with seeing date on TV?
"There are multiple women that it would be great for," Colton told E! News, "and I would want to see every single woman on my season be the happiest and be in a relationship and be engaged and be married and be happy."
Ahead of the big announcement, we narrowed down the top contenders being considered as the lead for The Bachelorette's 15th season, taking into account their social media following, how they came across during Colton's season and whether or not they're even interested in taking on the job...
The Bachelor airs Mondays at 8 p.m., and the Women Tell All special will air Tuesday, March 5, at 8 p.m. on ABC.