In an exclusive interview with E! News, Robert Mills, ABC's Senior Vice President, Alternative Series, Specials & Late-Night Programming, revealed why producers ultimately decided Hannah (the B is no longer necessary, people!) was the perfect choice to carry their milestone 15th season.
In fact, she was really their only choice.
While most fans believed Hannah sealed the deal after her winning performance during the Women Tell All, delivering a pretty great interview on the couch with Chris Harrison and handling herself with poise, it turns out she already had it in the bag.
Mills told us producers had already picked Hannah to be the next Bachelorette "weeks before" the taping and the decision was "actually made pretty quickly."
Before choosing Hannah, four other women from Colton's season were met with, including Hannah Godwin, Tayshia Adams, Caelynn Miller-Keyes and Demi Burnett.
"We had an embarrassment of riches in terms of potential leads. We met all these girls over a one-week span maybe three or four weeks ago," Mills said. "We sort of knew immediately. It was like, wow, OK, it's Hannah B."
So how did Hannah go from not even being able to deliver a toast on her one-on-one date to handing out roses?
"There was just something about Hannah B. She felt very different. I think she almost came in thinking that she was a bit of an after-thought, you know, they're taking this meeting, but [was] sure we were going to go with someone who finished farther in the show," Mills explained. "I think that she was really herself. She was much more at ease. She was refreshing and we felt like this is going to be a different kind of season with her because she's someone who is going to certainly speak her mind, own that, as she says, she's kind of a mess."
Another key quality when it comes to casting a lead is how ready they are to find love, and while Mills noted all the other girls were "serious" about finding their future husband," he said Hannah is "very serious about getting married and starting a family."
Of course, when Hannah talks about it she refers to it as "fierce love," and she needs someone who can fully embrace Hannah Beast. Sure, she's a beauty pageant queen but she's also a self-professed "hot mess express," something that felt new and exciting for The Bachelorette.
"Let's see something that's weird, that we don't know what it's going to be," Mills said of Hannah's less polished nature when compared to Bachelorettes of seasons past like Rachel Lindsay, Becca Kufrin and JoJo Fletcher. "It's definitely going to lead to stuff that's crazy, She also is somebody who's very take charge and if things are going either great or not great, she lets everybody know. She's not going to sit back and be passive, she's really going to get in there and get her hands dirty."
Hannah did get her hands a little dirty during her time on Colton's season, but was always able to walk away stain-free. While some thought Hannah or Caelynn were being set up to possibly fill a villain role thanks to their still-mysterious feud from their beauty pageant days, the frenemies were able to avoid a two-on-one date and settle their differences in a mature fashion. It was refreshing and—let's be honest—shocking to see the tension diffuse in a natural way on a show where one woman stuffed a pacifier in another contestant's mouth.
"Look, in previous seasons, maybe the sort of controversy with Caelynn would've been very different. It would've festered and it would've ended up being settled on a two-on-one, where one of them or even both of them look really bad," Mills said of the unexpected turn the Hannah-Caelynn situation took. "The fact that they decided to just put it behind them…where neither one was going to be each other's biggest fan in the house, but there's no reason they have to tear each other down too. And then that sort of ended."
Even before her beef with Caelynn dominated the house, Hannah's journey on The Bachelor almost came to a premature end when she was given the first one-on-one date of the season, which landed on her birthday.
While Hannah was excited heading into her quality time with Colton, what followed was one of the show's most awkward dates in the show's recent history, culminating in the infamous scene in which Colton asked Hannah to deliver a toast and she was near-incapable of completing a sentence. To be blunt: it was bad. Like, real bad.
"Obviously, if you went on that first date, even she would admit she kind of blew it," Mills said. "It's amazing that she even stuck around."
Fortunately, she did, and after getting that date out of the way early, she was able to settle in and relax, slowly allowing herself "to let her guard down."
"She wasn't as nervous," Mills explained. "I think the fact that she was able to be herself, let her guard down and be funny and be just a little crazy and not necessarily care how she looked doing it helped her become something of a fan-favorite over the season."
It's an assessment Hannah herself agreed with when E! News spoke to her at the Women Tell All taping in February.
"I think in that moment...I just froze, I wasn't ready to be vulnerable in any type of way with him. I was hyper aware of my environment, I was ready for the first one on one. I was thankful, but ultimately not ready to be myself around him," Hannah explained to us. "Unfortunately, it was a simple toast but that was the moment it really hit me. I can put words together and make a sentence, but right there, I didn't. At least I got to redeem myself. "
Still, despite making up for the toast debacle by delivering one during the Women Tell All, viewers saw glimmers of the Hannah of yore when she was officially announced as the next Bachelorette and then met five of her men early during the live After the Final Rose special. And yes, producers are aware some of you were cringing as Hannah fumbled her way through the appearance.
"If you ask me to judge based on Twitter and social media, The reaction was all over the place, very mixed," Mills noted. "There were some people who were like, 'I can't watch 10 weeks of this,' and then you had people who said, 'I think this is something we've never seen before. It's totally endearing and natural.'"
"I personally loved it. It's been really fun for us especially who have been doing this for so many years and so many hours to see something different, that you don't know what's going to happen," he continued. "I love it, I thought it was great."
Despite some initial awkwardness, Hannah was able to show off her humor—"Try harder," she advised the four of the men who didn't receive her first rose ahead of their second meeting at the mansion—and another quality Mills was really excited to see.
"What was interesting too though that when she just met the guys and she had that commercial break to choose, she made the decision in maybe half a second. She knew right away and it was nice to see her be very decisive and know what she wanted."
So while you may think Hannah clams up when the cameras turn on, she actually unleashes more of the Hannah Beast, something she learned about herself during her time on The Bachelor.
"Regardless of what anybody says, I did thrive in that environment," Hannah told us. "I had ups and downs, absolutely, but I evolved as a person. And I think you do see that, especially by the end. I wasn't as vulnerable at first and I did have things I had to work through. By the end, I did have feelings for Colton and wanted it to be the real thing and it wasn't. But more than that, I just grew as a person. That is one thing about this whole experience that I loved so much. it was the best experience of my life. I grew so much in that short of time, and realized what I want, who I am and what I'm going to take in life and what I'm not."
And heads up to Bachelor Nation: one thing she definitely won't take is anyone doubting her intelligence, as the response from social media to the toast (or lack thereof) incident actually did get to her—namely people wondering how she was able to compete on stage in pageants if she couldn't deliver an impromptu speech.
"That was probably the thing that bothered me more than anything from the whole season, was people questioning my intelligence from that because I am an intelligent person," she said. "I could kill a freakin' on stage question, so don't get me on that!"
Beast mode: activated.
The Bachelorette premieres Monday, May 13 at 8 p.m. on ABC.