It's a laughable, cooky idea, but that's exactly how Clare Crawley and her lineup of eligible men received theirs during the season 16 premiere of The Bachelorette on Tuesday, Oct. 13. Yes, the two-hour event further teased Clare's rocky and "explosive" search for love, leaving viewers thirstier for information about Tayshia Adams' impending arrival. But the cheesy, indulgent tropes the reality show has relied on for decades were, for the first time, trumped by another topic of discussion: the coronavirus.
Just minutes into the premiere, Chris succinctly addressed what America surely wondered: How the heck did a show about finding love—make outs and all—film in the middle of a global pandemic? While competition games like Big Brother and Love Island aired this summer after abiding by COVID-19 safety measures, The Bachelorette dedicated the first half hour of its dramatic premiere—time that could have been used to explore sexier scenarios and backstories—to the virus.
And that was actually really freakin' important. Since 2002, this franchise, one with consistently high ratings, has captivated the hearts and minds of viewers at home, engrossing us with dramatic and heartwarming love stories that inspire Bachelor Nation fans to listen to what its stars have to say. If Clare chooses to take a side, it doesn't go unnoticed. And during the premiere, one thing was clear: The coronavirus is real. To watch Clare, now one of 2020's buzziest celebrities, directly address the way it's impacted her life has the power of convincing young viewers that it is certainly not a hoax.
Unexpectedly, the first few scenes of the night felt like a smart, reassuring news segment about the dangers of the virus and why precautions such as wearing a mask and practicing social distancing are so crucial. Throughout, Clare reacted to the virus' damage—and whether she'd ultimately get the chance to film her already-delayed season—as flashback news segments showed anchors like George Stephanopoulos discussing the pandemic.
While Clare and Chris didn't exactly offer their opinion about the government's handling of the virus—they kept discussions neutral—they did essentially confirm that the Bachelorette's cast and crew took it quite seriously. Of course, the premiere neatly drew the line between informative and preachy. After all, everyone's really watching this show for the gossip on Clare's fairytale romance.
"We are experiencing an extraordinary time in history that has really changed everything about how we live our lives," Chris said seconds into the premiere. "The coronavirus has transformed how we work, it's changed how we interact with family and friends. And of course, it's dramatically affected how we fall in love."
He continued, "It took a lot of work, a lot of patience, and a whole lot of testing. ‘Cause you know that if there is a way for our Bachelorette Clare to find her soulmate even during these most troubling times, well, we're gonna do everything we can to make it happen."
As fans might remember, production for Clare's season was initially scheduled to begin in March, but was pushed back as the pandemic hit. During a scene filmed at home in Sacramento this April, Clare reflected on her experience.
"This pandemic can literally crush people and it's terrible," she said. "If it's not loneliness from being by yourself for so long, it's going crazy because you don't know what's gonna happen. I'm 39 and I might not ever have the chance to meet my husband."
While gearing up to visit her mom, who lives at a care facility and is suffering from Alzheimer's and dementia, the reality TV star was seen getting emotional. "I'm sure a lot of people are experiencing this as well but it's really hard for me to not be able to see her," she admitted, "to not be able to hug her, it's hard."
Later in the premiere, Clare eagerly anticipated her COVID-19 test results after traveling from home to La Quinta Resort & Club, where the cast and crew quarantined as filming took place.
"At any point I could have caught this disease and this would be over," she said. "So waiting for my test result has not been an easy thing to go through. I really hope that I am COVID free because I'm really looking forward to meeting these guys." (Spoiler: Her results came back negative.)
It was additionally impressive to see Clare's suitors quarantine, get tested and wear masks on site, even if some looked supremely uncomfortable by having them on. For several seconds, viewers watched the men submit to the COVID-19 test, with one bachelor detailing the experience in a confessional afterwards: "This stuff hurts. They're shoving basically a pipe cleaner up in your nostrils to the back of your head." Others gathered their composure as they teared up on camera. Take Dale Moss, the recipient of Clare's first impression rose, who joked, "Doing this for you, Clare!"
The producers of The Bachelorette could have easily decided to skip right to the action, to begin the season with a quick disclaimer mentioning that all cast and crew members were held to high safety standards. Instead, they decided to tackle the coronavirus head-on and actually show America just how intensely the set was scrutinized before the dating process began. To use a primetime broadcast TV slot as an opportunity to educate is impressive, and for that ABC deserves a round of applause.
With that out of the way, viewers can now indulge in the ridiculous magic that The Bachelorette is beloved for.