The moment we've been waiting all season for is finally here.
In Monday's episode of The Bachelorette, Nick Viall, the runner-up in Andi Dorfman's season, is making his highly anticipated debut, hoping to join the remaining men in the pursuit of Bachelorette Kaitlyn Bristowe's heart. But wait, fans were immediately asking after their jaws hit the floor, how do Nick and Kaitlyn even know each other?!
Well, it turns out they actually had a friendship before Kaitlyn ever even signed on to be the Bachelorette! While the duo had never met in-person prior to him showing up during filming of the ABC hit, they established "a friendship based on a mutual, unusual experience" over social media.
Nick saw Kaitlyn on The Bachelor and really enjoyed her," a source exclusively tells E! News. "He liked how she just put everything out there."
Then came The Bachelorette, with its polarizing two Bachelorettes twist, which left Nick "torn," as "feelings had developed, but he never wanted to stand in the way of her opportunity."
"He never asked her not to do it," our source stresses. "But by the time she was one of two front-runners, they were speaking on a very frequent basis."
Of course, as fans of the show know, Nick wasn't able to stay away, with his surprising appearance teased in the season-long promo. So why did he decide to come back?
"He decided he wanted to do the show and pursue her. His attitude was, you only have one life. But he weighed the decision seriously," our source says. "There was a lot of deliberating. If she had started to develop feelings for someone else, he didn't want to ruin it for her. He genuinely cares for her and wants her to be happy."
And when we chatted with Kaitlyn after the season premiere, she was totally open and honest about her connection with Nick prior to the show.
"We had a friendship before I came on and had that chance of being the Bachelorette, and we had talked a lot and had this connection that we both only understood as a friendship," she explained. "After I was gone, I guess he was missing that friendship and thinking maybe it was more than just a friendship connection."
Nick's exit from Andi's season The Bachelorette was a polarizing one, with him revealing they "made love" during the After the Rose special, a revelation Andi said was "below the belt." And in the season 11 super-tease, one contestant even tells Kaitlyn, ""Nick was such an a—hole to Andi. He already had his shot."
But Kaitlyn told us she wasn't put off by his previous experience on the show. "He had a rough go of the last season, and I truly believe he did show up for, here we go, 'the right reasons'" because I don't think he would put himself through that again if he didn't feel that strongly about me."
Still, the remaining men are not too excited over Nick's return.
"They were confused, shocked, some were really supportive," Kaitlyn told us. "And said, 'We're all here to make you happy and if this is something that could potentially be your happily ever after, you have to explore that. For the majority of them, they were not impressed. Understandably."
The Bachelorette airs Monday at 8 p.m. on ABC.
—Reporting by Beth Sobol and Sydney Bucksbaum