The only universal language? Love, and no franchise knows that better than The Bachelor.
ABC's longrunning franchise has expanded to 37 countries since it first hit U.S. airwaves in 2002 (though it's worth noting some international versions have only aired one season). This meant there were 36 casting pools the producers had never even dipped a toe in...until February 13, with the premiere of The Bachelor Winter Games. The reality juggernaut's latest spinoff brings together contestants from all over the globe to compete in winter-themed sports and, of course, love, the most challenging sport of all.
It's a major event in the 15-year-old franchise's history, and it all came to fruition at a major conference between international showrunners that was set up by The Bachelor creator Mike Fleiss, Winter Games executive producer Bennett Graebner told E! News.
"We had a symposium of some kind where a number of international showrunners came to Los Angeles and we got together with them and we spent a couple of days and talked about the show and we looked at clips of The Bachelor and The Bachelorette abroad," Graebner, who first starting working on the franchise in 2008, said. "I've worked on the show for 10 years, I didn't quite realize the global reach of The Bachelor world. The idea was spawned from that two-day conference, and we started thinking, well, wait a second. How can we put all of these people together in some fashion and see if there's not just a Bachelor Nation out there but kind of a Bachelor World and maybe we can find love for two people who live on opposite sides of the globe."
And with that, the idea of the Winter Games was born. But then came the question: what exactly will the show be? It was a similar process that producers went through with Bachelor in Paradise four summers ago. "That's the challenge but also the beauty of a new show, you can take some chances and you can do some things that are different," Graebner said of figuring out the show's concept, with the team holding meetings just ahead of the start of production on Arie Luyendyk Jr.'s season of The Bachelor.
"We spent so many hours sitting in a room trying to figure out how we were going to do the show," he said. "All we knew was that we were going to have some of our favorite American cast members and international cast members get together compete in some sporting events of some kind and date. We didn't know what the events would be, we didn't know where they would live, we didn't know how they would go on dates, we didn't know how people would be eliminated or if they would be eliminated. We really didn't know anything, so we tried to figure it out as best we could. And some of it was also on the fly."
While production has filming of The Bachelor and The Bachelorette down to a science at this point, Winter Games gave them some room to experiment...and sometimes fail.
"You're going to do some things you haven't done before and some of them are going to be great and unexpected and some of them will not work and that's OK, too," said Graebner.
"Look, the Bachelor and Bachelorette, you kind of know the formula, you know how it's going to work and so for us to reinvent a show and to just—everything was on the table," Chris Harrison, who serves as host and producer on Winter Games, said on a conference call with reporters. "And that was our feeling of let's be as creative as we can, let's throw it against the wall, see if it sticks...at time it seemed like we were making things up as we going. That's because we were."
Producers briefly discussed adding competitions for some of the franchise's successful couples, they ultimately decided to keep Winter Games a singles-only party.
"Even though it's fun to watch our cast tumble their way down a hill and skiing for the first time, it really needs to be about romance and relationships and falling in love," Graebner explained. "Can I see a world where we are bringing all of our successful couples back and do something like that? Yeah, but in the case it was really about allowing people to date and try to see if they could find love that reached across borders. It was hard to find a way to incorporate them." (Fans can expect to see some fan-favorite pairings, such as Trista and Ryan Sutter, make appearances throughout the two-week run.)
Another early idea that was eventually nixed was having contestants such as Kristina Schulman or Daniel Maguire, who appeared on the US versions of the show, compete for their home countries of Russia and Canada, respectively.
"That did come up but ultimately we decided that may be a little confusing," Graebner said. "I think if we'd had Kristina on we would've preferred that she competed for the good ol' USA."
But bringing together contestants from 11 various countries also brought some surprising cultural clashes. Did you know that on The Bachelor in China only one woman kissed the lead throughout the entire season? (No, it was not Zoe, the representative from The Bachelor Japan.)
"It was really surprising. I was shocked at how different it was," Graebner said. "Yes, you can recognize a rose ceremony, a breakup, but it really is different and there are cultural differences. Like when I found out only one participant had kissed the Bachelor in China, I was shocked and it really gave me pause and made me realize there are going to be some cultural differences when we through everyone together."
A kissing competition in the third episode will address the topic head-on, while the final episode of the season will also spark a major conversation with just two words: Fantasy Suites.
"You really could see the cultural differences, that not everyone was as comfortable with the idea of a fantasy suite as the Americans were," said Graebner. "It really makes a difference where people are from."
For Harrison, addressing and embracing those differences "was the beauty" of working on Winter Games.
"It was bringing all of these cultures together and let's tear down the borders—and not in a political way," he said. "It was just a really cool way of getting to know each other and easing into this and so we are we were very cognizant of that and very careful of that and very respectful of things that we had them do or would ask them to do to make sure that all these cultures and all the different people would feel comfortable with it."
The Bachelor Winter Games premieres Tuesday, Feb. 13 at 8 p.m. on ABC.