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One of the most popular Bachelors in recent history, Ben was "reluctant" to throw himself right back into the Bachelor dating pool" after his split from fiancée Lauren Bushnell, which he still wasn't fully over.
He was willing to give it a shot. "The Ben that you will see is a very raw and emotional one, and he wears his emotions on his sleeve and you'll certainly see it," Graebner said. "He's the best and I really adore him and he's been over to my house and hung out with my family. He's a great guy and you'll see more of that on Winter Games."
Ashley I. = waterworks. We know that. Producers know that. Ashley I. still doesn't seem to know that? "She was totally like, I'm not gonna cry, it's gonna be a whole new me. And I was like, great, do whatever you want!" Graebner said. "And the tears just started to flow! That's Ashley for you."
But those tears could possibly be happy ones by Games' end, with Graebner teasing, "I think people will be surprised at Ashley I. Yes, she's very tearful and emotional, but I think you're going to see another side of her, and I think not every Ashley I. story ends in tears and I think that viewers will see a very different side of Ashley I. on the Winter Games."
Don't expect Winter Games to gloss over Dean's f—kboy past on Bachelor in Paradise, where he earned heat for the way he handled the love triangle with Kristina Schulman and Danielle Lombard.
"Dean's past definitely comes up and that is something that isn't brushed under the rug and there's no way that Dean could've come on Winter Games and just started with a clean slate," Graebner said. "That comes up pretty quickly."
"She's the best," Graebner gushed of Lesley, who was a fan-favorite on Sean Lowe's season of The Bachelor. "She was one of the first people I reached out to."
While some newer producers weren't familiar with Lesley, Graebner assured them she would be great on the show. "And she was great. She's obviously been through a lot in the last couple of years, with a double mastectomy and she's been very public about it. She's not afraid to talk about it and that also comes up on the show," he revealed. "She's a real catch. She's a really smart, beautiful, outspoken 30-year-old woman who knows what she wants and she's not going to settle. It's someone like Lesley who you're really rooting for to find someone to spend the rest of her life with."
After three unsuccessful attempts at finding love in the franchise (making it to the final two during Juan Pablo Galavis' season of The Bachelor and two stints in Paradise), some viewers were surprised to see the fiery Clare, 36, announced as a contestant, with Graebner admitting he was "pleasantly surprised " she agreed to come on. (Are there raccoons in Vermont though?)
"Clare and I go way back, we spent a lot of time together on Juan Pablo's season, through good times and bad times, so I just reached out to her directly. And she said it sounds fun, but I wasn't sure she would be up for another go at it because she's certainly had her struggles over the years in the Bachelor franchise, so I was thrilled to see that she would give it another shot. I will just say things end unexpectedly for Clare. I think that viewers will be really pleased with how things turn out for Clare."
As Winter Games was coming together while Arie Luyendyk Jr.'s season of The Bachelor was filming, Graebner was keeping an eye out for any women who would be good for the spinoff. Enter: Bibiana, 30, who made quite the impression even though she only made it to the third episode of the season.
"I spent a fair amount of time with Bibi when she was in the house and she's just a fiery personality who really puts herself out there and I knew that she would do the same on Winter Games," he said. "I also thought that she and Arie didn't quite have the spark we anticipated, but we knew that wouldn't be an issue with a number of other guys in the house and that proved to be true. Men and women just respond to her. She's beautiful, of course, but she's also a big personality that people want to be around."
Fresh off his split from the first Canadian Bachelorette in April 2017, Graebner said producers could tell he was "still reeling from this breakup." But because he had such an emotional experience on the show, "It sounded like he was ready to try it again."
And he quickly becomes a hot commodity in the ski lodge, Graebner teased. "I was sure he was going to be much desired in the house by the women and that was true almost immediately. Seeing the relationships that he got involved in, it was really fun."
Graebner is confident the 21-year-old will be the breakout star of Winter Games, with Yuki coming recommended by someone who worked in the franchise for years despite the language barrier.
"Yuki is incredible. She speaks very little English, but she just lights up and it almost didn't matter that there was this language barrier with her," he said. "Everyone responded to her, those of working on the show and the men and women who were there on the show. Everyone just loved her. She is just a sweetheart of a young woman and a very open and emotional one."
While both Canadian men came highly recommended by the Canuck showrunner, Graebner was not sure if Benoit, 31, would be right for Winter Games. (Spoiler alert: He was very wrong.)
"When I met him, I thought, this is a really sweet guy, but he's not your traditional Bachelor guy. He's not 6'2", with six-pack abs, so I wasn't sure. I couldn't tell if he was really going to be appealing to the women, and to be honest, we called him and we said we're not sure if this is going to work out and he was so emotional and so sad and so sweet that we immediately changed our minds and thought this guy has to be on the show."
And that is exactly who viewers will see on the show. "He is so unbelievable sweet and sincere and romantic and the emotion that he shows is really remarkable," Graebner said. "Especially for a man to open himself up and be vulnerable like that in front of millions of people is really exceptional."
Plus, he has a French accent ("a thing of beauty," per Graebner) and he cooks!
Another male contestant Graebner "had some reservations about," but for a completely different reason than Ben.
"When I watched clips of him, I thought this guy is incredibly good looking and incredibly smooth-talking and then I found out he was kind of involved in television production." That gave Graebner pause as the show wants people who were there "to fall in love and not just to be on a television show."
But after meeting Courtney, Graebner knew he had "misread" the former Bachelorette contestant.
"I was wrong. He is an incredibly sweet guy who is, to use the old Bachelor trope, definitely here for the right reasons. I was wrong about him and I let his good looks kind of dictate my first impression and I shouldn't have done that. He's really sensitive and sweet and quite the romantic lead."
Tiffany, 31, made headlines after she entered a relationship with Megan Marx, her fellow Bachelor Australia contestant, once their season wrapped. They've since split, and Graebner said he also "reached out" to her ex about competing on the show, which didn't end up happening.
"Obviously we heard about that, we thought that was really interesting," Graebner said. "We also spoke to Australian showrunner and he said Tiffany's great. We also thought well, fantastic, she might meet a man, she might meet a woman, who knows what will happen? And when we met her we really quite liked her."
Graebner highlighted Jordan as one of the international stars he really wanted. Why?
"He had had a really terrible experience as the Bachelor and he had flipped a coin between the two final women and that was how he decided who to propose to. This came out in the New Zealand media and he immediately became villain number one."
But ultimately, Graebner liked the idea of a US Bachelor bonding with an international Bachelor. "I loved the idea of Ben [Higgins] being able to talk to another Bachelor and kind of compare notes."
Still, Jordan had reservations about joining the show after his experience as the Bach. "He was just so damaged," Graebner said, noting they ultimately convinced him after several phone calls.
"He does meet someone he likes and he has a whirlwind relationship that I think will shock a lot of viewers," he teased. "One of our fan-favorites!"
Here's hoping no coins are flipped.
How do you top Nick Viall's two-season appearance? Appear on two so seasons in different countries, which is what Christian did, competing on The Bachelor's German and Swiss versions…which lead to an interesting conversation about which country he should represent on Winter Games.
"He's German but he lives in Switzerland but he was on Bachelor Germany and Bachelor Switzerland. We were like let's just have him do both, but then how do we do both? Do we put two flags on him? When he shows up, do we have two signs? We just thought it was really fun."
As for his English? Well, it's "not perfect," Graebner admitted. "But he was charming when we met him and he's incredibly good looking. It doesn't take him long to catch the eye of a couple of the women. I'll just say he spends a lot of time, I guess the word is the same in German, but he spends a lot of time talking about the Jacuzzi. I think he says the word Jacuzzi a thousand times."
Graebner said production was "excited" to get two women from Sweden on the show...even though they were the only two Winter Games international cast members they did not meet prior to filming began in Vermont.
"Unfortunately, when we were bringing everyone into Los Angeles to meet with us they were shooting their Swedish Women Tell All. They couldn't make it over, so we had to go on what the Swedish showrunners were telling us and looking at tapes of the show," he explained. "Rebecca looked beautiful and great and smart."
As for Stassi, Graebner admitted she was "someone who we weren't sure about and the more we watched tape of her on Bachelor Sweden the more we thought this is the woman we need to cast. There was something really captivating about her."
As for how the Swedes fare in the romance department? "We thought both of these women are immediately going to appeal to the American men on the show and we were right!"