WARNING: This post contains spoilers from Tuesday's season premiere of The Bachelorette.
Welcome back, Bachelor Nation.
After a months-long delay due to the COVID-19 outbreak in the U.S., fans finally got to see Clare Crawley begin her Bachelorette journey on Tuesday night's two-hour season premiere. As per tradition, host Chris Harrison opened the episode — but for the first time, it wasn't from the famed Bachelor mansion. Because of the pandemic, the season was shot in a sequestered "bubble" at La Quinta, a resort in the California desert.
Production, which was originally supposed to begin in March, eventually kicked off at the new Palm Springs location in July with enforced temperature checks, testing and a quarantine for cast and crew.
"How are we going to make a romantic dating show during times like these?" Chris said. "Well, it took a lot of work, a lot of patience and a whole lot of testing."
But first, the show took us back to Clare's house in Sacramento, California, when she got the call in February that she had been cast as the franchise's next leading lady. Happy tears were shed, followed by not-so-happy ones as we looked back at her Bachelor and Bachelor in Paradise journeys.
"I've been looking for love my entire life, and never really fully felt like I found my person," she said. "I'm proud to be sitting here at 39, because I know for a fact this is my time. I want a man who will be open and emotional and won't put up the walls, and this time, I'm going to follow my gut. Nothing is going to stop me from trying to find my husband."
Then, in March, a stay-at-home order was issued in California, grinding Clare's plans to an abrupt halt. She documented her lonely quarantine, including the challenges of not being able to visit her mom, who has Alzheimer's and dementia and lives in a care facility.
At last, in June, Clare got the call that production would be starting back up. But first, she and the contestants had to go through individual quarantines and several rounds of COVID-19 tests. We were introduced to a handful of the 31 guys vying for Clare's heart, a group of tall, hot men, all anxious to be cleared for filming. A dramatic nasal swab montage later, night one was underway.
Clare sat down for a chat with Chris, reflecting on how far she's come in the seven years since her time on Juan Pablo Galavis' season. "I'm a woman that knows what I want and I follow my gut," she said. "I can pick my husband out the second I meet him, so I'm ready to get the night started."
From there began the entrances, with some of the men performing the usual antics in the hopes of standing out on an overwhelming first night. But the one who elicited the strongest reaction, by far, was Dale Moss, a 31-year-old former NFL player from Brandon, South Dakota.
"I knew it," Clare said, burying her face in his hands as he walked away. "I definitely feel like I just met my husband. I'm shaking!"
When Chris pointed out that she was the first lead to make that kind of declaration this early on, she didn't waver. "Every other guy I felt confident with, but with Dale, everything else went dark around me," she said. "I felt everything that I haven't felt ever. I felt it. I just know. I'm 39, like, you know these things. I know what I want, I know when I feel that feeling."
Their connection deepened during the cocktail party. Clare opened up about her mom, and Dale, whose sister has underlying health issues, said he could relate.
"It's so crazy. Everything feels so natural with Dale," Clare said during a confessional. "There's those butterflies, the nervousness, but that's just because I like him. I know what I'm looking for, and I am big on energy and vibes."
Meanwhile, drama was brewing between two other contestants, Tyler Cottrill and Yosef Aborady. Tyler had apparently come across information about Yosef messaging women on Instagram and decided to spill the tea, albeit vaguely, with a few of the guys. "A lot of being reckless on Instagram, flirting with girls where I'm from and who know me," he claimed.
He eventually pulled Yosef aside one-on-one, insisting that he was trying to "protect" Clare. Yosef denied the allegation and took it to Clare himself, accusing Tyler of trying to drag his name through the mud. Instead of letting the he said, he said drama drag out, Clare, bless her, immediately brought Tyler over to force the two men to hash it out.
Once that was handled, she turned her attention back to the rest of the group. There was one person in particular that she wanted to make sure she got time with: Blake Moynes. As it turned out, Blake had reached out to her a couple of months back, before filming had begun.
"I was struggling really bad," she said during a confessional. "My mom had just fallen and broke her nose, and Blake messaged me. He took that risk just to let me know that he was thinking about me."
Sitting down with him, she thanked him for breaking the rules in her honor. "Over quarantine, it was really hard for me. And you were the only guy that reached out to me the entire time," she said. "I didn't want to bring this up, but there are these weird rules that we have to follow for the show of not contacting somebody. So you broke the rule. But I want you to know that that time you broke the rule meant everything to me. The fact that you risked not coming on here and putting that on the line, at a time where I was really struggling, it meant everything to me."
The effort earned him a kiss — but it wasn't quite enough to edge out the competition for the first impression rose, which went to Dale.
Finally, it was time for the rose ceremony, and Clare whittled her choices down from 31 to 23. Farewell, Tyler C. The original Tyler C. reigns supreme. See you next week!
The Bachelorette airs Tuesdays (8 p.m. ET) on ABC.
Catch People (the TV Show!) Monday through Friday. Check your local listings for exact times or stream the show every day at 7 p.m. ET/ 4 p.m. PT at People.com and PeopleTV.com.
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