Through some sort of sorcery, former software salesman turned professional reality-TV show villain Nick Viall has become the main course of ABC’s The Bachelor. After being dumped on two rounds of The Bachelorette and a failed stint on Bachelor in Paradise, Viall (pronounced VILE, really) appeared on our televisions Monday night for the inaugural episode of Season 21—where he will be handing out the roses.
To recap the last three years, Nick is the consistently smug and strangely dressed contestant who cringingly called out former flame Andi Dorfman for having sex with him but not putting a ring on it (“If you didn’t love me, then why did you make love with me?”) then reappeared on Kaitlyn Bristowe’s season where he fell in love, bedded, and was rejected, again at the last ceremony. Few people liked Nick. He was smarmy and cocksure, his fashion was vaguely offensive—he wore leather cuffs, wooden bracelets, and scarves indoors—and for all his talk of finding love, what Nick, more than the other contestants, seemed to be looking for was celebrity status.
But that’s all changed now. After a redemption tour on Bachelor in Paradise in which Nick was the least terrible on an island full of monsters, ABC is giving him a shot. And goddamn it this year has been rough and we need this distraction, America. So with a heavy heart, we begin Nick Viall’s season.
How did we get here? Even Nick can’t wrap his head around it.
The episode begins with our hero repeating bewilderedly, “I’m Nick and I’m the Bachelor?” and “I really hope I don’t fuck it up.” Then the obligatory shower scene comes and it all starts to make sense. Once-doughy Nick has been putting in hours at a CrossFit gym and God bless him, he has glorious abs. Nick has also made a trip to a Bachelor-approved barber for a long on top, short on the sides trim, grown a beard, and traded in his cabled sweaters and bow ties for tailored suits and simple V-necks.
Before he can meet the women who have all left their jobs and families and lives to compete for the prize of being engaged to this winner, Nick must meet with three recent Bachelors to drink and receive wise counsel: Chris Soules, Ben Higgins, and Sean Lowe.
Sean—the only man among them who is actually married to his chosen women—offered, “A lot of people don’t like you.”
“To the fourth time being the charm!” toasted Ben Higgins.
Next come the women. At 30, there are more than ever before, so remembering their names isn’t so important. But there are a few early frontrunners. One woman is a lawyer; another owns nail salons. We’ve got a trilingual special-needs teacher, a quirky nursing student who meows to her cat, a quirkier Jersey girl with a dolphin obsession, one Arkansan boutique owner, an online business owner with a nanny for herself, a neonatal intensive-care nurse, and a biracial mental-health counselor who should come out of this thing with a book deal if not a fiancé. Even the weird ones are all too good for Nick, but they stare at the ocean and tell the camera he’s just what they’ve been waiting for.
When they pull up to the mansion, a handsome Nick awaits their obligatory shenanigans, as each hopes to separate herself from the hungry-lady pack and receive that first-impression rose. Half of them fail before they can begin by wearing the same shade of red dress. The mental-health counselor tells him her friends think he’s “a piece of shit,” the NBA dancer shows up with the engagement ring she wants, the nurse brings maple syrup, the Southern girl teaches him a “Pig Suey” chant that has something to do with sports or drinking, quirky girl makes him eat a raw hotdog, and the apparent winner rides up on a camel with the not-so-subtle line, “I hear you like a good hump, and so do I.”
Jersey’s Alexis wears a shark costume but swears it’s a dolphin, her confusion over the visibly gilled ensemble complicating her story of being the porpoise’s biggest fan. Alexis, if you’re reading: Dolphins are mammals and have blowholes.
Though her knowledge faltered, Alexis’s pun game and dedication was strong. “I dolphinately can’t wait to talk to you inside,” she said, dancing and fist-pumping throughout the party, and calling Nick with dolphin noises.
Finally, the last woman that matters steps out of the limo and we meet Elizabeth. Liz, a doula who in her network bio told producers she hopes she never has to kill someone, has (Surprise!) actually met Nick at a Bachelor alum wedding over the summer. Where they had sex! But she’s not spilling the beans and when he doesn’t come out with “Didn’t I sleep with you once?” she tries to save face by telling producers, “Makes me think he doesn’t know who I am and I kinda like that.” (She most certainly does not like that.)
Later at the cocktail party, Nick tells Liz that sure, he does remember having sex with her. “I remember being totally intrigued by you,” he says. But why, he asks, would she come all the way out to Bachelor mansion when she could have just called him if she was interested? With that, the “Is she here for the right reasons?” seed is firmly planted.
Corrine, with a nanny in Miami who brings her cucumbers when she is hungry, is set up as this season’s Tiffany Trump lookalike villain. She gives Nick a bag full of tokens to exchange later for sexy favors and then kisses him for free, which makes everyone, including Nick, a little uncomfortable. “I want Nick right now. Right now,” she whines. In the extended season preview, we hear her warn, “I know what I need to do and nobody’s getting in my way.”
But beautiful, black, over-30 lawyer Rachel gets the first-impression rose and a respectable kiss. It’s enough to get us through the rose ceremony and final daylight scene, in which the rejected women walk shamefully out of the mansion after a long night to give one last tearful monologue about the amazing wife and mother they might have been.
In the end, if we must endure Nick, the still-costumed dolphin, the awkward one-night stand, and the Veruca Salt-inspired villainess will undoubtedly make this thing worth it.
And we’ve got Rachel. If an accomplished, suitably-aged woman of color can believe in Nick, maybe—but just maybe—we can, too.