Once upon a time, long ago in 2001, The Bachelor didn't exist yet. And yet, 15 years and 20 seasons later, it's weird to imagine the world without it. Ready for things to get even weirder? Look at the differences between the first season of The Bachelor and Season 20, starring Ben Higgins, and you'll just about get your mind blown. I don't know about you, but I assumed that things had stayed mostly the same throughout the history of the franchise, and I was pretty surprised to see how far we've strayed from the original version. Some of the differences make sense, and likely correspond to increases in budget as the show gained popularity, and others are a little harder to figure out. But we'll get to all that.
Probably the first surprise is that you might not even recognize the name of the first Bachelor — Alex Michel? Does that ring any bells for you? While more recent stars of the show are all but household names, some of those early guys have faded from memory. So let's refresh ourselves with a walk down memory lane, to the first little seed ever planted by the Bachelor Nation. Here are the 11 ways Season 1 of The Bachelor differs from Season 20. (Also this show has been on for 20 seasons and I've been a sentient being for all of them, where has the time gone?)
1. The Bachelor Could Still Slip Back Into Obscurity
Whereas other stars of the franchise from Jason Mesnick to Sean Lowe to Chris Soules get trotted out every time there's an event, Alex Michel, the first Bachelor ever, has been able to live and work pretty much under the radar. He got a few endorsements from the show, but these days works a normal job as an executive at a media technology company.
2. He Wasn't Selected From An Earlier Franchise
...obviously, because there hadn't been one yet. But according to an interview Michel did with Obsessed TV, he applied for The Bachelor after a friend at Harvard Business School gave him a heads up that producers were recruiting there for a new show to help one lucky man find a wife.
3. He Had To Work To Keep The Women Interested
Because Michel had never been on TV before, nor had the show itself, the female contestants weren't immediately sold on him. Today, many women show up having already seen the Bachelor on the season of The Bachelorette where he got rejected; for Michel, he reported to Obsessed TV that he had trouble determining whether any of the women even had feelings for him. Not gonna lie, would kind of love if this part came back, so it's more of an equal relationship right off the bat.
4. He Was Six Years Older Than Ben H. Is Now
Much has been made of the fact that Ben Higgins is just 26, so it doesn't surprise me at all to find that they started things out a little further over on the spectrum. Alex Michel was 32 for his season, which makes sense because the conceit of the show is a man eager to get married who's tried all the conventional methods, right?
5. The Season Was Much Shorter
Whereas now these seasons run 13 two-hour episodes each, the premier season was just six episodes, shot over a period of seven weeks.
6. And It Moved Much Faster
Because we were working on a limited time frame, the first episode eliminated 10 women, from 25 to 15, the second cut another seven, down to eight women, the third halved it, leaving us with four women, then going down to three, two, and then the episode where the winner was chosen. Blink and you'll miss it! Also speak up during that first cocktail party, or you're headed right back out the door. (These days, usually about eight women get cut on that first night, sometimes less, and then it's around three women a week after that, until it get to Week 6 or so.)
7. Dates Were More Chill
They didn't always have the sky-diving-off-a-skyscraper-in-Dubai budget. That first season, you were much more likely to see Alex Michel and his dates on more traditional dates like, "ice skating in New York or chilling in Lake Tahoe," according to Bustle writer Martha Sorren. Seems like that would make it easier to figure out whether the two of you could make a real go of it, without all the glitz and glamour of a date you'd never be able to replicate in real life, but we are trying to make good television here, so I get it.
8. The Finale Was In Michel's Hometown
Instead of an exotic location, the season finale was in Michel's hometown of Dallas, which is maybe a little disappointing when compared with some of the tropical paradises we've seen in seasons past, but it's a great opportunity to meet the Bachelor's family! And to keep the whole situation as realistic as possible.
9. There Was No Proposal
At the end of the season, Alex Michel didn't propose to his final choice, Amanda Marsh, instead deciding to keep on dating, only to break up about a year later. This has happened a few times since, so it's not unheard of for a season to end without the Bachelor on one knee, but it's still pretty rare. The last time a season ended without an engagement was Juan Pablo Galavis' in 2014, big surprise, and before that it was Brad Womack's first season, in 2007. And we'll see what happens with Ben!
10. Everything Was A Twist
Because the show had never happened before, Michel says he really was surprised when he was given a key to share the fantasy suite with a woman, or sent on a two-on-one date where he had to eliminate one of the women in front of the other. Now they have to throw curveballs at us to shock us or the contestants like that — twins, anyone?? — but in Season 1 it was easy.
11. There Were More Regular People
From an audience perspective, every year, the house gets closer and closer to a free-range supermodel farm, but in those early years, the group was more varied. As Sorren again points out, after her win, Amanda Marsh was described as "full-figured" because she didn't look like a "typical" TV personality. But in 2016, most contestants look like professional actresses.
All in all, there are things I would grab from Season 1, and things I like better in Season 20, but I guess anything in the public eye is bound to grow and change. And as long as people are falling in love, or at least having a good time, there's no reason to dwell in the past. Onward, into even longer seasons, and even more biggest-twists-in-Bachelor-history.
Images: ABC; giphy (7)