After a controversial last season of “The Bachelor,” the first of two new seasons of “The Bachelorette” premieres Monday with Katie Thurston at its helm.
A breakout “Bachelor” contestant known for being pro-sex and anti-drama, the 31-year-old bank marketing manager from Renton, Washington, has wrapped filming on her season of the reality dating show. The big question: Is she engaged?
“You know, I wish I could tell you something. But all I can say is tune in and find out,” Thurston told USA TODAY via Zoom on Friday from a studio in Burbank, California.
"Bachelorette" Katie Thurston speaks to USA TODAY via Zoom about what she calls an "unexpected" season of the reality dating show, which does not feature longtime host Chris Harrison. (Photo: USA TODAY)
A lot has changed since Matt James’ historic season came to a controversial ending in March. The season sparked discussions about racism in the franchise and forced longtime host Chris Harrison to sit this season out.
“For me, it’s tough, because as the lead, I’ve never gone through it with Chris … and so I can’t really speak to how it’s different, because when I was on that season, I didn’t really interact with him too much,” Thurston said.
After photos surfaced of winner Rachael Kirkconnell attending a plantation-themed party in 2018, she apologized for past “offensive and racist” actions, while Harrison came under fire for defending her. He subsequently apologized, announced he would be “stepping aside for a period of time” but “plan(s) to be back.”
Author, TV host and former NFL player Emmannuel Acho stepped in to host the “After the Final Rose” special, during which Thurston and her fellow contestant Michelle Young were announced as the next two “Bachelorette” stars (Young’s season begins filming soon and will air this fall).
Harrison’s hosting duties were reassigned to two former “Bachelorette” stars: Tayshia Adams, who found love with fiance Zac Clark last summer, and Kaitlyn Bristowe, who starred on the show in 2015 and recently got engaged to fellow franchise alum Jason Tartick.
“It was just great having Kaitlyn and Tayshia there, because I really don’t think I could have done it without them,” Thurston said.
‘It’s unfair to leave people’: ‘Bachelor’ Matt James explains why he’s back with ex Rachael Kirkconnell
"Bachelorette" star Katie Thurston (right) gets advice from former stars Katilyn Bristowe (left) and Tayshia Adams (center), who are stepping in for host Chris Harrison this season. (Photo: Craig Sjodin, ABC)
The new Bachelorette likened the experience to having “sisters” there to help “navigate my journey.” In trailer clips, Adams and Bristowe are seen by Thurston’s side, cheering and laughing along through the process.
She also teases a mix of “playful” and “serious” conversations about sex, marriage and grief during what she calls an “unexpected” season featuring a “diverse cast” with “amazing stories to share.”
“I can only hope that as this goes forward and is airing that you guys get to see that, and I think that’s what’s important,” Thurston said when asked about the show’s ongoing diversity efforts on- and off-camera. “I know that that’s something that is a continuous progress moving forward. Change doesn’t happen overnight.”
On James’ season of “The Bachelor,” Thurston aimed to squash drama when things got ugly between other contestants. This season, there will, of course, be conflict “when you’re all dating the same woman,” but she is proud of the positive relationships that developed on the show.
“The guys navigated exactly how they wanted to,” Thurston said. “But I think you guys will see some bromances that form as well, which is really just refreshing to watch. You want to watch the love stories, the friendships, and I think there’s plenty of that this season.”
One "Bachelorette" contestant took an "out-of-the-box" approach to his first meeting with star Katie Thurston. (Photo: Craig Sjodin, ABC)
On Monday night at 8 p.m. ET on ABC, viewers will watch 30 men make their first impressions to Thurston, who had a memorable entrance of her own last season when she introduced herself to James brandishing a purple sex toy. Can we expect similarly eyebrow-raising props and puns this time around?
“Definitely,” Thurston responded. “These guys are going to try and one up me. … And let me tell you: They did.”
Previously: Chris Harrison will be replaced by Tayshia Adams, Kaitlyn Bristowe as ‘The Bachelorette’ host
‘We’re the Bachelorettes’: Katie Thurston, Michelle Young to become next stars of ‘Bachelor’ franchise
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