Arie Luyendyk Jr. started his journey as The Bachelor on uncertain ground. Much of it wasn't his fault. Peter Kraus, runner-up from the previous season of The Bachelorette and the clear Bachelor frontrunner, had been in discussions to be the lead that ultimately fell through. Ravenous Peter fans were abundant, and the nickname 'Not Peter' took hold for Arie.
The Arizona resident admirably laughed off the moniker, but Kraus comparisons aside, he also hadn't been on fans' screens in five years. When he got the Bachelor call, the 36-year-old literally grabbed a suit and jumped on a plane, and after his Good Morning America appearance the next morning, fans on Twitter let out a resounding, "WHO?!" and side-by-sides of his original Bachelorette headshot from 2012 and the new GMA appearance went viral.
Then the chatter died down, and Bachelor Nation seemed ready and excited for a new season. But since season 22 began, many have dubbed the race car driver's episodes too slow (including alumni of the franchise like Corinne Olympios, Raven Gates, Tanner Tolbert and more). We spoke with Robert Mills, ABC Senior Vice President of Alternative Series, Specials and Late-Night Programming, who's a Bachelor fan (and, frankly, historian) himself, about his takeaways from this season and the ending ahead that host Chris Harrison has promised is "a phenomenal finish."
ET: You usually cast the lead from a more recent season. Do you wish Arie had gotten more media training before filming, or been on camera more recently?
Robert Mills: We’ve had, for lack of a better term, growing pains. … He was having a hard time [with] some of the stuff [he had] to do for TV; shooting things over and over again, even just something like an entrance into a room because you’ve got to get the right angle. It was hard because he was trying to be as authentic and organic as possible … He really had to get back into it. ... It also happened very quickly, too, so I think there just wasn’t a lot of time.
Is there anything you would've done differently in terms of bringing him on?
You need different types of seasons and he was what we needed now. We had certainly an entertaining season with Nick Viall, but it was a little bit crazier and sometimes you need one with a Bachelor like this who’s just very sincere and kind of a regular guy. ... Every season we always do a debrief ... It's like having an NFL team. Whether it’s a Super Bowl-winning season or a season where you just miss the playoffs, whatever it is, you say, "Here’s what we really liked. Here’s what didn’t work. Here’s what people responded to," and you make adjustments for the next season.
What are your thoughts about some of the women (Bekah, Krystal) now saying they went on the show for Peter?
Well, that happens all the time. ... Lesley [Murphy, of Sean Lowe's season] has said she went on The Bachelor for Arie! That is not a new phenomenon. I think it's more magnified because Arie doesn't come from the previous season, but it happens all the time.
But ratings are down a bit, why do you think that is?
I will say it's fascinating to me to see how much shorter people’s memories are now. I think because there is just so much stuff, certainly entertainment-wise, so many options, there’s much more short-term memory. It’s like we live in a time-lapse world now. [With] Arie, I was shocked by how many people said, “I don’t know who this guy is,” or “I don’t remember this guy.” That was kind of difficult and people needed to sort of get back into the swing of him. We came off a down season with [Bachelorette Rachel Lindsay] too. ... We’ve won the time period every week, so it’s still a high-class problem to have, but why was Nick’s season higher rated than Arie’s? ... I think that this one is rooted in more sincerity, although sometimes that reads as boredom to some people.
Considering that has been a criticism of this season -- that it's "boring" -- do you feel pressure to properly tease the ending? We've heard it's jaw-dropping.
Yes, it is important for us to sort of sound the drumbeat. Honestly, if you’ve never even watched The Bachelor before, you should watch this! We’re working on and have had several phone calls of, "How do we really promote this so we don’t leave anything on the table?" ... This finale is really unlike anything we’ve seen.
How did you react when you found out how the season ends?
Obviously, when you look at it as a TV executive, you think, "Oh, anything promotable is always great. This is fantastic." But this show more so than some others, you have to remember these are real people with real feelings. It’s a really fine line and you have to debate everything really closely, like how much you’re going to show, because, on the one hand, everyone has made a contract with the audience that you’re going to show how everything plays out over the season. On the other hand, you want to be, like I said, respectful to feelings. So it’s hard, but I am happy.
You've done Bachelor and Bachelor Winter Games since the Bachelor in Paradise scandal last summer. How do you think the new safety rules that the team implemented after that affected the shows?
They haven’t affected them that much. If anyone says this season seems boring, that really had less to do with not as much drinking and more to do with that Arie is a guy from Scottsdale who wants to get up with the sun, be with his wife, go sell houses and come home to her. He’s looking for something more grounded. ... Like I said, with every season we will look at it at the end and say, did this affect it at all? Did it affect it where we need to kind of adjust things a bit? And we’ll look at that going forward.
On Winter Games, one international cast member noted the women around her were thinner than her. You're a proponent of diversifying casting. Have you talked about diversifying the body types?
Absolutely. We’d [cast for more body-type diversity.] A lot of it does revolve around who the lead is and who the lead wants to date. What you don’t want to do is say, "We’re going to put on somebody who’s more curvy," and then they’re gone the first night. … It’s hard, but we’re all for as much diversity as possible.
From the start, much of this season has been about what fans think of Arie. What will fans think of him after the finale?
I don’t know because so much of it is live, and [depends on] how Arie handles himself there. Sometimes there is the tendency to jump to kind of a mob mentality and like someone or dislike someone. The one thing about Arie that we’ve always gotten is he’s totally authentic and that, like I said, might be read as boring by some people. At the very least, Arie is going to be true to himself. ... This is a really nice, decent guy. ... I hope audiences kind of give him the benefit of the doubt.
Arie has sometimes had a hard time with his feelings, especially for Lauren B. He's said he can't explain why he likes her so much. What are you wishing he'd say there?
I, like everyone else, wish he would explain why! But I do think, honest to God, he can’t explain it. I think that connection is what leads him to do bizarre things like get up and walk around the room and come back and give her a rose!
Yes, he walked away from their dinner! What happened there? Why didn't we see that footage?
Really, not much happened. He’s just in his head. Lauren B., that’s the one where it’s a very, very bizarre connection. I think if Arie didn’t believe in past lives, he probably would here and say, "We must have been married in a past life or something." There’s a connection he can’t even put his finger on. I do think he’s better at talking about it with somebody like, say, Kendall, where there’s a million different things he likes about her.
We also did not see Krystal freaking out on that bus after the bowling date. Will you now install cameras in the vehicles?
Yes, absolutely! Anytime a trip is taken anywhere with one or more people in the cast, we will make sure cameras are there at all times.
There's a lot to keep track of. How do you feel when spoilers get out?
Certainly it’s fine to tease things, but I like when we control how it’s being teased, where it’s being teased and what is being teased. So I’m not thrilled about it. You do realize at some point you have to throw up your hands. With social media now too, nothing is private for anyone, so it’s hard to keep anything secret. It does frustrate me; I’ll be honest with you.
Have you thought about putting social media clauses in cast contracts? Sean Lowe mentioned to me he thought he had one.
It's a fine line. Obviously you run the risk of like a few years ago, with Kaitlyn [Bristowe] blowing the whole season and we had to do triage. So it’s hard, but for the most part we’ve identified social media as something that’s really much more of a helper.
There was a report about a trio wedding for Kaitlyn, JoJo Fletcher and Rachel Lindsay. Could we see more televised weddings in the future?
I think Rachel and Bryan are absolutely going to get married, and that would be a dream for us to do a Bachelor multiple wedding. We’d love it, we’re here for it, but these are real people and it’s their real life. If we could find a way to make [a trio wedding] seem appealing to them, we’d absolutely do it! I also understand a person’s wedding day is very personal and their own. But God knows, we’d love to do it.
There was a one-season spinoff that focused on Ben Higgins and Lauren Bushnell. Any other spinoffs you'd consider?
I think it’s very difficult to document a couple who’s together. A lot of it is not very compelling, or if you try to make it compelling it can lead to cracks in the facade. … I don’t know that one character sustains an entire spinoff, I think you need a group of people, which is what is done so great on Paradise and Winter Games.
After this season, where's your head in terms of how you want to cast the next Bachelorette?
The beauty of things like Paradise and Winter Games is that they’ve widened the pool a lot. Also, Arie’s group of women is phenomenal. … We have a lot of fantastic choices. ... The people who produce the show are the fans, honestly. It's not us. It's monitoring what they like. Nick [Viall] was such a great left turn, but that was because you saw the reaction to him on Paradise. ... That was the reason for that.
The #TimesUp movement has been such a topic of conversation. What have you thought about how it plays into the show considering your female audience?
No matter what show you're doing or what walk of life you're in, you can't be blind to this movement. ... [We do have] such a powerful female audience and presence, so I think we're looking at it, but it's not going to lead what the show is or what it becomes.
This many seasons in, would you ever go outside the Bachelor world entirely for a lead?
When [the show] first started, the thesis was about a guy who nobody would ever get to date under any other circumstances. Harvard-educated, wealthy, and you sort of find that those guys don’t necessarily need a TV show not only to date one woman, but even multiple women. To me it really worked with somebody who’s just sort of a regular guy, and you need the previous season to establish that. When this show really worked was with Jason Mesnick, who was just sort of a single dad from Seattle, but because we spent 10 weeks with him and were so invested in his story, that’s why everybody wanted to see him as The Bachelor. So I think it’s really difficult to not do it like that now. … Even with someone like Juan Pablo Galavis, who didn’t have much screen time, he’d still made an impression. It has to be somebody who’s at least tangential in the Bachelor world.
The Bachelor world is one we love living in, so watch The Bachelor: Women Tell All Sunday night on ABC, followed by another episode Monday featuring fantasy suites. (Mills promises excitement from the 'Kissing Bandit': "[Arie] is certainly not a born-again virgin.") As for the finale in early March, we'll have to wait and see what happens ... maybe this really will be the most dramatic one yet.