If Bachelor Nation is a cult, then host Chris Harrison is our Dear Leader. He guides the Bachelor or Bachelorette through the rough waters of reality TV romance, instills anticipation and dread in the contestants with every date card drop-off, and ensures that the viewers never, ever miss the final rose tonight. (Let us never forget that one awful, Harrison-less rose ceremony during Jillian’s season of The Bachelorette.) With season 23 of The Bachelor about to begin, I grilled the host on how he gets through the marathon night-one shoot, what he thinks of the Bachelor Nation backlash about Colton, and why he never wants to hear someone talk about “the right reasons” again.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Do you have any night-one traditions?
CHRIS HARRISON: My tradition is now just trying to survive. Night one is a little bit like preparing for a marathon or a triathlon. You know it’s going to be a battle, of emotions and fitness and stamina, and it’s going to hurt really bad, you just have to get through it. My only tradition at this point is to drink my tea and try to stay awake.
I can’t believe that before you had a trailer, you used to sleep on the floor upstairs in the mansion during the overnight shoot.
Up until two seasons ago, I would sleep in the closet in the master bedroom on the floor. At the time there was nothing else available and I didn’t have a trailer, because apparently we’re not a primetime network show, so the host was sleeping on the floor [laughs].
What do you do now when you’re in your trailer?
It’s staying up to date on what’s going on, but there are points in the evening where I know we are essentially down, for example when Colton goes into his midpoint interview. I know we’re down for about two hours, so I’ll usually sneak away and take a little two-hour catnap when I know nothing is going on.
I’ll have a producer text me and let me know if something important or a certain conversation is about to take place. They’ll text me and say, “Be here in five minutes…” So I come back out and it usually happens about an hour and a half later [laughs].
In your first interview with Colton this season, creator Mike Fleiss was really pushing you to get Colton to say things like “I hope I lose my virginity.” How do you handle fielding those producer requests via your earpiece while also keeping the interview running smoothly?
The only thing that can prepare you for something like that is experience. And having people in my ear going on three decades, it really is just the experience of being able to take in all that information. I know going into a scene what we’re trying to get. Producers want certain things. Without being disrespectful, I don’t always agree with [the producers] on what they want or how to get it. I just have to make a quick gut call, and sometimes they applaud me for it and sometimes I get reprimanded for it.
Mike and I remain friends because we do have that respect for each other. Typically, I’ll try to verbalize [the question] in a way that’s more palatable than the way [the producers] blurt it out.
Fan backlash is inevitable about any new Bachelor. What did you think of Bachelor Nation’s concerns about Colton?
First of all, I get it, I really do. I would also say that [the backlash] is a byproduct of social media and especially the vocal minority of negative — the majority of our audience is not even on Twitter, and if they [are on it], I know the majority of Bachelor Nation doesn’t actually tweet. You’re talking about a very small minority of people who will tweet something, and that’s usually because they’re upset. I appreciate it because that means you care, you know who Blake is or you know who Jason is. I understand it, I appreciate it, and I am fine defending it.
I hope you respect us enough to know that we’ve been doing this a long time, and we’re going to make a good choice and we’re going to make a good TV show. That’s why we chose Colton. It’s not an indictment of Jason, he’s a good guy, and it’s not an indictment of Blake, he’s a great guy too. They would have been good Bachelors, just very different.
In a non-spoilery way, how would you describe Colton’s first night?
If I was giving it a grade, I would say it was probably an A-, which is really good. Night one is a difficult night. It’s not my favorite night. The hardest thing in television is starting, in getting going. You have to introduce everybody, there are certain things that you just can’t skip. Night one is never going to be an absolute home run.
[The Bachelor] is not quite into the flow yet, he’s trying to feel his way. With Colton his defense mechanism is he gets really kind of smiley and jokey, that’s his kind of shut-down mode. But then when he gets pushed and he gets tested or he gets emotional, that’s the real Colton, that’s the guy who’s going to tell us what’s on his mind, that’s the guy who could run through a brick wall on the football field.
You could see certain conversations made him serious, whatever made him drop his shoulders and look someone in the eye and have a real conversation. They get to be these Bachelor robots and you say these phrases that you’re taught year after year. My goal is to never have them say those things to me. When you talk to me, I want it to be real.
What are some Bachelor phrases you never want to hear again?
It’s all the catchphrases: Saying someone is “here for the right reasons,” or “being on this journey.” Typically, what we do is [ask] people to repeat the question [in interviews] because you can’t use a producer’s questions. I call it the Soundbite Syndrome. The Bachelor or Bachelorette has to do that so much [during filming], when they get to me, sometimes they keep doing it. Occasionally I’ll just whisper to them, “Cut the bulls— and just talk to me.”