Chris Harrison
January 04, 2011 AT 06:03 AM EST

Welcome back! I’ve missed all of you. It’s hard to believe this is season 21 of The Bachelor/Bachelorette. That is an amazing run in network TV, and I want to thank you for making that happen. As you all know, we tried something a little different this season. For the first time in the show’s history, we brought back a Bachelor for a “do-over.” The reaction to Brad has been mixed; many of you were skeptical and some of you were even a little angry. I have to admit, I kind of like that. We’ve never gone into a season where our Bachelor or Bachelorette wasn’t your overwhelming favorite. It’s going to be very interesting to begin this season with someone who, from the start, needs to prove himself to not only the women on the show but also to you, our fans. Believe me when I tell you that none of this pressure was lost on Brad — or me for that matter. When Brad and I met up that first night, despite his trademark smile and Texas charm I could tell this guy was feeling the weight of the world on his shoulders. Say what you will about Brad — you have to give the man credit for stepping up and owning what he did. He hasn’t just said, “I’m sorry” and moved on with life in Austin. He has stepped up to prove publicly in front of the entire world that he is a changed man. He is essentially putting all his chips on the table for one roll of the dice. If he comes off as anything less than sincere or committed to this, he knows he’ll be run out of town. That’s why my final words of advice to him that first night were “don’t screw this up.”  So it was with all this pressure hanging over us that we sat down that first night at the mansion for our chat. Yes, we’re back at the same house again. If I’m not mistaken, Brad was the first Bachelor to ever use this house three years ago. During our chat, as you saw, I surprised Brad by bringing out the two women he left standing at the rose altar last time, Jenni and DeAnna.  He had no idea they were there that night or that this was going to happen. I thought this was a great idea for several reasons. First of all, I wanted to see if Brad was truly a changed man and would own up to what he did and explain why. Brad couldn’t just say it wasn’t “right”; these two women wouldn’t let him off that easy. I was impressed to see him admit that upon reflection — and yes, some therapy — that he wasn’t really the man he was pretending to be back then. He wasn’t capable at that point in his life to commit and truly fall in love. He is truly sorry for hurting Jenni and DeAnna. The women have obviously moved on so this meeting wasn’t about love or an opportunity missed. This was about an overdue apology and step one in Brad proving to you, and more importantly to himself, that he’s a changed man.

After our talk it was time for the 30 women to arrive. All Bachelors are nervous at this moment. This is when they finally realize, “Holy cow, I’m the Bachelor and this is really going to happen.” Despite having been there before, Brad was still anxious. He knew how it all worked but he had no idea what the women’s reactions were going to be. I should explain at this point that I usually watch the shows by myself the week before they air so I can write this blog and be ready to do any press interviews I have lined up to promote the show. This first episode was a little different. As some of you may have read on my Twitter page I decided to watch this first episode illegally (sorry ABC) with my family and friends over the holidays while I was home in Dallas. This gave me a whole different perspective on the show, as you’ll read below. I should warn you, yes there was wine involved in the viewing of this show. The first thing I learned watching this with family and friends (most of them women) is that there is a game you can play, toasting every time you see Brad without his shirt on. I quickly realized after two segments that this is not a good game to play if you’re trying to write a blog and stay awake through the end of the show.

If Brad was wondering how the women would react, all his fears were quickly realized when the first woman out of the limo, Chantal (not to be confused with Shawntel the funeral director), gave Brad a good slap across the face for all the women in America. Let me answer the questions my friends had. Yes, the slap was very, very real and no, Brad had no idea it was coming. He handled it much better than I would have and actually got a good laugh out of it. During the arrivals you had the usual fun and games as women tried to make a good or lasting first impression — and a few of them did. Brad actually liked Chantal and her slap. Ashley S. and her cute southern drawl set him at ease. Emily also made a solid first impression. Right now Brad doesn’t know her tragic story, but she is someone you’ll get to know a lot more about. The woman who really stood out to Brad, and I think you could tell by his reaction, was Michelle. She is also someone you will get to know and she’ll be a force to be reckoned with in the house this season. Now normally I would have continued watching the show and making my notes, but because I was watching this with a group and somebody had the great idea of toasting every time we saw Brad without his shirt on, we got a little sidetracked. Because of Michelle’s last name, somebody brought up the singer Eddie Money. I had to explain to someone in our group that Eddie was not a member of Van Halen (that’s Eddie Van Halen) but was in fact a solo artist with hits like “Two Tickets to Paradise” and “Baby Hold On.” After pausing the show and discussing Eddie Money for about five minutes, we were ready to move on. (Personal note here: This is the last time I’ll preview the show with a group of friends and family!)

Once the women got in the house and the cocktail party began, so did the personal attack on Brad. He knew it might be tough and that he would get some questions about his past, but I don’t think he expected as much as he got. I think it got to the point where he was a little frustrated. Overall, Brad handled himself very well that first night putting all the women at ease, and answering every question they had as open and honestly as he could. One person we have to discuss is Madison. Everybody at my house was screaming, “Come on!” so I assume you were as well. I loved how Brad just flat out called her out on the fangs. Is Madison a model that wants to be noticed? Probably so, but that’s something Brad has to figure out. Although he has a good idea that’s the case, there is something about her that intrigues him (not the teeth) so he wanted to keep her around at least one more week to see if there’s more to this woman than just her overbite. One of the crowd favorites at my viewing party was Raichel the manscaper.  First let me say there was a guy at my party who didn’t know what manscaping was. Is that possible? I get if that’s not your thing, but isn’t it common knowledge what it is? Brad’s reaction to the idea of getting his “undercarriage” waxed or getting “bat wings” (I hadn’t heard of that one myself) was fantastic.

The first impression rose went to the sweet southern woman Ashley S. From the moment she stepped out of the limo she made Brad happy and relaxed. While so many other women were aggressive or put Brad on the defensive, she was sweet and made his life easy. Some in my group think she looks and sounds a little like Tenley — what do you guys think? My favorite part of the first episode is the very end in what we call the super tease that promotes the entire season. As you saw, once again we will be traveling the world to places like Costa Rica, Anguilla, and South Africa. This season is fantastic and very different than any we’ve ever had. Brad obviously brings a very different element, but so does this group of women. I always say what makes this show so interesting is the people and the baggage and history they bring with them. This season we have stories we’ve never seen or heard before and that makes Brad’s journey very intriguing. I have said in the press there are no major “scandals” this season, but that definitely doesn’t mean this season is without its fair share of drama! Brad is in love but how he gets there, whom it’s with, and what the real story is will definitely be worth watching! I’d like to thank my friends at EW.com for having me back here in this forum to chat with you this season. Some of you have already heard but for those that haven’t I want to announce a new fun way to check out all things Bachelor. It’s our official Bachelor web site, TheBachelor.warnerbros.com. We have just gotten this up and running and will be updating and adding great content in the coming weeks and months. From casting to comments to upcoming events and appearances it’s all right there on the site. As always, thanks for watching. Please leave your comments and questions below, and you can always find me on Twitter @chrisbharrison. Happy New Year!

More Bachelor on EW:

The Bachelor season premiere recap: Dreamboat or D—–bag?

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