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Clare Crawley will make her fifth appearance in “Bachelor” nation as season 16’s “Bachelorette” star.

USA TODAY

Bachelor Nation, fear no more. “The Bachelorette” is finally back – albeit a few months behind schedule – to offer an escape from a raucous presidential election cycle, a contentious Supreme Court nominee vetting process and (of course) an ongoing global pandemic.

Host Chris Harrison starts each season, including this one, telling viewers they’re about to watch something that’s Never Happened Before. In retrospect, he sounds like the boy who cried “game-changer.”

This time, he means business. But not in the way you think. “This new season of ‘The Bachelorette’ is like nothing you’ve ever seen before, and it’s not because of the pandemic,” Harrison says, noticeably not in front of the usual “Bachelor” mansion in Los Angeles. 

What he’s likely referring to is revealed in subsequent teasers: clips that hint at truth behind the rumor (wind)mill that Clare Crawley isn’t the season’s only “Bachelorette.”

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“The Bachelorette” has a whole new crop of handsome suitors, including two former pro football players, an anesthesiologist and a spin-cycling instructor, vying for Clare Crawley’s heart on Season 16 of the ABC reality show. (Photo: Craig Sjodin, ABC)

The episode continues with a quick recap of 39-year-old Clare finding out she will be “The Bachelorette.” Of course, the pandemic had other plans. Production on the show had to shut down and she started sheltering in place.

Hope was not lost, however, as by June, producers had figured out a way to safely film. The cast and crew head to La Quinta Resort & Club in Palm Springs, California, and Clare and her suitors receive COVID-19 tests before entering a “Bachelor” bubble.

“We’re some of the only people in this world that can really date because of this crazy thing called COVID,” Clare says, effectively slapping my single self in the face.

Clare (not so shockingly) tests negative, and the men arrive to begin quarantining at La Quinta. They introduce themselves to us via selfie-style videos, and after passing several COVID tests, are ready to meet Clare.

Clare tells Chris that before Juan Pablo’s season, she had escaped an abusive relationship and that the woman she is today is a complete 180; she’s done a lot of therapy. (Right on.)

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‘I just met my husband’

The men start pouring out of the limo, as they normally would on a season of “The Bachelorette.” All the hugging is alarming but a reassuring sign that one day, in the hopefully not-too-distant future, we too can date chiseled Instagram models.

Suitor Jason shows up with a pregnant belly, playing homage to how Clare showed up for Juan Pablo’s season. Now it’s his turn to prove to her that he’s willing to hold the weight of their relationship and labor of love for her. All right. 

Kenny puts Clare’s dogs on a T-shirt, which she “pets” as an excuse to feel him up; this feels silly considering her dogs went to Palm Springs with her. We don’t blame her as long as it was as consensual, as it appeared.

Bennett is the most pretentious of the bunch: a Harvard graduate showing up in a Rolls Royce and wearing a white scarf. 

A.J. squeezes her hands too hard, and explains he hadn’t touched a woman in a while. “Looks like a Jack Russell took a bite out of it,” Clare says, rings digging into her hand. Ouch.

Then come the costumes. Jay has slipped into a straightjacket, explaining he’s gone crazy because it’s been 128 days since he was first supposed to meet her; Chasen dons a knight’s armor over his suit; and Demar wears skydiving gear, saying he may have already fallen for her. It’s cute.

Ed wins the most creativity points for showing up in a literal giant bubble.

Dale, however, may have won the most points where it counts: Clare’s heart. They embrace and he picks her up. “I definitely feel like I just met my husband,” she says after he walks away. Chris pops over and, like us, stares at her, incredulous.

She refers to the men as such a diverse group of guys – a not-so-subtle nod to the franchise patting itself on the back for its commitment to diversity. It recently cast its first Black bachelor, Matt James, who was supposed to be a contestant this season, and promised to delete racist comments online.

Clare begins to get to know the men, including opening up to both Eazy and Dale about her mother living with Alzheimer’s disease.

The night couldn’t wrap up without some drama, though. It’s rather trivial given the state of the world, though then again, we guess it always was.

Yosef has apparently been on Instagram, flirting with women Tyler C. knows. Tyler C. tries to confront Yosef about it, but the situation backfires when Yosef brings the situation to Clare’s attention and says Tyler C. is trying to drag his name through the mud. There is something comforting (if not disturbing) about this being the only problem these people are facing.

Blake Moynes (we use his last name because – no kidding – there are two men named Blake M. this season) reached out to Clare during quarantine, the only contestant who did. He apparently broke a show rule in doing so, but it meant everything to her.

Clare kisses him … only to later kiss Dale after giving him the first impression rose. Kissing multiple men in one night?! During a pandemic?! Rub it in our faces a little more, Clare.

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Who gets a rose on the premiere?

The men who receive roses (besides Dale) are Blake Moynes, Eazy, Ben, Riley, Zach J., Tyler S., Joe, Jason, Demar, Chasen, Jordan C., Blake Monar, Kenny, Brendan, Garin, Ed, Bennett, Zac C., Jay, Brandon, Ivan and … Yosef. Sorry, Tyler C.

“Could I have made different decisions and different choices in hindsight? Yeah, but that’s hindsight,” Clare told USA TODAY earlier Tuesday. “In the moment I followed my gut, and I did what I felt was best in the moment. And I can’t regret that.”

But the drama is just beginning, and not only because of the supposed replacement. Based on the season’s look-ahead, Dale may not turn out to be all that great, and Yosef apparently (and rudely!) points out that Clare is the oldest Bachelorette.

Regardless, we’re along for the drama- (and pandemic)-filled ride.

In case you had more questions about fall premieres: Fall TV: When will ‘Bachelorette, ‘The Voice,’ ‘Amazing Race’ premiere in pandemic-influenced fall?

And if none of those other ones strike your fancy: The 50 best TV shows to watch on HBO Max right now: From ‘Friends,’ to ‘Doctor Who,’ to ‘Looney Tunes’

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