It may be the eighth season of The Bachelorette, but host Chris Harrison swears that Emily Maynard‘s quest to find love via reality TV – which premieres Monday on ABC – “is drastically different and much deeper from anything we’ve ever done.”
PEOPLE asked for proof when Harrison spoke with reporters last week. He provided five solid points.
• Maynard’s a Mom
First and foremost, Maynard, 26, has a six-year-old daughter named Ricki. “Her being a single mom definitely changed the tone from night one,” says Harrison. “You don’t get to make decisions for yourself anymore. There was always that underlying issue of, ‘Is this guy ready [to be a parent]?’ It’s not just hopefully finding love at the end. [She] hopefully finds a husband and a father figure to Ricki. Emily is a strong, independent and traditional Southern woman but she’s exhausted. Because of the tragedy, she’s been in control since she was 19. She’s looking for a strong man to help her take her hands off the wheel.”
• It’s a Different Kind of Drama
Expect a different variety of drama this season. “You don’t have the frat house humor and superficial drama that you’ve seen in seasons past with younger contestants or contestants that weren’t parents,” says Harrison. “There’s a much more serious tone and Emily’s dealing with bigger issues. It’s almost hard to explain in a nice little sound byte because there are so many levels to this. It made for a fantastic season.” Which is still filming, we might note: Harrison said they were shooting hometown dates as of early May.
• The Guys Knew Who They Were Getting
All 25 of the suitors – including a mushroom farmer, an ex-professional football player, a single dad, and a guy who shows up in a helicopter – came on the show knowing that Maynard was the woman they’d be vying for. “Emily has already captured their attention and their imagination,” says the host. “You don’t have that moment of getting out of the limo going, ‘Who is this? Am I attracted to them?’ They’re already over that first hurdle and on to seeing if there’s something beyond initial attraction.”
• It’s a Brand New Setting
This is the first season that doesn’t begin in the Bachelor mansion hidden in the suburban L.A. hills. Maynard didn’t want to take her daughter out of school or disrupt her life so the crew spent a month shooting in her hometown of Charlotte, N.C., and she even lived in her own home. “To come to a place that loves our show and have a local star like Emily was awesome,” says Harrison. “They rolled out the red carpet for us. We opened up a few dates to the public like concerts and a Muppets benefit for the Children’s Hospital that is dear to Emily’s heart. People tried to sneak on set, invited us to their restaurants, thanked us for being there. I loved that hospitality. It was almost easier than shooting in L.A.”
• Hot Tubs Available 24/7
The dates are a tad more reserved and Harrison was still unsure whether the overnight exotic dates with the top three would happen. “We absolutely cater and accommodate who our Bachelorette is and she’s not the crazy, bungee jumping, skydiving type of woman – she’s a Southern gem who likes to wear high heels and dresses,” notes the host. Despite early rumors that this season would stay put in her hometown, Harrison revealed that production made stops in Bermuda, London, Croatia and Prague. “That doesn’t mean we don’t like to take them out of the comfort zone a little, because how the guy she’s with handles it and takes care of her says a lot,” he adds. “In Charlotte early on, we scale a building. But it’s very tame compared to things we’ve done before like jumping off a bridge in New Zealand. And hot tubs always mysteriously appear. Blow-up hot tubs on call 24/7 [is] in the contract.”