Skinny dipping, the craziest rose ceremony ever and more secrets from the set

By Michelle Tauber and Alexis Chiu
January 04, 2012 08:00 AM

He famously bared his soul on The Bachelorette last season, but this time around, Ben Flajnik is daring to reveal even more.

“It’s a very nude season,” host Chris Harrison says of Flajnik’s turn as the Bachelor, which includes everything from the reappearance of a mystery woman from Ben’s past to a heavily hyped skinny-dipping session.

“Ben is very comfortable in his own skin. He doesn’t have modesty issues.”

But it wasn’t all easy-breezy. The San Francisco-based winemaker, 29 – whose proposal was rejected by Ashley Hebert last year – was caught off guard by the fierce level of competition among the 25 women vying for his affections on the ABC reality hit, which kicked off Monday night.

Among the women’s attention-grabbing stunts: an arrival on horseback (“a hell of a first impression,” says Flajnik), a grandma on crutches and a blind-folded candy tasting. The first night also saw the start of some serious cat-fighting among the potential suitors.

“Obviously with a situation like this, the claws are going to come out,” Flajnik tells PEOPLE in this week’s cover story. “And they came out a lot earlier than I would’ve expected.”

Even as the drama unfolds this season, ABC is already gearing up for the next round of roses: Casting is now underway for the upcoming season of The Bachelorette. The intrepid can apply here.

For much more behind-the-scenes scoop on Ben’s turn as the Bachelor – including his thoughts on some early standouts – pick up this week s issue of PEOPLE