Chris Harrison: How 'The Bachelorette' Is Dealing with Death of Contestant Eric Hill

"He was a big part of the show," says the host of Eric Hill, who died in a paragliding accident

Photo: Splash News Online; GO with Eric, The Global Odyssey/Facebook

After the death of The Bachelorette contestant Eric Hill, producers are left mourning the loss a friend and struggling to figure out how to handle an unprecedented tragedy.

“It’s a horrible, horrible thing. He was taken away too young,” host Chris Harrison tells PEOPLE. “It’s something we’ve never dealt with on the show. It didn’t only affect our cast, but also our crew who worked closely with him.”

Hill, 31, had already shot his scenes for the upcoming Andi Dorfman season when he died of injuries sustained when his parachute collapsed while paragliding in Utah last month.

“He was a part of the show, and a big part of the show,” says Harrison. “We all took a moment to step back and reflect and respect Eric and his family. We wanted to really take it all in and let ourselves mourn a little bit.”

“Now that we’ve been mourning and dealing with it personally,” he adds, “we have to deal with it professionally.”

With the ABC show premiering May 19, “We have a little bit of time to make the right decision,” says Harrison, but of exactly how they’ll handle Hill’s scenes, “We’re not 100 percent sure.”

“But I feel like every decision we make,” he says, “will be out of respect.”

Dorfman’s season, meanwhile, poses other lighter challenges.

A tough-as-nails assistant district attorney who famously flopped with last season’s controversial Bachelor, Juan Pablo Galavis, Dorfman, 27, is “our most accomplished Bachelorette,” says Harrison.

“We didn’t really have to raise the bar in casting [the men],” he says. “When it was announced that Andi is going to be our Bachelorette, the guys that we found and who approached us are of a much higher level.”

So what could give a guy an edge with her?

Although Harrison may be a little biased on this point (he is, after all, teaming with the American Academy of Periodontology to promote oral hygiene), but he suggests it may come down to that all-important first-impression smile.

“That’s huge,” he says. “I think it leads to success in life, a job interview or getting out of the limo on The Bachelorette.”

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