How 'The Bachelor' Has Changed Since Its First Season, in Honor of the Show's 20th Anniversary

From the date cards to the introduction of the first impression rose, here's how The Bachelor has changed since its premiere 20 years ago

LaNease Adams
Photo: Byron Cohen/Walt Disney Television via Getty Images

A toast to The Bachelor's 20th anniversary!

The dating reality show that revolves around love and roses has blossomed into an entire franchise since season 1 — and aside from becoming more and more "dramatic" each season, the series has seen significant changes over the past two decades.

Since The Bachelor first premiered in 2002, spinoff shows have launched, hosts have been changed, and social media has evolved. As a result, a massive fanbase has been built, known as Bachelor Nation.

When Alex Michel stepped out of the limo 20 years ago on March 25, he made history as ABC's first-ever Bachelor. After courting 25 women, event planner Amanda Marsh received the final rose. Though Michel opted not to propose to Marsh, they continued to date post-show before breaking up in early 2003.


From the date cards, cocktail parties, to the introduction of the first impression rose, keep scrolling to learn how The Bachelor has changed since its premiere 20 years ago.

The Bachelor lead did not have a reality television background in season 1.

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Michel had an extremely polished resume when he applied for the show: He was a high school valedictorian, study body president, and captain of the swim team before graduating from Harvard University and later receiving his MBA from Stanford University Graduate School of Business, per his LinkedIn.

Creator of The Bachelor Mike Fleiss explained to The Cut why Andrea Wong (former international production president of Sony Pictures) wanted Michel for the gig. "In her mind's eye, the most eligible man in America, the most desirable single man — marriage material — should be a highly educated guy," he said. "So that's how he got the job over guys that I think were probably more like the guys we cast now."

Paul Hebert/ABC

In most recent seasons, Bachelor leads have been chosen after not finding love on The Bachelorette. Bob Guiney, the season 4 Bachelor, was the first lead to be on on both shows. (He appeared on season 1 of The Bachelorette first, but was eliminated in week 3.)

This trend of bringing back fan-favorite contestants to be show leads continued with the likes of Sean Lowe, Ben Higgins, Nick Viall, Colton Underwood, Peter Weber, Clayton Echard, and more.

There was no first impression rose in season 1.

Sean Lowe and Catherine Giudici
Rick Rowell/Disney General Entertainment Content via Getty Images

The first impression rose wasn't introduced until season 10 in 2007. Andy Baldwin was the first lead to hand it out.

The first impression rose has carried more and more weight over the years. Lowe was the first Bachelor to hand out the first impression rose and the final rose to the same person during season 17 in 2013. DeAnna Pappas was the first Bachelorette to do so on season 4 of The Bachelorette in 2008.

On The Bachelorette, the recipient of the coveted flower has often gone on to win in the end; for The Bachelor, it's only happened twice.

There was no Bachelor mansion in season 1.

Greg Doherty/Getty.

The iconic mansion wasn't used during the show's first season; in fact, it wasn't even built yet! Marshall Haraden, owner of the construction company The Marshall Group, built the six-bedroom, nine-bathroom home in 2004, two years after the show's premiere.

Although "Villa de la Vina" was not built with the intention of using it for filming, Haraden agreed to rent his 9,000 square-foot property to production. "When [the crew] comes, we move out for 42 days," the father of four told Today.

Season 1 was filmed in a Mediterranean-styled structure on the coast of California, but was considered "The Bachelor's Villa" as opposed to "The Bachelor Mansion."

Group dates and one-on-ones were announced differently in season 1.

ABC's "The Bachelor" - Season 20
Jean Whiteside/ABC/Getty

For Bachelor contestants, an anticipated knock on the door is often paired with a little white envelope filled with a date card delicately crafted with a few words that tease what the women can expect during their time with the lead. However, this hasn't always been the sole form of communication between the Bachelor and the women to let them know a date was going to happen.

Season 1 had a concept called a "date box" which was stocked with clues in addition to a card. Video messages were another a method used, but both were streamlined into the date card we see today.

"Mike [Fleiss] loves the written word, and he wanted it to be cute but not cutesy," former Bachelor director and co-executive producer Jason Carbone told Slate of the date cards. "And he wanted it to be smart. And he wanted it to be a tease without giving it away."

There were only seven episodes in season 1.

ABC/Paul Hebert

The inaugural season of The Bachelor contained only seven one-hour episodes, a notable contrast to the 12 two-hour episode seasons that have been broadcast in more recent years. In fact, the episode count has expanded to include a two-part finale, The Women Tell All special and an After the Final Rose conclusion.

The Women Tell All special was introduced during episode 6 of season 1.

Rose ceremonies went by a different name in season 1.

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Rachel, Gabby and Susie on The Bachelor. Craig Sjodin/ABC

Between "fantasy suites" and "two-on-ones," Bachelor Nation has developed its own vocabulary over the past 20 years — but some of the lingo that was coined in season 1 has either been nixed, renamed, or replaced.

For example, rose ceremonies were called "invitation nights" and the cocktail parties that take place before the rose ceremony have replaced the "journal room," where the women would record private messages for the Bachelor before he made his final cuts.

Matt James and Kristin Hopkins. Craig Sjodin/ABC

The Bachelor would then candidly discuss his decisions with the host in the "deliberation room," a designated location that would have pictures of the women on the wall for his reference.

Some of the women wore slacks and turtleneck sweaters to the "invitation nights" in the first season as opposed to the gowns the women have worn during the rose ceremonies thereafter.

Group date dynamics were friendlier in season 1.

Paul Hebert/ABC

As Bachelor Nation knowns, each season of The Bachelor gets even more "dramatic" than its predecessor — which explains why there weren't any standout "villains" in season 1. This might be because the first one-on-one date wasn't given out until episode three, so there wasn't one clear frontrunner on group dates (and no first impression rose either).

The upcoming season of The Bachelorette will premiere on July 11.

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