Any lead in the Bachelor franchise needs to be ready for some level of rejection, since love is a two-way street. But usually, the Bachelor has a little bit of time before he has to face any real heartbreak. Clayton Echard, however, was rejected before his season even began, with Salley Carson’s exit in the Bachelor premiere setting a very strange tone for his journey to find love.
For 25 seasons of The Bachelor, there’s been a tried and true formula for Night 1: The Bachelor hangs out at the end of a beautifully lit driveway as he meets each of the season’s contestants one by one. But this season, Salley Carson broke the formula for introductions, and for a good reason. Salley was fresh off a broken engagement to another man, and her canceled wedding was supposed to happen the same weekend that filming for this season of The Bachelor began. She was feeling unsure about continuing with the Bachelor journey because her heartbreak was feeling so fresh, so she decided to go talk to Clayton before the season even began.
Five hours before the official Night 1 entrances, Salley went to Clayton’s hotel room to explain her situation to him. Even though Salley said she wasn’t sure she could commit to the journey, Clayton immediately felt a spark with her, and he offered her the first rose of the season. Salley took some time to think about it, saying she felt “torn in half,” but in the end, she decided she couldn’t stick around.
“I know we both felt that connection and I really like you,” she told Clayton. “I want to accept that rose. My heart is just not in the place where I can, and I feel so bad about that.” Clayton was understanding and walked Salley out. But after she left, he couldn’t help but feel weird about his first rejection happening before his season even truly began.
“That was tough,” Clayton said. “The first rose that I’ve given out as the Bachelor was rejected. One of my biggest fears is being rejected.” Then, he wondered if this rejection is a bad sign for the rest of the season. “I’m scared that this is how it’s going to be,” he said. “This is not how I wanted my journey to find love to begin.”
Clayton’s moment with Salley created a strange tone to start the season, making it clear to Clayton that he might not win over all the women during this season. Bachelor Nation was pretty split over the decision to make Clayton the lead in the first place, so if fans aren’t entirely into him, there’s a chance the women this season might not be either. After Salley, Clayton learned Claire Heilig also was not happy being a part of The Bachelor this season, so he sent her home before the first rose ceremony. With such a rocky premiere, there seems to be a possibility that there will be more rejection in store for Clayton this season.
Season 26 of The Bachelor airs Mondays at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.