The season got off to a rocky start for the medical sales rep.
Clayton Echard got rejected before the limo entrances even began. On Monday's season 26 premiere of The Bachelor, the 28-year-old medical sales rep hit a snafu handing out his first rose, rebounded to form some connections, and had to send one woman home early, all of which ET is breaking down in the recap below.
The season kicked off with Clayton giving fans a peek at his small-town, Midwest upbringing, before making his way to Los Angeles to meet his 31 potential matches. An ICU nurse, a virgin, and a former pageant queen made up some of the hopefuls, but it was a previously engaged surgery robot operator who caused the first drama of the season.
A rose rejection and limo entrances came next, and included everything from an urn, to a snake, to a bubble bath. While many of the women seemed smitten with the new Bachelor, the same can't be said for one woman, who was eliminated ahead of the rose ceremony after making some shocking comments.
At the end, Clayton did make some connections, and was left with 22 women on his journey for love.
Keep reading for a full recap of the season 26 premiere of The Bachelor.
Meet Your New Bachelor
Clayton's journey for love kicked off with a visit to his hometown of Eureka, Missouri, where he delighted his mom with the news that he'd been chosen as the next Bachelor. His selection as the next franchise lead, Clayton admitted in a confessional, was anything but expected.
"I’m sure you’re wondering why I’m the Bachelor after getting only eight minutes of screen time on The Bachelorette," he said of his time on Michelle Young's season. "It’s because I truthfully believe in this process, I think more than anybody else. I know I can find my wife here. I know this works. I’m so humbled to be the Bachelor. I’m just a Midwest guy that doesn’t really like the spotlight."
With the entirety of his 10,000-person town behind him, though, Clayton said he's ready to embark on this journey.
"I have a great life, but when I started to feel that spark with Michelle, it started to make me realize how badly I’m missing love," he said. "... I’m ready for that lifelong commitment, to get married, to have kids, that’s so exciting."
A Rejected Rose
As for the women who will be vying for his heart, there's Shanae, a "competitive" small town girl from Ohio, Gabby, an NFL cheerleader turned ICU nurse, Susie, a former Miss Virginia, and Teddi, a virgin.
Then there's Salley, whose job is listed as "previously engaged." Sally told the cameras that a "lack of trust" led to the end of her engagement, which was supposed to culminate in a wedding that was to take place the very weekend she arrived to begin filming The Bachelor.
The timing of her arrival to Los Angeles left Salley in an emotional state, so much so that she went to visit Clayton to discuss the situation five hours ahead of the rose ceremony. Through tears, Salley told a surprised Clayton about the situation, admitting, "I thought I was ready to do something like this, and I don’t know if my heart is ready."
Clayton responded by telling her that he had a similar experience that left him "shut down for years." He didn't want that to happen to Salley, so he took a chance and offered her a rose. Despite feeling a connection, Salley opted to turn the rose down, telling him, "my heart is just not in a place" to move forward.
The early exit was "tough" for Clayton, who admitted in a confessional that being "rejected" is one of his "biggest fears."
Memorable First Impressions
The limo entrances didn't disappoint, as Lyndsey W. made a pun about Clayton's height, Susie shocked him to demonstrate their "electricity," and Clayton was left feeling "some type of way" by Teddi's introduction.
Other memorable entrances included Melina in moon shoes, Jill presenting Clayton with her exes' ashes, and a 63-year-old retiree serving as a "wing woman" for pilot Rachel.
Ivana kept mum during her entrance, while doctor Kira wowed in red lingerie and a white coat, and Gabby informed Clayton that she'd like "to sit on your face." Clayton also got whipped in the butt by Elizabeth, presented with a snake by Hunter, and introduced to Samantha in a bathtub.
After meeting Shanae, the final woman out of the limos, Clayton gave a toast to his suitors, telling them, "I want to get down on one knee at the end of this."
One Woman Says She 'Hated' Clayton
After good conversations with Susie and Elizabeth, Clayton shared his first kiss as the Bachelor with Teddi, which left him feeling "on cloud nine." Kira, Eliza and Cassidy all got kisses too, before things took a turn for the dramatic.
While on a tailgate with Claire, Clayton seemed to be having a good time, playing cornhole, eating wings, and laughing. But things got awkward when Mara showed up to interrupt, and Clayton left the makeshift date against Claire's wishes.
As Clayton enjoyed his time with Mara, Claire headed inside and began expressing her negative feelings about the Bachelor. She told some of the girls that Clayton was "100 percent too nice" for her.
"I can’t be with f**king America’s sweetheart," Claire told someone else, before telling another person that she "hated" the medical sales rep.
Serene filled Clayton in on Claire's comments, and the Bachelor wasted no time in sorting out the situation. While speaking to Clayton, Claire denied hating him, and instead said that they just haven’t "clicked." Clayton responded by sending Claire home.
The First Impression Rose
Clayton didn't let the Claire situation ruin his night, though. Instead, he bonded with Genevieve over their parents' successful relationships and made plans to skydive with Rachel, before deciding to award the first impression rose to Teddi.
"I couldn’t get you off my mind the entire night," he told Teddi, before they shared yet another kiss. "I’m going to be thinking about that kiss for a while," he admitted in a confessional.
The rose ceremony saw Clayton award roses to Serene, Susie, Eliza, Rachel, Ency, Sarah, Kate, Cassidy, Elizabeth, Kira, Shanae, Sierra, Mara, Marlena, Genevieve, Melina, Gabby, Jill, Lyndsey W., Hunter and Tessa.
Daria, Hailey, Ivana, Jane, Lindsay D., Rianna and Samantha weren't as lucky, and were sent home.
Clayton Is 'Broken' in Dramatic Preview
While the first rose ceremony ended with the women toasting each other for being so supportive, those good vibes won't be staying around long.
"You’re fake. You’re two-faced. I’m done," one woman tells another in the beginning of a dramatic, sob-filled preview.
Serene seems to find herself at the center of the drama, as one woman claims she "is playing him and she’s playing us." She isn't the only person in the hot seat, as one woman is accused of having an ongoing friends-with-benefits relationship.
"Were you seeing someone up until the point that you came here?" Clayton asks Shanae at one point, leading her to tell one woman to "keep my name out of your f**king mouth."
Susie appears to stick around for quite a while, as she's seen telling Clayton, "I’m falling in love with you," to which he responds, "Oh, I’m so happy." Rachel is catching feelings too, telling Clayton, "The more time I spend with you, the more you check every box." Yet another woman is shown professing her love for Clayton, after which he admits, "I think she could very much be the one."
All of that's to say, Clayton ends up falling in love with his final three women. In fact, he appears to tell Gabby, "I couldn’t be more sure that I’m in love with you." Serene seems to get a similar declaration, as he says, "It’s no longer about me falling in love with you, I am in love with you."
Clayton ends up being intimate with his final three women, something he confesses during a long-teased rose ceremony.
"He’s in love with all three of us? What the actual f**k?" Gabby asks.
"I’m so broken," Clayton admits, before he steadies himself and looks ahead to a proposal. "I believe that everything happens for a reason, and what’s meant to be will be. There’s hope here in this ring."