On the season 16 premiere of The Bachelorette, Clare Crawley welcomed 31 new suitors -- but had an immediate connection with one in particular.
The 39-year-old hairstylist was instantly smitten with Dale Moss, a 32-year-old former NFL player, stunning host Chris Harrison with her remarks after Dale's limo entrance: "I definitely feel like I just met my husband."
"That feeling that I've never felt before... just standing in front of a man, connecting on that level, and it being electric between each other - I've never felt that instantly like that before," Clare shared with ET ahead of Tuesday's premiere, recalling her first encounter with Dale on the show.
"I had never felt it before, and I never even knew what to expect with those feelings. When you have not experienced it or felt it, you don't know if it exists, but when you feel it, you know exactly what that feeling is."
However, some of Clare's remarks about Dale during the premiere left Bachelorette fans wondering if the chemistry was love at first sight or something more...developed. Clare dreamily remarked "I knew it," after meeting Dale during the limo entrances, and said "I've been waiting for this" before the two locked lips later in the episode.
"I feel like Clare and Dale exchanged a few DMs before this conversation," one fan tweeted, with another remarking, "I do not believe for a second that Dale and Clare didn't talk before filming but I DON'T CARE."
The speculation even became a topic of conversation among Clare's suitors, who questioned Dale's intentions, whether he and Clare connected on social media, and what's going on between them.
"I'm not trying to hide anything," Clare insisted.
So, was there something going on between the two before filming even began? Clare was in a unique situation this season, due to the coronavirus production shutdown. Her suitors were announced just before filming was set to begin, but then the cast and crew was sent home in the early days of the pandemic, allowing Clare and the men to have internet and phone access once again.
Harrison told ET that Clare did look up some of her contestants online -- some of whom were later recast -- but she insisted, both on the show and to ET, that the only suitor she had been in contact with prior to filming was Blake Moynes, whom she praised on the premiere for taking the risk to reach out to her when her mother was hospitalized.
"Blake was the only person that messaged me, the only person I had any contact, talked to, any sort of communication with [ahead of the season]," Clare told ET. "We're given these rules to respect, the process of it all, and I definitely, 100 percent, respected the process. What he did, and the reason he did that, I also really respect."
Clare and Blake even shared the first kiss of the season, but her heart has admittedly been with Dale all season. On Thursday, the pair made it official, with Clare calling an end to her search and getting engaged to Dale.
"I just think like, the universe was working in my favor," she told Harrison. "Everything was kind of stacked against me, when we went into lockdown and we couldn't contact anybody, I would look at all the guys' social media pages.... I was excited for it. But when I would see Dale's, it just- He's somebody that I could see hanging out with. I like what he talks about, I like what he's interested in."
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‘Bachelorette’ Clare Crawley Spotted Wearing Huge Engagement Ring
The Bachelorette said she was particularly touched by a Mother's Day post Dale shared for his late mom. "I could just relate so much and my heart was so heavy for him. My heart went out to him… I'd say [my feelings were] definitely built up before we even got here."
But when Harrison asked point-blank if they had contact before the show, Clare denied it again. "Not one bit. Not one word. I swear on my dad's grave."
"That's why I'm like, so into this," she said. "I just spent years knowing what I don't want, and it's giving me so much clarity coming into this. Especially in quarantine, [having that time] to focus in on what I do want."
When Clare broke the news to her other suitors, they also had questions about her and Dale contacting each other before the show, but she assured them, "100% no. I've never had one interaction, one conversation. Not one text, one DM."
Clare and Dale even shared a laugh about the rumors as they snuggled in bed the morning after their first one-on-one date. "We should lie-detector it, because nobody believes us!" Clare teased.
However, it looks like the Bachelorette will have to answer the question at least one more time -- a preview for next week shows Clare and Dale sitting down with Chris Harrison for an After the Final Rose-type interview, where they're asked once again if there was any contact between them prior to filming.
In an interview with ET at the start of the season, Harrison admitted that allowing a Bachelor or Bachelorette the chance to research or contact their potential suitors ahead of time might become a part of upcoming seasons.
"[Clare] admitted to me that she started looking through and getting an idea of what these guys stood for who they were -- not a terrible idea, and maybe that's something we incorporate into the future of this show,'" he noted.
The Bachelorette airs Tuesdays at 8 p.m. ET/PT on ABC. See more from Clare on what to expect this season in the video below.