will you accept his rose?

Everything You Need to Know About the Next Bachelor, Nick Viall

He’s back! Photo: Mitch Haaseth/ABC

As countless Instagram posts and the ghost of Ralph Waldo Emerson can both attest, life is about the journey, not the destination. But what happens if you are a man who has been on not one, not two, but three capital-J Journeys to find love? Is it possible to reach one’s Journey quota? If you’re Nick Viall or the evil geniuses at The Bachelor, the answer is a resounding no, because on January 2 at 8:00 p.m. ET, we’ll all be able to watch Nick go on yet another Journey to find televised love.

If you’ve gotten this far and you’re still wondering who Nick Viall is and if his last name really is pronounced like “vile” (spoiler: it is), read on as we walk you through the key phases of his ultimate Journey to — let’s be honest — become semi-famous on reality TV.

The Rise of Normcore Nick

Nick and Andi. Photo: John O’Hara/ABC

It’s the spring of 2014, and 33-year-old software salesman from Waukesha, Wisconsin, “Nick V.” steps out of the limo for season ten of The Bachelorette to meet the assertive lawyer Andi Dorfman. He doesn’t do a silly stunt or wear a costume; he plays it mostly straight, which, amid a sea of the country’s best-looking sentient bottles of hair gel, makes him stand out to Andi as “genuine.” When she gives him a first-impression rose, Nick has a look of Who me? stunned excitement that you’d expect from the always-overlooked kid who finally gets picked first for the kickball team. He gives her a cordial hug and assumes it’s a pity rose.

Throughout the season, Nick cements his front-runner status the way any man in a house full of potentially illegal levels of testosterone would: by rubbing his relationship with Andi in the other guys’ self-tanned faces. While the men complain that he’s cocky and even suggest that his normal-dude affect is calculated, Nick writes Andi terrible “poems” and continues to woo her by mumbling and making too much eye contact with the camera. This strategy propels him all the way to the Fantasy Suite (more on that in a moment), and then to the final two, where Andi ultimately dumps him for sweaty pizza lover Josh Murray.

During the finale, at the After the Final Rose live special, when Nick gets a chance to confront Andi for the first time since they broke up, he drops a bomb that would paint him as a villain and instantly catapult him to the next phase in his Journey. In front of a live audience, Nick asks Andi, if she wasn’t in love with him, why she made love with him in the Fantasy Suite, breaking the cardinal Bachelor rule of not talking about what happens in the Fantasy Suite. Think pieces about slut-shaming abound; Andi pretends to be happy in her relationship with Josh Murray for the next nine months.

A Villain Is Born

Nick and Kaitlyn, doing what they do best. Photo: ABC

What’s that? You thought our once-innocent software salesman would slink away from the spotlight and head back to some perpetually snow-covered midwestern city once this thing was over and he garnered a bit of a reputation in the Bachelorette universe? In the year since his first stint, Nick apparently missed the warm embrace of a Bachelor mansion bunk bed so much that he decides he’s ready to find televised love again.

It all starts with our hero sliding into the DMs of recent Bachelor castoff and soon-to-be Bachelorette Kaitlyn Bristowe. They become internet friends right around the time she becomes season 11’s Bachelorette (the details of how she got there — through an absurd, sexist Bachelorette Battle Royale — won’t be expounded upon here). So, of course, the producers know about this internet flirtation and, of course, Nick agrees to crash Kaitlyn’s season in episode four, once she’s already started to develop strong relationships with some of the men. When Nick arrives, Kaitlyn is excited to see him but afraid of upsetting the other guys, who hate his guts and point to the fact that he shamed Andi on national television as proof that he’s untrustworthy. Ultimately, the power of Nick’s saliva lapping against Kaitlyn’s tongue is too strong; she lets him join the competition for her heart.

Cute mumbling, fleeting eye contact with the camera, and more “genuine” gestures of love ensue. Then, aided by the Cupid that is Irish whiskey, Nick and Kaitlyn have sex on a date well before the preordained episode in which contestants are allowed to have sex, and everyone (well, at least the one front-runner whom Kaitlyn eventually tells out of guilt) gets upset.

Not one to be derailed by the fact that he’s once again turned the whole cast, except the Bachelorette, against him, Nick once again makes it all the way to the final two, and the Bachelorette once again rejects him in favor of a possessive alpha male. Nick goes home to lick his wounds and start building his Instagram following.

Sun, Six-packs, and a Surprising Image Rehab

Nick and Jen. Photo: Rick Rowell/ABC

If you somehow escaped The Bachelor or The Bachelorette with your dignity intact and yet were deemed interesting enough to earn a ticket to Bachelor in Paradise, chances are you’ll pour one (or five) out for your dignity once you hit the un-air-conditioned bunks in Sayulita, Mexico. So we really have to give it to Nick for managing to emerge from Bachelor in Paradise as a newly respectable man.

How on earth did this happen? Perhaps the fact that Nick is more than a decade older than some of the other Paradise residents made him seem mature and reasonable by comparison. His attitude toward drama was surprisingly no-nonsense, even amid the antics of human fountain of tears Ashley I. and meathead love-dementor Josh Murray. Even when Nick did go out of his way to “warn” fellow contestant Amanda to be careful with his nemesis, Josh, in light of the particularly harsh words their mutual Bachelorette ex, Andi, had for him in her tell-all book, he managed to do it in a relatively mature way that acknowledged Amanda’s right to make her own decisions.

Couple Nick’s relatively mature demeanor with his surprisingly low-key Paradise relationship with Jen, the elegant brunette business owner (if you hadn’t figured it out, Nick has a type, and it’s independent brunettes), and, suddenly, it looks like he’s grown into a reasonable man who learned from his mistakes. It’s true there never seemed to be much chemistry between Nick and Jen — she seemed to be a little too easygoing and quiet for someone who claims he’s drawn to strong personalities — so it made sense and felt realistic that Nick chose not to propose to her in the final episode, saying he didn’t feel they were there yet. While that moment certainly looks just a little bit dubious in retrospect, since Nick’s breakup freed him to become the next Bachelor, it was abundantly clear that Paradise would give Nick the likable-guy comeback edit regardless:

While Paradise was the culmination of Nick’s return to being viewed as likable enough to become the Bachelor, it’s taken a hell of a lot of image management to get him here. In the two years since he first stepped out of a limo on television, not only has he taken the obvious image-rehab steps of getting into CrossFit and doing some light modeling, but he’s also learned how to use the show’s warped version of reality to his advantage while appeasing the show’s producers. Nick is acutely aware of how the public perceives him (this interview is particularly fascinating), and after spending so much time as a contestant on Bachelor franchise shows, he seems tuned into what the producers want and is able to fulfill his needs and theirs accordingly.

This is the first time ABC will have a Bachelor who has so much experience being a contestant, and while Nick’s experience will likely help him stoke drama (and therefore ratings), it will be interesting to see if that comes at the expense of him actually finding love. But then again, it’s not about the destination, right? If Nick’s Journey happens to bring beautiful women, more talk-show appearances, and Instagram endorsements, well, maybe that’s exactly what our once-humble, 36-year-old, midwestern software salesman wanted all along.

Everything to Know About Bachelor Nick Viall