Ah, 2003! Beyoncé was Dangerously in Love, Britney was In the Zone, and future noted portraitist George W. Bush was patting himself on the back beneath a “Mission Accomplished” banner. It was a fateful year in reality TV history, too. Trista Rehn, Miami Heat dancer turned physical therapist and the runner-up to the inaugural season of The Bachelor in 2002, was selected to star in the first-ever Bachelorette. All seven episodes of Trista’s search for a husband are now streaming on ABC’s site, like an accidental time capsule of televised romance and extremely regrettable male fashion.
To celebrate this treasure trove, Vulture excavated the very first season to find out everything that’s changed about The Bachelorette over the last 14 years. Open your heart, trust the process, and take a look at just how far this journey has taken us.
1. We need to talk about Baby Chris Harrison’s hair. Where have these curls been hiding?
2. I can’t overstate how much lower the production values feel. The set is a chintzy shadow of the modern-day mansion. This show looks less like The Bachelorette than a porn parody of The Bachelorette.
3. Then again, don’t ever say they skimped on the candle budget.
4. Insane introduction gimmicks — dolphin costumes that look more like shark costumes, mini-horses, terrifying unicorn masks — are now a time-honored tradition of Bachelor and Bachelorette season premieres, but Trista’s first meetings with her suitors are totally straightforward. Well, with one exception: Russ brings Trista a Tiffany bracelet, for which he is universally loathed by his competitors.
5. Almost everyone looks older than their age. Twenty-five in 2003 is 35 in 2017.
6. There are multiple contestants of color, which is more than we can say about some later iterations of The Bachelorette, whose casts were 100 percent white (looking at you, Ashley’s season).
7. The premiere pays as little attention to the guys as possible. There are no cute little intro packages taped in anyone’s hometown, no footage shot in the limos.
8. While this season does have its oddball professions — rodeo cowboy and breast-implant salesman among them — the best represented is firefighter. There are three, including winner Ryan Sutter. Do you really mean to tell me the casting director couldn’t find a single actor slash model slash personal trainer slash bartender in the greater Los Angeles area? Not even a pantsapreneur?
9. There are no walking punch lines among the cast (unless you want to make an argument for the breast-implant salesman), but Bob Guiney easily takes the title of class clown. He’d later become the fourth Bachelor.
10. The dress code for Bachelorette season one: comically oversize black suits that make even the most masculine man look like a lost child at a funeral.
11. Hair gel deserves a consulting producer credit.
12. There’s no first-impression rose. Same goes for group-date roses, and for two-on-one dates in general.
13. No one gets over-the-top wasted at the first cocktail party (or at least, the editing doesn’t show it if they do), as is now custom, though these guys will more than make up for it later.
14. This may sound strange, but the roses — each of which comes with a pathetic little spray of baby’s breath — look terrible. It’s like a producer waited outside a junior prom and scrounged the garbage for boutonnieres once all the kids went home.
15. Instead of a date card, Trista invites the dudes on dates via video messages recorded on suspiciously unmarked VHS tapes left on the front step. So romantic, like having a Luddite stalker.
16. Today, the Bachelor franchise is a powerhouse of synergistic inter-brand promotional hashtagged corporate momentum — ”Hey, Ride Along 2 is coming out, so what if Ice Cube and Kevin Hart came along for a date, and then Kevin Hart climbed in the hot tub?” — but season one of The Bachelorette compulsively blurs every logo that dares to find its way on camera.
17. The dates are fine — fun, even — but they are the kinds of dates that a normal human might have. A spa? A casino? A football game? This is not The Normal Human Dating Hour. This is The Bachelorette. You should be sumo wrestling, or delivering comedic sex monologues in front of a theater full of strangers.
18. Trista has to put up with a lot more nonsense than later Bachelorettes. For instance, rodeo cowboy Brook repeatedly insists she’s “shallow” because she’s allergic to horses and therefore not thrilled by the fact that he owns horses. How dare she? There’s also plenty of charming casual sexism, as when one forgettable contestant expresses his amusement that a woman will be calling the shots!
19. Someone decided it would be a good idea to make the guys record a series of video messages for Trista, which she watches before every rose ceremony. That someone was wrong.
20. More than once, Chris Harrison makes an unnecessarily big to-do of reminding the men that, if they do not wish to accept the rose they’re offered, they don’t have to. Was that ever up for debate? Was ABC at any point prepared to force someone to marry Trista Rehn against his will?
21. The Bachelor franchise is notorious for not allowing any on-camera eating to take place on ostensible dinner dates, but it wasn’t always this way. Look, people putting food in their mouths! And chewing it!
22. The men live in the so-called “guys’ house,” which has a disconcertingly fratty vibe. There is capital-D Drinking to the point that one contestant, Jack, gets so drunk he pees on his bed. Later, like the true friends they are, the others carry him outside, bed and all, while he’s sleeping.
23. Are those red Solo cups I see? In 2017, Chris Harrison would have you killed for this.
24. Today, at age 45, Chris Harrison is 10 or 20 years older than the contestants he oversees. But in 2003, he was only 15 months older than Trista, lending a whiff of Lord of the Flies to the whole first season.
25. Trista takes each of her three final suitors on an individual romantic getaway: Ryan to Seattle, Russ to Sedona, and Charlie to Cabo. No risk of Fantasy Suite–ing in adjacent hotel rooms!
26. Speaking of the Fantasy Suites, Trista pulls the invitation right out of her purse, and it looks like a beat-up, incredibly specific Hallmark card. (That said, the creepily coy language has remained almost verbatim after all these years: “If you decide to forego your individual rooms, you can use this key to stay as a couple in our fantasy suite.”)
27. The usually impeccably dressed Chris Harrison chooses a long-sleeved polo with an undershirt peeking out for his Men Tell All lewk. To paraphrase Jack Donaghy, what are you, a farmer?
28. The contestants aren’t told that Trista is on set to hear everything they’re saying about her (it’s now a given that the star will come out partway through the special), but we’re kindly provided with a little picture-in-picture of Trista’s live backstage reactions.
29. In 2003, members of the Men Tell All live studio audience were permitted to ask questions of the cast. Today, Bachelor(ette) live specials run a tighter ship than most town-hall presidential debates.
30. Needless to say, there were no social-media haters to contend with back then, but Chris Harrison does mention that Trista was slut-shamed on the radio and that future Bachelor Bob was fat-shamed on “the message boards.”
31. This crucial information is almost entirely glossed over until the Men Tell All special, but the guys had a house dog the entire time, an adorable pup named Goldie. Why, why, why was the Bachelorette House Dog discontinued?
32. Trista, who is adorable, appears on camera without makeup and in glasses more times than I can ever remember a modern Bachelorette doing. (This probably also holds true for the Bachelors.)
33. After they come to St. Louis to meet her family, Trista invites both finalists back to her hotel room (on separate nights), an unexpected and unorthodox coda to the Fantasy Suites. Get it, girl.
34. Rather than calling in trusted Bachelor(ette) jeweler Neil Lane, Trista goes to Harry Winston to get sized, then Charlie and Ryan come in later to pick out their respective engagement rings.
35. The proposal doesn’t happen in an exotic locale — in Fiji, say, or Antigua and Barbuda — but right in front of the mansion.
36. As the season finale draws to a close, Chris Harrison proudly announces that Ryan and Trista will be back on ABC the next night for their first interview. Um, they got to wait a full 24 hours? Nowadays, the happy couple (or at least, the … uh, couple) can expect to be on After the Final Rose as soon as the episode wraps up, followed by Jimmy Kimmel. Just a few hours after that, it’s time for Good Morning America.
37. Last but not least, Trista and Ryan actually stayed together. I don’t mean stay together long enough to get married on TV (which they did) or to make, like, two episodes of a dull Freeform spinoff. I mean stay together 14 years and counting, with two children. Congrats, Trista and Ryan! And to Chris Harrison, too, I guess.