Colton, Jason and Blake emerged as the best possibilities for the next The Bachelor star after competing for Becca Kufrin's heart on The Bachelorette's fourteenth season in 2018 and making it to her final days of the journey.
When Colton was announced as the Bachelor for 2019, some viewers protested ABC's decision -- and the 26-year-old charity founder and former pro football player turned out to be a polarizing character.
"All the guys we could have gone with, they all have their pluses and minuses, you know? It's always a very difficult choice. And people get angry no matter who we choose," Fleiss toldEntertainment Weekly.
"The only person that we ever chose who didn't seem to piss people off was [Juan Pablo Galavis]! It was like 100 percent approval for the choice of Juan Pablo. So it's a hard thing to figure."
"We like this guy [Colton]. He's interesting, he's certainly hunky, he looks the part, he's an all-American kid, a football player. The virginity thing is interesting. And we think that just the potential of [Colton losing his virginity] creates added stakes for this season."
Fleiss confirmed producers met with Colton, Blake and Jason for the role of the Bachelor.
"When we sat with all the guys that we were considering, Colton just seemed like a star. When you're in the room with him, you're like, 'That's a big personality, a big presence.' He just won us over. And he has grown from the time he was on Bachelorette. I think the Bachelor in Paradise experience did add to his maturity," Fleiss explained, referencing how Colton dated Tia Booth on Bachelor in Paradise's fifth season last summer.
Fleiss also suggested Jason and Blake publicly campaigned to be the franchise's next leading man, "which isn't necessarily a good thing," he said.
After Jason was eliminated fromThe Bachelorette in late July 2018, he wrote on Instagram that he was "in the right state of mind to find a best friend and life partner" and the journey had taught him to be emotional and "vulnerable" -- all things fans want to hear from a potential The Bachelor star.
And Blake similarly expressed on social media how Becca showed him the kind of relationship he wants in life and "just how much love I am capable of."
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"I will never apologize for how hard I love and I will love again just as hard," Blake wrote following his own elimination at the Final Rose Ceremony, which aired in August 2018.
Both Jason and Blake also made it known during post-show interviews they would absolutely consider becoming the Bachelor if given the opportunity.
"It's a hard decision to make every time," Fleiss told EW.
"The Jason people are pissed, the Blake people are pissed -- if we had chosen Blake, the Jason people still would have been pissed. Really, you can't look for 100 percent approval, you've gotta make your best decision in terms of story potential."
"What the show is really about is the journey of coming in [single]," Fleiss continued, "and then going through the arduous process of finding that person and making a firm decision that will affect the rest of your life."
"I think Colton represents the biggest potential for that story to create a lot of drama and romance."
It also didn't hurt Colton reminded producers of Season 17 The Bachelor star, Sean Lowe, who was a born-again virgin at the time and also happened to be a blonde college football player.
"I'm sure that played a role in it. We all loved Sean, and that was a great season, and we're so happy for him and [wife Catherine Giudici] and their family," Fleiss admitted.
"All of us look back at that as a very successful season, and Colton does have very strong similarities to Sean. But he's a real virgin, not just a born-again virgin. I don't know what a born-again virgin is. Could I be a born-again virgin?"
The Bachelor's 23rd season is set to premiere Monday, January 7 at 8PM ET/PT with a special three-hour event on ABC.