Salley, a 26-year-old previously-engaged spine surgery robot operator from Charlottesville, VA, chose to leave The Bachelor before the first cocktail party because she was heartbroken over her failed engaged and called-off wedding.
Clayton eliminated Claire, a 28-year-old spray tanner from Virginia Beach, VA, before the first Rose Ceremony of the season because she had trashed him to the other women.
And Clayton ultimately sent the following women home at the Rose Ceremony on Night 1: Daria Rose, a 24-year-old law student from Baldwin, NY; Hailey Malles, a 26-year-old pediatric nurse from Orlando, FL; Ivana Noble, a 31-year-old bar mitzvah dancer from Queens, NY; and Jane Paik, a 33-year-old social media director from Los Angeles, CA.
Clayton also denied roses to Lindsay Dobbs, a 27-year-old neonatal nurse from Jacksonville, FL; Rianna Hockaday, a 26-year-old registered nurse from Dallas, TX; and Samantha Jefferies, a 26-year-old occupational therapist from San Diego, CA.
The Bachelor broadcast began with Clayton saying he's just "a small-town guy" who's never cared about being in the spotlight and he was completely "humbled" to have been chosen as The Bachelor star for Season 26.
Clayton, who grew up in Eureka, MO, said football and its life lessons shaped him into the man he is today, and while he's happy, he's missing love -- and so he took himself out of his comfort zone by appearing on Michelle Young's season of The Bachelorette.
"I really did feel Michelle could be The One for me. I saw a future with her, but she ultimately didn't see it with me," Clayton noted, adding that his experience on the show was "life changing" and he was able to open up emotionally like never before.
Clayton said the idea of finding his wife and having kids is "so exciting" to him.
Viewers were then introduced to a handful of women competing on Clayton's season, including Shanae Ankney, a 29-year-old recruiter from Sycamore, OH, which is a small town with an even smaller dating pool.
Shanae said she's very competitive when trying to get what she wants and the other women better watch out because she'll be coming in hot.
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Gabby Windey, a 30-year-old ICU nurse from Denver, CO, joked about Clayton having "a tight end" and said she's very goofy and looked forward to seeing that side of the Bachelor. The former NFL cheerleader attempts to keep everything light, but she did assist with the COVID-19 pandemic as a registered nurse.
Rachel Recchia, a 25-year-old flight instructor from Clermont, FL, is a flight instructor and student at Ohio University. She had spent six years in flight school and said she'd like to find a partner and get engaged.
"I think the first night is definitely going to have turbulence," Rachel told the cameras. "I'm very confident with landing a plane, but getting out of the limo the first time, I'm definitely going to have way more nerves for sure."
Daria is in her third year of law school and shared how her whole life has been dominated by focusing on her education and career and now she's ready to get married to a protector, provider and family man. She hoped her chemistry with Clayton would be off the charts.
Susie Evans, a 28-year-old wedding videographer from Virginia Beach, VA, got a job in Japan at age 22 and lived in the country for a few years, where she started training in Jiu Jitsu. She then returned home and competed in Miss USA as Miss Virginia USA. Given she's a bit wild, she thought maybe she'd be the ying to Clayton's yang.
Elizabeth Corrigan, a 32-year-old real estate advisor from Highlands Ranch, CO, shared how she's confident, driven and comfortable financially.
And Teddi Wright, a 24-year-old surgical unit nurse from Highland, CA, gushed about loving her "rewarding" job. Teddi made the decision to be a virgin at a young age and said she's waiting to be in love to have sex for the first time.
However, she warned her family that she'd be going into the Fantasy Suite if Clayton invited her.
"I think Clayton could be my person. He checks off all the boxes that I feel like I have... When I look at him, I'll know if he's The One," Teddi said.
Salley believed Clayton is a genuinely great guy all around, and she revealed how she had been engaged and ready to get married -- until trust was lost in the relationship and then the couple called off their wedding.
Salley called her canceled wedding "the most heartbreaking decision" of her life, and the wedding was supposed to take place that very weekend, when the first cocktail party was supposed to take place.
Salley was really excited to meet Clayton at first, but she found herself very emotional and missing her family back home. Salley wasn't in the right mindset to find love again, and so she showed up at Clayton's hotel suite five hours before the limo entrances.
Salley shared with Clayton how the weekend had been extremely hard for her because she was supposed to get married the previous day and she wanted to meet him in-person to determine how she should proceed and whether she should even go through with doing the show.
"I thought I was ready to do something like this, but I don't know if my heart is ready," Salley explained.
"I understand. I went through a period in my life where I thought I was going to go down the same path," Clayton responded.
"I thought I had found my person, I know when I went through that, I shut off for years. And I wish I hadn't, but I did, because it hurt me and it took a lot out of me."
Clayton told Salley that she seemed genuine and out of her element. Clayton said he already liked what he was seeing from her, including her big heart, and there appeared to be something special about her.
Salley considered Clayton sweet and easy to talk to, and she apparently felt a connection between them.
And suddenly, Clayton excused himself for a moment and returned to the room with a rose. Clayton said he felt chemistry with her and really wanted her to stay.
"I want to prove that. And so, Salley, will you accept this rose and stay?" Clayton asked.
"You're really putting me on the spot right now!" Salley replied with a big smile.
"I am. I feel a connection I really do," Clayton noted.
"I do too," Salley confirmed.
Salley said she wanted to accept the rose so badly, but after taking a minute to think things over and call a family member for guidance, she ultimately declined the rose and decided to go back home.
Salley cried about her decision and told Clayton that while she wanted to accept the rose, her heart was not in the place where she could. Salley explained how she just wasn't ready, and Clayton thanked her for being honest and talking things through with him.
"I hope you find what you're looking for," Salley told the deflated Bachelor.
Clayton called the situation "tough," adding, "The first rose I have given out as the Bachelor was rejected. One of my biggest fears is being rejected... [and] love is a two-way street."
Clayton admitted this was not the way he had been hoping to start his journey to find love.
But once night fell, Clayton appeared happy and optimistic, and he gushed about feeling so ready to meet the women. He wasn't about to lose sight of the fact 30 women had come a long way to meet and get to know him.
The bachelorettes then had their limo entrances and introduced themselves to Clayton one at a time, and some of the women stood out more than others in terms of first impressions.
Sarah Hamrick, a 23-year-old wealth management advisor from New York City, NY, went to Clemson University in South Carolina, and so she gave him a tiger token as a little reminder of home and good luck since the mascot for the University of Missouri is also a tiger.
"Oh man, first girl out and she is beautiful! Okay!" Clayton gushed once Sarah left to go inside The Bachelor mansion.
Ency Abedin, a 26-year-old sales manager from Burbank, CA, who is half Persian and half Korean, showed off her bilingual skills, and Clayton called her "so pretty."
Susie shook Clayton's hand with a little buzzing device in her palm, and she asked him if he had felt the electricity and spark between them. Clayton appreciated the fact Susie is a jokester.
Clayton called Serene "beautiful," and Teddi told Clayton that she'd like to be his teddy bear.
When Teddi walked away from Clayton, he said he didn't "even have words" for her.
"Teddi, you make me feel some type of way! Woo! I am going to be in way over my head on this journey. Come on now! How am I supposed to pick?" Clayton said.
Halfway through the limo entrances, Clayton was so excited that he addressed the early arrivals in the mansion and asked them not to go anywhere.
Kate Gallivan, a 32-year-old real estate agent from Lake Hollywood, CA, asked Clayton to hold one of her "nips" and then pulled out two shots for them to drink in order to take the edge off.
Hailey asked Clayton to open a jar of pickles for her, which is something she often needs help with even though she's self-sufficient, and Jill Chin, a 26-year-old architectural historian from Scituate, RI, brought the ashes of her ex-boyfriends, which was a tad startling.
"I brought them here in case you make the same mistake," Jill said.
Jane arrived in a 1950s vintage car, saying she's been called a cougar before and hopes Clayton appreciates the classics. Clayton called her beautiful and seemed surprised about her being a cougar.
Suddenly, a 63-year-old woman named Holly stepped out of a limo and introduced herself to Clayton, saying how she's a mother of two and would like to have grandchildren.
Rachel told Clayton she's a pilot and Holly was her "wing woman" who helped break the ice.
Ivana didn't say a single word so Clayton would find her to talk in the mansion, and Kira Mengistu, a 32-year-old physician from Philadelphia, PA, showed up in red lingerie with a white doctor coat over her sexy ensemble. Clayton seemed blown away by her confidence, and the other girls were a little jealous and intimidated.
Rianna said she wanted to save a forest and have Clayton "ride a cowgirl," and Gabby said she had brought a pillow with her so she could sit down later and take a break.
"But really, I just want to sit on your face," Gabby said, as she showed Clayton the other side of the pillow, which had Clayton's face on it.
Hunter Haag, a 28-year-old human resources specialist from Charlotte, NC, introduced herself to Clayton with a giant snake around her neck, and Samantha bragged about her "bubbly personality" by stepping out of a bubble bath in a bikini.
Cassidy Timbrooks, a 26-year-old executive assistant from Los Angeles, CA, pulled up in a tiny car, and then Shanae trumped the prior entrance by riding to the mansion in a giant pickup truck.
"[My wife] is in there," Clayton told The Bachelor host Jesse Palmer.
Jesse advised Clayton to be himself and have some fun, and then Clayton delivered his first speech. Clayton said being the Bachelor still didn't feel real and he couldn't wait to get to know every single woman.
Clayton spilled a little bit of his cocktail on him, which made the women laugh, and he toasted to new beginnings, to stepping out of their comfort zones, to growing together, and to never losing sight of the reason they had applied for the show to begin with -- "to find love."
The cocktail party then began and Susie expressed how she felt very nervous but lives her life in an uncomfortable way "and needs to be reeled in sometimes." Although Susie and Clayton are very different people, she thought that was "really good" and they would complement one another.
Susie's first chat with Clayton left her "speechless," and then Elizabeth asked Clayton to hold onto a 100-year-old picture of her great grandfather with the love of his life.
Teddi told the cameras that she wasn't going to kiss Clayton on the first night, but when she sat down with him to talk, the pair connected. Teddi complimented Clayton's kind smile, and Clayton said there was just something about her that blew him away.
Teddi said she was attracted to Clayton and definitely felt "the spark," between them and then Clayton went in for a kiss, the first kiss of the season.
"Kissing Teddi, I feel on Cloud 9, or Cloud 10 if you can get there. I felt that spark right away and it's wild. It's going so much better than I expected," Clayton gushed in a confessional.
"I know The One is in here. I know she is. I am getting down on one knee at the end of this. It's going to happen. I am putting that into existence right now. Wow! I have the chills!"
Kira listened to Clayton's heartbeat and kissed him, which was a "gut-wrenching" display for the other women, and Eliza Isichei, a 25-year-old marketing manager from Berlin, Germany, also stole a kiss with The Bachelor star on Night 1 after teaching him some phrases in German.
Melina Nasab, a 27-year-old personal trainer from West Hollywood, CA, hopped around in moon boots with Clayton, and Cassidy kissed the Bachelor after crashing her tiny car.
Claire, a huge football fanatic, then surprised Clayton with a tailgate, including chicken wings and corn hole. Mara Agreat, a 32-year-old entrepreneur from Collingswood, NJ, interrupted the tailgate and accused Clayton of "stressing [her] out" since he seemingly wanted to go talk to Mara instead.
Claire snapped at Clayton to sit down next to her, but Clayton chose to leave her side and said they'd have a rematch later.
As Clayton talked to other women, Claire announced to the group she did not feel the fire with Clayton and she has "a specific palette."
"He is 100 percent too nice for me. It was a catastrophe," Claire complained. "I beat his ass in cornhole... and I was let go. He sucks... I would eat him and spit him out!"
Claire added in a different conversation with women, "I can't be with, like, f-cking 'America's Sweetheart!'"
The women were annoyed and turned off by Claire's antics, especially since they were all crazy about Clayton and already pretty protective of him. Claire even told women, "He's not for me," and "I hate him."
Serene Russell, a 26-year-old elementary school teacher from Oklahoma City, OH, warned Clayton about Claire's behavior and suggested he should seek her out and talk to her.
Clayton said he had heard rumblings in the house about Claire hating him, and she explained how they just hadn't clicked yet. Claire insisted that she didn't hate Clayton and doesn't hate anybody for that matter, but Clayton chose to walk the bachelorette out.
"I would love nothing more," Claire said.
Once Claire left the mansion, Clayton explained to his remaining bachelorettes that Claire had essentially been a cloud over the night and had brought weird vibes to the cocktail party.
Clayton opted to continue the night by speaking with Genevieve Parisi, a 26-year-old bartender from Los Angeles, CA, who promised the Bachelor that she was on the show for him.
Genevieve, originally from Massachusetts, said she'd love to have a healthy marriage, similar to what her parents have, and Clayton could tell she's genuine.
After Clayton and Rachel talked about flying and potentially jumping out of a plane together, Clayton determined she's trustworthy, and so the couple kissed.
But Clayton decided to give the First Impression Rose to Teddi, who had "stopped [him] in his tracks."
Clayton told Teddi that from the moment she stepped out of a limo, he couldn't get her off his mind and they had a clear connection.
Teddi kissed Clayton two more times and accepted the rose, and Clayton gushed, "Kissing Teddi, I feel complete... It just feels right. I don't know. I'm going to be thinking about that kiss for a while!"
It then became time for the season's first Rose Ceremony, and Clayton announced how he truly believed his future wife was in that room and he believed that wholeheartedly.
Clayton explained how he was following his heart and doing what's best for him.
Clayton then handed out roses in the following order: Serene, Susie, Eliza, Rachel, Ency, Sarah, Kate, Cassidy, Elizabeth, Kira, and Shanae.
Sierra Jackson, a 26-year-old yoga instructor from Dallas, TX, also received a rose, and then she was followed by Mara and then Marlena Wesh, a 30-year-old former Olympian from Virginia Beach, VA.
Clayton gave Genevieve a rose next, followed by Melina, Gabby, Jill, and Lyndsey Windham, a 28-year-old industrial sales representative from Houston, TX.
The final two women to receive roses were Hunter and Tessa Tookes, a 26-year-old human resources specialist from Stamford, CT.