The Season 17 premiere aired on June 7 nearly four months after Harrison, its longtime host, was essentially canceled for defending former contestant and Season 25 "Bachelor" winner Rachael Kirkconnell’s racially insensitive behavior.
Former Bachelorettes and mentors Kaitlyn Bristowe and Tayshia Adams were on hand to support Thurston, a 30-year-old bank marketing manager from Lynnwood, Washington, in the season opener. The alums were also described during Monday's episode as "co-hosts."
In a new interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Thurston admits that she was reluctant to join the new season as it was planned amid the racism scandal, which saw Harrison step back as host and the franchise as a whole coming under fire for diversity issues.
"I had my own concerns," Thurston told the outlet of the controversy. "I wanted my experience to be true to myself and great for the men who were joining me as well as Bachelor Nation. And I think that was really taken into consideration and worked out. I expressed what I wanted with my journey, and I think I was listened to. As [viewers will see] with the first episode, it feels different. I have a great group of guys and I think Bachelor Nation is going to be really excited to watch that and see a change."
Thurston goes on to call being the show's lead a "once in a lifetime opportunity," but reveals she didn't accept the offer immediately.
"You’re always going to question if it’s the right decision for you because you are opening yourself up to a lot of attention; attention that you might not want. It’s tough to be in this role," she said. "So of course it wasn’t an immediate yes for me. It was something I had to think about over time. I didn’t want to live life with the regret of not taking this chance to fall in love in this very unique way, so I said yes."
In order to ensure this season would welcome change to the series, Thurston said she requested the cast be diverse.
"I definitely want diversity in my cast. And I want it to be a platform for these men to be heard," she continued. "That’s what this is about — their stories, the love and a little less of what everyone else saw before."
Thurston also hinted that she plans to tune in every Monday to watch her season, adding that while she "can't control" what producers choose to put on air, she's confident "it was a very refreshing experience."
She also shared her hope that viewers remain patient as the franchise tackles change.
"Change doesn't happen overnight. That's what people need to remember: Change is happening, it just takes time. And the more we continue to voice our wants and needs for this whole thing, the more that we are listened to," she concluded.
Harrison's future at ABC remains up in the air. In early March, he gave his first TV interview since the scandal on "Good Morning America." At the time, he voiced his regret for defending Kirkconnell after photos resurfaced of her attending an "Old South" themed party at a plantation in 2018.
"I am an imperfect man. I made a mistake and I own that. I believe that mistake doesn't reflect who I am or what I stand for. I am committed to the progress, not just for myself, also for the franchise," Harrison said.
He went on to say he was working with a "race educator and strategist" as well as Dr. Michael Eric Dyson. He also voiced his plans to return to "The Bachelor" but was replaced by Emmanuel Acho a little over a week later.