“The Golden Bachelor”'s Joan Vassos Is the First Golden Bachelorette

ABC revealed the new lead at the Disney Upfronts presentation in N.Y.C. on Tuesday, May 14

<p>ABC/Ricky Middlesworth</p> Golden Bachelorette Joan Vassos

ABC/Ricky Middlesworth

Golden Bachelorette Joan Vassos

Joan Vassos will be staying golden.

ABC announced at the 2024 Disney Upfronts at the Javits Center in New York City on Tuesday, May 14, that Vassos, 61, will take the lead as the first Golden Bachelorette this fall after appearing on the first season of The Golden Bachelor.

Despite being a frontrunner for Gerry Turner's heart, the school administrator bowed out during Week 3 to be with her daughter after she gave birth. Vassos planned to return to the show if her daughter was doing better, but "it wasn’t in the cards,” she told TheWrap.

Vassos welcomed four children with her husband of 32 years John, who died in January 2021 from pancreatic cancer.

"He was the husband that always made me feel safe and cherished," she wrote on Instagram in January. "He was the parent that was always the fun one because that's all he knew how to do...lucky kids because fun in his book was generally epic. I could go on for hours."

Related: Golden Bachelor's Kathy Swarts Says Gerry and Theresa Are 'Doing What They Have to Do' By Getting Divorced (Exclusive)

The decision to do a female-led version of the senior dating show came after The Golden Bachelor ranked as the No. 1 new unscripted series in its season among adults ages 18-49 according to ABC. The show also marked ABC’s No. 1 unscripted series premiere ever on Hulu.

ABC also revealed on May 14 that The Golden Bachelorette will run for an hour and a half on Wednesdays this fall, up from The Golden Bachelor's one-hour episodes last year. The Golden Bachelorette will air at 8 p.m. ET before Abbott Elementary.

Golden Bachelor contestant Susan Noles told PhillyVoice that ABC “had to” do The Golden Bachelorette because of The Golden Bachelor’s success.

“There was a lot of positive. Even young people watch this show, not just people my age,” the Philadelphia native, 67, said. “And men; more men watch the show than ever. I can't go anywhere without taking selfies with people. It's just crazy. I'm so impressed by the people and what they know about the show and about my personality. It's really awesome.”

<p>ABC/Craig Sjodin</p> 'The Golden Bachelor' season 1 contestants

ABC/Craig Sjodin

'The Golden Bachelor' season 1 contestants

The Golden Bachelor featured 22 women all over the age of 60 looking for love with Turner, 72. In the end, the retired restaurateur proposed to Theresa Nist and they got married in a live, televised wedding special on Jan. 4. But the couple called it quits three months later because they couldn’t agree on where to live. Turner filed for divorce on April 12, but Bachelor Nation doesn’t want his and 70-year-old Nist’s breakup to reflect negatively on the franchise.

“It'll be fun to watch love unfold from a woman's perspective,” The Golden Bachelor's Kathy Swarts told PEOPLE.

<p>Jesse Grant/Getty</p> Kathy Swarts (left) and Susan Noles at the 2024 iHeartRadio Music Awards in L.A. on April 1

Jesse Grant/Getty

Kathy Swarts (left) and Susan Noles at the 2024 iHeartRadio Music Awards in L.A. on April 1

She also joked about dating the men who don’t find love with the Golden Bachelorette. “I want all the rejects,” Swarts, 70, said. “I'm willing to take sloppy seconds.”

While Turner and Nist claimed to split amicably, his runner-up Leslie Fhima felt blindsided by their breakup on the show.

“I was 100% certain that I was his girl,” Fhima, 65, told host Jesse Palmer during After the Final Rose on Nov. 30. “And things he said to me on our overnight and meeting his family, I mean, they didn’t show everything, but we had such a good time.”

<p>Disney/John Fleenor</p> Leslie Fhima and Golden Bachelor Gerry Turner

Disney/John Fleenor

Leslie Fhima and Golden Bachelor Gerry Turner

But Fhima put aside her heartbreak in order to attend Turner and Nist’s wedding.

“It was a little uncomfortable during the ceremony when they were talking about Costa Rica, because I was there too,” Fhima admitted on the Almost Famous podcast, referring to where she and Nist had their Fantasy Suite dates with Turner.

Related: Kathy Swarts Would Want to 'Be Engaged Longer' Than Gerry and Theresa If Named Golden Bachelorette (Exclusive)

Still, Fhima wanted to be supportive of Nist. “It was probably the only time it was really uncomfortable for me and seeing Theresa so happy really, kind of, just took that away anyhow,” the fitness instructor said.

Many of the women from The Golden Bachelor have remained friends beyond filming, with Noles and Swarts hosting former contestants such as Vassos, Ellen Goltzer and Nancy Hulkower on their  Bachelor Happy Hour: Golden Hour  podcast. Hulkower, 61, Noles, Swarts even took a group trip to St. Martin together earlier this year.

“We became very, very important in each other's lives,” Noles told PEOPLE. “And we're here to celebrate life.”

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The Golden Bachelorette premieres this fall on ABC.

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