Joelle Fletcher became a household name among the estimated 9.5 million Americans who watched The Bachelor last season, as she traversed the reality television waters in hopes of winning Ben Higgins' heart. And she almost did.
Though the Dallas real estate developer was neither the smartest nor most boisterous of the bunch, JoJo, as she's known, wooed Higgins with her bubbly personality and authenticity. She earned a reputation as the sexy girl next door, lauded for her realness and excellent communication skills. Fletcher, as they say, was "there for the right reasons."
Those attributes took her all the way to happily ever almost -- Fletcher became runner up when Higgins traded her in at the last minute for his now-fiancee Lauren Bushnell. But not before he went down in Bachelor infamy as the first guy who let the "L" word slip with two women.
"It crushed me," Fletcher says of the finding out Higgins was in love with her competitor. "When I left Jamaica [the finale], I left sad and I left confused."
But JoJo didn't let the breakup get the best of her. Monday night she returns to prime time as the creator of her own love story and star of The Bachelorette, which premieres at 8 p.m. on ABC.
We recently caught up with Fletcher via phone to chat about her experience and why she gave reality dating another shot.
Heartbreak hurt, but Fletcher found closure in an unlikely place -- Higgins and Bushnell's relationship.
After re-watching the season, Fletcher was able to understand how her own experience differed from the now happy couple's. And there are no hard feelings, she says. Really.
"That relationship was a good relationship. It taught me what I wanted and what I deserved," Fletcher says. "Even though I didn’t end up with him, I fell in love, so if anything, this is another chance to open that door up for me again."
What did her overly protective brothers think of Fletcher becoming next bachelorette?
They were supportive, Fletcher says, a shocking revelation for anyone who saw the two older siblings rake Higgins across the coals during the hometown date in Argyle. Her brothers apparently never had an issue with The Bachelor or Higgins; they simply worried JoJo's feelings wouldn't be reciprocated.
Same went for Fletcher's mom too, who won the Internet after a clip of her chugging wine from the bottle spread across social media. Fletcher calls that moment a testament to the anxiety in the room -- her mom's not much of a drinker and had never done that in front of the family before.
"Coming into this side of it, I think they're little more confident that the chances of it working out are much higher," Fletcher says. "They're excited for me."
This season, Fletcher is letting her guard down and diving in heart first.
It took more than a few dates for the Dallasite to trust the process and open up to Higgins. Developing feelings for bachelor freaked her out, Fletcher says; she felt too vulnerable, too susceptible to disappointment. Not this time, though -- Fletcher plans to jump in 100 percent and throw caution to the wind.
"I just realized that everything I was feeling was normal," she says, "and I can’t go into a situation like this being guarded and being totally scared and closed off or otherwise it won't work."
So what's it like dating 26 guys at once? "It's not normal," she says.
Meeting her suitors as they stepped out of the limos that first night was one of the most exciting moments of Fletcher's life, she says.
"At one point, I think I probably blacked out because I was like, 'This is crazy!'" she laughs.
As the weeks went on, Fletcher tried to compartmentalize her relationships and make sure no one's feelings were getting hurt. But it wasn't easy and certainly not something she could have prepared for emotionally.
"It was a whirlwind of emotions," she says. "There were so many highs and definitely some lows, but overall I had a really amazing experience."