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‘The Bachelorette’ premiere pays cautious tribute to deceased contestant Eric Hill, and it’s hard to watch

Andi with Eric Hill on the season premiere of “The Bachelorette.” (Rick Rowell/ABC)

When “The Bachelorette” contestant Eric Hill died in a tragic paragliding accident last month, producers found themselves in an impossible position. Hill, 31, had just finished filming several episodes for this season in which he competed for the attention of “Bachelorette” Andi Dorfman. That left the creators of the find-a-soulmate show with many questions, and absolutely no good answers.

Think about it: If you leave his scenes in the show, (which is generally a ridiculous spectacle filled with hot tub hookups), you could look tasteless. If you edit all his scenes, it would alter what actually happened and might also seem insensitive. How would his family feel about either option?

ABC owns the footage, so producers were left to cautiously navigate this awful situation within their own best judgment — something that, we’ll admit, we didn’t have high hopes for seeing. The normally breezy show isn’t known for being particularly sensitive about tough topics; if anything, it’s famous for exploiting human vulnerability at every turn. However, the show has never experienced a tragedy with timing remotely like this one, so they had to do the best they could and tread carefully in Monday night’s premiere.

The verdict: The show made a decent effort, even dedicating the season to Hill. But ultimately, it’s just really, really hard and very unsettling to watch someone — even a stranger — go through the motions of a reality show when you know that their life will end in a devastating way mere months later.

Host Chris Harrison kicked things off right at the beginning of the episode on a very brief, somber note. “Throughout the years, many hundreds of men and women have come on this show in search of love. And they’ve all become a part of what we consider ‘The Bachelor’ family,” he said. “At this time we’d like to take a moment to honor one of these men — our friend Eric Hill.”

“Eric passed away shortly after concluding his filming on this show. In the coming weeks, you’ll see that Eric was a vibrant man,” Harrison said, as the screen filled with photos from Hill’s travels around the world, as soft music played in the background. “Every day, he impressed us with his passion and courageous spirit. He will be greatly missed. And we dedicate this season to him.”

That was it — no other details. Then, right into the premiere, as tough-but-optimistic prosecutor Andi, 27, packed up her office in Atlanta and headed to the “Bachelorette” mansion Los Angeles to get started finding her potential husband. A jarring transition, indeed.

We next saw Hill looking dapper in a suit as he stepped out of the limo on the first night of filming, where each of the 25 contestants traditionally meet the lucky lady. Hill’s exit was held until the second to last, when he approached Andi, who was smiling wide and wearing a super glittery dress. After the two exchanged hellos, he showed her two small dolls he held in his hand.

“You’re probably wondering what these are,” he said, and explained that he travels a lot for work. “The first country that I ever went to outside of this continent was Peru. And in the Andes Mountains, this little girl gave these to me and told me to give them to my girlfriend. But I didn’t have one at the time. And maybe this is jumping the gun, but these are for you,” he continued.

Andi seemed pleased by the gift. “Aww, thank you!” she exclaimed. “What’s your name?” Hill looked startled as he introduced himself, embarrassed he forgot to share that fact, as Andi waved it away. “I’m Andi,” she said. “I do know that,” he joked. As Hill walked inside, Andi looked at the dolls again. “So sweet.”

Aside from an ill-advised camera shot of Hill commenting “I thought I was invincible” in regards to being nervous while meeting Andi for the first time, the most difficult part to watch came toward the middle of the episode. Andi made her rounds at the first night cocktail party, and Hill was one of the few guys who got some precious one-on-one time.

The pair huddled together near a fireplace, and he told her about his Global Odyssey project, in which he was filming a documentary about his quest to visit every country in the world. As he talked about how much he loves dangerous, adventurous activities, the whole thing become uncomfortable, given that he died in a paragliding accident.

Hill explained the project was going to take him about two more years. “The purpose isn’t to do it in this short amount of time, the purpose is just to do it,” he said. “There’s the action/exploration side of things — so you know, there’s the skydiving, the base jumping, crazy stuff like that.”

“So you’re adventurous,” Andi confirmed.

Hill agreed. “Then you have the cultural immersion side, which is actually probably my favorite part,” he explained.

Andi, obviously there to find a serious relationship, asked the obvious question: Did his constant adventures mean he wasn’t open to companionship? Or was he locked in to traveling alone?

“I purposefully kept it open to have that option,” Hill explained, and Andi was hooked. Yes, he landed a rose at the end of the episode, meaning he’ll be on for at least another episode. (Producers have already confirmed he leaves the show before the finale, so he’s not one of the finalists.)

Without the shadow of real life hanging over that last interaction, it would have been a charming few moments between two people who obviously had some chemistry. In light of recent events, it just felt horribly sad; because if you knew what really happened next, all you could reflect on was the tragic, unfair end. And because he makes it on to further rounds, these type of scenes will continue.