Bachelor Joey Graziadei Says Lea Handled Mystery Card with ‘Grace’ by Burning It (Exclusive)

Joey Graziadei has already made history with his season of The Bachelor.

On Monday’s premiere, host Jesse Palmer revealed that, with 32 women showing up on night 1, Graziadei, 28, had more suitors than any previous Bachelor.

Monday’s episode also saw one woman, Lea Cayanan, burn the first-of-its-kind mystery card she received during After the Final Rose when she learned that it would allow her to take a one-on-one date from another woman at any point before hometowns.

THE BACHELOR

“Lea did a great job handling, I think a very tough situation,” Graziadei tells PEOPLE in this week’s issue. “From the beginning of After the Final Rose, to be able to be put on live TV and be the first contestant named, there’s a lot of pressure that comes with that. And then to also be handed a card that’s never been done before in the show, I don’t know how I would’ve handled that. I would’ve hoped I handled it with as much grace as she did.”

After seeing how Cayanan, 23, gave up the advantage in order to let him steer his own journey, Graziadei decided to give her the coveted first impression rose.

“I think it showed a lot about her character and she did the best job she could,” the tennis pro says. “I could tell that it was making her emotional. I was very impressed by her character. It was a tough spot and I think that what that rose meant to me was not only telling her how impressed I was with her handling a difficult situation, but it was signifying that I want to learn more.”

Joey Graziadei

Graziadei demurs at the suggestion that Cayanan had a leg up to receive the first impression rose because he met her before his season started filming.

“I’m excited to actually get to know Lea, and not just the person that had the card and had to deal with this situation,” he says. “She wasn’t feeling great and she did something that I know was tough to do and it was just the best way I could give her something that I think would mean a lot. So that was really what I was thinking at that time.”

The Philadelphia native dealt with another unconventional situation on his first night as Bachelor when two sisters, Allison and Lauren Hollinger, arrived to compete for his heart.

“It definitely wasn’t something I was expecting coming into night one, but they seem to be OK with it,” Graziadei says. “I think it was fun for me to watch the first episode and actually see their banter and their communications on the outside because I don’t get to see that through the show. When I was sitting down with both of them, I was making sure, ‘Are you guys OK with this?’ Because if they weren’t, I didn’t want to pit two women against each other, let alone sisters.”

The Hollinger sisters assured Graziadei that “they talked about this, they were ready for what it was going to bring,” he says. “They were sweet.”

THE BACHELOR

Graziadei reveals how he really felt about some of those bold limo entrances, including Zoe Antona asking him to pick which size banana he most identified with and shotgunning a beer with Lauren, 28. Even though Lauren finished her beer first, “that one was a nice little break in the craziness,” Graziadei says.

He also understands the pressure to stand out on the first night.

“What’s most important to remember on that night is how tough that is,” Graziadei says. “It’s uncomfortable. And a lot of the women went all out, which I commend because I remember when I was in their shoes, I did something very simple, tried to just not forget what I wanted to say. We always made the joke like, we black out during those things. I don’t even remember what you say half the time. So I think they all did the best they could. They tried to show the personalities and there were some fun ones.”

As his journey progresses, Graziadei says he had a specific approach when it came to getting to know the women.

“For me, the one-on-one was not ‘I need to get the know you and see more,’ it was, ‘I’ve already felt something and I’m really excited to see if it’s as strong as I think it is,’” he explains. “It wasn’t like a discovery. It was, we have created enough of a connection that it’s really time to test it and see if it’s as great as I’ve felt. I really tried to be smart with that because I didn’t want to go in and have a make-or-break date. I want almost like a confirmation that what I’m feeling was correct.”

He teases a similar approach with Fantasy Suites.

“I think Fantasy Suites are a huge part of this whole process, mainly because it’s just uninterrupted time,” Graziadei says. “You get to really have deep conversations, you get to learn more about them.”

But don’t expect to hear what went down behind closed doors on Graziadei’s season. “What I’ll try to do is keep the Fantasy Suites in the Fantasy Suites. I think that’s a very personal time between the two people,” he says. “I’m not going to comment much on it other than that I know it’s an important time and people will see how everything plays out.”

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