When Chris Soules's season of The Bachelor premieres Jan. 5 on ABC, viewers might not see as many castles and crystal-clear beaches as they're used to on the hit show.
"We stayed in the United States for the most part, obviously spending time in Iowa," the show's host Chris Harrison tells PEOPLE about the season. "We really wanted to embrace who this guy was and what the girls are going to have to eventually live with."
A fourth-generation farmer from Arlington, Iowa, Soules is "a hard-working blue collar guy," adds Harrison. "He comes from a very different place – literally and figuratively – and that's what we were all taken by."
Indeed, meeting 30 women on the first night of shooting "was nerve-racking," Soules – who's previously had two serious relationships – tells PEOPLE exclusively. "I was going in completely open-minded and there were so many great girls ... the quality of women was pretty amazing."
Taking the women on dates that included camping and fighting zombies, Soules, 33, wanted to "see how they could handle it," he explains. "It's not really a show for roughing it. Generally speaking, the girls are living in a mansion and there's this whole reputation of extravagant, amazing dates."
Dumped by Andi Dorfman on her season of The Bachelorette after she ultimately couldn't picture life as a farmer's wife, Soules could focus more on finding love this time rather than worrying about whether or not the women could accept his lifestyle "because everyone knew what they were getting into," he says.
"[With] Andi, it was always kind of the elephant in the room that we didn't really talk about until it came right down to it," he says. "My goal in being the Bachelor was to find someone I first could just fall in love with and think and hope and believe she is my soulmate … compromise is the next thing to focus on."
So did the process – which included its fair share of drama, of course – work for Soules?
"I am happy I did it," the reality star said about finding his future wife on the show. "I don't think I could get through that again, [but] I'm extremely happy with the outcome. I'm happy to say I'm in love. That's pretty crazy!"
For more exclusive details on Soules's dramatic journey to love, pick up the new issue of PEOPLE, on stands Tuesday