01/03/2012 at 04:00 PM EST
He famously bared his soul
on The Bachelorette
last season, but this time around, Ben Flajnik is daring to reveal even more.
"It's a very nude season," host Chris Harrison
says of Flajnik's turn as the Bachelor
, which includes everything from the reappearance of a mystery woman from Ben's past to a heavily hyped skinny-dipping session
"Ben is very comfortable in his own skin. He doesn't have modesty issues."
But it wasn't all easy-breezy. The San Francisco-based winemaker, 29 – whose proposal was rejected
by Ashley Hebert last year – was caught off guard by the fierce level of competition among the 25 women vying for his affections on the ABC reality hit
, which kicked off Monday night.
Among the women's attention-grabbing stunts: an arrival on horseback
("a hell of a first impression," says Flajnik), a grandma on crutches and a blind-folded candy tasting. The first night also saw the start of some serious cat-fighting among the potential suitors.
"Obviously with a situation like this, the claws are going to come out," Flajnik tells PEOPLE in this week's cover story. "And they came out a lot earlier than I would've expected."
Even as the drama unfolds this season, ABC is already gearing up for the next
round of roses: Casting is now underway for the upcoming season of The Bachelorette
. The intrepid can apply here
For much more behind-the-scenes scoop on Ben's turn as the Bachelor – including his thoughts on some early standouts – pick up this week’s issue of PEOPLE