How Golden Bachelorette Joan Vassos' Late Husband Had 'a Little Hand' in Landing Her the Role (Exclusive)

Joan Vassos is speaking out about her late husband.

In an exclusive interview with ET's Denny Directo ahead of her Golden Bachelorette debut, Joan opened up about how her late husband, John Vassos, inspired her to accept the role. John and Joan were married for 32 years, before his 2021 death, which came after a battle with pancreatic cancer. He was 59.

"I feel like he maybe had a little hand in me actually getting here, honestly," Joan told ET. He told me right before he passed away, 'You need to go out and find somebody else. You were the best wife in the world and I want you to be happy.' He gave me this wonderful gift before he died, and he said go and do something, and so here I am."

As for what John would think of her trying to find love on TV -- first with Gerry Turner on The Golden Bachelor, and now with her own season of the franchise -- Joan admitted that she "thought a lot about that" before she took the leap.

"I had a conversation with a friend of mine and I was like, 'God, I had the offer to be on it and I'm a little afraid that it is not honoring his memory by doing this. [I feel] like I'm betraying him in some way,'" she recalled. "Obviously I'm not, but I had that feeling for some reason. She said, 'You are nuts! He would have loved this.'"

When she thought about it, Joan agreed with her pal's assessment.

"He loved reality TV. He was a dive in with both feet to anything you do [kind of person]," she said. "I think he's up there going, 'Look, that's my wife down there. She's doing this.'"

Joan found out that she'd be going on this journey during a Zoom call with franchise host Jesse Palmer.

"Jesse Palmer, who I love and have gotten to know, Zoomed me. I thought, 'Huh, isn't that weird that Jesse's Zooming me. I thought I was having a meeting with the producer,'" she said. "It was Jesse and I'm like, 'OK, something's going on here.' And then he told me, 'I hope you have some time this summer, because you are the first ever Golden Bachelorette.' It was crazy. I screamed, of course."

Joan didn't have a moment of pause before accepting the role, thanks in large part to the fact that her family was by her side during that call.

"I didn't have to think about it for one second, because I thought about it long before when they first said that they were considering me. I had a long time to think about it," Joan said. "I even talked to my family about it to make sure that they were OK with it, because I went from being one of a lot of people to being the one. This is a little scarier for them too, it puts us all in a much bigger public spotlight, and they were all wonderful about it. They wanted me to do it."

Despite being supportive, Joan's family, which is made up of four kids and three grandchildren, had one fear about the role.

"[They were] maybe a little worried that I'm gonna kiss somebody on TV," Joan said. "That could happen. I promised I wouldn't, but I think I lied. They shouldn't even have asked me that. That's not fair. I get to do whatever I want, so I might kiss a man or two on TV. I don't know. It could happen."

Also potentially concerned with Joan's onscreen smooches are the students and staff at the all boys school where she works as an administrator.

"I'm gonna probably get a lot of ridicule. People are gonna make a lot of fun of me when I go back to work, but I signed up for this and I don't care," she said, before predicting of her men, "He's there and he's handsome and I gotta make sure he's a good kisser."

Joan Vassos

Joan Vassos poses as the first-ever Golden Bachelorette.

Disney/Ramona Rosales

As for her outlook on her journey, Joan said she's "trying to go in with no expectations" and with the mindset that "what happens, happens." She also insisted that she's not looking to replicate the relationship she had with John, but for "a different love."

"I'm hopeful and I don't have any idea what it looks like, honestly, but I believe that it's possible," she said. "That took a long time for me to get to that place, so I am so happy I'm at that place. I just wonder what it's gonna be and I hope it's gonna be in this house."

Joan's journey for love will air Wednesdays this fall on ABC.