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The Most Dramatic Basketball Game in ‘Bachelorette’ History

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s unexpected reversal, Mila Kunis and Ashton Kutcher’s guidance, and a change in fortune for the “Whaboom” guy

(ABC)
(ABC)

This season of The Bachelorette technically began on the “After the Final Rose” episode of this past season of The Bachelor, when Rachel was introduced to four of her suitors. On Monday night’s episode, that brief, mini-appearance launched a multi-episode plot line and the most dramatic moment of the young season.

Let’s start from the beginning: First, on the preshow, contestant DeMario met Rachel and presented her with a pair of plane tickets so the two could elope in Las Vegas. It was a forgettable gag. Then, in the season premiere, Rachel gathered some of her fellow contestants from the previous season of the show to discuss her strategy. (When I’m about to play a game, I also try to get advice from a bunch of people who have lost at the game.) The girls said DeMario’s presence on the show had caused a flurry in their group. Sarah, one of the former contestants, knew him through friends of friends, and feared his intentions might not be pure. This, too, seemed forgettable.

But! On Monday night’s episode, DeMario went on a group date where he and nine other contestants played basketball in front of a live crowd. One of the people in that crowd? His ex-or-possibly-current girlfriend, who he’d ghosted before she saw him on “After the Final Rose.”

Rachel gets a moment to show how serious she is about everything, kicking him off the show in a tizzy — although it wouldn’t be The Bachelorette if he didn’t try to come back, a confrontation that was cliffhung into next week’s episode. (I suspect their actual conversation is uninteresting, or else they would have actually shown it instead of making us wait a week.)

It does seem as if DeMario played himself here. He transitioned quickly from “Who is this person?” to “You can’t trust this person” to “Well, we did have sexual intercourse at one point, but …” Guilty perps on SVU fold less dramatically.

But maybe DeMario was set up. We’re supposed to accept a lot of coincidences here: that having some of the contestants awkwardly appear months before the season aired was a genuine idea by the show’s producers to stir up interest; that DeMario was chosen for that appearance randomly; that some ex-contestant happened to have an inkling that he wasn’t a great guy; and — funny how this always happens — that DeMario’s ex-girlfriend knew which date he’d be on and where. My guess is what happened on the show toed the line between reality and a worked WWE story line, The Bachelorette’s sweet spot.

Either way, there was an important lesson underneath all of this. I dismissed the “After the Final Rose” appearances: The four guys weren’t interesting enough to sustain our curiosity for the months until their season’s premiere, and it ended up taking a little bit of the oomph out of her reintroductions to those four guys alongside their 27 competitors. But you can’t doubt The Bachelorette like that. It never fails to entertain. DeMario’s face is proof:

Best Performance: DeMario

He may have gotten humiliated and exposed on national television, but at least he also got to ball out.

Yes, every woman in America will now know he is skeezy and untrustworthy. But they also know he can dunk, thoooooooooooo. That trade-off probably isn’t worth it, but it’s way closer than you think.

Biggest Turnaround: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Apparently

In January, NBA all-time scoring leader and 19-time All-Star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar wrote a criticism of The Bachelor for The Hollywood Reporter, implicitly blaming the show’s “fairytale pabulum” for the decay of romantic love and sexual intimacy amongst American millennials. His criticisms hold some water — he railed against the show’s lack of diversity and its lie that the show’s main characters will find love through a cockamamy gauntlet of televised activities, both of which can give viewers misguided opinions on how and who to love.

Personally, I would argue that major shifts in American relationships are not, in fact, caused by one television show. Abdul-Jabbar cites a contestant who got married, had multiple children, and got divorced in her 20s as an example of the way the show has replaced “sturdy realistic romantic love that might last a lifetime with the flimsy bedazzled imposter with the shelf life of a loaf of Wonder Bread.” Abdul-Jabbar got married, had three kids, and got divorced around the age of 30. He must have been watching The Bachelor too much.

But while I’ve read many critiques of The Bachelor, Abdul-Jabbar’s stood out for a few reasons. Firstly, it was written by the NBA’s all-time scoring leader and 19-time All-Star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. But most importantly, it was written by somebody who clearly loves watching The Bachelor. Most hit pieces about the show and its place in society are written by people who have obviously never seen an episode. Abdul-Jabbar’s essay cites multiple details that could have only been gleaned from closely watching dozens and dozens of hours of the show he blames for the decline of American love. It’s like if I wrote about how the beef industry causes global warming, and half of the article was about how juicy and delicious hamburgers are.

Anyway, fast-forward to Monday night’s episode, when Bachelorette critic Kareem Abdul-Jabbar appeared on The Bachelorette to instruct Rachel’s suitors in the art of the skyhook and talk about how basketball is a useful test of character.

I was legitimately stunned to see Kareem! There are often celebrity cameos on this show, but rarely from people who have publicly, loudly criticized it. Why would Abdul-Jabbar appear on a show that he believes is negatively influencing young Americans? He told The Hollywood Reporter it’s because the show answered one of his main criticisms, the one about its diversity.

Abdul-Jabbar’s main concern was not with whether the show is entertaining — he clearly enjoys it — he was worried about the way the show’s depiction of love might negatively affect the way its viewers approached relationships. Viewing the show through that lens explains the importance of Rachel’s role. No, a black Bachelorette is not a major milestone in the ongoing battle for racial equality in America. But it does signal to viewers that love is not monochromatic. After more than a decade in which every contestant of color got quickly eliminated, Rachel’s appearance is meaningful, if belated.

However, Abdul-Jabbar’s appearance is making me question my life choices. I’ve been dutifully writing recaps of this show for years; he writes one column saying the show is destroying American love and bang — he gets a guest spot. I should work harder at climbing the NBA’s all-time scoring leaderboard.

Best Date Ever: THE FREAKIN’ PUPPY DATE

Last week I lamented that more of the show didn’t focus on Copper, Rachel’s very good dog. SOMEBODY WAS LISTENING. This week Rachel’s one-on-one date with Peter was entirely dog-themed, and it was the happiest I’ve ever been watching The Bachelorette.

We gotta talk about how good this freakin’ dog is. For one, he’s got the greatest smile.

Two, he’s so good at hop-hop-hopping to avoid putting weight on his little broken leg.

Three, he’s so well-behaved! My dog would not handle a plane ride well at all, and this pup did just fine!

Four, he’s so good at just calmly sitting nearby when Rachel and Peter do fun stuff!

Five, he’s just a good dog!

The only problem is that the date ends with Peter and Rachel watching fireworks. This is the worst activity to do with your dog. Dogs think fireworks are apocalypses. I imagine future dates on this season will involve skateboarding, vacuuming, and hanging out with Rachel’s neighbor’s cat.

This is a very, very good dog. The only better dog is my dog, because everybody is legally permitted to believe their dog is genuinely the best dog in the world without it being an insult to other people’s dogs.

Also, the date with Peter was fun if you like watching romance on television. I think dogs are better.

Best Sports Fan: This Person

I love the faux-crowds that show up to Bachelorette sporting events/concerts.

Which team is this extra cheering for? They don’t care. Any team is good enough.

Most Questionable Editing Decision: This Poop

The Bachelorette got Ashton Kutcher and Mila Kunis, a well-known celebrity couple, on this episode. Wow! They got them to stand in a field next to a dumb obstacle course. That obstacle course featured a fake baby, which had fake poop, which apparently needed to be censored.

Or, at least I assume it was fake poop. They blurred it out, so we’ll never know.

Most Dramatic Improvement: I Regret Saying This, but the Damn “Whaboom” Guy

Look, I still do not endorse The Whaboom Guy — not as a contestant, as a comedian, as a record label, or as a crew. I still stand firm in my plan to sell “Whaaaaboooom” shirts with four A’s and four O’s to cut into Lucas’s attempts at marketing his dumb, trademarked catchphrase, which has three A’s and four O’s. (He helped my legal case by explicitly stating on air in this episode that only the three-A, four-O version counts.)

However, I’ll tolerate his presence for a few reasons. During the completely unimportant aforementioned obstacle course, Lucas shoved a pro wrestler:

He nearly started a fight with a guy whose job is fighting. Extravagantly staged fighting, but still: Pro wrestlers are super-strong and athletic. This would not end well for Lucas. He risked it all to win this obstacle course, and all he got was a nonshiny medal.

I endorse this, because while it ended peacefully this time, if it happens again it might end with somebody getting their ass whaaaboooomed, and that just makes for good TV.

But more importantly, Lucas’s actual antics have been less bothersome than Blake’s, who has anointed himself the knight responsible for protecting Rachel from whaaabooooming. Thanks to Blake’s insufferability, Mr. Whaaaboooom is only the second-worst person on the show.

Most Bored Human: Rachel

The obstacle-course date featured her B-squad. Look at this if-this-dude-doesn’t-buy-me-another-drink-this-Tinder-date-is-over face:

Biggest Omission: Mike

Last week I tried to keep track of the people who were eliminated on the first episode, but I failed to mention “former pro basketball player” Michael Black. Luckily, college basketball blog Mid-Major Madness was there to pick up my slack, creating a highlight reel of the former University of Albany guard’s brief performance on the show.

Mike’s untimely elimination came a week too early. I would have absolutely loved to see Black, who led the America East Conference in scoring in 2013 and played professionally in Bulgaria, matching up against his fellow Bachelorette contestants. We could’ve gotten a highlight reel of embarrassed randos. Instead we got this:

Sorry, Mike.