If someone asks you to summarize an episode of The Bachelorette, it can really go one of two ways. The first scenario is something interesting happening: “It was great—Matt got in a huge fight with Blake about what happened before the show started, and Lauren destroyed Tanner when she dumped him.” (Statistically, 72 percent of the show’s contestants are named Matt, Blake, Lauren, or Tanner.) Then there’s the second scenario, when nothing happens. Historically, the show has had a built-in crutch for these episodes—by flying contestants across the globe and employing a dizzying array of activities as filler, the show is able to be at least superficially interesting. If nothing happens on an episode, you might still say, “It was great—they went to Belgium, and they made Matt and Blake ride in a hot air balloon together even though they hate each other, and for some reason three Backstreet Boys showed up during Lauren’s date with Tanner. Do you think they paid for them to go to Belgium? And what happened to the other two Backstreet Boys?” Even when the show is at its dullest, its diversions keep it entertaining.
But the 2020 season of The Bachelorette can’t have travel or Backstreet Boys. The entire season was filmed in a bubble at a resort in Palm Springs. Tuesday night’s episode marked the first three dates of the season, all filmed entirely on the premises of the resort. On the night’s first date, the men were instructed to explore their love languages—this involved delivering speeches to Clare, giving her gifts, and then touching her while she was blindfolded. (The gifts were seemingly just “stuff they grabbed from their rooms.”) The second date was a one-on-one with Jason, in which she and Jason were asked to write letters to their younger selves. The third and final date was strip dodgeball. (Now we’re getting somewhere.)
It feels like watching a musical without all the songs and dances. There’s not even close to enough story line to fill The Bachelorette’s two-hour running time. (“OK, so they’re cats. Now there are some more cats. A few more cats just showed up. They’re contemplating mortality now. OK, some more cats are showing up. And now it’s over.”) For this season to be fun, I need a C-list celebrity couple to instruct these guys on how to do an obstacle course. I need a supposedly famous country singer named, like, Brantley Chambler to give the contestants a quick lesson in songwriting before giving a special performance of his hit song “Truck Lovin’” for Clare and the guy who wrote the best song. I need a quaint local couple that’s been married for 57 years to say “In [insert country name], the way we show we love each other is by baking [insert name of local dish]” and then teach the guys how to make the dish. I need a scene where Chris Harrison tells the guys they’re going to South Carolina and they all start screaming and pounding champagne like they’ve been waiting their whole meathead lives to go to South Carolina.
Instead, it seems like every date this season is just going to be a self-help seminar that takes place in the biggest room at the hotel. (It is prominently labeled as the “Salon de Fiesta.”) Which means we’re just going to get a show where a woman tries to start a relationship with a bunch of different guys before picking the one she likes the most. Who wants to watch that?
Worst Filler: Clare
Nothing really happens in Tuesday night’s episode. It is a pretty bland and straightforward episode of The Bachelorette. Which is weird, because this is not a straightforward season of The Bachelorette. Like I said last week, I try to avoid writing about spoilers in here, but Clare’s eventual exit from the show is not a spoiler. If Chris Harrison talks about something out loud in public, it’s not a spoiler. We all know Clare is out and Tayshia is in. And we all just want to watch the scenes in which Clare boils over and decides to leave the show (which is probably why The Bachelorette is making us wait for them).
It is fun to watch Clare’s deeply strange relationship with Dale. Two weeks in, there still doesn’t seem to be much chemistry between them, perhaps because they’re trying to hide the fact that they communicated before the show, or perhaps because Dale is a tad more reserved and awkward than Clare. She ravenously stares at him while biting her bottom lip with enough PSIs to crush diamonds; he seems vaguely into it, but isn’t bursting at the seams with passion. It’s a dynamic unlike anything in the history of this franchise. The contestants are supposed to pursue the Bachelorette! Everybody else is still playing by the normal rules, but Clare and Dale are playing their own game, and I can’t get a good read on why.
But everything else with Clare seems forced. She dives into monologues with the enthusiasm and skill of someone who auditioned for a lot of plays without getting a lead role. She talks about how in high school, nobody invited her to prom, how she felt invisible, and quite frankly, I refuse to believe that anybody as uniquely skilled at grabbing attention as Clare—someone who has been on five separate Bachelor-themed television shows—was ever invisible anywhere. The highlight of the second episode comes after the first date, when everybody sits down at the after-party and about 10 awkward seconds elapse before anybody pulls Clare aside. “Does ANYBODY want to spend time with me?” she barks at guys who dropped everything in their lives to quarantine in 110-degree Palm Springs in order to spend time with her.
Clare is legitimately great at dumping guys. Her dismissal of Juan Pablo on The Bachelor—while technically initiated by Juan Pablo—is an all-time classic Bachelor moment, which made her the star of somebody else’s season. She voluntarily left two seasons of Bachelor in Paradise, and broke sensitive Quebecois sweater-wearer Benoit’s heart on Bachelor Winter Games. (Justice for Benoit!) That should be a strength on a show whose premise is “a woman dumps 30-ish guys,” and she does a great job of dumping Brandon later in the episode. But Clare’s arc on this season is going to be less about who she dumps than who she chooses. Everything else seems irrelevant. There’s really no reason to give us weeks and weeks of Clare pretending to care about any of this. Even by the standards of The Bachelorette, where even the winner’s relationship is almost definitely doomed, we know all of these other relationships are going nowhere. So can we speed this Clare thing up? How many more “normal” episodes are we going to get before the shoe drops?
Biggest Poser: Yosef
OK so, the strip dodgeball game is a bust, because one team doesn’t have to strip at all—the red team obliterates the blue team in four straight games. (One team had a former almost-NFL player and a “fitness instructor,” the other team had a journalism professor and a “boy band manager.” Whoever was the Blue Team’s general manager was impossibly bad at drafting.) The losing team is sent home naked—we’re told; it sure looked like they had underwear on, but the Bachelorette censorship boxes prevented us from knowing—while the winning team gets to spend the rest of the evening with Clare.
When the losing team returns to the communal area nude, Yosef calls them chumps. He claims that if he had been on their team, he simply would have kept his clothes on. He says he would have told Clare, “I liked you a lot more before you humiliated me,” and elaborates that he wouldn’t have stripped out of respect for himself and his daughter.
But then in the very next scene, Yosef is getting dressed!
(Apologies in case your daughter reads this article, Yosef.)
I guess Yosef is fine being shown on national TV in various stages of undress. He just draws the line at being specifically asked to undress as a result of a dodgeball game. Yosef says he plans to confront Clare about all this, citing the strip dodgeball date as “classless” and “a red flag.” This is the same guy who was called out in the premiere for being “reckless on Instagram.”
Unluckiest Guy: Brandon
A great contestant move is to tell the Bachelorette that you only went on The Bachelorette because of her. It wasn’t the opportunity to be on TV and date an extremely hot person—it was this specific hot person. Brandon tries to pull this card with Clare, telling her that she was the reason he wanted to be on the show. Good line. Unfortunately, Brandon wasn’t expecting a follow-up. When Clare asks him why she was so singularly compelling, he basically has nothing to say besides that he thinks she’s beautiful. From this point on, Clare completely obliterates Brandon. She points out that other contestants cited her strength and drive, while he was entirely motivated by appearance. And when he tries to change the conversation with a “So, you’re from Sacramento, huh?” it completely fails. He should’ve said, “Well I’ve always respected your ambition and your confidence,” because, come on, how easy would it have been for him to make up some vague positive values? Instead, he’s booted for being shallow—and for being honest when he said he didn’t know much about Clare’s personality.
Quite frankly, this is kind of rude of Clare. We all know that she’s already planned her exit strategy, and will be leaving the show shortly to elope with Dale. Does she really need to kick off guys because they weren’t dreaming about her character? Why does she need the non-Dale guys to care about her? She doesn’t really care about them!
What a bummer for Brandon. If he had just managed to hide his complete lack of knowledge about Clare for a few more conversations, he would’ve been an ideal candidate for a Replacement Bachelorette. When Tayshia walks through the door, she’ll be wanting a cast of guys willing to date any television hottie, but apparently she’ll be left with a cast of guys who specifically wanted to date Clare, for honorable reasons only.