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‘The Bachelorette’ Recap: Looking for Love From a Woman Who’s Already Found It

Since the very beginning of this season, Clare has only had eyes for Dale. On Tuesday night, the rest of the guys finally started to figure that out.

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

You might not know this, but technically, the first season of The Bachelorette took place in Homer’s The Odyssey, and it sucked for everybody involved. In that installment, Odysseus’s seemingly widowed wife Penelope made hundreds of horny suitors take on trivial tasks in a competition to be her new husband. Of course, Penelope didn’t want any of these guys to be her husband—she already loved someone, and was just using the tasks to delay her decision until she could be with him. You think she was legitimately choosing her next husband via bow-stringing contests? Penelope hated being the lead on her season of The Bachelorette—she only had eyes for Odysseus, and put little effort into the proceedings. Meanwhile, the insolent suitors started breaking stuff, getting rowdy, and demanding she pick one of them. (I can imagine the sit-down interviews with Tanner, a 24-year-old “account executive” from Sparta, who’s like, “I just don’t think Eurymachus and Antinous are here for the right reasons.”) It wasn’t good TV, which is why Homer—the original Chris Harrison—spends most of the poem focusing on Odysseus’s journeys around the ocean and fights with cool monsters instead of updating us on who got eliminated on the latest episode of Penelope Stalls for Time.

This season of The Bachelorette is a repeat of Penelope’s season. Clare only cares about one guy, Dale, and she’s trying to run out the clock until she can be with him. If The Bachelorette were actually a show about finding love, this would be its best season ever. Dale stepped out of the limo, and—bam!—Clare was done. She picked her guy without even needing months of international travel. But The Bachelorette is not a show about finding love, and it never has been. The vast majority of couples on the show break up instantly. (The last season of The Bachelor set a new record when Peter and Madison announced their split three days after the season ended.) In reality, we watch for the love-adjacent shenanigans, all of which are absent when love is found at first sight. As Clare and Dale get closer and closer, the show has become increasingly unbearable to watch.

Clare seems to think that by falling in love, she’s fulfilled her duty as the show’s lead. “If some of these guys are picking up on my relationship with Dale, guess what? It’s because I like him,” she says in a confessional. “That’s what I’m here for. That’s the whole point. Are you new here?” The thing is, they are, in fact, new here. This is their first time on reality TV, as opposed to Clare’s fifth. She should know better than anybody that finding love is not the point of these shows, or else they wouldn’t keep inviting her back after she fails every time.“You can’t hate on love!” she adds. But of course we can, Clare. It’s the funnest part of watching The Bachelorette.

Just three episodes in, Clare has essentially abdicated of all her Bachelorette responsibilities. In Tuesday night’s episode, she skips a cocktail party, skips a group date, skips the dinner portion of a one-on-one date, and declines to give a rose after the second group date. (“I thought one of us deserved a rose,” one contestant sadly says after Clare walks away.) Clare has been given a starring role on one of the most-watched shows in America, yet seems offended when it’s suggested that she do any of the stuff required to make the show interesting. She’s fed up with the charade of pretending these other two dozen dudes matter when she’s already picked her guy. She even seems fed up with the guys for not going along with her hijacking of the show.

Soon, Clare will actually abdicate her position as Bachelorette. Tuesday night’s episode finally acknowledges that Clare will soon be subbed out for a replacement Bachelorette, Tayshia. We’ve survived Clare’s Journey and are mercifully headed toward Clare’s Expulsion. The moment can’t come soon enough. At the beginning of the year, I was eager to get to the part of the show where Clare and Tayshia swapped, because nothing like it had ever happened on the show. I was curious to see all its drama and all the ways contestants would react. But at this point, I’m only eager to get to the swap because I’m tired of Clare’s version of the show. I think Clare is too.

Worst Performance: Zach J.

On Tuesday night’s episode, the men start to realize they have no purpose—Clare has picked Dale and they’re just baking in the Palm Springs sun. By the end of the episode they’re plotting a mutiny. They’re understandably pissed that they dropped their lives to spend months quarantined in the desert with a woman who has no interest in them and who rejected all of them the minute a former football player walked out of a limo.

But nobody gets rejected harder than Zach J., who gets selected for a one-on-one date. Normally, this is a good thing, because it means that the Bachelorette has chosen to spend quality time with you, away from the rest of the group. But when the Bachelorette has already chosen her guy, it turns out to be a kiss of death. Or a non-kiss of death, in Zach’s case.

The two go to a spa, where Clare rubs guacamole on Zach’s face before the two lounge in a pool. At the end of the date, Clare leans in to kiss Zach, but then remembers she only wants to kiss Dale, and pulls back. Zach decides to make a federal case out of this, asking for clarifications and explanations of why the kiss did not occur. No guy has ever won a “Why Didn’t You Kiss Me?” case, because by merely arguing said case, the defendant proves he did not deserve to be kissed in the first place. But Zach makes things even worse when he actually puts his hands on her, forcibly grabbing at her chin in a way he might think is sexy but in reality is just alarming. He doesn’t deserve to see her again, and he doesn’t: Clare eventually skips out on the dinner portion of the one-on-one date. Zach gets all dressed up, sits down at a table, and then Chris Harrison dumps him via proxy.

Part of what makes this season so unenjoyable is that it’s hard to side with anybody. Clare is wasting a lot of people’s time by refusing to play by the rules of the show that’s made her a star, setting up a group of guys to fail and then acting disgusted when they lash out because of it. But as much as I understand the guys’ disappointment—and as much as I want to support their attempt at organizing their workplace—it’s tough to sympathize with men stamping their feet because they aren’t getting enough of a woman’s attention.

Most Ambivalent: Dale

Clare refers to Dale as her “fiancé” in this episode, which is ridiculous, because Dale hasn’t even had a sit-down meeting with celebrity jeweler Neil Lane yet. But other than that, they’re basically engaged at this point. At one point, Dale and Clare abscond from the group for an extended, on-the-bed, fully clothed makeout session. (The other guys claim the two were gone for an hour.) At the expense of my mental health, I have transcribed a snippet of their conversation:

Clare: Ooooh! Am I the big spoon now?

Dale: Umm … yeah. [Note: Neither Clare nor Dale were in a spooning position. He was, at best, a serving tong.] Like, I know there’s a lot of pressure right now—

Clare: Why are you so perfect?

Dale: I’m not perfect.

Clare: I feel like you’re so perfect.

Dale: You’re perfect!

Talking has never been their strong suit. Clare’s “off-the-charts in love” energy has always been met by Dale’s “just happy to be here kissing a hot lady!” energy. His greatest strength is simply being there. In Tuesday night’s episode, he leads multiple toasts, becomes the first guy to pull Clare aside at a group date (then goes back for seconds), and most importantly, finds Clare when she is crying over dirtbag Yosef.

Unsurprisingly, Dale is starting to draw the ire of the rest of the guys. The final group date of the night is a roast, and virtually everyone focuses entirely on him. Unfortunately, Dale isn’t quite interesting enough to rip to shreds. He’s friendly and chill, and nobody has any legitimate beef with him besides the fact that the girl they like likes him instead. One contestant says NFL teams only signed Dale because they thought he might be related to Randy Moss; another goes on a riff about Dale’s name being pronounced “da-léà la Pitbull. That’s two name-related jokes. Bennett says Dale looks like the snake from The Jungle Book, which is highly specific and highly inaccurate. Still, it leads to a full-fledged investigation from Clare into why everybody chose to gang up on Dale. “I actually did not get what I needed from you guys,” Clare tells the guys while explaining to them why she won’t be giving out a group date rose. But what Clare “needed” was for everyone to be nice to Dale. Meanwhile, Dale chuckles and, in a conversation with Eazy, acknowledges that he probably deserves to be criticized.

The Dale-centric season is weird. He hasn’t done anything to inspire the hate he’s getting from the guys, but he’s not really captivating enough for us to understand why Clare loves him either. With a touch of personality, he’d be one of the show’s greatest villains ever. Imagine if Dale was cocky enough to rub everybody’s faces in the fact that Clare likes him instead of them! I’d love it! But instead, he doesn’t seem to care that he’s partially dragging a 20-year-old TV franchise off the rails of its long-established format. He’s just happy the hot lady is kissing him.

Biggest Loser: Yosef

The real pity of Clare’s season is that she’s so good at dumping these guys. This week’s sacrificial bro is Yosef, who continues his beef about last week’s strip-dodgeball date (which he was not on). He starts out mildly critical, and then really starts feeling himself, calling Clare “classless” and telling her that he “expected more from the oldest Bachelorette ever.”

“I’m ashamed to be associated with you,” he says. And with that, Yosef tees up Clare for the lines that launched a million ABC promos. “I would never want my children to have a father like you. Get out of here!” Later, she turns to the camera and says, “I’m the oldest Bachelorette because I didn’t settle for men! Like! That!”

The whole thing had the feel of a baseball manager performatively yelling at the umpire until he crosses a line that gets the ump to toss him from the game. Yosef didn’t want to be there, and figured the best thing would be to make enough noise while getting ejected so that somebody might notice.

We picked the wrong format for this season. There should be no Dales, just 30 annoying guys nobody could like, and every episode should feature one-on-one dates where Clare individually decimates each guy.

Biggest Unanswered Question: Guest Logistics

Last week I wrote about how this season’s quarantine requirements meant that episodes would likely be without the typical retinue of guest appearances. As the premiere elaborated, all contestants on the show had to isolate in rooms for several days and pass several days of COVID testing to date Clare. Presumably, those obstacles would keep the show from bringing in former contestants and former celebrities to spice up dates.

But on Monday night’s episode, the show actually did bring in outsiders to entertain. First, Clare is visited by DeAnna Pappas, who was the lead on Season 4 of The Bachelorette. Then on Clare’s one-on-one date with Zach J., the two receive pedicures from employees at the hotel spa. And for the episode’s lone group date activity, the men are led in a roast by standup comedian Margaret Cho.

Which leaves me with many questions about the show’s COVID protocols:

  • Did the show’s guests have to go through the same protocols as the contestants?
  • Did they make Margaret Cho sit in a room for days on end just so she could make one joke? (Her joke was that Bennett looked like a serial killer. Which, true—real American Psycho vibes.)
  • Why couldn’t they just have Chris Harrison make those jokes without making Margaret Cho wait in a room for two days?
  • Did the COVID protocols scare anybody off? Like, did they try to get more recent Bachelor people but the restrictions forced them to go with DeAnna, whose season aired in 2008?
  • Had Clare and DeAnna ever met before this? (It did not seem like Clare had any idea who DeAnna was.)
  • Were those pedicurists already working at the spa, or did they have to come in just for this?
  • And while we’re at it: Can somebody tell me the backstory behind “Covid compliance officer Nicky ‘Covids’ Greco,” whose name pops up in the credits?
  • Was his nickname before the show “Covids” or did everybody start calling him “Covids” because he was the COVID compliance officer?
  • Did the other compliance officers not get nicknamed “Covids” because they were worse at telling people to keep their masks on?
  • Does he like being called “Covids”? Or does he hate being defined by his job, and wish his nickname wasn’t the same as a deadly pandemic?
  • Did he have any choice about his new nickname being used in the credits?
  • Did Margaret Cho get to roast Nicky “Covids” Greco before leaving?