Surely, at some point in the past several months, you’ve had the cognitively dissonant sensation of watching a movie or TV show and getting anxious at all the characters hanging out indoors without masks. Of course, these things were all filmed before a global pandemic forced people to cover their faces and stay 6 feet apart.
It’s a bit weirder watching The Bachelorette, a show filmed during the pandemic. The people who made the show absolutely did the right thing by creating a bubble where they could safely film the show, with contestants who quarantined and were repeatedly tested. (Some entire countries have done this!) But it’s still strange to watch the hot people in their snow globe, where our rapidly decomposing world can’t touch them. It’s not so much the fact that nobody is wearing masks as the fact that everything else has stayed the same. This is a show about finding love. Wouldn’t you want to know how your potential romantic partner felt about [gestures broadly at the world] before deciding to propose to them? (Presumably, Clare and Dale hashed this out in their before-the-show Instagram DMs, which they claim didn’t happen.)
For a few minutes on Tuesday night’s episode, Ivan and Tayshia have a one-on-one date in which they actually acknowledge this outside world. They discuss their multiracial families (both have Black fathers; Ivan’s mother is Filipina and Tayshia’s mother is Mexican) and more broadly what 2020 has been like for them. Ivan remarks on how the nationwide conversation about police brutality reminded him of the way his brother was repeatedly beaten up by corrections officers in prison, and how his brain used to be wired to ask what his brother had done wrong, when he should’ve been thinking about how no crime justified such punishment. Tayshia starts crying, and talks about seeing protests in her Orange County hometown—she admits she’d spent a long time trying to fit into her white surroundings, and that it was deeply meaningful to see the community she lived in saying that Black Lives like hers Matter, too.
As much as I typically enjoy watching the inane and petty goings-on of Bachelor episodes, the show is designed to build romances that make sense only in a world of free trips to Europe. You can quite easily date someone on this show without ever finding out how they feel about … anything. While Ivan and Tayshia’s conversation may have broken the perfect facade The Bachelorette has built, I actually appreciated hearing contestants talk openly about real life. It feels like a necessary conversation for any two people determining whether they actually like each other—and honestly, it helps us viewers at home decide who we like, too.
Afterward, the show devolves back into typical Bachelorette fodder with impressive speed—the episode ends with accusations that Tayshia gave Noah a rose because he stirred up drama in the house, as Bennett hollers “I’m not on The Babysitter, I’m on The Bachelorette!” But it was a good diversion for the time being. We watch reality TV show for the fake things, but for once, it was nice to see a conversation about the real world that exists outside the Bachelorette Bubble.
Most Improved Host: Chris Harrison
Normally, Chris Harrison’s actual role as host of The Bachelorette is pretty minimal. The Bachelorette is the one who eliminates contestants and runs group activities, while Harrison appears only to make occasional announcements and, on rare occasions, provide an ear to listen to those in search of guidance. Sometimes, Harrison goes entire episodes without appearing on camera. We get the impression that he lives a life of luxury, getting paid handsomely to travel to whatever beautiful locations The Bachelorette films for a job that requires him to work for maybe 15 minutes a week.
But this season, The Bachelorette is trapped in Palm Springs. And with no adventures, the show must work with what it has—and luckily, it has Harrison waiting on the bench, like the Manu Ginobili of reality TV. This dude is a Hall of Famer, but the show doesn’t even need him to be a part of the starting lineup.
In Tuesday night’s episode, Chris comes into play twice. He’s featured on the second group date, a “truth or dare” contest in which the men are asked to drink gross smoothies and pretend to have sex over the La Quinta loudspeaker. (Most of them sound like they’re being tortured rather than pleasured; upon hearing Blake’s supposedly sexual sounds, Eazy notes that “Blake’s got some demons, Blake’s gotta go to church.”) They’re also asked to get an autograph from Chris “in a place where the sun don’t shine.” It’s not actually that entertaining to watch Chris autograph guys’ asses, but it is pretty funny that the show decided to make it look like the men begging Chris for ass autographs were interrupting him in the middle of a five-star champagne-and-crab-leg brunch:
After the date, Ben decides to sneak off to Tayshia’s room to make up for the fact that he’d been lax in tracking her down during previous dates. At the same time, Ed decides to sneak off to Tayshia’s room for the same reason. For a few minutes, the show makes us think that Ben and Ed are going to arrive simultaneously and ruin each other’s romantic gestures. But while Ben winds up in Tayshia’s room and shares a romantic champagne nightcap with her, Ed “takes a wrong turn” and ends up at Chris Harrison’s room. Chris invites him in for an uncomfortable glass of wine.
This guy is doing the most work he’s ever had to do on this show … much of it in the guise of playing a man whose life of luxury keeps getting interrupted by the pesky show he hosts. Stunningly, he’s able to pull it off pretty well.
Roughest Break: The La Quinta Housekeeping Staff
The first group date of the episode is a contest to write the best love song. Nobody shines here. Although the Bachelor staff acquired a stunningly complex array of instruments—in addition to standards like a guitar and xylophone, I clocked a pan flute, mandolin, and accordion—nobody knows how to play any of them, so everybody is just doing spoken word poems about Tayshia. And that’s as rough as it sounds—Bennett spends a lot of time trying to figure out what rhymes with “house.” (Mouse.)
In the end, Ivan wins, not because of anything he said or did, but because he brought Tayshia up on stage with him. Everybody who spent time writing thoughtful lyrics (or hitting up the Palm Springs pan flute connect) wasted their time.
His prize is just getting to hang out in Tayshia’s apartment-sized hotel room—but the two seem to have a genuinely spectacular time. They pretend the floor is lava, have a giant, feather-flinging pillow fight, and order chicken tenders and a giant tub of ice cream from room service. It is the pinnacle of quarantine romance, and also what I imagined adults did on romantic dates when I was 6 years old.
But I’m not 6 years old anymore, so all I could think about was: Who is going to clean up all those feathers?
And WHY THE HELL DID YOU NEED SO MUCH ICE CREAM, IT IS HUMANLY IMPOSSIBLE FOR TWO PEOPLE TO EAT THAT ICE CREAM FAST ENOUGH FOR IT NOT TO MELT ALL OVER THE CARPET, IT’S GOING TO BE VERY STICKY AND DIFFICULT TO CLEAN UP.
Saddest Departure: Kenny
We’re reaching the point of the season when the most-interesting-but-least-competitive contestants start getting tossed. It’s a very sad time, as you begin to realize all of the legitimate contenders make for bad television. And just one episode after being the contestant with the most screen time, meathead quote factory Chasen got dumped in Tuesday night’s episode. I guess Tayshia is not interested in guys who are half-Chase and half-Jason.
But I can live without Chasen—sadly, we also lost one of the show’s most enjoyable contestants, Kenny. Kenny helped facilitate the transition from Clare to Tayshia by rallying the men as it became apparent that Clare wasn’t interested in anybody but Dale. He wasn’t willing to let Clare waste his time and threatened to organize a walkout of all the contestants. None of the men actually walked out, but the threat was enough to bring the Clare situation to a head.
After the decision to swap out Clare for Tayshia was made, Kenny kept pushing, asking whether Clare and Dale had ruined the integrity of the show. He was basically the house’s spokesperson. I’ll always remember how he told Spencer, “Don’t take this the wrong way: You kind of come off like a dick.”
Kenny didn’t have time to mess around—what, and miss weeks from his high-stakes job as a boy band manager?—and was willing to be real to his enemy’s faces. Unfortunately, his inability to stop pushing for reality TV justice may not have made him an ideal romantic partner. I thought the “write a love song” date might have been able to save someone with his job title, but I guess he’s 100 percent on the business side of the boy band industry. Kenny fought for a Clare-free working environment for his peers, and never avoided an opportunity to criticize someone who needed criticizing. We salute you, comrade.