The “hometowns” episode of The Bachelorette is pretty consistently something I look forward to. We’re down to the final four contestants, guys we’ve watched for hours—now it’s time to see the environments that created them. What are their families like? Do they have nice houses? What ridiculous way will The Bachelorette stereotype the city they’re from?
Unfortunately, filming the entire season at a resort in Palm Springs meant eliminating two of those three questions. The show did fly in (and quarantine) everybody’s closest family members, but the pandemic prevented the show from traveling to the contestants’ hometowns and homes. All four contestants were given the opportunity to create a “hometown-themed” date.
For example, instead of going to Zac’s hometown of Haddonfield, New Jersey, he and Tayshia went on a date themed around the place he currently lives, New York City. (I guess it wouldn’t have been as easily understandable to viewers if they rigged up a mock Philly suburb complete with a fake Wawa, which is a fine-dining establishment that is also a gas station where you’re not allowed to pump your own gas.) Zac teaches Tayshia how to hail a taxi like an obnoxious New Yorker. The two eat bagels (Tayshia puts blueberries on hers, like an absolute monster) and slices of pizza (cold, stored inside of a glass case, probably made in California). They end their date by jumping in a fountain, which I guess is a New York thing because of the Friends opening credits.
The other dates are similar—Brendan takes Tayshia to a “carnival” to represent his life in a small town in Massachusetts, and Ben takes Tayshia on a tour of “Venice Beach,” where they rollerblade around and get boardwalk caricatures of themselves. None of it is particularly revealing, and it’s all over quickly.
It’s not the worst thing for this season. We never really had a long-lasting villain this year—besides, I guess, Clare?—and we’re left with one of the most likable final groupings ever. Every guy is nice and has been through some stuff. (Brendan is in last place in the “traumatic life experiences” category, and he’s been divorced.) Everybody left feels like a fully formed character who you’d be happy to see win. Seeing Tayshia meet their families actually felt like a nice dive into who they are, when other years might have seen episodes dominated by hometown shenanigans.
That said—I’m really looking forward to actual hometowns next year.
Saddest Exit: Ben
A staple of The Bachelorette is the Crying Car—the camera-rigged SUV that contestants are sent home in after getting eliminated, where they’re often captured dramatically leaking fluid out of every part of their face. Early in Tuesday night’s episode, Ben says that he simply doesn’t know how to cry. He says he feels emotions, but he isn’t sure how to emote. That’s confirmed at the end of the episode, when Tayshia picks Brendan, Ivan, and Zac to move to the final three and sends Ben home. He’s clearly hurt, but totally stone-faced.
Ben’s arc over the course of the episode is heartbreaking. His parents don’t come, but he is joined by his sister and his friend Antonia, who has been on multiple seasons of Top Chef! (Apparently Ben is her trainer?) Antonia cuts through Ben like she’s still got her fancy chef knives, taking one look at him and diagnosing that he’s in love with Tayshia. At first, Ben is unwilling to admit that he loves Tayshia, but after thinking about it for a second, he realizes she’s right and lights up. He sets out to tell Tayshia that he loves her.
Instead, he says the following: “I, uh … I feel so good … about the way that this is … it’s so easy … I don’t know.” This, notably, is a lot of words, none of which are “love” or “you.” Ben is devastated: “In true Ben fashion, I just blew it,” he says. Tayshia is turned off; she dumps him at the rose ceremony and goes on a mini-rant about Ben’s lack of emotion. “He’s just so empty,” she says. “Please, make me feel like these last few weeks meant anything to you!”
Unfortunately, it feels like a terrible misread from Tayshia. Ben has been open about how hard it is for him to talk about his feelings, and while communication is key in a relationship, he’s at least been forthcoming about his struggles in that respect—while also opening up to Tayshia about difficult subjects like his mental health and experiences with bulimia. On a show that by default values extroverts, it’s not surprising that Ben lost, but Tayshia’s impatience in the moment feels like a bad impulse. Ben tries to assure her with a half-hearted “I’ll be all right, I’m always all right”—but that’s a troubling thing to hear from a guy who’s talked about how he is not always all right, and in fact has attempted suicide twice.
Ben seems like a textbook example of a guy who has been taught that it’s not OK to show emotion. He seemed so genuinely happy when he was able to express his feelings for Tayshia—and so broken when he actually tried to express those feelings to Tayshia. It feels like the way Tayshia reacts to his failure to open up just pushes him deeper into his shell, and it’s tough to watch him sit stone-faced in that limo. (We probably should do a better job as a country providing mental health resources for veterans! Just a thought!)
Worst Character: The Palm Springs Heat
Did you notice that everybody on Tuesday night’s episode was sweaty? Like, really sweaty? Like, sweatier than usual?
There’s an explanation for this. Every poor family member who got sucked into coming to “hometowns” thought they were going to a lovely resort where they could relax. In reality, they were accepting an invitation to spend a week inside of a blast furnace. This episode was filmed sometime in late August in Palm Springs—the weather that week was about 110 degrees every day, with lows in the 90s. Have you ever experienced heat over 110 degrees? Every second you spend outside is just a reminder that humans aren’t supposed to be in the place you currently are. Fun vacation! Here’s Zac’s dad, who turned bright red because of the heat:
There was also one point when Zac was wearing an earring, and I thought, “Hey, that’s weird, I’ve never seen Zac wearing an earring before.” And then I realized IT WAS A MASSIVE BEAD OF SWEAT FORMING ON HIS EAR. I don’t even think I’ve ever had ear sweat before. (Do ears even have sweat glands?)
At the end of Zac’s “New York”–themed date with Tayshia, the two jump into a fountain. Zac reads it as a sign that Tayshia is up for anything and fully committed to their relationship. I read it as Tayshia saying “HOLY CRAP IT’S 120 DEGREES AND MY SKIN IS BURNING AND I DON’T CARE THAT I’M WEARING CLOTHES I WANT TO BE COVERED IN WATER.”
If you got bad vibes from any of the dates, it’s probably because every single second of every single date was absolutely miserable, regardless of how much chemistry there was. It’s a bad idea to have sparks flying in all that heat—that’s how you start forest fires!
Best Rivalry: The Niece Battle
We got a pretty tame batch of relatives this time—no demanding dads, wine-drunk moms, or kooky siblings. But Brendan and Ivan both had the wise idea to show off their adorable nieces. Brendan brings his niece, Aliyah, and Ivan prepares a recipe from the Philippines based on an instructional video made by his niece Kehlani. (Two nieces named after R&B stars!) It seems to work: Both guys show their potential parenting abilities by bonding with little kids—Ivan actually did help raise his niece while his brother was in prison—and both guys get roses and advance to the next week.
However, I keep asking myself: Who had the better niece? Kehlani has the advantage of being, like, 6 years old, which is pretty much the best age for a child to be. (Anything older is less cute; anything younger is more likely to poop at problematic times.) But apparently her lumpia recipe sucks, because both Ivan and Tayshia instantly recoil upon biting into the messes they created. And while it’s cute that Brendan and Aliyah have handshakes together, it seems clear that Brendan is the driving force behind creating them.
I’m calling it a dead heat: Both kids are very adorable. Clearly, we need to have a Niece Brawl to determine which guy gets Tayshia. Let’s see who wants a new aunt more!
Best Contestant: Ivan
I don’t think any scene in my years of watching The Bachelor has ever hit me as hard as Ivan’s surprise reunion with his younger brother, Gabriel. To this point, it’s been set up as a classic story of two brothers, one gone good and the other gone bad. Ivan is an aeronautical engineer who builds jets for Lockheed Martin and plays chess; Gabe spent four years in prison. But instead of a relationship filled with spite and resentment, it’s clear that both brothers deeply love and care for each other. Ivan actually tells Gabe about how much Gabe has inspired him; Gabe explains that the feeling is mutual. Television shows don’t often portray guys with face tattoos as caring—or worth caring about. But in seconds, you could see how Ivan and Gabe made each other’s lives better.
I normally don’t get too invested in this show, but folks, Ivan is a gem. He’s a rocket scientist with six-pack abs and a heart of gold. He’s capable of speaking thoughtfully about how he wants to make other people’s lives better, while other contestants are praised for being introspective enough to stumble through discussions about how they’ve improved their own lives. He’s so incredible that I’m willing to overlook the fact that his day job is using his big brain to build better killing machines. I will riot if he doesn’t win. I will also try out for The Bachelor when he gets cast as the next lead.