Who do we have to thank for granting us the gift of Michelle, a.k.a Miss Young, as our Season 18 Bachelorette? Is it the God who keeps approximately one in every 60 Bachelor(ette) contestants a virgin until marriage and/or fantasy suites, whichever comes first? Is it Katie Thurston for taking one for the team and agreeing to film her season of The Bachelorette first on a budget of chocolate coins and four $50 Ross Dress for Less gift cards spaced out through the season in order to accommodate Michelle’s teaching schedule?
Or is it Michelle’s elementary school for loaning us this modern-day Miss Honey … this no-nonsense Tina Fey in Mean Girls … this Ms. Frizzle if Ms. Frizzle looked like a Fenty model?
We don’t deserve Michelle—because no one deserves Michelle, except maybe Dev Patel, or like, the person who invented AirPods—but we don’t always get the Bachelorette we deserve. Sometimes, we simply get the Bachelorette we need. And after a handful of quarantine seasons spent watching leads sweat it out in Palm Springs in July and go on dates spent playing Apples to Apples and eating room-service chicken fingers, we need a lead who can take charge and guide us through. We need a lead who knows what she wants—and what Michelle wants is to shoot a basketball into a net made of diamonds and ask one of these stone-cold hotties to marry her in six weeks’ time.
Am I putting Michelle on a pedestal from which she can only come crashing down? Of course I am. The pedestal budget on The Bachelorette is absurd. But also, I recognize that Michelle is not above reproach. Michelle will still make extended metaphors about love and basketball (while missing the opportunity to reference Love & Basketball) any chance she gets; Michelle will still stand in front of a mirror stroking a completely empty makeup brush over a professionally glammed face to fill time like the producers tell her to; Michelle will still probably fall short and get engaged to a guy named Zaxx who’s eventually outed on Bachelor Reddit for forgetting to switch over to his Finsta before writing mean messages on the other contestants’ posts …
But for now, this is our first date with Michelle. If we can’t have a little hope now, then when?
And with that, let me quickly introduce myself: I’m Jodi, I’ll be recapping The Bachelorette at The Ringer this season, as I have been in various locations since starting a Bachelorette recap Tumblr blog during Emily Maynard’s season. Which is to say, this is a passion project, folks. So, with all of my collective Bachelorette knowledge, I have, of course, typed up hundreds of pages of notes, collated them into a helpful little packet of graphs and charts, and pinned them to the tuxedo jackets of all my husband’s friends competing on Michelle’s season, along with a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and thermos full of milk, just in case anyone gets hungry or quickly needs to cross-reference the personality attributes of Becca Kufrin’s fourth-place finisher ...
Just kidding, I don’t have a husband—unless NFL Bryan accepted any of my DM requests between the writing and publication of this recap. But I am referencing the most dramatic thing that happened in Michelle’s premiere: A guy made too many notes about The Bachelorette, and/or his friend’s wife who maybe hates him made too many notes about The Bachelorette. And I believe this relative lack of Night 1 chaos can be credited to the main thing we knew about our new Bachelorette coming into this season: Michelle is an elementary school teacher.
When we meet Michelle in the premiere, she is teaching fractions for goodness’ sake. To children. (Shamefully, the portion of my brain that formerly housed my own comprehension of how to multiply fractions is now taken up with a fully working knowledge of how many Instagram followers Brendan Morais hemorrhaged this summer.) When one man gets out of the limo and approaches Michelle holding a yardstick, Tayshia yelps, “It’s a teacher stick!” Kaitlyn squeals, “Maybe they can be teachers together!” It’s possible that no one here understands what a teacher is, or what a teacher does, but if there’s one thing these men make clear, it’s that teachers are deserving of our respect.
Many of these men have moms who are teachers, which helps them understand that they should respect Michelle because she is also a teacher, and maybe their mom. Now, after 17 seasons of The Bachelorette, surely there has been an instance when the male contestants have inherently respected the female lead before—but they’ve never had an occupational imperative to do so. If you want a commodities broker to respect his dates, then make his mom a teacher, and make his dates have the same profession as his mom.
What a fun new loophole for the franchise! With each new season, I find it fascinating the personality traits that the men choose to latch onto as proof that they will fall in love with this stranger who they have watched on television for a collective 10 minutes. Hannah Brown was feisty, Clare was sure of herself, Tayshia was the prettiest person anyone has ever seen in their entire life, Katie was—checks notes—sex positive. And Michelle? Michelle is genuine. To which I say: BOOOOOOOOO. “Genuine” is such a nothing word, and my memory from the post-credit sequences when Michelle got all her airtime on Matt’s season indicate that Michelle is funny, self-assured, spontaneous, passionate about changing the world, and also capable of doing 100 push-ups while drinking champagne.
But this is just the first night. I’m sure Michelle’s 30 co-boyfriends will come up with some new words to describe her soon. For example: the OTHER prettiest person anyone has ever seen in their life.
Michelle will absolutely ruin these men’s lives in the next two months, and I can’t wait to watch. And speaking of the men …
America, Meet Your New Bachelor!
No, that’s not a typo. In an unprecedented Bachelor Nation twist, we already know which of Michelle’s exes has been chosen as the next Bachelor, and ABC hasn’t hired any hitmen to dispel the rumor yet, so we can only conclude that it’s true. His name is Clayton, he’s a medical sales rep, unquestionably some kind of former athlete who has dated at least two C-list country singers in the past, and he would love nothing more than to “own multiple gyms.” He’d also, of course, like to marry Michelle, but we already know that ain’t happening, buddy.
I’m pretty sure Bachelor producer Mike Fleiss said Clayton would unify us, or something? He may have been being sarcastic, but Clayton has definitely unified two photos of Tom Hopper (a.k.a. Dickon Tarly 2.0) and Jesse Palmer (a.k.a. Chris Harrison 2.0) to create his own face.
And you know what?I was charmed by Clayton. I reserve the right to be annoyed at ABC for this premature choice at any given time in the future, but from the jump, Clayton had high energy, Midwestern charm, and one of those perfect nuclear families that Bachelor leads just love bragging about. Did my heart flutter a little when I saw him unfurl his giant cornfed body from a chair? Yes, it did. Clayton is 70 percent shoulders, 30 percent chin, and 0 percent aware that his whole life is about to blow up. Also he looks at his mom—who you better fuckin’ believe is a teacher—like this:
But Clayton is not the only winner. I would like to take this time, on behalf of the men of Season 18, to say that the cast bio photos were, at best, extremely rude, and at worst, reasonable cause to sue for defamation. This is an extremely hot group of co-boyfriends! And not just the regular kind of Bachelorette hot where everyone looks like they came out of a Hipster Tim Tebow factory.
These guys are dynamically hot. A gentle giant trainer named JoMarri just rips the sleeves off his blazer the moment he meets Michelle. Romeo, a mathematician who looks exactly like an unrealistically hot CW casting of a mathematician would, speaks to Michelle in French. A man named Rodney is dressed as a red apple suit, and I swear it’s working for him. (Unfortunately, when Michelle asks Rodney what kind of apple he is, he soars past all of the “Red Delicious” puns at his disposal and says he’s a Granny Smith—not only the sole green apple variant, but also the least sexy apple possible!)
L.T., a yoga guru, arrives with his junk just absolutely everywhere. That is not what “Black Tie Optional” means, babe!
Michelle never seems nervous despite all of this, but she does seem a little stiffer than usual when the night gets started. However, by the time Chris S. rolls up to her in a pair of British prep school suit shorts and a JanSport backpack, she’s ready to play ball (as Michelle, a former Division 1 basketball player, might say). Chris S. says he will quiz Michelle inside later: “You might get an A … or I might have to give you a D.” CHRIS S!!! Michelle is respectable. Michelle is genuine! Michelle is a teacher!!
And Michelle can handle her own. She tells Chris and his tiny pants that she will give him the D: “Detention.” Personally, I’m not sure what to make of Chris S. just yet. He’s one of those people who insists he’s funny but never actually says anything funny. And if Chris is so good at recognizing jokes, then why is he wearing this hat?
I don’t know that we can trust his sense of humor. But by far the most whiplash I got from the introductory section of the premiere was from Chris G. When I saw that Chris G. was a motivational speaker, I assumed he sucked, but you know what they say about assuming: If a guy’s beard is good enough, you can get over it. Chris says in his introductory package that he’s actually “a speaker for a nonprofit” for kids, and quickly reveals himself to be from the part of Canada where everyone inexplicably has a New York accent, like Ryan Gosling. But then, Chris G. gets out of the limo and immediately starts reciting a spoken word poem to Michelle. All told, it has big “pastor of a megachurch that pop stars go to” vibes, so we will be keeping our eye on both of these Chrises.
But, my favorite moment of the limo introductions comes when a very handsome firefighter named Daniel scoots in on a toy fire truck that is defying all the laws of physics to support his body weight.
It’s cute; he’s legitimately panting after scooting all the way across the driveway to Michelle, and following their introduction, Daniel is so proud of himself for making an impression on Michelle as the only firefighter in the bunch with his little fire truck gimmick when all of the sudden …
That’d be PJ, another firefighter who comes rolling in on in a full-size fire truck, sirens blazing, hopping down from the driver’s seat like a superhero.
The devil works hard, but the Bachelor producers work smarter.
Reservation for Rick, Party of One
Oh yeah, you better believe Rick’s gimmick gets its own category. Rick is my favorite kind of contestant to try and figure out. The kind that, at times, seems like an earnest, affable dork, and at other times, seems like a deranged Patrick Bateman; from some angles, he appears Superman levels of hot, and from others, Mr. Bean levels of goober. Rick is an enigma wrapped in mystique and red leafy greens.
Rather than exit a limo, Rick is wheeled over to Michelle in—yes, in!—a human-sized table with a cloche over his head. Ever the good sport, Michelle lifts the cloche, screams at discovering a pair of eyes peering back at her, and then attempts to simulate a hug by hovering her hand near Rick’s face.
Everything about it is disconcerting, the least of which is Rick’s extended “I want to tell you about the special tonight” bit, which is extremely hard to focus on given the fact that it’s coming from a disembodied head. But Michelle does laugh a lot at Rick’s antics, and everytime she sees him and his table—which he wears through almost the entire cocktail party— she shouts his name like Amy Poehler in that stepdad skit with Horatio Sanz: “RIIIIICK!” Given James-in-the-Box’s run on Katie’s season and Paradise, I don’t even know what to do with these full-body, immobilizing gimmicks anymore. The fact is: They work.
The First Impression Bros
At this point, Michelle enters the Renaissance Esmeralda Resort & Spa at Indian Wells, home of the largest staircase in the Western Hemisphere, which Michelle proceeds to use like a revolving door for the rest of this episode. Michelle is never not walking up and down these stairs to fetch someone, or flee from someone, or just take a moment alone. And while we should absolutely respect Michelle for being a teacher and the prettiest woman we’ve ever seen, I gained a new level of respect for her quads. (But seriously, was there not a quiet room downstairs where America’s Bachelorette could collect her thoughts?)
In her inaugural toast to her co-boyfriends, Michelle challenges them to “stay open, stay vulnerable, and show me your authentic self.” And, for the most part, the bros really try. I fell in love with a young man named Brandon J. thrice this episode. First, when he made his testimonial debut cosplaying as Young Rock with absolutely no explanation.
Next, when he heads inside, sees everyone’s costumes, and tells the camera that it seems like everyone is really trying to step out of their comfort zone, which is the nicest anyone has ever been about a group of Bachelorette contestants. Thirdly, anytime the camera goes to the group of men chatting in the lobby, Brandon is the only person giving Rick—who, again, is trapped inside a table-prison of his own making—any attention. As he tells Michelle later, Brandon J. likes making other people feel comfortable—and Michelle loves it. Does it kind of look like she’s pinning her kid brother’s prom corsage on when she gives Brandon J. a rose later? Sure. But hey, the Rock grew up to be a stack of boulders held together by a near-half-billion-dollar net worth—maybe Brandon J. will too!
Jamie also makes a big impression on Michelle with his friendly personality and tan suit … and also the fact that he’s a biotech engineer CEO. He’s the first to grab Michelle after her speech because Jamie is smooth confidence personified, and Michelle says she bets there are never any awkward moments with him. I can’t help but feel that if Jamie had made his impression a little later in the evening, he would have been closer to the front of her mind ...
But probably not. Because there are moments when it seems like Brandon J., or Jamie, or maybe even RIIIIICK could get the first impression rose, but there are three things you need to know about Nayte: He’s 6-foot-8, he has two nose piercings that he is pulling off, and he managed to have an emotional breakthrough in his very first conversation with Michelle. When she asks him about himself, he says he’ll save the family stuff for later, because he heard her say how close-knit her family is, and that’s not exactly his situation. Michelle tells him, no, those are the things she wants to know about him, and he then tells her about the lack of familial intimacy he grew up with, and how he wants to break that cycle for his future family. It’s really sweet, and Nayte is straight-up in love with Michelle after she makes him feel so comfortable. As for Michelle—well, I mentioned Nayte was 6-foot-8, right?
Yeah, babes—he gets the first impression rose.
The Red Flags: Observed and Ignored
I probably could have told you that Ryan didn’t have the purest intentions when he rolled into this season shirtless in jeans on a tractor, and then put on his finest Banana Republic collared shirt to harvest the fields. I don’t know a lot about farming, but these don’t exactly seem like “genuine” clothing choices to me.
Before Michelle met her 30 co-boyfriends, Tayshia and Kaitlyn roamed around to their hotel rooms under the guise of getting to know them, and then just … told them they had to leave their rooms because they were going to look through their stuff. In many ways, this is not OK! In many other ways, Room Raiders was a wildly successful show on MTV that ran for SIX YEARS. I honestly don’t even care if this was a producer planted idea after they saw Ryan’s itty-bitty Trapper Keeper full of notes, because these notes were priceless.
Inside Ryan’s suitcase, Tayshia and Kaitlyn find his personal notes on the Bachelorette journey that range from lists of his dream girl’s characteristics, to past Bachelorette contestants he should try and emulate (Jason Tartick and Mike Johnson—good taste, TBH), to how to get a good edit, to one shout-out to UnREAL that I want to know everything about. Now, as an over-researcher myself, this seems mostly fine. Maybe it’s not great to make a bunch of notes about how to get more screen time, but The Bachelorette is actually an extremely complex social gulag for which there are a number of situations it would be wise to prepare for; for example, you should never talk about other men to The Bachelorette unless you’re hot enough to get away with it (very rare), and so on ...
But Tayshia and Kaitlyn are concerned with the level of potential manipulation in Ryan’s little folder, which is labeled “Bachlorette.” After they watch Michelle make an immediate connection with Ryan when he brings her ice cream—see, research works—the gals pull her aside and break the bad news: “We found a document.”
What is this, The Blacklist?! The seriousness with which Tayshia and Kaitlyn deliver the news about the document is too much to bear, but the levelheadedness with which Michelle receives it is pretty impressive. She does not like hearing that Ryan’s notes on teachers included the instruction, “So make it seem like you’re super interested in that stuff.” So Michelle glides over to Ryan, tells him they’re going to his room, glides up her One True Love, the Renaissance Esmeralda Resort & Spa staircase, and begins her own rifling through Ryan’s personal belongings anew.
Ryan attempts to tell Michelle that he’s never watched The Bachelorette before, so his best friend’s wife Jackie wrote most of these notes to help him navigate this new experience. That would explain the note that Michelle reads out loud once she kicks Ryan out of his own room: “Ryan, your biggest fault is that you’re overconfident, arrogant, it’s a massive turnoff to people. You come off as mean and demanding. Better to just keep those thoughts to yourself and express a positive outlook to others.”
Hey Ryan, Jackie hates you. And Michelle must trust Jackie, because no matter how many times he asks for a second chance, Michelle tells Ryan that he has to respect her decision and leave. Pardeep makes this face when Michelle walks Ryan to the door, and I fall deeply in love with Pardeep.
But while Michelle chooses to “listen to [her] red flags” on Ryan, she chooses to look the other way for a handsome gentleman with a dead-behind-the-eyes look named Joe.
You know, when Michelle talks about being picked last for dates but first for basketball in the season preview voice-over, I can’t help but find it a little hard to believe. I mean, I softly weep upon hearing it, because I’m not a monster immune to poetry readings in the style of 10 Things I Hate About You … but who would ever pick Michelle last for a date?
Then you find out that at some point in the pre-Bachelor past, Michelle randomly slid into this guy Joe’s DMs because he also lives in Minnesota, and after chatting back and forth for a bit, he ghosted her. Ghosted! Michelle! Ghosted this Michelle!
Men are simply going to men, I guess. But Joe came on Michelle’s season of The Bachelorette, he says, to explain that it’s a little deeper than that. Joe tells Michelle that, at the time they were messaging, there were shootings going on in George Floyd Square, where one of his real estate properties is, and it was affecting him emotionally. Michelle says, if anyone, she would have understood that as a woman of color whose students were also living in the same area. She wishes Joe could have communicated with her better at the time, to which Joe says he’s actually been going to therapy to work on that very thing. And even though Michelle has doubts so heavy that she has to take to the stairs once more to collect her thoughts—she ultimately forks a rose right over to Joe.
What can I say? There’s no way Michelle will be perfect — but she’s our Bachelorette and we respect her decisions. And she respects the sanctity of the stairs at the Renaissance Esmeralda Resort & Spa at Indian Wells.
Jodi Walker is a freelance pop culture writer with bylines in Entertainment Weekly, Vulture, and Texas Monthly. She writes about The Bachelor franchise at absurd length in her newsletter, These Are The Best Things.