Despite the fact that nearly every season in the history of The Bachelorette has done some variant of the classroom date wherein a number of small children berate a man named Nat for not being able to spell “limousine,” only Michelle’s earnestness makes it seem like a worthy endeavor in the journey to find love. Because there’s something to be said for subverting the narrative of a franchise as long-running and problematic as The Bachelor(ette)—but, as it turns out, there’s also something to be said for elevating the franchise by actually rising to its impossibly weird standards because you’re just that pure of heart. When Michelle earnestly said, “You can learn a lot about a person by how they play musical chairs,” I was shocked to find that she’s right.
Thus far, Michelle is the kind of lead who makes you want to support The Bachelorette, even if you’ve long drifted from supporting The Bachelorette. Am I, once again, begging for Michelle to fail by setting her up as the savior of this broken franchise even while actively watching her fall in love with a sentient pair of AND1 basketball shorts named Joe who has already proved he is the one man on Earth not absolutely frothing at the mouth to get her attention? Yes I am! But much like Michelle and her dynamic group of boyfriends wearing their most complicated Dan Flashes patterns, I simply contain multitudes.
It’s recently come to my attention that Michelle is a Gemini, and while the extent of my Gemini knowledge begins and ends with that Lizzo lyric about threesomes, an innate duality residing within Michelle does make sense. For example, I remember Michelle being a spunky, goofy burst of energy upon her late entrance into Matt’s season. So, in her own premiere, I was a little surprised to discover that she approached her duty as the head of a polygamous-dating game show with all the seriousness and gravitas of a student body president, marching up and down the stairs of Renaissance Esmeralda Resort & Spa at Indian Wells until she had left absolutely no co-boyfriend stone unturned.
But that’s just a part of who she is. And while I, of course, loved the meticulousness to Michelle’s approach, the level of maturity and stability did have me a little concerned that this season might be extra low on drama, and that we’d have to settle for staring at Michelle while she made sensible decisions all season long. (Not a bad consolation prize given that Michelle looks like Michelle.) But I needn’t have worried. Because no matter how sensible Michelle is, there is simply no making this group of 23 men behave. Sooner or later, they’re going to turn on one another ...
After all, Dan Flashes is a very aggressive store.
Squid Game, but Make It a Classroom
Let me tell you why Michelle’s season is not like others. Because while I have watched this classroom group-date setup approximately once a year for 12 years, I have never watched a little girl named Mia discover her first brush with love when a handsome mathematician named Romeo decides to calculate the number of seconds in a day he could tell Michelle she’s beautiful, instead of simply drawing an infinity sign like all the lesser men around him.
Mia is a star. Is it possible to get her on contract to host this whole thing? Does she have a twin? Isn’t that how you get around child labor laws? Speaking of, is that why they hired both Tayshia and Kaitlyn to host, so they too could take little naps in between scenes? Is the classroom where Romeo melted Mia’s brain actually Tayshia and Kaitlyn’s tutoring classroom?
Anyway, Riley and Kennedy—the other fifth-graders assisting Miss Young in testing half of her boyfriends’ readiness for love through a series of elementary school curriculum–based tests—were as adorable as they were dedicated to keeping their tiny feet on these dudes’ necks. Personally, I think death by Red-Light-Green-Light would be a more efficient way of trimming the suitor fat than seeing who slowly reveals themselves to be a self-obsessed weirdo who lies for fun …
But doing little math problems on little whiteboards also works. Romeo stood out immediately because he is a mathematician who went to Harvard, which not only means he aces the elementary school curriculum, but also reveals that it took him an entire episode to mention he went to Harvard—which is pretty good for someone who went to Harvard! In addition to short-circuiting Mia’s brain by making math romantic, Romeo is also a pretty solid competitor in the science and spelling portions of the date. As a woman of exactly one skill (YOU’RE LOOKING AT IT, FOLKS!), I found the liberal arts section of this group date a little lacking, but I’m sure there will be plenty of time to round out this season’s cringe with future stand-up comedy sets and spoken-word poetry battles.
For now, the cringe is reserved entirely to Peter the Pizzapreneur, who spends every portion of the classroom date trying to get Michelle’s attention. He cannot stop talking: He’s talking during the math equations, he’s talking during the spelling quiz, he’s talking during the science experiment when everyone else’s beaker contents explode with ropes of science-y something while his lies placid in a montage that the editors made as as suggestive as possible ...
In his testimonial, Peter says, “I definitely consider myself an alpha presence. I’m not just a guy—I’m the guy.” And Mia hates him.
Because Mia has impeccable taste. And I feel in my bones that Mia is the one who decides to assign “narcissist” as the final spelling word. Only in her wildest dreams, then, could Mia have imagined that Will would choose this moment to make one final, deadly grab for the “class clown” title by spelling out P-E-T-E-R instead of N-A-R-C-I-S-S-I-S-T.
Peter is fuming. He says he “could care less” about Will calling him a narcissist. Then, in retaliation for being called a narcissist in front of Michelle, Peter says the following: “What about me now? What about me now? What the fuck about me? I was making tremendous progress, I was shining in this group!” You know, just classic non-narcissist sentiments!
So, what the fuck about Peter? Well, he takes his anger into the nighttime portion of the group date and pulls Will aside to yell at him while Michelle is 10 feet away. Like the levelheaded woman she is, Michelle doesn’t hop up to “squash this right now” (something Bachelorettes love to say shortly before ruining an entire date in an attempt to nip something in the bud that is completely un-nippable). She just powers through her conversations with the other men. Will, meanwhile, ends the argument with Peter by saying, “It’s pizza this, pizza that … what else do you have to offer besides a slice, bro?”
For her part, Michelle tells Peter that she was disappointed to overhear him sounding so aggressive over what seemed to be a simple disagreement. And yet, in the end, she decides to keep him—one can only assume because the producers threatened to take away her daily allotment of belVita Breakfast Biscuits and/or Nayte if she didn’t comply.
But we don’t want more Pizzapreneur! We want more Brandon! We want more RIIIIIICK! And so does Michelle. During her time with Brandon, Michelle is basically willing him to kiss her, but when he holds back and she asks him why he’s looking at her like that, Brandon tells her: “I’m trying to remember every single part of you … so I can go home and have a dream about you and wake up and realize my dream is true.” You guys—I swooned at this Selena-quoting, itty-bitty Dwayne Johnson impersonator. But not Michelle. She tells Brandon he’s being corny as hell and that she likes roasting him better anyway. And then they kiss.
Rick—out from his table and confusingly hot when not disembodied—also scores a kiss after preparing a cute little ad-lib game for Michelle where they both take turns adding in variations on the word “chemistry” over and over again. Rick kisses Michelle’s shoulder while they’re doing this, and I am simply astounded by a former table having this much game. Like, what if the candelabra in Beauty and the Beast came to life and suddenly stole Belle with a stealthy hip graze?
Unfortunately, the second we hear Rick say there’s no way he isn’t getting the group date rose we know there’s no way he’s getting that group date rose, which goes to Brandon and his delight in being negged by Michelle.
[We interrupt this regularly scheduled recap to check in with our prescheduled Bachelor, Clayton.]
Considering that he’ll soon be the nation’s shared boyfriend, it’s crazy how little of Clayton there is in this episode. Unfortunately, his muscle mass is far too beefy to play efficient basketball, so his team loses on the group date, and he loses most of his time with Michelle—followed by him losing most of his time with Michelle at the cocktail party.
How are these two ever going to find the time to not fall in love and not get engaged?! Anyway, here’s Clayton:
It’s the Climb
From the very start, Jamie has been a tough nut to crack. Yes, he has the same villainous eyebrows as Jafar in Aladdin, but thus far, he’s also had the soulfulness and main-character energy of Mufasa in The Lion King.
What’s shocking, then, is that this dummy is Scar. Which is so frustrating, because it is one of my absolute favorite pastimes to watch Bachelorette contestants spiral because someone expressed a sentiment that is extremely normal in the regular dating world, but tantamount in the Bachelor World to spitting on Michelle’s doorstep, as Jamie does in the beginning of this episode. Basically, after Jamie gets the first one-on-one date card, he says it will be a good opportunity to see whether Michelle is the right fit for him—and the other fellas do not like that. They think Jamie should be grateful he got the date card, not wondering whether the woman he’s going on a date with will be a good match for him.
Which is, of course, a very normal approach to dating! You ask what their favorite music is, they say they’re not really a “favorites” type of person; they ask if you have any hobbies, you try to think of a single hobby that isn’t watching TV. And you work toward figuring out if you could enjoy spending more time together, if you’re attracted to one another, and if they’re going to try to make you go kayaking or get really into beer. But on The Bachelorette, you’re just supposed to assume that the lead will be perfect for you, because the lead is (allegedly) one of the most eligible men/women in the country. Michelle actually is that, making Jamie’s insistence on weighing his options seem a little suspect. Even more suspect is his explanation that he has to find the right partner because he has such a wiiiild life: “I travel to third-world countries on a day’s notice, BY MYSELF,” he exclaims to an un-rapt audience.
Bro, Michelle is an elementary school teacher. She has seen more chaos by lunchtime than you have seen on all of your little adventures combined. But, please Jamie, do tell us about your Delta voucher to Cabo.
However, despite the mounting suspicion regarding Jamie’s intentions, Jamie and Michelle do have a nice time on their date ...
But isn’t scaling a mountain the kind of thing you need training for?! Were I put in this situation, I would simply … pass away. Best-case scenario, I would go so limp that no amount of romantic coaching could get me up that crevasse. But Michelle and Jamie just holler out foothold locations at each other like they do this all the time. Michelle isn’t even sweating in her little hot-pink Athleta set—it is wild. And by the end of their post-climb picnic, Jamie seems to have decided that Michelle is the kind of person he can go zip-lining in Costa Rica with, or wherever his wild and precious life leads.
But their real connection comes during the nighttime portion of the date: Jamie asks about Michelle’s parents and she says she’s lucky to have their good example of marriage, but she also knows “you don’t have to come from that to achieve that.” Jamie appreciates her saying that because he had a much more difficult upbringing. His dad wasn’t in the picture, his mother had him young, and she struggled with mental health for most of his childhood. Jamie witnessed an attempt she made to take her own life, and he and his brother spent every moment they were in school worrying about their mom. When Jamie was 24, his mother died by suicide.
After that, “it took a long while to find anything that mattered,” Jamie says. “I feel like I had to decide why I wanted to come back to life … actively deciding that life’s worth it, that people are worth it, that relationships are worth it.” It’s a powerful message, and I felt lucky to hear Jamie tell his story, as did Michelle, who was quietly crying as she listened. And when Jamie is done sharing, she says, “I just … I don’t know you that well, but I’m so proud of what you’ve come through, and handled, and how you conduct yourself.”
It is such a kind and empathetic way to respond, miles away from the “thank you for sharing” that we’re used to. And Jamie feels the empathy too. He says he appreciates the “I’m sorrys” people sometimes offer him, but that makes it sound like they wish he hadn’t gone through all those struggles, and that’s not how he feels: “If I’m going to love the man that I am, then I have to love every part of my story that got me here.”
Truly, this one-on-one between Jamie and Michelle has to contain some of the more profound language we’ve ever heard on The Bachelorette … so you better believe it all gets flushed down the drain by episode’s end!
Love and Basketball, but Mostly Basketball
Michelle assures us that her future partner doesn’t have to be a professional basketball player … but it seems like that might be her dream scenario. Because I would trust Michelle to teach my children multiplication tables without even having to resort to using songs, and I would trust Michelle to teach me how to achieve perfect Michelle Obama arms in the span of months—but I’m having a hard time trusting Michelle to see clearly with Joe, a.k.a. Mr. Basketball.
“I’m not sure if the boys know the history of Joe,” Michelle says in her testimonial before the basketball group date. Which, of course they do not know, Michelle. First of all, Joe doesn’t talk, and second of all, most people don’t keep a running catalog of the winners of Minnesota’s top high school basketball award. Or at least they didn’t before this basketball group date where Michelle and Joe basically reenact multiple scenes from Love & Basketball in front of the rest of the group, sexy heavy breathing and all. Because, as it turns out, Michelle was runner-up for Miss Basketball in 2011.
Now, let me be clear: I trust Michelle when she says she’d never met Joe before he wandered, unannounced, from her DMs onto her season of The Bachelorette. But I just don’t get how drawn she is to him given that every time they speak, their conversations go something like:
Michelle: Basketball, basketball, basketball.
Joe: [Hears the teacher’s voice sound from Charlie Brown]
As a non-D-I, non-athlete, I do not understand the connection between D-I athletes that everyone on this season keeps telling me about. Even after Nayte takes Michelle to a second location during the nighttime portion of the date to kiss her against a wall (we call that the Jordan-and-JoJo™), Michelle still gives Joe the group date rose because he opened up to her about his coach who recently passed away. Michelle gushes to Joe that she feels like they have this inexplicable level of understanding with one another, and after he lifelessly whispers back, “I feel it too,” she further gushes to the camera, “I have never had chemistry with anybody this off the charts.”
Yes, the chemistry is absolutely jumping through the screen.
Why You Always Lyin’?
I’m not the only one concerned about Joe—a lot of the brotestants are. Well, really only Jamie is. Ahead of the cocktail party, a few of the other men have noticed that Michelle seems to have a surprising connection to the more “reserved” Joe, but they’re not really too worried about it. Rodney is more concerned about finally proving to Michelle that he knows his apple flavors, which he proves by misidentifying every single apple in a blind taste test, and then identifying pizza as lasagna.
And that’s about the only thing we see at the cocktail party before Michelle becomes so concerned with being trusted that she puts her own trust in the wrong person. See, Mollique, Spencer, Martin, and Jamie are chatting about the clear connection between Michelle and Joe and wondering whether, given they were both basketball players in Minnesota, the two may have known each other before the show. But as if they’ve been seated in an exit row, Mollique, Spencer, and Martin all give verbal confirmation that they do not care. Only Jamie says this would bother him, because they were all challenged in the beginning with being authentic and vulnerable …
DING! DING! DING!
Yes, that is the first “not here for the right reasons” accusation of the season, and Mollique (a real one) thinks Jamie is lobbing it against our queen, Michelle. And he is! In his testimonial, Jamie says, “This does seem odd, this does seem suspicious,” and promises he’s going to get to the bottom of it because “it’s important to make sure that this person … really cares about authenticity, and appreciates vulnerability.”
So Jamie marches right into his time with Michelle …
… and lies his ass off! I was aghast. Jamie tells Michelle that he personally doesn’t care—“I feel like, whatever happened before getting here has nothing to do with me”—whether she had a prior relationship with Joe, but every room he walks into with the other men, they’re speculating about it, and the rumor is taking on a life of its own. Which, as the opposite of the truth, doesn’t feel very authentic, Jamie! Seems pretty cowardly, Jamie! Seems like living a lie on national television is a much wilder decision than taking an Alaskan cruise every once in a while, Jamie!!!
It’s already an embarrassing look for Jamie, but then, after an extremely upset Michelle comes downstairs and encourages anyone to speak up if they have questions, no one does. Because Jamie was the only person who had questions, and so Michelle leaves even more upset …
AND THEN JAMIE DOESN’T ADMIT WHAT HE DID. He lets everyone wonder who told Michelle that everyone was talking about her being connected to “a tall, light-skin baller”—a rumor that only Jamie heard and relayed to Michelle!!!
Joe, for his part, looks like this after Michelle explains that he once ghosted her after exchanging two DMs a year ago and then leaves him in a room full of confused, giant men:
And later, while Nayte is complaining about someone wasting all their time, he looks to Jamie and says, “You feel me, you feel me.” And Jamie CLINKS HIS GLASS against Nayte’s in solidarity.
It is a wild display of cowardice. The man really is Scar. The only silver lining here is that he will eventually be found out. But not before Michelle cancels the rest of the cocktail party like so many great Bachelorettes before her, and releases Daniel, Alec, PJ, and most unfortunately, Pardeep (and Pardeep’s heartbroken little face) to the wind.
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.