There comes a time in every Bachelorette’s journey when she has to look past her boyfriend’s Johnny Bravo chin, well beyond his 2013 One Direction hair, and even the gleaming rows of orthodontia his parents invested thousands in. She must look directly into his gorgeous, lifeless eyes—and tell him that she waited too long to get to know him, and now he’s gotta kick bricks because she’s already in love with three to four other people.
There also comes a time in every Bachelorette’s journey when she has to look a different boyfriend in the eyes, knowing that he’s her third-place finisher, and respond to his declaration of love by telling him that her heart is beating so fast “in a good way”—knowing good and well that his English-to-Bachelor-Nation translator will automatically convert that statement to “And I am, of course, also falling in love with you, you perfectly precious labradoodle of a man.”
Indeed, there comes a time in every Bachelorette’s tenure when she has to throw on a dress that fastens with a golden padlock and cull her flock of boyfriends down to half because the Minnesota winter is coming, legal polygamy isn’t an option, and if Michelle doesn’t start meeting moms and charming dads soon, she’s never gonna be able to decide which of her eight remaining boyfriends should become her boy-husband.
Just ahead of our Thanksgiving holiday, that time has finally come, and it’s not going to be easy on Michelle, nor on anyone who slowly fell in love with Olu’s dulcet tones or Rick’s … Rick-ness. And yet, with each new season of this 20-year franchise, I am shocked—shocked!—when the sixth episode rolls around and everyone suddenly starts talking about the imminence of Hometowns. Logically, I know that this makes sense: After Episode 6, there are four episodes left of the 10-episode season: Hometowns, Men Tell All, Fantasy Suites, and Mortal Kombat Total Knockout No-Holds-Barred Cage Match Finale. But I also know that Michelle has been acquainted with these men for as long as I’ve been acquainted with the weird Trader Joe’s yogurt-based dip in my refrigerator that I will absolutely never touch.
Michelle somehow has eight men left the week before Hometowns, which means she has to eliminate half of her co-boyfriends before she can take a tour of all of Pier 1’s finest giant clocks and the Midwest’s most skeptical siblings come next week. Usually, the group date before Hometowns is an awkward three-on-one affair, but this group date was so bustling with medical sales reps I truly thought Michael Keaton was going to pop out of a barn and forlornly talk about pain management. (That’s a highly niche Dopesick reference. Have you guys watched Dopesick on Hulu? It’s so great.)
Still, Michelle handles the chaos of cutting her boyfriend amoeba in half the same way she handles everything The Bachelorette throws her way: with a level head, a steady hand, and not a curl out of place as she unwittingly breaks hearts, destroys psyches, and increases her use of the word “soulmate” at what feels like an untenable pace.
The Future of the Franchise
Logically, I know there’s no way that ABC could have predicted that Adele was going to drop the sweetest student-teacher reunion of 2021. But whether they knew or not, the producers weren’t going to let anyone but Michelle corner the market on being a cool, gorgeous, impactful young teacher this year. That’s why they brought in a handful of Michelle’s elementary school students—likely defying all child labor laws—to plan the dates this week.
And, gloriously, they sent these children in to meet Michelle’s eight remaining boyfriends without any supervision, meaning these dudes had to just start babysitting and talking about their farts on national television without any knowledge of where it might be headed …
It was just a perfect little chunk of entertainment. Because kids will tell you the worst thing about yourself while casually asking for a glass of water. They will needle your most deep-seated insecurity while explaining the bureaucratic structure of Paw Patrol. Recently, one of my friends’ 5-year-olds looked me dead in the eyes during dinner and said, “Miss Jodi, why are you always late to things, and also, why do you eat so slow?” Didn’t even pause for breath while he read me for filth.
Children don’t need to understand social norms or have the physical means to pronounce their Rs yet in order to observe every single thing about you. All a kid needs to know is that you’ve been eating a burger for 45 minutes instead of “playing instruments” with them. Or in Martin’s case, that you smell like too much cologne and just explained the “intimate and romantic moments” you had with their teacher when they just wanted to do stickers or whatever.
In just a few minutes, these kids confirm the impressions of Michelle’s boyfriends that we’ve been chipping away at for weeks:
“Nayte seems like a good guy for Michelle because, um, he’s tall … and I think that would be easy to play basketball with.” —Kelsey, summing up the core of Nayte’s powerful appeal in a single sentence.
“Rodney stood out to me because he was really funny, and I think he’s a really nice guy. We even made a secret handshake!” —Ahmed, after confirming that Rodney shaves his nipples
“I don’t really like Martin—like, I don’t know how to explain it.” —Kelsey, not wrong
“Olu is, like, nice-hearted. He made us feel warm inside, like hot chocolate and a chocolate-chip cookie.” —Jaylen and Kelsey, finally giving Olu the recognition he deserves
And then there’s itty-bitty Luke, who, in a tiny collared shirt—looking entirely too much like the star of Honey, I Shrunk the Bachelorette Contestant against the contestants’ testimonial backdrop—gives us perhaps the best, most succinct explanation of partnership I’ve ever heard on this show: “Clayton has big muscles—he’d be really good at carrying the groceries in.” I’m not totally sure, but I’ve heard that marriage is just disagreeing about how to load the dishwasher and carrying groceries—and being happy to do both of those things together until the day you die.
And little Luke’s assessment of Clayton leads us directly to...
The Last (Bachelor) Watch
[We interrupt this regularly scheduled recap to check in with our prescheduled Bachelor, Clayton.]
As soon as the children started filtering in and the giant Clayton emerged from a tiny doorway with a giant pile of sheets asking if any of them wanted to build a fort, I thought: Oh, this is how it happens. This is how we get our next Bachelor.
And while that wasn’t the wrong assumption exactly, I never could have guessed it would segue almost immediately into Michelle escorting Clayton into a car and out of her life.
You see, the children do want to build that fort with Mr. Clayton, and they have a great time together, asking him about his farts and whether he’s kissed Ms. Young. The gambit works, and the children select him for the week’s first one-on-one date. (I guess there is some cunning in that cornfed demeanor, after all—must be the MBA degree he mentioned.) They also get to plan the date, so in a scene straight from Home Alone 2: Lost in Minneapolis, Clayton and Michelle are picked up in a limo full of pizza and gummy bears, and driven to spend a night alone inside a museum together. When Michelle asks Clayton how he feels about museums, he says:
The chemistry is off the charts. Just kidding—there is absolutely nothing here except two nice, good-looking people wandering around a museum together. Like me, you may have spent the entire date wondering, when is this guy going to become the next Bachelor?, as it became clearer and clearer that Clayton—the next Bachelor!—was going to be the first and only person this season whom Michelle sent home during a one-on-one. I mean, Michelle kept Martin after their one-on-one date. But Clayton she cuts loose while, somewhere near the stuffed woolly mammoth replica, a D-list country singer is being told their services will not be needed tonight.
Clayton did open up about how he’s learned to care less about what other people think and that he’s refocused on finding a partner to build a family with, but none of it is enough to keep Michelle’s interest. It certainly doesn’t seem like enough to engage an audience’s interest … until we come back from commercial break to find Clayton sitting in his hotel room the morning after being rejected by the Bachelorette. Who shows up at his door? None other than little Kelsey and itty-bitty Luke. They give Clayton a goodbye hug and hand him notes, saying he can’t read them until they’ve left. And then Clayton says the funniest thing I’ve ever heard anyone say to two departing 10-year-olds:
But there’s no time to dwell on that, because as Clayton—excuse me, Mr. Clayton—starts reading these notes, he begins weeping. Luke asks if he can come to Mr. Clayton’s wedding when he finds the right lady to marry, and Kelsey tells Clayton she’s real sorry Ms. Young didn’t choose him because “you are super genuine, and I like you a lot.” Clayton looks like he has swallowed a softball whole. “I hope you aren’t too sad when you go home,” Kelsey’s note continues, “You will probably meet someone else, fall in love, and have lots of kids, and be a great dad.”
Clayton is wrecked. He’s crying for the first time in years; he’s talking about how much he wants to have kids one day; he’s saying he’ll do whatever it takes to find love, which is usually just dating, buddy, but it sounds like you’re open to more creative avenues…
So basically this fifth-grade class didn’t just choose all the dates this week—they also chose the trajectory of the entire next season of The Bachelor. And while I would trust these children with my life and my stretch-limousine snacks, they are still children—children who don’t know what happened the last time we impulsively chose an eighth-place finisher as the next Bachelor!
I mean, was Juan Pablo’s season pure, electrified chaos? Yes. Did it give us Clare Crawley? Yes. Did Clare Crawley give us talking to racoons and “I think I just found my husband” and voiding her entire Bachelorette contract for a male model with a pocket full of crystals and a brain full of … more crystals? Yes. OK, you know what—I might be talking myself into this random, inexplicable season of The Bachelor starring Clayton. Sometimes incapable leads are the best leads! (And sometimes they are Peter. So, I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.)
Why Buy the Cow When You Can Milk the Cow for Free?
For the last group date of the season, the children send Michelle and her six remaining boyfriends to a dairy farm, where Nayte proves that he is as bad at farming as he is at wrestling.
This is what makes Nayte such a compelling front-runner: The man is terrible at everything except being tall and loving Michelle. But the editors are a little shady toward Nayte during this group date, which gives me a foreboding feeling for his performance in the coming weeks. When Michelle notices how at ease the calves seem around Joe and says that being nurturing is one of the most appealing qualities in a partner, the cameras cut to show calves sprinting away from Nayte. And while Rodney is running around this farm like a wildman, talking about how they need to take each and every moment to make a good impression on Michelle, Nayte is shown grabbing at his back like a grandpa in a comic strip after briefly bending over to churn butter.
Nayte is—I kid you not—still theatrically holding his back as the gang arrives at the nighttime portion of the date. But finally, this is where Nayte shines. Michelle makes sure everyone knows that tonight’s group date rose means that she is ready to meet their family during Hometowns next week. So in their time together, Nayte tells Michelle that he’s never introduced a woman to his dad, but with her, he thinks it will be easy. And then he says those four little words every Bachelorette wants to hear in the week leading up to Hometowns: “I’m falling for you.” Michelle says that she, likewise, is “tumbling down a hill so fast” for Nayte … which may be the least eloquent Michelle has ever been.
But she’s right back on her game when Olu comes to her and says that he’s concerned that Martin is telling her one thing while being disrespectful toward her when speaking to the men.
Now, let me tell you the difference between Olu tattling on Martin and Chris S. tattling on Nayte: Olu is hot and sweet, and I like him. Also, Martin is an ass who keeps saying that Michelle misunderstood him last week, and questioning her decisions because, as he tells the other men, she’s not over the childhood trauma she expressed in her poem. Get this guy out of here!!!
Unfortunately, Michelle cannot thank Olu with a group date rose, because that is owed to Nayte. But I think Olu was just trying to do a good deed, and in this season of gratitude, we give thanks for his sacrifice.
Meet the Youngs
Finally, it’s Brandon’s turn for a one-on-one, and his reaction is even cornier than you could possibly imagine. But I can’t help but adore it! Even when Brandon says things like “Michelle is literally walking me through her heart right now,” when she is literally just walking him down a hallway—I love this guy. He is a labradoodle in desperate need of obedience school, but you simply have to let him keep humping the couch cushions, lest you steal that special sparkle from his eye.
When Michelle reveals that they are pulling up to her childhood home, Brandon pounces on her as if it’s the most romantic thing he’s ever heard. And while I wouldn’t call it romantic per se, I would call Michelle leading puppy-dog Brandon to this split-level ranch sweet. Because you better believe that the Youngs sprung for the fattest Olan Mills package each and every year, until their walls were positively overflowing with photos of little Michelle.
It does seem a little odd when Michelle insists that Brandon borrow a pair of her dad’s swim trunks to get in the hot tub, but it all becomes clear when we see Michelle’s parents strolling back up to the house right as Michelle and Brandon are submerged in hot water, making out.
It’s a pretty weird setup, and Brandon probably had to stay submerged for a few extra seconds until he, ahem, calmed down—but everyone just laughs and laughs. Michelle and Brandon put their clothes back on and sit down on the patio with Mr. and Mrs. Young, where Brandon tells them that their daughter is the most special person he’s ever met, and that’s why he looked forward to meeting them: “Because my family raised me and gave me that strength that I can tell from all the stories she’s told me about you guys, it was the same for her.”
So yeah, Michelle’s parents are fans of Brandon. Does he maybe take it a step too far when he asks to speak to the Youngs alone and asks—should the time come—if he could have their blessing to ask Michelle to marry him?
Nope! They like that too, telling Brandon that if Michelle chooses him, then they support her decision.
Brandon arrives at the nighttime portion of the date in a dress shirt made for a man two times his size, but he secures a rose when he hands Michelle a bracelet. He tells her that his mom sent the bracelet with him, saying, “If you truly believe she’s the one, give her this bracelet, because if we see it on her, we’ll give her the same love we give you.” Which is a tactical move so strong on so many fronts that I cannot wait to meet Brandon’s codebreaker of a mother. Brandon becomes the first man to tell Michelle he’s falling in love with her, and the second man to receive her “my heart is going a million miles an hour” response in return. So I guess we’re about to find out what happens when four men make Michelle’s heart beat too fast, two of them have unpredictable parents, and one of them has to get the boot before Fantasy Suites. All I ask is that we finally get to physically visit people’s hometowns again; if the world is ever going to feel normal, I need to see the finest clocks and candles American decor has to offer.