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‘The Bachelorette’ Recap: The Loneliest Slumber Party Ever

This week, a group of grown men forget to focus on the beautiful woman they’re all competing for in favor of pj’s, popsicles, and giant teddy bears

ABC/Getty Images/Ringer illustration

You simply have not lived until you’ve heard someone mournfully express that while they’d like to feel excited about the unexpected arrival of the Bella Twins on their date, it’s just not a good time for the Bella Twins’ crop-topped wrestling antics. This is the sort of niche emotion you can discover only on this week’s The Bachelorette. Unfortunately, you must simultaneously discover the difficult truth that Michelle’s co-boyfriends would rather pierce each other’s ears and eat popsicles in Indian Springs’ isolation conference room like they’re got-dang Annie James and Hallie Parker than focus their attentions on the loveliest woman in America.

Such is the power of personal access to a cotton candy machine, I guess. And in the end, we have a daytime slumber party in a curtained, carpeted conference room to thank for this emotional stunner of an episode.

To me, The Bachelore(ette) is always its most engaging when it can move beyond all its reality TV fairytale trappings—the polygamous structure, the plated dinners that never get touched, the private concerts from a 2014 sixth-place finisher on The Voice—and somehow manage to mirror dating in the real world, where there are far fewer freestanding hot tubs but certainly just as many commodities brokers trying to explain Bitcoin to you. Because dating is a nightmare; everyone knows it, and no amount of ABC funding can eliminate its innate awkward moments. Which is to say, that when Martin goes out of his way to speak up for Jamie during his one wild and precious one-on-one, I flashed back to every date I have ever been on with a “devil’s advocate bro” who just wanted me to consider the plight of Elon Musk.

And when Michelle walked into a date with 12 men assuming she might not even be able to manage all the attention she would be getting, only to be left wandering around by herself, I’m sure most viewers disassociated from The Bachelorette entirely, finding themselves right back at a college house party where they arrived with a new partner, only to discover that this new partner was the kind of person who completely abandons you in social situations.

I don’t know if it’s because Michelle is an elementary school teacher, but each episode of her season so far has been brought to us by one word. This week, the word on the blackboard is S-E-E. Michelle wants these men to see her, and given that she is the person they went through a strenuous application and quarantine process in order to date, I guess she assumed that being seen wouldn’t be an issue. But she was wrong. Even on The Bachelorette, people get complacent; they get insecure; they build bears instead of pulling you aside for a sensual game of Twister.

I do not wish for Michelle to have a bad time dating her many boyfriends, but I do know that this was an especially compelling episode because, when it comes to falling in love, the bad feelings are so much easier to relate to than the good feelings.

It’s impossible to explain what it feels like to fall in love, and when you try, you sound like Andy Grammer on his 14th solo concert performance on ABC’s hit show, The Bachelorette. But anger, disappointment, being lied to, Arie Luyendyk Jr. breaking your engagement on live television without any warning? That’s the universal stuff. You don’t need to understand the nuances of a relationship to understand how it feels when someone fucks up. And so when Michelle is left wandering around her own date by herself because no one will pay attention to her, we’re already right there with her, mentally sitting in a corner chewing on our own hair, trying not to cry while simultaneously assuring ourselves that we’re just being stupid.

So, buckle on your double-grommet belt, lace up your platform Doc Martens, swoop those bangs extra low, and smudge that eyeliner just right because if you can’t already tell—things are about to get hella emo up in here.

A Need for Speed (and Justice)

Martin made me trust his frosted tips last week, but now I’m not so sure. Will he betray me like Justin Timberlake, or eventually come back as a franchise host with blue frosted tips like Lance Bass? Only time will tell, but for now, Martin gets the first of two one-on-one dates this episode, and chooses to wear this:

Martin and Michelle go drifting at the BMW Performance Center, which once again, seems like something that should require some training. But I guess the kind of person who goes on The Bachelorette is already equipped with a very particular set of skills acquired over a long period of finding opportunities to take their shirts off. Skills like: spontaneously scaling mountains, spontaneously drifting cars, probably ghost riding the whip, and definitely being able to crack a cantaloupe open with their biceps.

After drifting—and making a lot of puns about drifting into love—Martin and Michelle retire to what would constitute the first hot tub of the season, but I think is just a tub full of tepid water.

It’s gross—made all the grosser by the fact that Martin will not stop stroking Michelle’s neck while annoying her with his unnecessary defenses of Jamie, whom he was apparently close with. Martin asks Michelle how she’s feeling about the events of last week, but before she can really answer, he cuts in with “I’m not taking his side or anything,” and Michelle immediately sucks in a sharp teacher-breath through her nose. Martin goes on: “I don’t think he’s a bad person. I still think he’s a hell of a man … just like, talking about in general.”

Hey, bud? Why not keep the generalities out of these few precious moments you have with Michelle? She doesn’t need you to advocate for Jamie when you could be crushing cantaloupes in this weird pool instead.

In the evening portion of the date, Martin does focus more on Michelle and himself, opening up about how he was never encouraged to express emotion growing up and how he still struggles to communicate. Michelle says she similarly struggles, which is surprising to hear, but I think Michelle works really hard to give her 16 co-boyfriends the transparency she feels they deserve. Martin is not at the same level of growth as Michelle yet, but he says he’s willing to try. So Michelle gives him a rose and says that she likes how he listens and observes the small things. On that, I cannot deny her…

If there is a single pore on Michelle’s face, Martin is the only person alive who’s seen it.

It’s Not About the Teddy Bears (but It’s a Little Bit About the Teddy Bears)

There are two one-on-ones this week, which can only mean one thing: a Big Gulp Group Date. Michelle has invited 12 of her co-boyfriends to a slumber party—but clearly not the sexy kind of group slumber party, because Michelle sends individualized pajamas ahead of time, a number of which include your mom’s terry cloth Christmas-morning robe.

When the boys arrive to the date, they find snacks, games, spa stations, and an off-brand Build-a-Bear workshop for giant bears—and they absolutely lose it. Michelle arrives in a cozy Skims set (obviously) and none of these knuckleheads even blink. Michelle accidentally created a Disney World for Bros, and they’re far too interested in using their Fast Pass to platonic beanbag-spoon with their boys to pull their girlfriend aside and make sure she’s enjoying the date too.

As Michelle stands around while the guys happily mill about, you can tell she’s starting to get self-conscious. The poor thing is in a teddy bear prison of her own making. You can actually hear the lump start to form in her throat.

Now, when things like this have happened on Clare Crawley or Hannah Brown’s season, those women simply screamed at their co-boyfriends—a gorgeous display of emotion in its own right, and I do slightly mourn the season we may have gotten if Michelle was a messy queen who lived for drama. Instead, Michelle is a thoughtful queen who lives for working through her own feelings and including us in the process. There’s less steam coming out of her ears; in place of that raw emotion is the much more relatable feeling of holding back tears when your boyfriends tell you that you can’t be in their ab-punching contest. (For the record: This is literally the meanest thing anyone has ever said on this show.)

It’s all very sad! But it’s also the tiniest bit funny, because the moment Michelle is at her absolute most miserable, the Bella Twins show up to tell her that her boyfriends are about to beat the living shit out of one another using the teddy bears they just spent hours ignoring her to make.

If only Michelle could ascend her beloved giant staircase to deal with these feelings of not being seen …

Alas, she cannot. Because when a Bella Twin announces the commencement of an Ultimate Teddy Bear Takedown, the current Bachelorette is honor-bound to attend. So even though Michelle says that she’s even more upset thinking about how she’ll now be even further separated from the men, she’s determined not to make a big deal out of nothing (just her feelings, that’s all!). Michelle says she doesn’t want to “bring down the energy in the room” (just her energy, that’s all!!!), so she sits down with Kaitlyn and Tayshia to watch her boyfriends hit one another with stuffed animals.

And let me tell you: I loved the subsequent moment when Kaitlyn heard Michelle sigh deeply through her nose and asked what was wrong before anyone’s butt had even hit the seat.

One woman spots one nostril flare and immediately knows something is up—but these men have been standing next to Michelle for hours and they still have absolutely no idea that she’s upset.

Michelle thinks that watching the guys beat each other up with teddy bears will distract her from her hurt feelings, and for a while it does. But when the red team wins, earning the six of them time with Michelle at the cocktail party, and all the men celebrate and sulk off respectively, they continue to ignore Michelle. No one even comes over to her after the game ends, including the guys who are being sent home from the date—ya know, the ones complaining about not getting time with Michelle in their testimonials …

Before the nighttime portion of the date, Michelle sits down with Kaitlyn and tells her that she knows the men didn’t intend to make her feel unseen, but that she’s still hurt that they’re not going out of their way to create small moments with her. Michelle reiterates what she talked about in her poem last week: The reason feeling seen is so important to her is because she was so often overlooked growing up as one of the only people of color in her classes in Minnesota. “I felt like I was truly just the token Black girl, and I wasn’t seen,” Michelle tells Kaitlyn. “So, coming into this, I felt like … if I’m in a room full of people who genuinely see something in me, and want to get to know me, that I would never feel like that.”

Consider me gutted. The hardest part is that Michelle wishes so badly that she didn’t feel this way. She doesn’t want to tell these men that they accidentally hurt her feelings when they all think they’re in for a fun night. But she has to share how she’s feeling, because she realizes that it’s not going away on its own.

So, Michelle enters the cocktail portion of the group date with the six men who won the pillow fight (Clayton, Nayte, Romeo, Olu, Casey, and Leroy) and hits ’em with the old “I’ll tell ya how I’m doing—not well, bitch! Their grins disappear. These men may be dummies, but they are here for Michelle. She tells them that she can’t put on a happy face because as much as she would have liked to leave the group date feeling excited, she didn’t. Everyone looks sick. Michelle tells them that she’s putting every ounce of effort into making her experiences with each one of them special, and she doesn’t always feel like it’s being reciprocated. She reminds them of her poem, and then adds: “That doesn’t mean that I need these romantic gestures—I honestly just want, like, a hello during the date.”

She pulls Nayte to chat first, and tells him that part of what made the day so hard was him not trying to connect with her at all, given the level of feelings she’s already developed for him. And he definitely listens, apologizes, and assures Michelle that he’ll work harder, but ... I was kind of expecting more from Nayte. I assume Michelle pulled him first because she thought he would be the most comforting, but even in this moment, he doesn’t go out of his way to make sure that he shows Michelle he understands why she was so hurt.

Not like Olu who, from the moment Michelle lets the men know how she’s feeling, looks absolutely devastated that he had any part in it. Olu says that Michelle’s story about always being overlooked and not feeling appreciated reminds him of his four sisters. He tells Michelle that, as the male figure in their lives, he always tries to remind them that they’re beautiful, that they can do anything, that the right guy will come into their lives—and that he’s sorry he didn’t do that for her. “I want you to know I feel you, I hear you, and everything you’re doing now shows what a strong woman you are.”

Michelle is crying; Olu is crying; I am an absolute mess.

Olu gets the group date rose, and Michelle feels much better than she did, saying, “When you’re transparent about how you’re feeling, and you actually put it out there what you’re struggling with—there are people around you who will do anything and everything they can to get you back on track.” Because if there’s one thing Ms. Young is gonna do, it’s turn a teddy bear fight into a teachable moment. And I swear to you, I learned something in this Renaissance Esmeralda Resort & Spa at Indian Wells conference room tonight.

Rick, the Lettuce Wrap of Love (Kinda)

If only Rick the Tabletop had been on the teddy bear date, all of this would have been avoided—because there’s no chance Rick would have missed making his little moments with Michelle.

Something I love about Rick is how absolutely uninterested in being perceived as cool he is. “Smooth” is not a word in his vocabulary. He’s like a little kid around Michelle, so excited to see her at all times—I think she may have picked him up when they collided for the first hug of their one-on-one date. It is as endearing as it is utterly disconcerting, just like everything about Rick—like, how he sometimes looks exactly like Clark Kent, and at all other times like he is doing a spot-on Droopy Dog impression. Or how he just starts skipping syllables when he gets excited—which is a lot of the time, but not all the time, because sometimes his face goes from being stone-cold serious to grinning like a jack-in-the-box. He’s an odd guy, but he’s very earnest.

Hell, he starts unpacking his family trauma before the sun even goes down. On a peaceful hike during the daytime portion of their date, Michelle and Rick stumble upon a wishing box that the producers have very obviously planted some topical wishes inside of. The first one they pluck out reads, “I wish to find my soul mate,” and the next one reads, “I wish my dad could have seen the man I’ve become.”

Rick tells Michelle that his dad died three years ago, and it wasn’t always an easy relationship. When he was a teenager, he discovered his dad was cheating on his mom, so he told her, which led to a divorce that he blamed himself for for years. Rick says that for the last 10 years of his life, his dad was extremely depressed, and the greatest challenge of his own life has been seeing people he loves struggling, and not being able to help them. Rick and Michelle write their own wish to “find love by having the hard conversations.”

But the most important thing that happens on this date is that Rick somehow wedges a new entry into the official Bachelor Levels of Love canon. Usually we go from “I’m falling for you” to “I can see myself falling in love with you,” but just before Rick gets Michelle’s rose, he tells her, “I can’t rule out the fact that I could be falling in love with you.”

Absolutely, my guy! Do not rule it out! And I simply can’t rule out the fact that you could be a time-traveling Nestor Carbonell, looping back in time to do guerrilla marketing for Latisse!

Bachelor Watch

[We interrupt this regularly scheduled recap to check in with our prescheduled Bachelor, Clayton.]

You guys, when are we going to fall in love with Clayton, the Square-Chinned Wonder?! Not only does he barely have screen time with Michelle this week, but the editors actually clown on him by showing him rambling on and on about how great the Slumber Party group date was, and how great it was to “chill with the boys,” moments before Michelle comes in and is like, Hey, you guys made me feel like I was D.J. Tanner eating my lunch in a bathroom stall by myself.

Thus far, the only thing about Clayton I’ve really taken to is how he looks consistently flummoxed while absorbing any amount of dialogue longer than two sentences. This is Clayton listening to Michelle explain her valid feelings:

And this is Clayton listening to Chris S. explain absolute nonsense:

They’re the same picture.

That’s Not a White Horse, but You Are a Jackass

What to do with a problem like Chris S.? If you’re Nayte, the inclination seems to be to squash him like a bug and call him a dweeb. And while that’s perhaps a bit immature, he is a dweeb. He masks his insecurity with bravado, but worst of all, he builds his own ego by claiming to care for Michelle when he could not be less motivated by her feelings. You know how I know? Because he has no idea what her feelings are—Michelle hasn’t told him! In a bonkers turn of events at the final cocktail party, Chris S. hears about what Michelle confided in the group date winners and somehow convinces himself that he wasn’t a participant in the portion of the date that hurt Michelle’s feelings, but was a participant in the portion where she shared those feelings. He says of the six men who actually spoke to Michelle that night, listened to her, and comforted her: “I don’t think these guys actually understand the way she feels and how upset she was.” Dude, do you?! You don’t even understand hats!!!

So, in an effort to make everyone understand how Michelle feels, when Michelle descends her very special staircase, and takes her place in front of her boyfriends …

… Chris S. quite literally stands up directly in front of Michelle, and before she can say a word, announces that he’d like to say something. “I wasn’t at the party the other night, but I know that she addressed that she felt like she wasn’t being seen,” Chris says while—I’m not kidding—not looking at Michelle. (Seriously, fuck this guy.)

He then inexplicably starts telling Michelle that there are suitors who “think they have it in the bag, and I think that’s bullshit.” Let me parse this: It’s inexplicable why Chris S. says this in relation to Michelle not feeling seen—but it’s entirely explicable why he says it. After Rick got the final one-on-one date card, Nayte told the group he knew his name would be on a card one day, he just had to be patient. And that made Chris S.—who surely does not know his name will be on a date card one day—big mad.

Now, ultimately, I do feel that Nayte fumbles this with Michelle a little bit. Because after Michelle talks to Chris S. very briefly and he offers up what Nayte said about the one-on-one, she is bothered. She tells Nayte as much, but instead of explaining his own reasons for saying it, he just says that he can’t change the way people feel about him. When she tells him she’s not some prize to win at the end of this, he simply replies, “I feel that.” Because really, Nayte is champing at the bit to get back out there and give Chris S. a piece of his Canadian mind. Which ultimately means that Nayte tells Chris S. what he did was “weird” and calls him a “fuckin’ dweeb” while Chris S. lies over and over again, saying that Michelle probed him to get him to say Nayte’s name. “She asked and I told,” Chris S. says to the camera, entering into complete delusion. “I came in on my white horse and I saved her from the castle that she’s been stuck in.”

Babe, at best you came in like a white horse’s butt fly wearing a Burlington Coat Factory pre-packaged shirt-and-tie combo and buzzed in Michelle’s ear just long enough for her to not be rude to you.

Michelle eventually cuts Chris G., Romeo, and Will, but somehow winds up giving Chris S. a rose. However, she also gives one to Nayte, so all is well, and we can continue these lunchroom shenanigans next week. Let’s just hope Michelle isn’t on cafeteria duty.

Now, as you go into this next week, may we all have the confidence of Chris S. thinking that he should try to lean in for a kiss after spending all of his time with Michelle squealing like a rat, and the shrewdness to immediately reconsider it.