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‘The Bachelorette’ Finale Recap: Two Suits, One Heartbreak, Endless Vibes

Ever the eternal optimist, Michelle wants to love Nayte and Brandon. But in the end, she must choose one …

ABC/Ringer illustration

It’s settled then: In the classic schoolyard game of Vibes, Heart, Minneapolis, Vibes crushes Heart every time. On Tuesday night, America’s Bachelorette, Michelle Young—champion of jewel tones, lover of lashes, queen of curls, Ms. Frizzle incarnate, Miss Honey in a bodysuit—was just a girl, standing in front of a boy, shuffling through a bunch of Love Actually cue cards, hoping they might prompt him to finally say how he feels with words that cannot be traced directly back to TikTok.

At one point during this finale, Michelle literally asks Nayte if he thinks he’ll “have the words” for an engagement. As in, after choking so hard on expressing his feelings during a low-stakes, spiritually ambiguous bonding ritual that even Hannah Brown was like, “Oof, dude, maybe cruise through a Toastmasters course at the YMCA or something,” Michelle wondered not just if Nayte was ready to get engaged, but if he would technically be able to string enough sentiments together to reasonably ask for her hand in marriage.

But in the end, it didn’t really matter if Nayte had failed to think of different variations on “every minute, every hour, every day” for his proposal. Because The Bachelorette gods demand a diamond sacrifice, and more important than any of that … Michelle loved Nayte. Michelle loved Nayte when he unfolded his frame from that arrival limo like a sexy Motorola Razr. Michelle loved Nayte when he accidentally opened up about his reserved family dynamics in their very first conversation. Michelle loved Nayte when she gave him the first impression rose, and sought him out on every group date, and invited him to three water-centric activities in a row just to see him in those itty bitty neon orange shorts again.

As it is in the real world, so it is on the windy beaches of The Bachelorette—no amount of pragmatism, propriety, or pep talks from Kaitlyn Bristowe will beat out love that has been forged in the waters of a Minneapolis hot tub, and fortified inside the rigid structure of “I’m falling for you, I’m falling in love with you, I’m in love you.” And absolutely nothing will override those five little words that every woman wants to hear from the man she’s falling in love with whilst on a nationally televised romance game show:

How dare the disembodied mystery voice that opens these episodes tell us to buckle in for “the shocking ending you’ll never expect.” I’m sorry, this ending?!?! Does this guy think we’ve been watching Michelle’s season with marshmallows in our ears while staring directly into a solar eclipse? Lil Jon would never pander to us like this—he would know that we knew it was going to be Nayte all along.

And yet … at moments, it did almost seem like maybe it could be Brandon. Because I’ll give Michelle this: she knows how to keep us on our toes. She was a pitch-perfect Bachelorette, and she wouldn’t rest until she had fallen in love with two whole men. Much like Brandon, I would give Michelle anything; I would give Michelle everything; I would invite Michelle into my kitchen, let her put my heart into a blender, and watch it spin around to a beautiful oblivion. (Rendezvous when Bachelor in Paradise is through with you, sweet Brandon). But despite Michelle’s best efforts to make it a fair race, this was always Nayte’s competition to lose. And hot damn, did he try to lose it!

Mama Knows Best (but She’s Chill About It)

If there’s one single thing I resent from Michelle’s season, it’s how earnest she makes me feel about this franchise that simply wants to coerce me into an emotional response. So let me be clear that it is Michelle—and Michelle alone—who, at my big age with my big brain, makes me think such embarrassing sentiments as, “In the end, everyone was a winner because [pause to dry heave] everyone stayed true to themselves,” or, “Watching Michelle interact with her family is a true gift.” Who am I, Brandon?

But Michelle’s family really is like a picture-perfect Disney Channel family come to life. That’s so Michelle (except it’s her mom who can see into the future, and it’s making her softly cry a little).

Michelle’s sister Angela and her parents, Ephraim and LaVonne, have traveled to Mexico to spend time with her final two co-boyfriends. Even though Michelle has seen her parents in nearly every other episode for the entire season, she still cries each time she lays eyes on them. But this time, the tears feel a little more concerning. When Michelle tells her parents that she told Brandon she was falling in love with him last week, she looks happy, and then immediately sick. She knows her parents liked Brandon the first time they met him, and she may be realizing in this moment that the next few hours will only reinforce the lingering idea that Brandon is somehow the better choice.

Confirmation is an understatement. Brandon walks into that hacienda like he’s been drinking Gatorades out of their garage refrigerator since he was a kid, and now he’s come to marry their daughter in the great state of Minnesota and join their family, just like everyone’s always dreamed of. He says all the right things and he means them. He also says some things that don’t mean anything, like, “I can’t wait to tell them how my heart came to fall in love with their daughter.”

But you can’t teach a puppy new clichés, and the Youngs aren’t really in it for the words. LaVonne says she’s a feelings person, and with Brandon, she feels deep in her bones that he would do anything for Michelle—a sentiment that is very important to the Young family.

It’s at this point that I’m reminded of the huge thing Michelle revealed on a date, and has only been vaguely referenced since then: she was once in a romantic relationship so toxic that it destroyed her health, and she had to move in with her parents after her boyfriend left her at her lowest point. So when LaVonne and Ephraim say they want someone who would do anything for Michelle, or when Michelle says she wants someone who will put her first, they don’t just mean it colloquially, like when people say they want a “partner in crime” when what they really mean is “someone to take a homemade pasta class with.” Michelle’s family never wants to see Michelle in another situation where she gives everything to a relationship and gets nothing in return.

Enter Nayte and his unfortunate discomfort with giving verbal confirmation that he is fully committed to Michelle. Nayte is happy to say he loves Michelle! He’s happy to say he wants to be with Michelle! But when it comes to explaining why, or how (or if he will move to Minneapolis), our guy chokes. He chokes hard.

Through the past few weeks, there’s been a clear effort by the editors to frame Nayte as a walking red flag, and it hasn’t felt entirely warranted. Nayte obviously has some self-exploration to do before he’s in league with Michelle emotionally, but he isn’t manipulative; he isn’t misleading Michelle about his feelings. So it’s a weird move by the franchise—though certainly not a new one!—to frame their front-runner as the wrong choice on a show that is ostensibly about fostering fairytale romances. But there’s also no denying that Michelle’s family notices Nayte’s less-than-desirable traits too—and LaVonne and Ephraim don’t strike me as people who would take their cues from producers.

My main issue with Nayte as a fiancé has always been that he just doesn’t show a lot of effort. It’s all vibes with this guy, and nowhere is that more evident than in his visit with Michelle’s family. Like … did he not anticipate any of these questions? Did he not know that the goal here was to impress upon Michelle’s family that it is his desire to commit himself to Michelle for eternity in a few short days? Has he met Brandon, or heard him talk about all the many ways he’s willing to maim his own heart in order to prove his devotion to Michelle?

It seems like Nayte’s meeting with Michelle’s family might be the first time in Nayte’s life that he’s realized you cannot simply play it cool indefinitely. It’s not quite as stark an awakening for him as it probably should be, but it is straight-up rude to Michelle. When they first sit down with Michelle’s family, everyone looks to Nayte like, OK, time to tell us how great our daughter is, just like Michelle did for all of her boyfriends’ families, and Nayte once again chokes. He stumbles around saying he has “a lot of new feelings that haven’t been felt before,” and everyone seems to be willing to take his nervousness as endearing—until Michelle tries to rescue him by informing her family that Nayte told her he was falling in love with her last week, and then prompts him to “carry on the next part.”

Brandon may look like the schoolboy, but it’s Nayte who seems to kick Michelle’s teacher instincts into overdrive. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but Michelle teaching Nayte how to access his feelings is when the disconnect between watching Michelle and Nayte’s relationship (a little cringey) and being inside Michelle and Nayte’s relationship (seemingly a really good time!) is at its largest. For Michelle, helping Nayte grow seems to be part of the attraction, and when she’s able to guide him to successfully share something like an adult, she takes it as a win, while my—and her mom’s—eyes grow into two perfect saucers as my jaw clenches into a permanently locked position.

Nayte says that telling Michelle he loved her a week ago “was like the first recognition of, like, ‘OK Nayte, this is something really serious.’” And things do not get much better from there! When Michelle’s dad asks about life after engagement, Nayte takes it upon himself to say that as far as “the actual logistics of everything” like moving to Minnesota, he doesn’t have any answers. When Michelle’s sister asks if they’ve had a conversation about moving, Nayte says, “The thing about me is that I’m all about the adventure.” And I truly think Nayte sees this as a winning thing to say to someone who is asking how committed to a future with her sister he is. Angela then gently presses, asking Nayte if, in the absence of constant adventure, how he feels about being content?

Alas, marriages are not built on vibes alone …

But first impressions are! And Nayte’s vibes are all off for Michelle’s family as they try to assess if he would put her first. After Nayte evades answering if Michelle is “the one” for him, he trips into maybe the worst Freudian slip of all time (“I don’t take love seriously—er, for granted”) and says that Michelle not choosing him “wouldn’t be fun.” LaVonne then understandably informs Nayte that she’s not sure he’s as ready as he thinks he is to get engaged.

It’s a bold move from LaVonne; presumptuous even. I also think anyone with eyes and ears would agree with her. As kindly as possible, LaVonne tells Nayte that he seems to have trouble being open with his emotions, and that makes it difficult to know how he’s really feeling about Michelle.

Now, this should feel gratifying, because it’s nearly word for word what I’ve been screaming at the TV each time Michelle coaches Nayte through admitting a new level of feelings for her. But it doesn’t.

Perhaps the most relatable part of this whole episode is how Michelle and her mom immediately get teary-eyed when they realize they’re about to fundamentally disagree on something before either of them has even spoken. And it’s not even a disagreement, really—it’s that LaVonne has doubts about Nayte’s emotional commitment, and Michelle shares those doubts. But deep down, the last thing she actually wanted was to have them confirmed by the person she trusts most.

I Love You (and You Too)

Following these extremely divergent family meetings, Michelle has precisely two goals: fall all the way in love with Brandon, and resolve her doubts about Nayte so that she can get engaged to him.

Do those aims strike anyone else as a bit contradictory? I still remember the day when Ben Higgins accidentally told both finalists he loved them, and it felt like he’d admitted that he’d been maintaining a secret family in Ohio during all those business trips. So why, when Michelle tells Brandon that she’s in love with him, knowing full well she’s already told Nayte she’s in love with him, does it not feel as imprudent? Because Michelle’s dad told us everything we needed to know about Michelle: “She’s always thinking of what can go right, and not what can go wrong.”

I think Michelle genuinely held out hope that she could accept a proposal from Brandon right up until the end, even if she was lying to herself. But for someone who gets dressed by birds in the morning and has never met a horse she couldn’t turn into a unicorn, it’s not lying—it’s just eternal optimism. And according to the seamlessness of Michelle’s season, if a lead can pull off genuine optimism instead of preventative deception, they too can have each one of their ex-boyfriends practically reciting the lyrics of “For Good” from Wicked to them on the way out.

Nayte Has Been Changed … for Good

A few years ago, I took a simple personality test called the Big Five, which scores your propensity toward the five major personality traits without necessarily typing you as an Enneagram 7, or whatever.

I scored a concerning 4 out of 100 in the “Negative Emotionality” trait, which, at first seemed like a, ahem, positive. But there was one little sentence in the description of “Low Negative Emotionality” that has haunted me (and helped me) for years now: “There’s such a thing as being too cheerful, because sadness and anxiety are things that help us learn from our mistakes.”

First of all, rude. But also, yesfineOK—you can’t really grow without recognizing that there are areas of your life that could improve. LaVonne, an empathic genius, bristled most at Nayte’s unwillingness to admit how bad it would feel to not be chosen by Michelle. And that sat with Nayte. Our guy actually took it in, gave it some thought, and throughout his final day with Michelle, you could literally see him growing. Does a last-minute emotional breakthrough seem like a strong foundation for an engagement? Of course not. But it does yield one of the most romantic (if slightly coerced) breakthroughs I’ve ever seen on this show.

After a fairly disastrous bonding ritual with a man named Raul in which Nayte couldn’t put any of his feelings for Michelle into words, Michelle once again tries to lead him toward saying that he understands the seriousness of being in a committed, loving relationship. And, just like that, words begin exploding out of Nayte’s mouth: “I never told you this, but I came here with two suits,” he says to Michelle, because he never expected to make it past Week 2. “And here I am at the end, madly in love with you, wanting to spend the rest of my life with you, and it’s terrifying, because this really could be it for me.”

All it took for Nayte to not only understand the depth of his own feelings for Michelle, but to relay them to her in a way that made her feel secure, was just a little franchise-induced terror. Later, Nayte tells Michelle that he’s glad he had that rocky conversation with her mom, because it made him realize that he’s certain about Michelle.

You Kids Ever Seen a Heartbreak?

How about two hearts? Brandon’s, followed immediately by mine. I can’t recall ever seeing a second place finish this sad, because I don’t know if there’s ever been a second-place finisher this in love, or this devoid of anger.

Despite Michelle improving the lives, emotional maturity, and swimsuit choices of every person she’s touched throughout this season, if she did this to me, I would be furious. I will never understand the tradition of letting the second-place finisher confess their love one last time before breaking up with them. Is the idea that Michelle might change her mind right then and there? Because reader, she does not. At least, I don’t think she does. The waves are crashing so wildly that we can barely hear Michelle as she shatters Brandon’s whole life. When she hits him with the “I meant what I said about loving you, but—” Brandon knows what’s coming.

Oh, buddy. He mostly holds it together until they begin making the long ascent to his idling SUV, where Brandon breaks down while consoling Michelle about how it’s OK that she chose to put herself first. By the time he makes it to the SUV, Brandon is in a full body sweat, wiping tears away with his blazer. But he remains a very nice boy through and through. He says that he feels like Michelle is making a mistake and he should go after her—but he also knows that she’s not. “I think she followed her heart, and that’s where her heart led,” he says. And if there’s one thing Brandon understands—it’s hearts.

Michelle, Will You Vibe With Me Forever?

Somehow, after crying out all the sodium in her body, Michelle is expected to turn right back around to the deserted island where the producers have arranged her engagement altar to have the happiest moment of her life with Nayte.

And hey, she does it! Because Michelle really is happy to be getting engaged to Nayte. Is it the most eloquent proposal? It is not. Does Michelle do a kind of weird thing where she points out, like, a couple of times how many bumps in the road they had? She does. And for a minute, does it almost seem like she’s about to break up with Nayte, in which case I would’ve owed the aforementioned disembodied mystery announcer an apology because that really would be a shocking ending? Sure. But in the end, Michelle says Nayte is her soulmate, Nayte pops open the Neil Lane box, tilts it to camera—and they get engaged.

There’s squealing, there’s laughing, there’s crying—and that’s just from me! I admit that watching an emotionally mature woman coach a mildly stunted man through feeling his feelings so that she can eventually understand him is not my favorite kind of love story. But it is a pretty realistic one. And in between all the hot tubs, firework shows, private concerts, and consummate vibes, what do we come to The Bachelorette for if not an accidental peek into reality?