Imagine you’re watching an NCAA tournament game between two schools you don’t know anything about, like the West Dakota Cougars and the Nevada Tech Hamsters. You’re sitting there trying to figure out who to root for—West Dakota has sick purple and green jerseys, but you’ve really gotta give it to Nevada Tech for going with the hamster as their mascot—but then, with 15 minutes left in the game, a big flashing sign pops up on the screen saying “ALL THE PLAYERS ON WEST DAKOTA ARE RACIST.” Meanwhile, the game goes on as normal, and none of the announcers ever mention it … like, I guess I know who I’m rooting for now?
That’s what it feels like watching this season of The Bachelor. Rachael’s off-show history of racism has become a flashpoint for the entire franchise’s whitewashed past, and Chris Harrison’s defense of her could be the iceberg that sinks his Bachelor career ... and yet they just keep airing episodes, week after week, filmed in this world where Rachael is just another character.
Pretending not to know anything about the Rachael controversy is literally impossible—my opinion of her on the show has certainly been skewed by my opinion of her off of it. But going just off what we can see on camera, I don’t think I’d be rooting for her anyway. Three women remain on Monday night’s episode. Matt spends his entire date with Michelle laughing, with occasional breaks for giggling, before they sit down to dinner and talk about building a lasting, unfleeting relationship. He and Bri needle each other while (very briefly) camping. The sparks aren’t quite as obvious, but they still feel like a good couple.
Meanwhile, Rachael spends the entire episode in the background pouting about how Matt is spending time with other women—and when her date finally comes, she proceeds to pout even more about how he spent time with other women. Eventually, Matt assures her that he truly, deeply cares about her, and they make out over a pottery wheel. (Matt and Rachael have done a Point Break skydiving date and a Ghost pottery date, all while developing a relationship over three months at a resort hotel like in Dirty Dancing. Now they just need to rip someone’s throat out to complete the Patrick Swayze Cycle.)
We can probably operate under the assumption that Rachael wins this season—which would continue a trend. (No, not the trend of the lead picking a super problematic partner; a different trend.) For the past handful of seasons, it feels like the contestant I’m rooting for finishes second or third, losing to someone who spent most of their time moping about the struggles of being in a relationship on reality TV. (A quick list of people I wanted to win the show: Ivan from last season of The Bachelorette, Tyler Cameron from Hannah’s season, Tayshia on Colton’s season, Becca Kufrin on Arie’s season, Blake or Jason from Becca’s season, Peter on Rachel’s season—although big yikes there.) Maybe this happens because being in love with someone on television actually is painful and difficult, while being friends with someone on television is just kinda fun. Maybe the couples who seem to be struggling are actually struggling, grappling with real emotions in a less-than-ideal environment that forces unnecessary obstacles on couples. On the other hand, maybe people on the show keep getting tricked into pursuing the wrong type of love—the one defined by high emotions and dramatic conversations rather than the easy, lasting type of love Michelle described.
Or maybe it’s a little bit of both—and also, maybe The Bachelor is just really good at keeping suspense alive until the final episode by tricking people like me into thinking the eventual runner-up has the best chance at winning. Year after year, I end the season absolutely furious at the dumb lead for making the wrong choice. It’s a perfectly engineered system: The show wrings out legitimate emotions from me, and then forces me to get excited again when they cast the loser as the lead on the next season of The Bachelor or Bachelorette.
Episode MVP: Butter
Matt’s date with Michelle is a spa day, but not just any spa day: It’s a “Pennsylvania Dutch” spa day. Unfortunately, there are no Pennsylvania Dutch people around to actually explain to them what a “Pennsylvania Dutch spa day” is—I feel like “spa days” and “appearing on national television” might be the two things most antithetical to the lifestyle many Pennsylvania Dutch famously adhere to—so Michelle and Matt are basically sent into a room filled with farm-grown food products and left to their own devices. I cannot stress enough that nobody provides them any guidance—they spend the entire time cracking up while trying to figure out how to make big tubs of dairy products seem sensual. They dunk their feet into a tub of oatmeal and bathe themselves in a tub of milk. But the real highlight is when they strip down to their underwear and smear each other with slightly melted butter. Michelle gets up real close to Matt and breathily whispers, “I smell like a sugar cookie.”
Bri’s date is even less sexy—they are sent out into the woods to go camping, which briefly terrifies Bri into thinking she will spend her fantasy suite date with Matt outdoors in Pennsylvania in November. (It’s hard to pitch a tent when it’s 24 degrees—and I mean this in every possible way.) However, they head inside to an actual hotel room and spend the night together—and when they wake up, Bri is astounded—and slightly excited—by the amount of butter Matt uses to make eggs. “You can never have too much butter,” Matt says, either thinking about the delicious fat-filled eggs he’s making or the memory of Michelle glistening after having her nearly naked body covered with eight sticks of freshly churned Pennsylvania Dutch butter.
All around, just an incredible job by the Butter Marketing Board of America.
Best Scene: Surprisingly, the Dad Conversation
As you can probably deduce from the massive role butter plays in this Fantasy Suites episode, not much actually happens between Matt James and his final three women—at least not during the parts when cameras were allowed to film. When the time comes at the end of Monday night’s episode for Matt to trim his list down to two, he acknowledges to Bri that nothing actually went wrong between them, but that he had to get rid of somebody because The Bachelor’s game-show polyamory isn’t considered socially acceptable in the long run.
The real emotional crux of Monday night’s episode comes at the start, when Matt is reunited with his father, Manny. At first, I was worried that Matt’s conversation with his dad would be the sort of unnecessary engineered drama that represents the worst of the show. Matt doesn’t have a good relationship with his father—in an interview, he breaks down crying explaining how his dad would show up sometimes with shoes or pizza, but that he needed a father more than any cool clothes or fun snacks. It seemed like forcing Matt to spend time with someone who could bring up traumatic memories could do more to harm than hurt, all in the name of compelling television. Worse yet, it had been reported that the show’s producers didn’t tell Matt his dad would be there, in order to enhance the element of surprise.
But the conversation between Matt and his father turned out to be captivating and, seemingly helpful, if not exactly comfortable. If Matt was blindsided by his dad’s presence, the final edit of the show didn’t make it seem that way—in fact, Matt specifically says he wanted to talk to his dad before moving forward. While Matt’s father shows up apparently hoping to congratulate his son on being successful, Matt quickly turns the heat on his dad, grilling him about the infidelity that caused his mom to leave. Matt’s dad starts out indignant that his son has brought him onto national TV to ambush him with questions about decades-old bad decisions, and initially says the blame should be on Matt’s mom for leaving him—not on him, for cheating and prompting her to leave. But eventually, he apologizes to Matt for hurting him and not being there at pivotal moments in Matt’s life. He says he wants Matt to make the right choices and avoid replicating his mistakes. Although they hug and say they love each other, Matt acknowledges this conversation hasn’t fixed everything—but he hopes they can talk more going forward.
As it turns out, Matt’s conversation with his dad does help—for both Matt and us viewers. While he doesn’t discuss anything with his father that he can directly apply to his relationships, it is just about the first time in the entire season where Matt expresses any sort of emotion. Matt ends up talking about this time with his father with all three women, explaining how that relationship had left him uncomfortable with vulnerability, but that hashing things out has left him in the right mindset to make a commitment. As for us, this is one of the first times the central story of this season has been Matt, the apparent lead of the show. Up to this point we’ve hardly been given much light into who he is, which on top of everything else, has made the season feel unmoored. Dialing into his past allows us to understand him better and makes it easier to follow him as a main character.
It’s hard to feel good about The Bachelor these days, but Matt’s chat with his dad was an interesting look at how attempting to heal one relationship can carry over into the other relationships we have in our lives. It wasn’t fun by any means, but watching Matt and his dad fight through the discomfort and begin to say meaningful things to each other was worth the payoff.
Weirdest Choice: The “Women Tell All” Torture Montage
Let’s take a step back to last week’s “Women Tell All” reunion special, which I don’t recap because it’s just two hours of people yelling about weeks-old arguments. On the reunion special, they often sprinkle in some never-before-shown footage, typically bloopers. And while they did that this year, they also decided to show footage from three dates that were cut out from earlier episodes:
- First up, a Fear Factor–style date in which women had to fetch a wedding ring from inside a box filled with cockroaches and fire ants.
- Second, a date where women were forced into a pancake-eating contest and then had to drink steins of beer.
- The third one was actually part of a date we did see—the boxing date, which everybody hated—but in this cut scene, women were forced to drink raw eggs beforehand, causing Season MVP Katie to vomit.
Sometimes competitive dates are fun to rile up the contestants and spark some rivalries—but Jesus, guys, you’re torturing them! It feels like The Bachelor had these sequences filmed because they thought they’d be a hit, then pulled them from their episodes because they were obviously gross, uncomfortable, and borderline exploitative—and then decided to show the footage anyway. Like, they realized what they did wrong, but then were like, “Hahaha, let’s show everybody how badly we screwed up!”
Between the toxicity of the house this season, these torture-adjacent dates, and producers’ inability to snuff out the show’s latent racism, the show seems to keep making totally unforced errors. They’ve just been taking this franchise, repeatedly selecting the worst parts of it, and doubling and tripling down on them. I love The Bachelor, I swear I do. But holy crap, it is getting hard.