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‘The Bachelorette’ Recap: Love Is a Full-Contact Sport

Once again, producers have invented a game that forces contestants to beat the crap out of each other

Getty Images/ABC/Ringer illustration

What are the rules of Bash Ball? Are there rules of Bash Ball? Will budding fans introduced to this exciting new sport on Monday night’s episode of The Bachelorette be able to watch future Bash Ball competitions on the ABC/ESPN family of networks? Or am I perhaps reading too much into a sport clearly invented by a Bachelorette staffer with almost no forethought besides “How can I get as many contestants as possible to fight each other?”

The Bachelorette has always forced its men to partake in athletic competitions in which winning various games will earn them the time and affection of their Bachelorette. They’re often instructed in those contests by actual sports stars: A few years ago, they played basketball and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar showed up! A year before that, they played football and Ben Roethlisberger showed up!

But the show has decided to move on from conventional sports dates. Perhaps it’s because this season is being filmed at a resort in New Mexico with relatively few sports facilities, hundreds of miles away from any potential celebrities who could make date-carrying cameos. But perhaps more importantly, there’s only so much drama that can come from a few guys playing a regular sport. If you send the men out to play basketball, they’ll probably just head out there and have a decent time. The most dramatic thing that could happen is that we find out one of the guys has a sneakily good jumper.

So The Bachelorette has moved on to creating its own games with seemingly no rules to spice up the action a little bit. Earlier in the season, the men took part in a mud-wrestling date officiated by a random guy with a beard. And Monday night, we were introduced to Bash Ball.

The men think that they’re on a classic Bachelorette sports date. When they’re told that they’ll be taught sports stuff by a pair of famous instructors, their minds run wild—they guess that it might be Dwyane Wade or Michael Phelps. (Guys, what do you think this show’s budget is?) Instead, it’s B-tier Bachelor Nation character Wells and F-tier Bachelor Nation character Franco.

At no point do Wells and Franco explain anything about Bash Ball. We have to piece together how this game works through context clues. Bash Ball is played on an outdoor grass field with two basketball hoops at either end. You score by putting the ball into the hoops, and that’s pretty much the only rule. The referee (a guy in a Foot Locker uniform) does not seem to ever stop play for any reason. The uniforms allow all the men to show off their rippling abs (except Michael, who does not have any) but are not protective in any way, which is worrisome considering the full-contact nature of the game. In a bewildering detail, we can see that some low-level Bachelorette employee spray-painted a free throw line on the grass in front of each hoop.

ABC

Why? We will never know. Fouls don’t seem to exist in this game, rendering the very concept of “free throws” moot.

The game quickly spirals out of control—one reason sports have rules is to prevent this from happening. As the men realize they can inflict grievous physical pain upon each other with no repercussions, they begin aggressively tackling each other. Hunter levels Mike the Virgin on a breakaway dunk—honestly, clean hit—and soon, we see a highlight reel of ugly tackles, primarily aimed at the legs of contestants. Finally, game stops when Justin demolishes ab-less Michael with a hit from behind that smashes his face into the ball.

Michael is fine—he’s just in his late 30s, so everything hurts—and it’s probably a good thing his injury ended the game. I feel like the maximum amount of time 15 guys could play this game without somebody needing knee surgery is probably, like, 20 minutes. After calling off the game, Katie reveals an uncomfortable twist—if anybody had gotten seriously injured and needed to go to the hospital, they would’ve been dumped from the show, because they would have left the show’s COVID-free bubble and needed to quarantine upon return. Feels like information I would have wanted to know before throwing my entire body into tackles while in a Speedo!


But the made-up sport gives the show exactly what it wants. We got some clips of guys hitting each other, there was an injury scare (which has been used in nearly every trailer for this season), and now everyone hates Hunter for getting too rowdy on the field. (I get the sense Hunter must be way shorter than we can tell on TV—other contestants call him “the Tasmanian Devil” and “a circus dude.” He’s gotta be 5-foot-6, tops.) So we can look forward to the show continuing to invent anarchic, violent sports with the reckless abandon of a bored camp counselor looking to make his job easier by getting a few kids sent home for the summer.

Most Confusing Job: Blake

Things are going well for new arrival Blake. Katie briefly consults with Kaitlyn about introducing a new contestant midway through the season—which she did on her season when Nick Viall joined halfway through—and I guess decides the right thing to do is to make his introduction as uncomfortable as possible. He gets a one-on-one date card immediately after entering. (“So obviously this was the best-case scenario for me,” he says to a room of quietly furious men.)

The date goes perfectly. His conversation with Katie seems a lot more natural and less stilted than the average Bachelorette conversation. They spend the whole time smiling and laughing like actual people on a date instead of contestants on a reality TV show. It’s honestly a little bit strange to watch—I’m used to watching fake happiness on this show! The real stuff is weird! They end the date by vigorously making out and rolling around in some hay, which I guess isn’t just a euphemism.

But I’ve gotta say: I have more questions than ever about Blake’s listed job title of “wildlife manager.” The job always seemed vague to me—does he work at animal control? A zoo? Is he a shepherd whose job title got beefed up for TV? On Instagram, he seems to spend a lot of time holding various birds of prey, and has fed a few rhinos, and shares a lot of good posts about how we need to do a better job conserving the planet. On his date with Katie, he reveals that he spends months at a time in Africa doing something with endangered species. Is any of this a job? Or is coming on The Bachelorette and saying you’re a “wildlife manager” like making your top pic on Tinder a shot of you with somebody else’s puppy?

The one-on-one date involves riding horses, which seems like a good opportunity to show how great he is at working with animals. Instead, he tells Katie that he has a lifelong fear of horses, and seems utterly baffled when he finds himself atop one. “How do I make it go?” he asks, like he’s trying out an e-scooter for the first time. For a guy whose job is supposedly “working with wild animals,” he seems baffled that poking and prodding this living thing is resulting in actual responses from the beast.

Best Sell Job: Katie

The Bachelorette has had to adapt to filming under quarantine—but one tradition couldn’t be dropped. Dates still must end with performances by country musicians named Trent Ruckles or Trunk Buckley or Brent Huckles. Monday night, Blake and Katie get serenaded by a guy named Laine Hardy. Google tells me that Laine won the 2019 season of American Idol, which is apparently a reality show that picks its winner without ever making all the contestants play Bash Ball. (Slick ABC cross-promo.)

Generally, these performances come with a payoff—when Bunk Huntley or Hank Tuntley or Tank Bruckley performs their song, the Bachelorette will give a brief word to the camera about how much they loved the song, shouting out B or Trank or Hunt. “I loved the song by Brick Truckley!” they’re supposed to say.

But you know how some podcast hosts are like, “Hey, here’s a sock company. If you want the socks use my promo code to get $10 off your first order”? And some podcast hosts are like, “Wearing these socks CHANGED MY LIFE, my sex drive and intellect have tripled since wearing the socks, I met the love of my life while wearing the socks, and we’re naming our firstborn child after the socks, use my promo code to get $10 off your first order”? Well, Katie is a life-changing socks kind of Bachelorette. She not only claims to have had a spectacular time listening to Laine—she expounds on how the lyrics to the song “Memorize You” were so meaningful because she wants to memorize her evening with Blake.

At the end of Laine’s performance, she gives a hearty WOOOOOOOOO, which I believe is a first. Normally contestants just leave after the performance. (It’s even more impressive because there wasn’t a crowd of people going WOOOOOOOOOO, like there would have been on a pre-pandemic season.) Katie went above and beyond the line of duty, potentially resulting in dozens of additional streams for Laine Hardy.

Worst One-Liner: Mike the Virgin

I must document this absolute disaster of a pickup line: “I like speaking in sports terms,” says Mike, the former minor league baseball player. “Can we get to first base?” He also stares at her like this after hitting the punch line:

ABC

Katie begrudgingly makes out with Mike, but I’ve got to wonder if his virginity isn’t by choice.

Dark-Horse Bachelor Candidate: Michael

Two weeks ago I wrote about how Michael’s story about his attempt to find love after losing his wife made me tear up a bit. Luckily, I’m not alone! Monday night, Michael decides to tell the whole group about his story—and what he’s learned from such tragedy. Soon, we’re just watching eight to 10 guys crying on television. Greg, for one, is totally blindsided, giving a red-eyed interview about how unbelievable it is that Michael has the most positive attitude of any contestant. There’s something really captivating about the way Michael talks about his life and his search for new love that clearly brings out emotions we usually don’t get here.

I’m just gonna throw an idea out there: Michael for Bachelor. As a contestant on The Bachelorette, Michael doesn’t have much of a shot. What are the odds this one woman is specifically interested in helping a guy rebuild his life after tremendous loss? But if he were the star on The Bachelor, they could build the show around that. No, he doesn’t fit the mold of recent Bachelors—primarily ripped 27-year-olds who just realized they’re never getting another training camp invite from the Tennessee Titans—but that’s OK! They could bring on 30 women who knew what they were getting into and were specifically interested in dating a guy in his 30s with a child and a solid B-minus body. It could be a really unique season. They could even let him bring his kid!

That said, it could be absolutely brutal. Michael notes that he didn’t want to tell his story because he thought it would make everybody think of him as “the sad guy.” Maybe an entire season built around that story would be a bit too emotional for a show that usually only thrives in the shallow end.

Worst Season Management Skills: Quartney

In the season premiere, Quartney loquaciously introduced himself to Katie with a rundown of virtually every word in the English language that starts with the letter Q. I liked the guy—the letter Q really needed a rebrand after January 6. But quippy Quartney quickly vanished—I can’t recall seeing him have any alone time with Katie since then. Monday night, we finally saw him get her in a room by himself—and the dude blew it! He wrapped himself in toilet paper and said he wanted Katie to know that “I’m gonna be the toilet paper when shit goes down.” When she chuckled, Quartney said “I’m on a roll!” and she chuckled a little bit more.

Quartney! That’s an opening-night gag! We’re in Week 5! Clearly, Quartney understands the opening-night gag as evidenced by his quality quirkiness. But that’s just a way to get your foot in the door, dude! By the fifth episode of the season, you’ve got to be having legit conversations out there. You can’t build your whole persona around bits! Trust me, I’ve tried!