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The ‘Bachelorette’ Recap: You Can’t Strategize Love

The strongest relationship of the season hits a snag

ABC/Getty Images/Ringer illustration

In the end, every strategy in the history of The Bachelorette has failed. Doesn’t matter what the strategy is. This show is so beautifully averse to logic that all strategies die.

Take Katie, this season’s Bachelorette, who designed a relatively reasonable strategy to account for the unusual experience of simultaneously dating 30 guys: She decided she wouldn’t tell any of the men that she was in love with them until there was only one guy left. That way, she wouldn’t get caught up in her emotions and tell multiple people she loves them. It’s kind to her contestants, as it keeps her from getting a guy’s hopes up and breaking his heart. But it also keeps her from making bad choices—once you tell someone you love them, it’s hard to dump them, even if the relationship has changed. It helps the contestants, and it helps her. Smart thinking!

But on Monday night, it backfired massively. It happened during an emotional hometown date with Greg, who’s been this season’s front-runner from the very first episode. He got the first impression rose, he got the first one-on-one date, and he got a second one-on-one date. He’d built a 28-3 lead on every other contestant on the show—only a historic, massive collapse could lose him the title.

Yet the hometown date got emotional. I mean, really emotional. Like, “Greg told Katie that she’s filling the hole in his life created by the death of his father”–level emotional. He cries, tells her he loves her and—I can’t stress this enough—repeatedly tells her that she is filling the hole in his life created by the death of his father. That’s gonna win you a medal in the Emotions Olympics. Probably silver at least.

But Katie has practiced her stolidity. In a critical moment, she turns to Greg and says “I love”—great start—“looking at you.” Oof. After Katie fails to match Greg’s alarmingly high level of emotion, Greg’s mood shifts. The two go into an extremely dark room and start whispering to each other. Katie explains that she’s simply trying not to commit to any guy before the point of the show where committals happen, but that she’s advancing him to the next week and really believes in their relationship; Greg wonders how she could fail to realize that he’s the right guy. The more they talk, the further apart they grow. They leave the room baffled by each other’s choices.

A few days later, Greg shows up to her room and tells her that he’s leaving the show. Katie begs him to reconsider, chasing him down a staircase (staircases are easily the MVPs of this season.) She literally kneels in front of him and asks for forgiveness. She acknowledges that she didn’t respond correctly, but explains that she cares about him and just wanted to be fair to everybody. But in Greg’s eyes, their entire relationship was ruined because she failed to properly give him the response he needed in that moment. “I deserve more than what I’ve been given,” he says, before leaving. Katie goes to cry in a bathroom and asks for a plane home instead of continuing without Greg.

I gotta say, Greg may have overreacted here. Katie didn’t do anything legitimately malicious—she just failed to have the proper emotional response during a surprisingly weighty moment of an absurd reality TV show. Even if that moment was hurtful, it’s not worth throwing an otherwise happy relationship in the trash!

All strategies here are doomed. Sure, telling multiple people that you love them is a bad idea—but so is failing to properly commit to a relationship that has reached that point. It’s possible that there’s no response she could’ve given Greg that would have emotionally satisfied him. “You’re filling the hole in my life created by the death of my father,” is not a reasonable starting point for a healthy relationship! But her one-size-fits-all plan of not expressing emotion didn’t have a shot with a partner who actually needed emotional feedback.

You can’t strategize love. It’s kind of the whole reason turning it into a game show is compelling.

Laziest Work: The “Hometown” Dates

When The Bachelor franchise began adapting to pandemic life, a big hurdle was replicating the “hometown” dates. One of my favorite parts of any season of this show is seeing the homes and places the contestants come from in a whirlwind exploration of random Americana. That’s obviously out the window in quarantine, but early on, the show genuinely tried to replicate it: On Tayshia’s season, the crew brought entire sets meant to mimic contestants’ hometowns into the Palm Springs resort where the show was filmed.

Two seasons later, that effort has vanished. Maybe when the producers added a second season of The Bachelorette in 2021, they didn’t increase the budget, and now they have to make two seasons for the price of one? That’s my best explanation for why they’ve gone from replicating a cross-country tour during Tayshia’s season to “putting a basketball hoop on a tennis court” for Katie.

Let’s recap the minimal effort the show’s producers put into making these episodes geographically meaningful:

  • Greg’s “New Jersey” date involves going to a food stand that has pork rolls and Italian ices. Then they take turns riding a surfboard on top of a blow-up carnival attraction, briefly play basketball, and end the date by sitting under the same rain machine from Katie’s “Seattle” date a few weeks ago. They’re barely trying. They literally reused an item from another date, and I don’t exactly think “New Jersey” when I think of surfing. At least the inclusion of pork rolls automatically redeems the show a little bit from last season, when Jersey boy Zac’s hometown date was New York–themed. I’m giving this one a B-minus.
  • Blake’s “Canada” date probably seemed familiar … because it was a near-exact replica of last season’s Canadian hometown date with Serena, down to the implication that Canadians routinely knock back straight shots of maple syrup. (Unlike Serena, Blake actually got Katie to follow through and down some of the sweet stuff.) But Serena’s was a higher-budget date—she played hockey with Matt on an actual miniature hockey rink, whereas Blake and Katie played hockey in a parking lot with the cheapest street hockey equipment you can get from a sporting goods store. To be fair, it’s probably harder to set up an ice rink in New Mexico than in Pennsylvania.
  • Justin’s “Baltimore” date involves riding in a horse-drawn carriage past a single wall half-covered in graffiti art, which Justin says is a tribute to a spot in Baltimore called Graffiti Alley. It looked really sad, though: roughly 8 feet of cardboard propped up in the vast New Mexico desert. Afterward, they ate crabs. This was the worst effort of any date. I worry about how those crabs got to New Mexico. This gets a D.

I’m really looking forward to the day this episode turns into a cross-country tour again. You know, if they have the budget for it. For now, the people in charge of this show apparently think that “buying some maple syrup” is getting the job done.

Most Unfortunate Timing: Michael

The Bachelor franchise and I had a deal: Every year, there should be one midseason reunion episode that I don’t have to recap. There are only so many ways you can write “and then a bunch more guys yelled at each other.” Part of that deal meant ensuring that the “Men Tell All” special was completely devoid of plot developments. But they broke the deal!

Last week, Michael, arguably the best human in the history of the show, opted to go home after a devastating FaceTime with his 4-year-old son back at home. “Maybe daddy left because he don’t want to see me,” Michael’s son said. What the hell? Was this kid engineered in a lab to deliver lines capable of achieving the maximum amount of heartbreak? Of course Michael had to leave. He was developing a great relationship with Katie, but he couldn’t spend another day away from his son.

In general, everybody applauded Michael’s decision to return to his family. But friends, I must object! Michael decided to go home a week before hometowns. HE COULD’VE JUST BROUGHT HIS SON TO THE HOMETOWN DATES!!! Right? Michael expressed some concerns about having his 4-year old son on reality TV, but … like, couldn’t they just have brought him and had him hang out in a hotel and eat ice cream and do fun activities without filming? And after hometowns, Michael would’ve either stayed at the hotel or been sent home. He left to go home with his son, but he was already about to go home to his son! Some may disagree with me here. “Rodger, isn’t it extremely crass of you to criticize Michael’s decision to focus on raising his child instead of making good reality TV?” To which I must ask: Why are you booing me? I’m right!

Best Save: Justin’s Friends

An important aspect of the usual hometowns episode is that it’s the easiest way for us to meet all the families of the contestants on the show. It’s easy to say “Hmm, I’m not sure I wanna appear on my son’s reality TV show.” It’s harder when they’ve flown an entire camera crew to Knoxville, Tennessee, and are sitting in your driveway.

But now the show is in a hotel. And Justin’s family apparently wasn’t interested in the trip. His parents decide to skip their obligatory appearance and gave Justin a call to express their support, but no reason for not attending. I have a guess as to why, though: Maybe they didn’t want to take vacation time and fly to Albuquerque? I mean, that’s gotta involve at least one connecting flight, right? So two of Justin’s friends, Herb and Tommy, show up instead. Herb takes the lead in trying to suss out what’s going on in Justin’s relationship with Katie, confronting him about the fact that he hasn’t expressed his real feelings to Katie when there are only two weeks left. It’s elite-level friendship.

For some reason, Katie expresses disappointment that Herb and Tommy are there instead of Justin’s family. Why? Meeting someone’s friends is just as telling as to whether they can be a good prospective partner as meeting their family—after all, their friends are the people they voluntarily choose to hang out with. I’d love to know that someone I was considering as a partner had friends willing to take a connecting flight for them. Shout-out to Herb!

Most Unsettling Moment: The Credits

Normally, The Bachelorette ends with something akin to a blooper reel. As the credits roll, we see a snippet of something funny—or “funny”—that happened during the process of filming the week’s episode. Roughly 50 percent of the time, it’s someone having a strange interaction with an animal.

But we didn’t get a kooky credits scene on Monday night. After Greg’s teary departure, the episode ended with a montage of Katie’s best moments with Greg: their first kiss; the time he got the first impression rose; their rainy makeout session. It had the same music and emotion as a “this person just died” tribute; I half-expected it to end with a blank screen and “Greg and Katie: 2021-2021” in script.

Sorry, but I will take doofy self-aware Bachelorette content 10 times out of 10 over this. If people want to be sad about the breakup, fine—be sad during the episode. Give us our credits! Give us footage of a muscular guy with a made-up job title trying to hold a drunk conversation with a deer instead of treating the demise of a month-old relationship like a national tragedy!