The Hometowns episode of The Bachelor is unique each season because it’s the only one where things are a bit out of the show’s control. After seven episodes of being able to carefully stage environments and select each human who will enter those environments, The Bachelor is forced to film in strangers’ homes and capture the reactions of people who were never screened by a casting department. Every contestant on The Bachelor has been hand-picked because they’ll make for good TV, but on Hometowns, The Bachelor has to deal with their families, who might look or act like—gasp!—normal people.
The show typically tries to coax plot lines out of these possibly regular families: Is there some internal rift that can be capitalized on for drama? Is someone’s dad intimidatingly overprotective of his daughter? Quite often, the show is successful in these attempts. But other times, like on Monday night, they fail miserably. Susie’s family likes Clayton. Serene’s family likes Clayton. Gabby’s family loves Clayton. He’s a pretty inoffensive guy with big muscles and a big smile. In house after house, Clayton simply laughs and has a pleasant time.
Still, the episode builds up the drama for a conclusive showdown between Clayton and Rachel’s dad, who has supposedly been rude and mean to every one of Rachel’s boyfriends. He apparently offered to beat up Rachel’s last boyfriend, which leaves Rachel praying that her dad could be “civil” with Clayton.
And then the showdown comes and … it’s fine! Rachel’s dad asks whether Clayton would be willing to move around if Rachel’s career as a pilot demanded it, and Clayton says sure. Rachel’s dad asks about the weirdness of dating multiple women, which leads to Clayton’s most insightful answer: He admits that he’s inevitably “going to hurt somebody” because of how strong his four relationships are. And once Rachel’s dad gets over the unusual nature of his daughter falling in love on a TV show, he’s pretty OK with it. He tells Clayton that if he’s feeling good about the relationship at the end of the night, he’ll give Clayton a handshake and a pat on the arm as he leaves. And sure enough, as Clayton leaves, Rachel’s dad delivers, with The Bachelor using slow-motion replay on the handshake/arm-pat combo like it’s a game-winning 3-pointer.
The drama does come eventually: Clayton tells Jesse Palmer before the rose ceremony that he’s “falling in love with all four of these women, in different capacities,” which is a pretty big problem because I don’t think the show allows polyamory. When Clayton eliminates Serene at the end of Monday night’s episode, it is both devastating and somewhat hard to understand. Clayton can’t really articulate why he’s dumping Serene, and Serene doesn’t get it either. But he has to get rid of somebody.
Clayton’s relationships are so smooth and unremarkable that it’s tough to identify who stands out—positively or negatively. Monday night brought us an episode of reality TV that somewhat resembled actual reality. We just watched a guy sitting in a living room, having a reasonable amount of wine, and waiting out family time with his in-laws. It wasn’t particularly entertaining, because we’ve all lived it. But this normal interlude underscores the ridiculous nature of what comes next—when reality turns back into reality TV and he has to ruin some people’s lives because those are the rules. I can’t wait!
Best Workaround: Cutesy Signs
This year’s Hometown dates took Clayton to three of the 50 largest cities in the United States—Virginia Beach, Denver, and Oklahoma City—and also Orlando. Now, I know what you’re thinking: I have no idea what any of these cities actually look like. Excluding replicas of fictional castles in Orlando’s theme parks, you probably can’t picture a single building or landmark in Virginia Beach, Denver, Oklahoma City, or Orlando. That doesn’t mean they’re bad places for the millions of people who live there—but it does create a problem for The Bachelor, which desperately seeks out memorable locations for viewers to latch on to. (I will never forget watching a Bachelor make-out session in front of the Sunsphere in Knoxville, Tennessee.)
So The Bachelor took matters into its own hands. On two of Clayton’s dates, he explores nature with his potential partners: In Florida, Rachel takes Clayton on a clear-bottomed kayak tour, supposedly to show him the horrifying fauna of Florida, which don’t cooperate. (They see a spider—no gators.) In Denver, Gabby and Clayton go hiking in the foothills of the Rockies. And as fate would have it, both jaunts feature signs indicating local landmarks dedicated to love. Gabby and Clayton find “Proposal Rock” up in the mountains, and Rachel and Clayton row up to the “Kissing Tree” of Clermont, Florida, luckily located right near “Lovers’ Beach.”
You’ll note that both romantic hideaways are indicated by painted words on planks of wood, and that the planks appear to be in pretty good shape. The paint also looks pretty fresh! The Proposal Rock plank has been seemingly unaffected by Rocky Mountain winters, and the Kissing Tree plank doesn’t look like it has spent years surviving Florida’s hostile humidity.
Gabby and Rachel both act as if couples in their hometowns have gone to these romantic sites for generations. And I suppose it’s possible that’s true, although Google doesn’t show any results about Denver’s Proposal Rock or the apparently famous Clermont Kissing Tree. (I did find this exhaustive list of places that are good for proposals in Colorado, which omits Proposal Rock.) Perhaps these lovers’ hideaways have remained hidden secrets for the romantically inclined, only for Bachelor contestants to stumble upon them during their Hometown dates. Either that or someone on the Bachelor staff realized they could invent love-themed local landmarks with a single trip to Home Depot. If they’d only created one plank, I wouldn’t have noticed it—but they went for three planks.
I hope this becomes a new Bachelor tradition—I can’t wait for next year’s Bachelor to happen upon the locally famous Makeout Caves of Cincinnati or Handjob Hill in Phoenix.
Best Family Member: Gabby’s Grandpa
As well as being the best depiction of actual reality, the Hometowns episode is also a chance for a person related to a Bachelor contestant to seize brief fame by the horns. Will it be a wine-drunk mom? An overprotective dad? A sibling who clearly believes they deserve the reality TV spotlight?
The options were slim on Monday night. Valiant efforts were made by Serene’s very handsome brother and Rachel’s male-but-not-attracted-to-her best friend, but I’ve gotta give the trophy to Gabby’s grandpa. He calls Gabby “a loveable dingbat” and uses perfect comic timing to tell Gabby that he thinks Clayton is “full of shit!” before acknowledging that he actually likes the guy. My favorite part was when he says that if Gabby can’t figure out how to make her relationship work, he’ll haunt her after he dies—to which Gabby adorably replies that she’d kinda like it if he haunted her, regardless of the situation. (A great sentiment! I wanna lovingly haunt my family members after I die!)
Gabby’s humor has made her this season’s best character. Now I’m in on her whole family.
Best Moment: Actually Lovable Love Actually
The highlight of a relatively placid night on The Bachelor comes when Gabby is surprised by her father. She isn’t expecting to see her dad because his longtime partner has been battling cancer and he’s reasonably unwilling to potentially infect her with COVID by sitting in a room with a guy who has been flying around the world making out with various women. But midway through Clayton’s meeting with her family, Gabby hears someone causing a ruckus outside, honking a car horn over and over. It’s her dad, who stands in the street holding a series of signs telling Gabby how much he loves her and that he hopes to meet Clayton one day. Apologies to any Bob Dylan fans, but we all know what this is meant to reference: That famous scene from Love Actually. You know the one!
And I’ve gotta say: Thank you, The Bachelor, for actually turning the Love Actually scene into something meaningful. For some reason, our culture has overlooked the actual plot of Love Actually and turned that scene into an iconic declaration of love. It’s understandable, because the “plot” of Love Actually is roughly a dozen, mostly sad stories about British people dealing with difficult relationships on Christmas. (The “happy” ones include a guy proposing to his maid, who doesn’t speak the same language as him, and the prime minister of Britain sparking international conflict with the U.S. because he’s horny for his assistant.) The plot in question here is about future zombie-hunter Rick Grimes, who is obsessed with his best friend’s wife, played by Keira Knightley. It has gotten to the point where he no longer hangs out with his best friend because he can’t be around her. Instead, he sits at home crying and jacking off to a stalker-ish home video he made of Keira at their wedding. (OK, that last part is an assumption but the movie gives you plenty of reason for it.) Then, in the supposedly romantic scene in question, he takes his obsession to the next level and shows up at her house on Christmas Eve to confess his love. The signs are so that he can keep quiet, because he doesn’t want his best friend to know that he’s currently proclaiming his love for his wife. Pretty bad!
The Bachelor replica, though? It’s genuinely sweet. Emotions run high as Gabby bursts into tears at the sight of her dad, while he balances his love for his daughter and his sacrifice to keep his partner safe. And the moment is completely bereft of any gross feelings one might have about something like—for example—one friend scamming on another friend’s wife.
Rick Grimes’s famous placards proclaim that on Christmas, you tell people the truth. But that’s rarely the case on The Bachelor, a show where people claim to be in love before breaking up immediately after the season ends. This segment with Gabby and her dad, though, was something rarely seen on this show: Love! Actually!