It’s time for Hometowns, the point in every Bachelor season when shit starts getting real: Families and feelings are involved now. The lead and his final four women have broken free of the Bachelor bubble. Hard questions are coming, typically from overprotective fathers. And, of course, there’s the precedent, built over seasons of seasons of TV, that the lead’s girlfriends will tell him they’ve fallen in love with him.
But not this season. We’re an episode away from Fantasy Suites—or, as Zach describes it in the preview for next week, “the sex date”—and the closest we get to the L word in the Hometowns episode is “the idea” of “falling” “in love.” That’s what Charity tells Zach she’s starting to feel, and what Zach tells Kaity’s mom, Anne, he could see happening with her daughter. That’s Level 3 on The Bachelor’s declarations of love scale, just below “I’m falling in love with you” but still a pretty long way away from “I love you.”
Honestly, though, it’s refreshing to have reached this point in what has been a very formulaic Bachelor season without any unrealistic sweeping declarations of love, and to have made it through an entire Hometowns episode without the Bachelor asking a father for a marriage blessing. Instead, on each of the four hometown dates, from rural Vermont to New York City to southern Georgia to Austin, Texas, it’s like there’s an understanding that there’s a flaw in this show’s very premise—that it’s not simply the Bachelor choosing which lady he’d like to marry, or at least which lady he’d like to be featured in a People magazine photo spread with before they split up six months from now. Finally, everyone seems to be acknowledging the truth: that these women are actually choosing whether they’d like to be with the Bachelor, too.
Least Satisfying Edit: Zach and the Maple Tree
From the moment that Gabi forced Zach to take a shot of maple syrup upon her entrance from the limo back in the season premiere, we could have predicted that maple syrup would feature prominently in her hometown date in Pittsford, Vermont. Indeed, this date is some sort of New England fall fever dream: We see Zach and Gabi clad in flannel, frolicking in crunchy yellow leaves that cover the forest floor, as Gabi promises to give Zach “a full maple experience.” This means tapping a maple tree with a handheld drill and trying to extract raw sap. And this is where it gets, well, weird.
Gabi alleges that tapping a maple tree was one of her favorite childhood activities, but it doesn’t take a ton of effort for producers to turn tapping a maple tree into a metaphor for tapping … something else. Surprising no one, Bachelor editors cue up the soundtrack from a ’70s porno as Zach and Gabi trade innuendos, and then the camera zooms in on a shot of what can only be described as Zach finger banging a tree hole.
“Is it sticky in there?” Gabi asks.
“It does feel kind of warm,” Zach answers.
Ultimately, Zach and Gabi discover that they didn’t drill deep enough, and they fail to finish extracting any syrup. Here’s hoping that isn’t also a metaphor.
Most Gastrointestinal Trauma: Zach and Ariel’s NYC Date
Ariel introduces Zach to her parents, brother, and sister-in-law on her hometown date. But before we get there (and we will, in a minute), she tells Zach that she has another family member he needs to meet: New York City. And by New York City, she really means New York cuisine. Their daytime date, which starts in Washington Square Park, is quite the gastrointestinal adventure. First, they visit a pizza parlor for a giant slice of pepperoni pizza (“Oh my God, carbs are so good,” Zach says) and then a traditional Jewish deli for sandwiches—pastrami for Ariel and beef tongue for Zach (“I’m a fan of the tongue,” he says, proving he didn’t leave the sexual innuendos in Vermont)—and gefilte fish. (Sidenote, but when choosing which deli to bring Zach to, why didn’t Ariel pick Katz’s? It’s the When Harry Met Sally deli! Zach could’ve said, “I’ll have what she’s having”!) Finally, Ariel leads Zach into a coffee shop that’s not a coffee shop at all, but the secret door to a speakeasy, where they toast with espresso martinis.
We’ve all tried to do an NYC food tour before … and we’ve all come to the bitter realization that there are limits to what the human body can take. It’s no wonder that by the time they make it to the evening portion of the date—at a Brooklyn winery—Zach looks like he’s about to die.
Best Worst Date: Errands in Austin
One of the biggest problems with this entire franchise is that it expects the lead to pick a partner while essentially dating in a fantasy world—helicopter rides and hot tubs in the woods and horse-drawn carriages and sleepovers at museums. Even the hometown dates, the only time when we’re supposed to get a sense of what normal life might be like, feel extraordinary. That’s what made Kaity and Zach’s date in their shared hometown of Austin so unusual. There was no pretense that Kaity had to show Zach around—if anything, Zach should have been the tour guide, since Kaity tells us she had lived in Austin for only a few weeks before she left for filming.
That’s why her house is basically empty and she needs Zach’s help settling in. What follows is the realest shit I’ve seen in 27 seasons of The Bachelor: After they go grocery shopping at a bougie market, Kaity enlists Zach to carry a mattress and build furniture—FROM IKEA—and somehow, they still want to make out with each other when they finish.
No one in the history of relationships has ever smiled at their partner while attempting to assemble an IKEA bookshelf. I was already pretty convinced before this episode that Zach would pick Kaity at the end of this. Now I’m sure of it.
Best Interviewer: Ariel’s Brother, Bobby
Older siblings truly did the emotional heavy lifting this week, and none handled the task better than Ariel’s brother, Bobby, who made it pretty clear that he thinks that both Zach and this entire show are full of shit. “Calling myself a skeptic and saying this is unorthodox is an understatement,” Bobby says as soon as he and Zach sit down for a one-on-one conversation.
He doesn’t let up. Bobby asks Zach whether he knows Ariel’s middle name or her birthday. (Zach doesn’t.) He reminds Zach that Ariel needs to pick him and asks why she should. (Zach is stumped … he mumbles through an answer about having an open heart before finally setting on “I’m a good cook,” which I’m pretty sure we can all agree is a lie.) Finally, Bobby asks Zach how he’ll reconcile the fact that he and Ariel come from very different backgrounds. Her parents escaped religious persecution in the Soviet Union, and Judaism is a core part of Ariel’s life. Zach, meanwhile, has spoken very little about his own faith—and didn’t even include it among his favorite f words on the first night, when he told the women he loved “family, football, and frozen pizza.” (See: I knew the “good cook” thing was a lie.) Ominous music plays as Zach tries to come up with a satisfactory answer, though all he can manage is “Families will make it work. That’s how I see it.”
Families of future contestants on this show can learn a lot from Bobby’s delivery: He was blunt and to the point, and he didn’t let Zach off the hook. Asking the lead whether he even knows one of his girlfriends’ birthdays is so cutting and effective in its simplicity. Zach wasn’t scared away by Bobby, but we’ll have to see whether the questions Bobby raised ultimately become an issue in his relationship with Ariel.
Best Edit: Charity
Before Charity and Zach even arrive to meet her family in Columbus, Georgia, we know it’ll be an emotional day. Charity’s family—her parents, two brothers, and sister—along with a bunch of friends, sit around a long table discussing Charity’s past heartbreak. They recall how devastated she was after her last breakup and how hard it was on all of them to see her so heartbroken, and they discuss how difficult it would be to see her go through that experience again. (You’ll recall that last week the magician-slash-mentalist, likely with an assist from a Bachelor producer, got Charity to reveal that her biggest relationship fear is infidelity.)
So no one should be surprised that Charity spends basically this entire episode in tears. “I’m really happy,” she tells her girlfriends. “I hope you guys can see that.” (It is unclear whether they can see that.)
The family portion of the date reaches its emotional peak in Charity’s one-on-one time with her brother Nehemiah, who breaks down in tears himself when he tells her he wasn’t sure she would be OK after her last breakup. She tries to reassure her brother by explaining that Zach is “emotionally intelligent” and “confident in who he is.” (It is unclear whether he is either of those things.)
Later, after some intimate slow dancing at a country bar, Charity tells Zach that “it’s safe to say I’m falling in love.” He responds with a quick kiss and a hug and the five words every girl wants to hear: “Wild, I know, it’s crazy.”
We can all see where this is headed, right? Yep, Zach sends Charity home at the rose ceremony. As he walks her out, he tells her that he’s felt sick to his stomach all day and came to his decision only a short time before handing out the roses, and that he “might be making a mistake.” He tells her he’s “grateful to know her” and then delivers the real gut punch: “You deserve all the love, and I couldn’t give it to you.”
Charity repeats those words from the back seat of the limo as she’s driven away. “I don’t know what that freaking means,” she says, wiping a river of tears from her eyes.
But I do: You’re going to be the Bachelorette.