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The ‘Bachelor’ Recap: Sex and Misery in the Fantasy Suites

When Zach’s pledge to abstain from sex in the Fantasy Suites backfires, everyone winds up unsatisfied

ABC/Getty Images/Ringer illustration

Way back in January, when my esteemed colleague Jodi Walker floated the very plausible theory that our chosen Bachelor for Season 27, Zach “football, family, and frozen pizza” Shallcross, is actually an AI bot, she predicted that at some point this season our ZachBot would approach sentience.

That moment arrived just in time for Fantasy Suites. The feeling he discovered is “guilt”—and that dial was turned up to 100 while his “empathy” dial was left at zero. The result is one of the most awkward endings to Fantasy Suite Week in recent Bachelor memory. Our BachelorBot did his homework heading into Sex Week, but in his attempt to avoid the mistakes of Bachelors past—notably, his immediate predecessor, Clayton Echard—Zach left everyone, including himself, miserable. You’ll remember that Clayton derailed his season during Fantasy Suites, when he told each of his final three girlfriends he loved them, had sex on the first two overnight dates, and probably would have gone three-for-three had Susie not gotten upset because he’d already had sex with two other women. It was all extremely messy—who can forget the image of Rachel on a staircase?—and Clayton came off looking, at best, like a total idiot and, at worst, like an absolute dick. Clearly Zach took note and plugged the footage into his algorithm. But he missed the biggest lesson from Clayton’s failure: When it comes to what happens in the Fantasy Suite, honesty is never the best policy.

How did we get here? Let’s get into it.

Worst Promise: Zach’s Abstinence Pledge

Zach and his three finalists, Ariel, Gabi, and Kaity, arrive in Thailand for what the ladies assume will be plenty of private sexy time with their communal boyfriend. Zach, however, has other plans. Before kicking off his string of back-to-back-to-back overnight dates, Zach meets with host Jesse Palmer to issue what is, in essence, a purity pledge: He will engage in “no sex of any kind in the Fantasy Suite.” Zach tells Jesse that he found clarity from his conversation the week before with Sean “Born Again Virgin” Lowe, and decided that having sex with any of the women would “muddy the situation” so close to a potential engagement.

Instead, he wants his Fantasy Suite time to be spent on deep, private conversations—just like the ones he had with Rachel (yes, the same Rachel from Clayton’s season) on last season of The Bachelorette, when he left their sexless overnight date convinced he didn’t want to be with her and they broke up.

Jesse is skeptical that Zach will be able to keep his pants on when the cameras turn off. “You’re going to be tempted,” Jesse astutely predicts. Zach agrees, admitting that he expects to experience “animalistic desire.” “It’s going to be damn hard,” he says, perhaps with a pun intended. “But I want my partner to be sure of us, and I know I’m not doing that right before an engagement.”

In the trailer for Fantasy Suites, Bachelor editors skillfully teased that Zach would struggle to remain abstinent. By the time Zach wraps his sit-down with Jesse, he’s basically frothing at the mouth, and it’s clear this wasn’t just another case of the show overpromising and underdelivering the drama. Zach is definitely going to fuck. The only question is who: Ariel, Gabi, or Kaity.

Best Date: Ariel and the Night Market

Zach and Ariel love to eat. It’s their thing! After Ariel took Zach on a stomach-destroying NYC food tour during her hometown date last episode, he surprises her with an evening excursion to a night market, where they truly go for it. They eat bugs and intestines and a variety of raw seafood—and engage in some vigorous PDA through it all. They kiss after ingesting exploding grubs; they make out with sushi still in their mouths.

All screenshots via ABC

“When I kiss Ariel, my body gets hot,” Zach says, like a normal human being. “Turn on the AC, please.” These two are so incredibly horny for each other, but Zach attempts to throw some cold water on the date later at their private dinner, when he launches into his prepared spiel: “Sex is off the table,” he says, explaining that he wants to save that intimate moment for after an engagement. Ariel is disappointed, but understanding. She clearly believes him when he says this is the standard he’s setting for the entire week.

Everything about this date seems perfect: Zach and Ariel have an intense physical chemistry, they share plenty of laughs, and are able to have a mature conversation about boundaries! We see them cuddled up in bed in the morning, giggling about their favorite snuggle positions, and Zach later confirms that there was no sex in the Fantasy Suite. That’s one option down, so who will it be? Gabi or Kaity? Or maybe both?!

Best Recovery: Gabi

Gabi lands the dreaded second of three overnight dates—and knowing that her date is sandwiched between Ariel and Kaity has sent her into a spiral before she even shows up on the beach to meet Zach. She’s anxious and awkward and worries about how sweaty and smelly she’s going to be, and later, after jumping off a boat with Zach—drink if that Bachelor trope was on your bingo card—she complains about swallowing too much water and describes herself as “crusty,” which is just about the last word you’d want to hear on what’s supposed to be a sexy, romantic date on a private island. The vibes are very, very bad.

Gabi tries to explain to Zach that she’s gotten caught up in her own head and feels insecure about having been chosen for the second overnight date. She equates it with being his second choice, and while he tries to reassure her that that isn’t the case … his face seems to say “You are my second choice.” There seems to be a glitch in his programming that makes it impossible to keep a straight face when a woman starts unloading her emotional baggage. Zach’s “ick face” has become a whole thing on Bachelor TikTok—he did it when Christina Mandrell revealed she’s a mom; he did it when Jess was upset about not getting a one-on-one date; and he made it over a video chat when Greer compared his getting COVID during filming to the time she got sick at the end of a sales period. When I saw Zach make this face, I was sure it was over for Gabi:

And yet somehow, Gabi recovers! After a brief conversation with a producer in which Gabi heartbreakingly says she feels “disgusting and ugly,” Zach and Gabi reconcile and head off to the night portion of the date, where Zach repeats nearly the same speech he gave to Ariel about his intentions to keep things chaste once the cameras stop rolling. Like Ariel, Gabi is disappointed—but unlike Ariel, she seems to take it as a challenge. She bluntly tells Zach she can’t imagine getting engaged to someone without having sex first—“I won’t try to seduce you,” she tells Zach, seductively—and she’s much more direct in an in-the-moment interview with a producer. “Zach says he’s not having sex, but I don’t know,” she says. “Maybe he will.”

And what do you know, Project Fuck Zach is successful! They totally did it! And while Gabi clearly would have been happy to keep this a secret between the two of them, Zach cannot. He’s immediately racked with guilt: He made a promise to himself, and his girlfriends, and he failed, and now he feels a compulsion to let literally everyone know—from production, to Jesse Palmer, to, eventually, Kaity.

However, before he can proceed with his final overnight date, he decides he needs to tell Gabi that he plans to tell Kaity the truth. And this—not the moment he and Gabi decided to consummate their relationship—is when Zach’s Fantasy Suite week goes off the rails. Didn’t Zach learn anything from watching the way Gabby Windey and Rachel crumbled when Clayton revealed he had slept with both of them last season? How did he not realize that a desire for transparency would simply make everyone else feel worse?

Worst Date: Kaity and the Kayak

Listen, I am a kayaking enthusiast—it’s one of my family’s favorite outdoor activities. But tandem kayaking is in no way a romantic endeavor. You can’t speak to each other, one person has to be in charge of the rhythm and steering and inevitably your partner will paddle left when you want to go right. It’s no wonder a kayaking guide once told me he calls tandem kayaks “divorce boats.” Last week, we saw Zach and Kaity’s relationship survive the building of Ikea furniture; asking them to also survive tandem kayaking is just rude.

Indeed, as they paddle their way through a rain forest, Zach cannot focus. He absolutely cannot wait to unload his burden about how he, uh, unloaded his burden. Finally, they park their divorce boat alongside a tiny bench in shallow water. When Kaity saw that bench, she should have just kept paddling; nothing good has ever once happened on a bench so clearly constructed by production. And sure enough, this is where Zach reveals he had “been intimate this week.”

Surprising no one but Zach, this lands poorly! Kaity immediately recoils. It’s not that she’s surprised to learn he had sex—it’s Fantasy Suites, after all. She just doesn’t understand why he felt he had to share that with her. “Did you think I’d be like, ‘Yay?’” she asks before walking off into the bamboo forest with a producer, explaining that she now feels distant from Zach and unsure how she’s going to be able to proceed with the rest of their date.

Yet, in an upset more stunning than Fairleigh Dickinson over Purdue, The Bachelor’s Bench of Doom does not lead to a breakup. Kaity is the front-runner for a reason, and after making Zach sweat it out for a few minutes, she does indeed meet him for dinner at their luxury villa. Their conversation picks up where it left in the jungle—talking in circles, with Zach repeating why he felt like he had to share (“Catholic guilt,” he says) and Kaity reiterating he should just keep that shit to himself. Somehow, they come to a resolution—their relationship is worth fighting for, and Kaity decides this sex-with-another-woman thing is something they can get through.

Winner: Nathaniel Hawthorne

You’d think by now Zach would have learned his lesson: that Gabi’s frustration at his desire to reveal their secret, and Kaity’s devastation from hearing it, would have told him, “Hey, maybe just let this go.” But no, Zach has yet to disappoint Ariel—who at this point has no idea that Zach had sex with Gabi, and maybe also with Kaity? (We never get a morning-after recap with Zach or Kaity, so we’re in the dark about what happened—or didn’t—once the cameras were turned off.) Zach tells the women at the rose ceremony that putting parameters on how the week would go was a mistake. This is the exact moment when Ariel realizes what this means:

He offers a rose first to Kaity, and then to Gabi, while Ariel is forced to become the latest Bachelor contestant to ponder whether their life has been dictated by the ordering of overnight dates by reality TV producers. Personally, I can’t help but wonder whether Zach would have chosen Ariel over Gabi had he been able to stick to his no-sex proclamation. (Either way, Ariel will absolutely crush it in Paradise.)

Zach walks Ariel out, leaving Kaity and Gabi alone. Kaity whispers that she knows what happened between Gabi and Zach, and Gabi compares herself to Hester Prynne. Shout-out to a Bachelor contestant who read a book in high school and can reference it properly!

No word on whether Kaity understood what Gabi was saying.

But Gabi has no reason to be ashamed about having sex in the Fantasy Suite. She’s miserable because she very accurately read the situation from the beginning: Right now she is Zach’s second choice (if not third). She can tell by the way Zach needed to be honest with Kaity; as Nick Viall often says, there are two rules for being the Bachelor: first, you must create compelling TV; second, you must protect your relationship. By saying he would take sex off the table for the entire week and starting with dates with Ariel and Gabi, Zach was setting himself up to protect his relationship with Kaity. He undoubtedly, and probably regretfully, hurt Kaity by revealing that he’d slept with Gabi, but if he weren’t so worried about protecting Kaity’s feelings—and knowing what she’d see when this airs—wouldn’t it have been easier, and far more kind, to just keep it to himself?