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In the ‘Bachelor’ Finale, Zach Returned the Show to Its Formulaic, Cruel Origins

After multiple seasons of upheaval, producers finally found a lead who would do everything they said—including break a woman’s heart on national TV

Getty Images/ABC/Ringer illustration

The moment Zach Shallcross was picked to be the lead of Season 27 of The Bachelor, we collectively panned the pick: Zach was too bland, too basic, too robotic. How could he possibly deliver good TV? I see now why The Bachelor’s producers wanted him. They needed a Bachelor who would revere The Bachelor Process, from the limo entrances of Night 1 all the way to a proposal in Monday’s finale. They needed a Bachelor who wouldn’t send both of his finalists home before the finale, like Clayton did; flip-flop on his fiancée, like Peter and Arie did; or literally jump a fence to run away from production, like Colton did.

No, Zach was here to be The Bachelor’s perfect Bachelor, and in becoming a devout follower of the doctrine of Sean Lowe, Zach became the first Bachelor since Nick Viall in 2017 to simply choose between two women in the finale, propose, and leave “After the Final Rose” with her as a couple.

But as Zach stuck to the Bachelor script, his finale was a reminder that while this show has been sold to us for decades as a story about love, at its core it’s a show about heartbreak and emotional manipulation, with a finale format that is especially cruel. Both of Zach’s finalists, Kaity and Gabi, were required to get dressed up and prepare a speech for Zach without knowing whether they were about to receive validation and a ring or get brutally dumped in front of millions of people.

In many ways, this was the least dramatic finale ever. Of course Zach was going to pick Kaity. “Honestly, if it’s not you, it’s not anyone,” Kaity tells him. That outcome was pretty clear to even unspoiled viewers for weeks; even Gabi seemed to know it, and at no point in Monday’s live three-hour finale did host Jesse Palmer even try to tease that there would be a shocking twist. No, Jesse said, it was simply going to be “very, very sad”:

“Brace yourself, it’s going to be a rough one.” (And no, he wasn’t talking about yet another interview with Sean Lowe.)

This entire finale exists in the shadow of last week’s disastrous Fantasy Suite dates, when Zach declared he would not have sex with any of his three girlfriends, only to change his mind in the middle of his date with Gabi. He immediately told production what had happened when cameras were off, hurt Gabi’s feelings when he couldn’t keep their private moment a secret, and hurt Kaity’s feelings by explicitly telling her something she assumed had happened but didn’t want to know. And he hurt Ariel, whom he sent home after the Fantasy Suites, by not telling her anything at all!

As Monday’s finale begins, Kaity has been able to largely put Zach’s Fantasy Suite misstep behind her, but Gabi cannot, and she wants to speak to Zach before agreeing to meet his family and proceeding with their final date. She tells him that she feels like “an accessory to a crime” and asks Zach whether he regrets sleeping with her. He says he doesn’t, and he appeases her by explaining that she “opened his eyes” and made him experience humanlike emotions. “In my heart, it’s like, love,” Zach says. Like, swoon! Somehow, that’s good enough for Gabi, and she opts to stay with Zach instead of listening to her gut and telling him to kick rocks.

It turns out Gabi’s intuition has been incredibly strong when it comes to Zach. She correctly read that she was not the front-runner heading into Fantasy Suites and knew what it meant when, during their final date, Zach said he was torn. “If Zach knew how he felt about me, he would say it,” Gabi says as she breaks down in tears. “It’s not me.”

When this is contrasted with Kaity’s breezy final dates, it’s hard to build much suspense. Before the Most Dramatic Finale Ever Era, The Bachelor(ette) would really milk proposal day with ring shopping with Neil Lane (who, for the first time in recorded history, turned down a chance to appear on TV for this finale) and extended getting-ready montages and drawn-out limo rides designed to leave viewers guessing which contestant would exit the first limo. This time we got almost none of it—just a quick shot of Gabi’s neon-yellow gown, which was enough for us to know immediately that she’d be getting dumped the second the van door opened and she stepped her gold stiletto heel into the mud.

“That’s a really muddy spot, you shouldn’t pull in right there,” Gabby tells someone off camera. “When Kaity arrives, don’t do that to her.” It’s a devastatingly self-aware line. Gabi knows what’s coming, and she lets Zach meander through the preamble to his breakup speech before finally cutting him off. “Can you stop?” she says. “I knew it was coming. What I don’t know is why you didn’t tell me when you knew.”

Thus is the cruelty of the Bachelor finale: We know Zach had indeed made up his mind before proposal day; he told Jesse as much during “After the Final Rose.” He made up his mind during his “last chance” date with Kaity—a day before his final date with Gabi, and two days before he’d propose. “That was fucking humiliating,” Gabi says as she’s driven away. “I’ve been strung along this entire time, for what?” Here’s what, Gabi: So that The Bachelor could get back on track after so many seasons of disruption.

But before we can get back to Kaity, Gabi gets to see Zach for the first time since their breakup in Thailand. Jesse tees her up with a simple but pointed question, asking her what the most painful part of Zach revealing their sex secret was. Gabi unloads; she says that before cameras returned the morning after, Zach told her, “This is just between us,” and that she felt blindsided when he used her name in discussing with others why he felt guilty. “I wish you would have just sent me home and saved me all the pain that just went on and on,” Gabi says during “After the Final Rose.” “I thought it was love. I thought it was more than a TV show. I get it, sex sells, but now I’ve become a narrative; it’s really painful.”

The Bachelor franchise has come a long way since the time when sex was never even discussed—we’d get fireworks in the distance when the Fantasy Suite door shut—but this feels like regression for a franchise that was finally taking baby steps toward sex positivity and, more generally, realistic human interaction. As Ariel smartly—and bitingly—tells Zach during her appearance on the live show at the beginning of the finale, Zach made the entire Fantasy Suite about sex when it didn’t have to be, and he made it about himself when it should have been about each woman and their individual relationships. “You took away my agency and my ability to even have a conversation,” Ariel says.

He gave that power only to Kaity, and luckily for Zach, now she’s his fiancée. And they do seem happy, revealing to Jesse that they’re planning to move in together in Austin this summer—good thing he already helped build her some furniture—and are targeting a wedding in 2025. Whether they get to the altar or not, though, The Bachelor already got what it wanted.