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The ‘Bachelor’ Recap: The Magic Is the Producer Manipulation

As Zach decides which four women to keep for next week’s hometown dates, he gets assistance from a “magician” who reveals his girlfriends’ deepest relationship fears. How convenient!

ABC/Getty Images/Ringer illustration

Being a fan of reality TV is a lot like being a fan of pro wrestling. For starters, we both spend two hours every Monday night watching a TV show, complain about every episode every week, then get excited to come back the next week and get mad all over again. But wrestling fans and reality TV fans also share similar mindsets about the not-exactly-real spectacles we love. When you reveal your fandom, people invariably say, “You know it’s not real, right?” and, like, duh. We don’t have to 100 percent believe the veracity of what we’re watching to appreciate the story lines and the showmanship. It’s fun to debate the behind-the-scenes details of how certain things were executed and why.

The same goes for magic. I assume most people understand that magicians are not actual sorcerers or warlocks with the powers to override physics via the dark arts. They’re talented entertainers who use sleight of hand and theatrics to distract us and convince us to ignore a perfectly explainable phenomenon. Just as the biggest reality TV and wrestling fans know the deal, the people most into magic are probably the people going deep on how certain tricks work.

Monday night’s episode of The Bachelor has an extended magic sequence on a group date. Zach and his final six women are in Budapest, which Zach describes as “the birthplace of magic,” by which I think he means the birthplace of Harry Houdini. (The actual magician in the episode seems to be flown in from New York—huge L for all Budapest-based magicians.) The magician performs a pair of tricks: He makes a little Sharpied heart appear on Gabi’s palm and later asks the women a series of questions, only to reveal he’s written down their deep, emotional answers on his chalkboard. I like trying to figure out how he did it! My guess: He’s really good at writing with minimal movement, allowing him to scribble both the heart and the words without anybody noticing anything.

But his biggest trick is asking extremely personal questions that hit on each contestant’s biggest plotline. He’s able to get Charity to speak about her history of men being unfaithful to her, Ariel to reveal her fear of getting her heart broken, and Kat to admit how she briefly considered leaving the show. The magician explains that he’s also a mentalist and can read their minds and know their deepest truths. The women are shaken, and several are moved to tears. These are things they hadn’t been prepared to talk to Zach about, but in 15 TV seconds, the magician forced these issues to the surface. It fits the overall theme of the episode: With Zach going to four of the women’s hometowns next week, it’s time to quickly turn these flirty TV relationships into something serious enough to introduce to people’s parents. How did this random guy come out of nowhere and hit on the biggest plotlines of the show at the perfect time?

I’m not a magic expert, but I have a guess as to how this magic trick works: THEY TOLD ALL THIS STUFF TO THE PRODUCERS, AND THE PRODUCERS TOLD THE MAGIC GUY TO ASK ABOUT IT. It’s possible he was just hitting on topics guaranteed to make people uncomfortable (like infidelity and heartbreak), but it’s also pretty easy to imagine Kat telling a producer (and nobody else) that she was thinking about quitting the show only to have that info fed to the magician just in time for a mind-reading game. Kat’s totally caught off guard by this being revealed, and Zach’s pretty surprised too. And at the end of the episode, she gets dumped.

Using a magician to reveal the contestants’ secrets is a remarkable (and manipulative!) trick. It’s reality TV magic: We know it isn’t real, but trying to figure out how everybody was fooled might actually be more interesting than believing it at face value.

Worst Week: Greer

Of course, sometimes our attempts to figure out how the show works behind the scenes are extremely inaccurate. Last week, I suggested that Greer was likely to benefit from a well-timed bout of COVID that kept her from getting eliminated in Estonia, but when she emerges from isolation and rejoins the group in Budapest on Monday’s episode, Zach gets rid of her in their very first conversation. “I thought I was gonna have a chance to catch up,” Greer says, “but it was actually just a chance to say goodbye.” Despite their initial spark that earned her the first-impression rose, their relationship had slowed, and a week apart while other relationships progressed turned out to be the end. Maybe Zach was just trying to teach her a painful lesson about why it was impolite to compare a positive COVID test on The Bachelor to the positive COVID test that prevented her from hitting her sales goals, which upset him the last time they spoke.

Zach sounds like he thinks he’s doing the right thing: “The last thing I want to do is string you along,” he says while cutting her loose. But if you think about the timeline, she was pretty clearly strung along for an extended period of time. Greer got COVID two countries ago, then isolated for a week. After finally testing negative, she packed her bags, hopped on a plane to Hungary, and headed to Zach—all while assuming she had a chance to win him back. “The really hard part is I held on to so much hope every single day,” she says.

Bringing Greer back was a dud. It was an attempt to wring out a bit of suspense, but Greer seems to have been the only one who thought Greer had a chance. It ate up episode time, and it was probably unfair to Greer to make her fly all the way to Hungary just to get broken up with—although it’s hard to feel too bad for this season’s blackface defender. (I still don’t know how the show manages to find a new one every season.)

Biggest B.S. (Non-Magic Edition): The Typewriter

This week’s episode takes place in Hungary, and you could kinda tell that all the people involved with creating the show were pleasantly surprised to find that it’s significantly nicer than Estonia. There’s plenty of quality Magyar content: Zach and Kaity stop by a booth where a guy sells paprika, the sound guy snuck Brahms’s Hungarian Dance No. 5 into the opening scene of the episode—a big break from the normal Bachelor musical tradition of having a country singer named Brunt Crumpley sing a song called “Whiskey Kind of Love” on a stage filled with string lights and candles—and Zach takes Kaity and Brooklyn on separate dates to two of Budapest’s famous thermal baths. (If we lump in his sauna date with Ariel from last week, three of the final six contestants went on soaking-in-hot-water dates with Zach. I guess it’s easier to go to places where this is already a part of the culture than to drop portable hot tubs into random countrysides, which The Bachelor did for the first 26 seasons.)

However, every time this show goes to a new country, it’s my job to find the one fake thing The Bachelor totally made up in the hope of making it look like there’s a long-standing romantic tradition in that country. After taking a beautiful funicular up to a beautiful castle and looking out over the Danube, Zach and Kaity come across a typewriter. “Ohhh!” Zach yells. “This is the typewriter!” A sign posted in English and Hungarian explains that lovers are supposed to write poems to each other, read them aloud, and then kiss. Zach and Kaity promptly follow the instructions.

To learn about this tradition, I googled “Hungary typewriter” and then “Budapest typewriter” and then “Budapest famous typewriter” and then “Budapest typewriter next to castle” and then just started typing the text of the sign in both English and Hungarian … but I found nothing. And then I started to think about the logistics of the lovers’ typewriter: Who is maintaining this romantic typewriter? Who is refilling it with ink and paper? (The paper looked really nice, too!) Would a typewriter left outdoors for years on end keep working? Do cities regularly have cute displays exclusively to be used by people falling in love with each other? Why would the people in charge of the lovers’ typewriter specifically ask lovers to read their stupid poems out loud if they didn’t have to film it and air it on an American reality TV show? I guess if you’re actually going to Hungary, stick to the baths.

Best Work-Around: Coffee With Jesse

When The Bachelor switched hosts from Chris Harrison to Jesse Palmer, the franchise encountered an unusual issue: Their new host had an actual day job. While Harrison’s entire professional career was based around being the king of all things Bachelor, Jesse had turned his stint as the Bachelor in 2004 into a job analyzing football on ESPN. But pulling double duty is complicated for Jesse because the Bachelor filming schedule runs from September to November. That coincides almost exactly with the college football season Jesse has to analyze. How could Jesse appear on ESPN every Saturday while also helping Zach find love in a variety of Eastern European countries?

It seems like the show has figured it out. At the start of the episode, Jesse joined Zach for a little chat over coffee in a picturesque Budapest cafe—the same way he joined Zach for a little chat over coffee in a picturesque Tallinn cafe last week. The convo sets the scene for the episode and for how Zach is feeling about the remaining contestants. Then, Jesse disappears for about 80 minutes, just like he did last week, before showing up again for the rose ceremony, like he did last week. If, hypothetically, you were filming a dating show where the host had to fly from Estonia to Connecticut and then to Budapest, this would be a solid strategy: You’d have him make a quick appearance at the start of the week, fly back to the United States, appear on TV on Saturday, fly back to Europe, and then show up at the end. This would explain why whenever anything happens in the middle of an episode that you’d expect a host to handle, another person steps in—like when Zach got COVID in London and a series of butlers had to explain to the contestants why the Bachelor wasn’t showing up to their dates.

I can’t confirm what Jesse’s schedule is like—and I don’t specifically remember seeing Jesse on ESPN’s college football broadcasts in Week 8 of the season, when these episodes were being filmed—but this is my guess for how he’s moonlighting. Personally, I think it’s admirable that Jesse decided to keep his football gig after getting the promotion to Bachelor host—trust me when I say if I ever get hired to save a massively profitable TV franchise from the racially fraught comments of its former host, I am DONE writing “Winners and Losers of NFL Week 7” on this site.

Saddest Elimination: Brooklyn

We’re getting down to crunch time—only three episodes left until Zach picks Kaity! (He’s picking Kaity, right? I haven’t looked up spoilers but … he’s picking Kaity, right?) The third-to-last episode of The Bachelor is the one where the lead meets the remaining contestants’ families, which means the fourth-to-last episode is the one where the remaining contestants tell the Bachelor about their families.

Brooklyn figures she’s good to give the family spiel when Zach picks her for her second one-on-one date. She has a touching story—her father left her family when she was young, but her grandfather stepped in and raised Brooklyn and her sister. She calls her grandpa her hero, she starts crying, and the show’s producers start planning 27 minutes of heartwarming Brooklyn’s-grandpa content for next week’s episode.

But Zach trashed all that. Almost immediately after learning about Brooklyn’s story, he gets up from their date to think, and when he returns, he tells Brooklyn he doesn’t feel comfortable meeting her family if he’s not 100 percent confident in their relationship. He tells Brooklyn goodbye, eliminating yet another person he could plausibly pick over Kaity. (He’s gonna pick Kaity.)