There are a few hallmark moments of every reality TV watcher’s viewing life: watching Survivor: Heroes vs. Villains and learning what it feels like to experience true joy; hearing NeNe Leakes say, “Not a white refrigerator,” forever changing the way we view subsequent white refrigerators; watching a Kardashian unhinge their jaw like a snake to eat salad without messing up their lipstick. And of course, the semi annual tour of Americana that is The Bachelor(ette) Hometown dates.
As with so many creature comforts, COVID deprived us of the gift of actually entering Bachelorette contestants’ homes for the last three seasons—of observing producers’ misguided attempts at convincing us that every house in North America is outfitted with a haphazard front-yard DTR bench. As “Hometowns” moved into hotel suites dressed up like living rooms, audiences were robbed of giant clocks from HomeGoods, decades-old family photo collages on the walls, and enough technicolored glassware to outfit any number of beach homes.
But finally, we are free of the tyranny of conference room Hometown dates. For Rachel and Gabby’s otherwise hellish season of The Bachelorette, ABC said we will be traveling to contestant’s hometowns once more, and we will be entering their childhood homes to find out who’s secretly rich, whose uncle is secretly Patrick Warburton, who has completely overestimated their family’s ability to be kind in the face of discomfort, and whose mom has been holding on to her Bumpits™ since 2009. Because, for both the Bachelorettes and the Bachelorette audience, Hometowns are the final frontier of “getting to know” these men before they seriously start thinking about “getting down on that knee,” as it’s known in the biz. And that’s especially important in Season 19, where we’ve had twice the contestants and half the cocktail parties—seven weeks in, I’m not even confident of a quarter of these men’s names or core childhood traumas.
That fact is probably how Rachel found herself on her first ever one-on-one date with a young carnie-entrepreneur mere moments before she was supposed to meet his family. It’s also probably how Gabby found herself with a trio of men who are still saying they “really like” her, and why her greatest declaration of feeling is, and I quote, “I think maybe now I might even be falling in love with you.” But what are two Bachelorettes to do when time is running out and they’re contractually obligated to run-and-jump-hug seven dudes after having spent just a few weeks getting their sea legs under them?
Ultimately, Rachel and Gabby only ended up jump-hugging six dudes on Monday night, because Aven’s Hometown date has inexplicably been shoved off into the Men Tell All episode. But excluding that little mystery, tonight’s Hometowns can easily be broken down into three categories…
One of the best things about Hometowns is finding out that someone with the least New Orleans energy imaginable is, in fact, from New Orleans. As it turns out, Jason has a dad who talks like Benoit Blanc…
… and a mom and sister who are extremely reminiscent of Gabby in both vibe and look (Sigmund Freud, you will always be famous!). Everyone in Jason’s family is delightful, on the verge of tears about how much they love Jason at all times and, within five minutes, on the verge of tears about loving Gabby just as much. When Gabby asks Jason’s sister, “I know we’re so different, but do you think he could ever be with someone like me?”, the sister has to ask what Gabby could possibly mean because she seems great, just like Jason.
He’s great, she’s great, everyone is great—and there are grand pianos in the living room, and ornate mantle pieces on the historic row house porch, and what could possibly go wrong…
Oh yeah, Jason definitely isn’t someone who can get engaged after six weeks on a television show. Jason’s mom immediately bursts into tears at the thought of Jason losing Gabby, but not in a, like, Peter’s mom sort of way. Jason tells his mom that getting engaged right now doesn’t feel realistic to him, but that could change in the next two weeks. And I guess we’ll just never know if he tells Gabby that he’s feeling uncertain, because if they got a DTR bench debrief, we do not see it.
In Anaheim, California, Rachel’s first Hometown with Zach is equally nice and easy, given that it starts with Zach taking Rachel up on a rooftop to watch the planes go zoom-zoom just like the childhood memory they first bonded over, and ends with his family watching a home video of Rachel and Zach’s Bachelorette journey. It’s sweet because it’s the inverse of Rachel and Zach’s first home-video date, but it’s also terrible because it requires Rachel and Zach to watch themselves make out in a hot tub in front of his parents. And of course, in between all that, we find out that Patrick Warburton, who we saw in last week’s preview is, in fact, Zach’s uncle.
And honestly, David Puddy (and the voice of Kronk, put some respect on his name) being Zach’s uncle makes perfect sense. Zach doesn’t seem like an actor, per se, but he does have the voice, face, body, and delightful himbo mentality of an HGTV carpenter. Zach’s family tells him that they love Rachel, Zach tells Rachel he loves her, and Rachel tells Zach nothing.
The final walk-in-the-park Hometown belongs to Johnny, who simply informs Gabby they’ll be going to see his family first and then hanging out afterward…which I didn’t even know was a Hometowns date option. They really did just throw all the rules in the English Channel this season, huh? Like Jason, Johnny tells his parents that he has strong feelings for Gabby, but he isn’t sure if he’s ready to get engaged at the end of all this. And like Jason, he doesn’t get a DTR bench debrief to express such a feeling to Gabby. Personally, I’d love to grab my own little bench debrief with Gabby so we can figure out exactly how attached she is to the idea of an engagement, and therefore how thoroughly we need to gird our loins for the fact that none of her boyfriends seem at all ready to graduate from boyfriend school…
The Emotional Rollercoasters
Okay, we’ve had our fun, we’ve seen every “GATHER” sign, in every script font, across every kitchen from coast to coast—now it’s time to cry.
I don’t remember learning that Erich’s dad has an advanced form of terminal cancer during his first one-on-one date with Gabby, but once she Phoebe Buffay runs her way into one final jump-hug, it quickly becomes clear that Erich’s Hometown will be a more solemn occasion than her last two. Erich says his family has no idea how much longer his dad has, which has made his time away from his family even more difficult. Gabby and Erich’s dad talk about how much his ICU nurses have meant to him, which turns me into just a bit of a weepy mess. It is so very sad, and everything that happens during Erich’s Hometown feels so much more consequential, in a way that Gabby’s other Hometown dates, uh, did not.
When Erich and his mom sit down to talk, she tells him truthfully that his dad is doing worse than when Erich left: “But I keep watering that flower, and he keeps coming back.” Gulp. The care that Erich’s mom has shown for his dad is particularly on everyone’s mind as they talk about how important loyalty is in their family, and when they marry, they marry for life. Gulp. Erich’s mom tells Gabby, “We don’t give up on each other—you can’t quit, ever.” And I mean, hi, yes, that is technically the definition of marriage vows… But it is not the definition of an ABC-certified, Neil Lane-approved Bachelorette proposal, which is mostly defined by taking place in a setting where lavalier mics are incapable of picking up any sound except rushing wind.
But by the time Erich and Gabby make it to the DTR bench, and even with all the reminders of commitment ringing in his head, Erich still has something important he wants to say to Gabby:
And Gabby has something she wants to say back:
Lotta qualifiers in those two statements! If these two have chemistry, we simply have to trust them on it, I guess.
But what do I know, anyway? I thought Rachel and Tyler were doing just fine on their Hometown date, but then Rachel started shaking like a leaf on the Jersey Shore boardwalk. Perhaps I was distracted because I am desperate to learn more about Tyler’s boardwalk basketball empire and why it led Jesse Palmer to say that Tyler probably has more money than anyone in the cast during his TikTok introduction of the cast bios. (Yes, Jesse was on TikTok, and yes, he did accidentally let a stranger into his live feed.) But alas, all we got was Tyler saying he has a New Jersey apartment “attached with [his] game” for the summers—which only raises more questions!—before Rachel had to go and ruin everything by realizing that she’s not in love with Tyler, she never will be in love with Tyler, and she probably should have broken up with him before she came to meet his family.
Unfortunately, when Rachel sits Tyler down on a breakup bench, he thinks she’s sat him down on a different kind of bench, and he simply cannot stop expressing every single emotion inside of him—including that he is in love with her, at which point Rachel stares directly down the barrel of the camera like she’s on the goddamn Office.
Once she finally does tell Tyler how she’s feeling, it’s hard to tell if or when he grasps it, because he basically never stops smiling or telling Rachel how wonderful she is until she’s gotten into an SUV and driven away. Rachel, however, sobs uncontrollably over breaking Tyler’s heart, as Tyler enters his family’s house alone, still smiling and allowing them to remain excited about meeting Rachel before just sort of casually announcing that she’s not coming…
It’s all a little weird, and I won’t be fully confident Tyler isn’t some sort of A.I. robot until I see him enter a body of water on Bachelor in Paradise.
The Disaster Zone
Oh, but the awkwardness of the Tyler breakup is absolutely nothing compared to what goes down at Tino’s house. Tino’s is the toughest kind of Hometown to stomach, because surely any reasonable person could empathize with a family that doesn’t trust this six-week, lightly polyamorous process to set a solid foundation for their kid to embark upon a lifelong monogamous commitment… And yet! Their adult son made the decision to go on this show that is historically very clear about what its goals are; their adult son made the decision to bring this woman home to meet them; and if their adult son is saying that his feelings for Rachel are real and he’s ready to propose to her, then there’s probably not anything they can—or should—do to try and convince their adult son that those feelings are not real.
But try Tino’s parents do—especially his dad, who puts Rachel and Tino through the ringer doing his very best to poke holes in the love story they’re shilling. His conversation with Rachel is especially rough because it seems like no matter how perfectly she answers his questions, he’s still going to doubt their validity because he believes that their feelings have been formed inside a fairytale vacuum. And I simply wish that Rachel had thought in that moment to tell Tino’s dad that this has been perhaps the least fairytale-like season of The Bachelorette ever; that she cried in every episode for six weeks straight, was constantly getting broken up with on her own show, and was forced to use a cruise line bathroom the size and shape of a Kleenex box for weeks while mainlining Dutch cheese…
But by the time Tino’s dad is questioning Rachel about this being her “second go-round” at trying to get married and asking, “Is this person just looking to get married, or does this person really like [Tino],” we had gone beyond the point or clarification and well into “Actually, sir, you are very rude” territory. And y’know what? None of Tino’s dad’s tough questions mattered. And none of Tino’s initial declarations that his family’s stamp of approval means everything to him mattered either. Because after this terrible Hometown visit, Tino still marches Rachel out to that DTR bench and tells her that he’s falling in love with her, and that his only regret is not telling her weeks ago.
And Rachel, despite feeling fairly confident that Tino’s parents never want to see her beautiful face pass over their star-spangled threshold again, still tells Tino that she’s falling in love with him too. Because nothing really matters. But if we can give Tino’s family credit for one thing, it’s this: they gave us our one giant Hometowns clock of the season.
It’s 10 p.m.—do you know where your adult son is? (Spoiler: He’s headed into Fantasy Suites, and almost definitely about to get engaged, despite your best efforts.)