Season 5 of The Wire opens with a vignette in which a murder suspect is tricked into believing that a copy machine is a lie detector test. The cops have preloaded the machine with sheets of paper saying “TRUE” and “FALSE.” The perp, who has apparently never seen a copy machine, gets flustered and admits to the crime. It’s a gag so preposterous that you wonder how anybody could fall for it. “The bigger the lie,” quips a detective, “the more they believe.”
Why am I becoming the 371,392nd writer to reference The Wire in an article? Because on Tuesday night’s episode of The Bachelorette, they convinced a bunch of guys that this was a polygraph machine.
THAT’S NOT A POLYGRAPH MACHINE! IT’S A MACBOOK WITH AN EKG SCREENSAVER ATTACHED TO A BUNCH OF LIGHTBULBS!
Tayshia’s men are asked to take a polygraph and answer some lingering questions she has about them. Will they give Tayshia the answers she likes—and if so, will they be honest? The men get very nervous. But when they are led to the polygraph room, there is no polygraph. There is just this laptop-lightbulb array.
A polygraph is typically administered by a technician specially trained in operating and grading the polygraph test. On The Bachelorette, the test is administered by temporary host JoJo, who is not even specially trained in hosting The Bachelorette. The contestants are told that when they tell the truth, the green bulb will light up, and that when they tell a lie, the red bulb will light up. It’s unclear what role the MacBook plays—it just keeps showing the same continuous loop of a steady heartbeat, which kinda disproves the premise that the machine is reading the contestants’ supposedly quickening pulses. This is the equivalent of taking someone’s temperature by having them lick an iPhone with a picture of a thermometer on it. It’s the most bogus faux-scientific contraption devised by a reality show since the Are You The One? laser chamber.
And yet five adult men completely buy it. When asked if he has ever cheated, Zac says “yes” rather than be proved a liar by the all-knowing machine. He later clarifies to a suspicious Tayshia that he cheated on his sixth-grade girlfriend by French kissing another girl at the Bowl-A-Rama. (Nobody describes kisses as “French” after like ninth grade, but we’re bringing it back.) Riley, a malpractice attorney, remarks before strapping into the machine that he advises his clients never to take polygraph tests because the results are often inaccurate. He’s right! Their efficacy has been debated widely, and they’re generally not admitted in court! If they were 100 percent accurate, we wouldn’t really have to do the whole “court” thing in the first place. Of course, Riley’s salient points mean nothing, because in no time he’s strapping himself to a laptop with lightbulbs attached to it and taking the process very seriously.
Tayshia also takes the lie detector test. She never lies, but her statement that she hasn’t regretted any of her decisions is ruled as inconclusive. The whole thing establishes that our lead is honest, but spins drama forward as we wonder if she might regret sending someone home. And funnily enough, this comes up later in the episode!
The lie detector was a great bit for a show trying to invent quarantine dates—not necessarily because of what was revealed, but because of the way the men acted in response to what was clearly a fake test. It was a big lie—and sure enough, they believed it.
Worst Performance: JoJo
Last week I praised JoJo’s ability to fill in and perform the relatively minimal role of host with ease. I have to retract my previous statement. I was gravely wrong. To be clear, JoJo did a great job with almost everything on Tuesday night’s episode, including convincing the guys that a laptop with lightbulbs attached could determine that they were lying.
But like I said, the role of host is relatively minimal. In some episodes, Chris Harrison appears only in the rose ceremony. And at the rose ceremony, he does two things: He announces when there is only one rose remaining, and he informs the men who did not receive a rose that they must say their goodbyes and leave. Why does he say these things? I don’t know. I’ve always imagined that when they invented The Bachelor, they decided they wanted the host to do something in the rose ceremony, but that it would be weird for him to actually give out the roses, so they decided he should pop in and point out when there was one rose remaining.
Tuesday night was JoJo’s first rose ceremony. There were 10 contestants left, and the men even noted that they were struggling to count the number of roses to determine how many of them were getting eliminated. Then when the final rose came … Tayshia simply handed it out. JoJo did not appear until afterward, when it was time to tell the men to say their goodbyes and leave. The host of this show has only two lines—and JoJo didn’t say one of the lines.
I am distraught. Is JoJo incapable of counting? What if somebody watching doesn’t know how to distinguish one rose from multiple roses? This was a complete and total abandonment of JoJo’s hosting duties. I think we should declare JoJo the worst host in Bachelorette history. (Also one of the top two best hosts, but still: the worst.)
The Actual Important Part of the Show: Ben
The emotional crux of Tuesday night’s episode comes on Tayshia’s date with Ben. Last episode, Ben stripped naked to demonstrate that he was willing to reveal everything about himself; in this episode, he actually does. He tells Tayshia that in recent years, he attempted suicide twice because he thought it would make life easier for those around him. Fortunately, he survived both times. It’s a gripping moment that sends a critical message, and everybody is grateful that Ben still here.
The Bachelor and Bachelorette historically have a tendency to turn people’s traumatic life experiences into plot points for reality TV romance. (“Oh, you grew up poor? Here’s a rose!”) With Ben’s story though, and in the episode when Ivan talked about his life experiences with racism and police brutality, it feels like the show is learning how to better separate the important moments from the general absurdity that gets us to watch the show in the first place. On top of hooking us with classic reality TV inanity, the show is finally figuring out how to allow us to actually address larger issues in a meaningful way. When contestants speak honestly and openly about their lives and struggles in a way that doesn’t seem forced, we start to see them as fully formed people. It makes the show more interesting, and hopefully helps their messages reach the people who need to hear them.
Biggest Waste of Time: The Bennett Debacle
Last week’s episode left off on a cliffhanger—Tayshia yelling “WHAT’S IN THE BOX?” after Bennett gave Noah a bunch of belittling gifts. After Tayshia talks to Bennett and Noah about this incident—and Bennett explains that he has both a high IQ and “EQ,” which I guess stands for “Emotional Quotient”—Tayshia boots Bennett from the show.
She tells Bennett that while she enjoyed spending time with him, he was extremely condescending. Bennett responds by being condescending—he does the thing people who think they’re always right do where he speaks in a very calm voice and uses a lot of apology-adjacent words to say that even though he was correct, he’s Sorry She Feels That Way. Bennett began his run on this show as comedic relief; he ended it as an exhausting central character. Tayshia might win arguments with Bennett, but Bennett will never think he’s lost an argument to Tayshia, because he went to Harvard and she went to the second-best college in Irvine, California.
But Bennett isn’t done! He swings back at the end of the episode to tell Tayshia he’s falling in love with her. It’s a classic Bachelor bit: the Returning Contestant. And normally it’s funny imagining the logistics of the situation—the contestant got dropped during filming in, like, the Netherlands, and somehow found their way to Iceland. But I think it might be even funnier in this season, when everything takes place in one setting. Bennett got eliminated during a two-on-one date at the beginning of Tuesday night’s episode and I guess he just, uh, hung around the hotel for a few more days? Maybe he went to that spa where Clare dumped that pushy guy?
The episode ends on yet another Bennett-related cliffhanger—will Tayshia take him back? I suspect if she did, it would’ve happened in the episode, and the cliffhanger would be about whether the other guys on the show accepted his return. Either way, I’m tired of hearing Bennett talk, and I suspect Tayshia is too.