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‘The Bachelorette’ Recap: Is Thomas an Evil Genius or Just Weirdly Honest?

And while we’re asking questions, why are we still letting the leads on this show drive ATVs?

ABC/Getty Images/Ringer illustration

The Bachelorette has found its Machiavellian master, a cunning schemer whose game plan is flustering and frustrating his fellow contestants—as well as the Bachelorette herself. His strategy? He just, uh, tells the truth about stuff. Nobody has ever tried this before.

The show’s new antagonist is Thomas, whose bold choice to simply state obvious facts is blowing the minds of all his fellow contestants. On a date themed around the concept of honesty, Thomas tells the group that he originally went on the show not to find love, but to “boost his platform.” He even went on a date days before filming started, since he didn’t see a future with Katie. He says that now, things have changed—he’s “falling in love” and isn’t prioritizing fame.

Of course, Thomas is not the first contestant to appear on The Bachelorette with hopes of hitting it big. The show has created an entire playbook for former contestants that allows them to ditch their boring day jobs and create new lives and livelihoods as Former Reality TV Contestants. Like I said last week, the odds of finding love on this show are much slimmer than the odds of creating a decent career for yourself, and you’d have to be naive or stupid not to consider that. But you’re not supposed to just say that out loud!

In every conversation, Thomas remains pretty consistent with his answers—yeah, he wanted to become famous, but now he thinks Katie is the real deal and wants to end up with her. But his fellow contestants grill him in hopes of getting him to admit to more things that they probably agree with. In one heated confrontation, Hunter asks Thomas point-blank whether he has ever thought about becoming the next Bachelor. The answer to this, for every single contestant, should obviously be “yes.” The star of The Bachelor gets paid a huge sum of money, picks up hundreds of thousands of Instagram followers (which guarantees a steady stream of income long after the show airs), and—oh yeah—he gets to kiss and choose from among 30 beautiful women, which is a better situation than being one of 30 contestants vying to be kissed and chosen by one beautiful woman. The question wasn’t “Would you rather be the next Bachelor or marry Katie;” it was just “Have you ever thought about being the Bachelor?” Anybody who answers “no” would be lying. But when Thomas admits he thought about this before coming on the show, the crowd acts like he’s actively plotting to assassinate the president.

At one point, Thomas interrupts a conversation Aaron is having with Katie. Afterward, Aaron confronts Thomas, asking whether Thomas thinks his time with Katie is more important than anybody else’s time. Thomas plainly answers “Yes.” Again, this should be obvious and universal—everybody on the show obviously prioritizes their own time with the lead. But again, Thomas’s answer leads to an uproar.

By the end of the episode, Thomas’s rivals talk about him like he’s a 6-foot-6 Hannibal Lecter with a great smile. Aaron says that while Karl, last week’s villain, was “too dumb” to alter the course of the show, Thomas is “smart and extremely sociopathic.” A befuddled Tre says that while he’s usually a good judge of character, Thomas fooled him because Thomas is “so good at the manipulation.”

All of this is particularly funny because Thomas doesn’t exactly seem like the grandmaster of social chess they’re making him out to be. He gives a lot of long, rambling speeches that never seem to end up where they’re supposed to. (He botches a conversation with Katie, then gets mad at himself for “letting the moment get the best of me.” And when he returns for a conversation mulligan, he starts by telling Katie that “fear and love are rooted in the same concept” before once again veering off script.) It seems like Thomas just kinda says whatever words pop into his head at any given moment, which explains why he’s so willing to answer whatever questions people ask him. The other contestants, who actually have plans for finding love and/or fame, simply can’t recognize such behavior. To quote Kelly Kapoor from The Office: “Who says exactly what they’re thinking? What kind of game is that?”

Overall, Thomas doesn’t seem like your typical fame-hungry contestant. Some people show up on this franchise with manicured social media accounts that show they’ve been trying to hit the influencer big time since the invention of the selfie stick; meanwhile Thomas barely has an online presence. But more pointedly, why would he say this stuff as a manipulation tactic? Katie has said on several occasions that she’s worried about picking someone more interested in fame than love, so why admit you fit the profile of her worst nightmare? The easiest, most logical explanation here is that Thomas is actually just telling the truth.

Unfortunately, his honesty screws everything up. Thomas will never be the next Bachelor. His admission that he views the show exactly the way everybody else views it makes him a villain. The show works because we get to spend so much time arguing about which characters are there for love and which are there for fame; when a guy shows up and says “Hey, I’m here for fame,” it ruins the game. Thus, he must be labeled a one-of-a-kind evil genius who invented the very idea of seeking fame, lest the audience be forced to acknowledge that most contestants are shady and he’s just the first dude dumb enough to talk about it openly.

Best Performance: Karl

Monday night’s episode picks up where last week’s left off, with 20 or so men yelling at Karl over his decision to tell Katie that an unspecified number of men are doing an unspecified number of evil things. When we dive back in, Karl’s still running the Hot Dog Suit Guy Gambit—generously offering the evil men he’s talking about the opportunity to come forward and apologize. (Sorry, my entire life is I Think You Should Leave references at this point. I had to restrain myself from pointing out that Thomas will have to marry his mother-in-law.)

Eventually, Karl leaves the room and takes some alone time, which he spends shadowboxing. “The ones who come out loudest have the most to hide,” he says, incidentally at an abnormally high volume. At one point, he says he won’t leave the show without a fight and that they’ll need to call in “the military” to get him to leave. I assume his shadowboxing was practice in case that absurd scenario somehow occurred. (“We need reinforcements! Karl just took out the 101st Airborne with some moves he learned in a boxing class he bought on Groupon!”)

During the rose ceremony, Mike the Virgin makes a bold move: Instead of simply taking his rose and going back to the lineup, he tells Katie that the men have discussed the situation “as a unit” and all believe Karl is making stuff up to get in Katie’s head. She asks whether that’s true, and all the men back him up. Katie stops the rose ceremony and goes into a different room to talk to Tayshia and Kaitlyn, saying that her initial plan was to give Karl a rose, which she’s now rethinking. Unsurprisingly, she eventually lands on sending Karl home. Fortunately, none of the armed forces are needed. (You can stand down, the entire United States Navy.) Karl merely looks around for a few seconds and heads out without saying goodbye to anybody—not even Katie, which is a rare choice.

Karl’s blatant bluff will go down as one of the funniest plays in the show’s history. This guy would’ve stayed on the show for at least another week, but instead he tried out a strategy that backfired so badly that he was sent packing within hours. Normally, even the show’s least likable villains can get at least one other contestant to be on their side—“Queen” Victoria from last season had a posse!—but not Karl. All 20 guys agreed he had to go. And these aren’t particularly smart guys! They think Thomas is a strategic mastermind! But all of them saw right through Karl and immediately knew he was bluffing. The Karl Saga was truly a perfect moment of reality television; the only shame is that he was so aggressively bad at playing the game that he got himself eliminated before he could come up with more bad ideas.

Episode MVP: Katie

I cried during Monday night’s episode, which I’m pretty sure is a first in my Bachelorette-watching experience. Look, I wasn’t, like, bawling. I actually think I kept all the tears inside, because my conscious brain was like, “Have some respect! You’re not going to cry during The Bachelorette!” But the part of my brain in charge of tear production was absolutely readying my head’s salty water deposits for deployment. I’m counting it as crying.

It happened on a one-on-one date between Katie and Michael. (Not to be confused with Mike the Virgin.) Michael told the story of how he fell in love at first sight with his wife, Laura, and built a dream life with her, complete with a young son. For a second, Katie seems perplexed—why is he on The Bachelorette and not with Laura? But he soon explains: Laura had breast cancer and died in 2019. Michael found love and lost it as cruelly as possible, but he tells Katie that he’d consider it a blessing to fall in love twice in one lifetime. Katie replies to Michael in a meaningful and thoughtful way: She tells Michael that if she picks him, she’ll be understanding of the “forever love” he has for Laura. Michael then tells Katie that he’ll do everything he can to make sure a potential love with Katie is unique, and not simply a cut-and-paste replacement for the love he lost.

Monday night’s episode was filled with deeper conversations than the average Bachelor episode. During the honesty-first group date, Hunter reflects on the breakdown of his first marriage and cries talking about how it has affected his children; Conor C. tells the story of how he became dependent on alcohol and cheated on his ex-girlfriend. Katie closes the date with her own story—something she says she hasn’t even told her own mother—about how when she was younger, she was “involved in a situation where there wasn’t consent.” She explains how she tried to date the man who attacked her rather than admit to herself that she had been a victim, and says that the experience stunted her relationship with sex for years.

This is a lot for a reality TV dating show. You tune in expecting to see attractive people yell at each other for two hours and all of a sudden you’re contemplating weighty topics like love after loss, redemption, and sexual assault.

In the past, it has often felt like The Bachelor franchise was gamifying and exploiting the sob stories of its contestants—tell the cameras about your worst moment of personal sorrow, and you might get a rose or camera time! Monday night’s group date certainly seemed manufactured to get a group of people to relive their saddest memories on national TV. But Katie deserves infinite credit for walking this ridiculous tightrope with thoughtfulness and compassion, and making the whole sequence feel not like a moment created for reality TV’s sake, but one of true, genuine human connection.

She seems to really care about the people she interacts with in a way that isn’t performative. Some past Bachelors and Bachelorettes have responded to tearful tragic tales with a “Thank you for sharing!” and a rose. But Katie more clearly values the fact that people are willing to share their deepest pains with her. She wants to say the right things in reply, and she actually has the capacity to do so. That’s why Michael’s conversation with her opened up my tear ducts when so many of the show’s past sob stories haven’t. It felt like we were really watching a man and woman contemplate the complex landscape of love and loss and what it means to find joy in a world that also brings immense pain. That’s not why I watch The Bachelorette—and we still got plenty of “attractive people yelling”—but I didn’t mind it at all this week.

Worst Idea: Romantic Off-Roading

Before discussing love and loss, Katie takes Michael out on a dune buggy in the New Mexican desert. And before that, Katie takes the ATV for a test ride … and she flips it:


Katie is fine. The dune buggy has a roof and Katie was very securely fastened into her seat, so she just kinda hangs upside down for a few minutes while waiting for rescue. I guess The Bachelor franchise decided to take some additional security measures, because none of these precautions were in place last season when Matt took Bri on an off-roading date in the Pennsylvanian forests and also flipped an ATV:

So that’s now two off-road vehicle excursions that ended with inversions. Yes, everybody so far has been okay—but I feel like eventually, having a 100 percent vehicle flipping rate will lead to somebody getting injured. I’m coming around on last year’s tethered hot air balloon date—it looked adventurous but had a 0 percent chance of a dumbass Bachelor sending their wheels skyward.

Least Notable Absence: That Guy Who Used to Host The Show—What Was His Name Again?

I’d like to briefly comment on a specific procedural element of Monday night’s episode. After the Karl incident, Katie cancels the rest of her cocktail party. This happens somewhere between two and 100 times every season, and historically, it always happens like this: The Bachelor or Bachelorette gets upset, and then Chris Harrison comes out and says that the Bachelor or Bachelorette is upset and that the rest of the cocktail party is canceled. Seriously, he probably said this—with roughly the same sentence structure and roughly the same tone—in every season, for at least the past decade or so.

But there is no Chris Harrison anymore. And the season’s hosts, Kaitlyn and Tayshia, are replacements in a seemingly very limited capacity—they’re somehow not even on set when all of this happens. So Katie comes out, fights through whatever feelings she’s dealing with, and tells the men herself about the change of plans.

Guys! This is a huge development! I literally wrote about this! Of course it’s more interesting to have the Bachelorette come out all emotional and be forced to explain that she’s canceling a party rather than having a host say it! We should never go back to a random man somberly scrapping a cocktail party again!

Despite his decades of hosting, Harrison’s role on this show was actually so minor that you may have stopped noticing his absence by the end of the season premiere. But I still like chiming in to point out the subtle ways that the show is not merely different, but actually better, without its longtime host.