Season 23 Episode 5 of The Bachelor was maybe the best episode of the Bachelor franchise that I have ever seen. It had everything. It had exquisitely crafted suspense. It had profound moral conundrums. It had serious discussions about the viability of the show’s format. It had vicious backstabbing. It had risk-taking. It had human beings supporting each other and lifting each other up. It had achingly romantic trysts. And it had hot, hot people being really, really hot together on beaches. It was perfect.
Alright, it wasn’t perfect. ABC still fell into many of their normal annoying habits. One of my least favorites of these habits is their use of music and sound effects and cutting and zooming to indicate to the viewer how they are supposed to feel about the situation. It’s patronizing and cheesy and, frankly, mean. These contestants do enough on their own to dig themselves into holes. The audience doesn’t need to be bashed over the head with an editorializing hammer.
That is what they did over much of Heather’s date. When the camera pulled all the way up to Colton’s mouth to watch him lick his fingers, my eyes rolled so far they got stuck in the back of my head. Which didn’t make things much better either, because then I had to listen to a person who has never been kissed talk about what it would be like to have their first kiss.
Okay, that’s enough complaining for now. Apart from those two small notes, it was a beautifully orchestrated date. The views were stunning, the floating city was dynamic, and the two of them did look like they were having fun together. But the most impressive part was the suspense. The whole date, the audience was glued to the screen, breathlessly anticipating a potential kiss. And what made it so successful was the structure. Throughout the date they became more and more relaxed and physical with each other. About halfway through, a perfect opportunity presented itself with the dock and the sunset and the relative privacy. But the impulse didn’t arrive. Then they were at dinner where she opened up. I’m going to go ahead and gloss over how she dated someone for eight months without kissing, because that will assuredly garner enough attention without me jumping into the conversation. And, importantly, Colton gave Heather the rose before any kiss. He indicated to us and to her that it didn’t matter if they had kissed or not or maybe would soon, he liked her the way she was and wanted to continue a relationship with her. And then they walked out onto a dark, secluded beach with nothing but a campfire. Is that not one of the most romantic settings you can think of? No. It’s not. A dark, secluded beach with nothing but a campfire and FIREWORKS is one of the most romantic settings you can think of. But that whole post-dinner scene was enthralling. After a full day of anticipation, the suspense was at its astronomical peak. No music. No awkward zooming. Just two people and a beach and a bonfire and FIREWORKS and then… AND THEN… a first kiss. It was exquisite. A master class in structure and suspense.
And then Colton returned home. He returned to have one of the most authentic and adult conversations we’ve ever seen on this show. It’s jarring to think back to Elyse’s date with Colton after just watching his date with Heather. Elyse and Colton—especially Elyse—are two adults who have dealt with love and loss and the prospect of creating and raising little human beings (or at least hanging out with a few dozen of them in a theme park). Heather and Colton’s date was like watching a rom-com about two kids scared to start high school and exploring people of the opposite gender for the first time. Elyse is a real person who wanted a real relationship with a real partner. She said, “I want to know all the silly stupid things about you and how we are together. And I can’t call Chris Harrison and say I want every one-on-one for the next year. I want the time and attention that a relationship deserves to be able—if you get down on one knee—.” Colton tried to assuage her concerns by blaming the show, which is a fair critique that every contestant has to face. But she knows what she wants and she understands how absurd this show is and how improbable it is to create a real, solid relationship on five dates over 10 weeks. She said, “I wish I could say there was something off between us, but I’d be lying. There’s a big part of me that hoped that I’d walk in tonight you’d say like that you had better and bigger connections and that you were fine and we’d be great friends or whatever so it’d be easier, but… […] I can’t… I mean like literally can’t accept a proposal after a few months of sharing your time and attention with other people. I can’t do it.” And she left.
Not only did we get the first true, real, emotionally draining conversation of the season, but we got a clear, full-throated critique of the show itself. Elyse, who is probably the contestant with the most experience in the contours of a relationship, declared, on The Bachelor, that The Bachelor is an impossible way to healthily and comprehensively find a person to spend the rest of your life with. When I first started watching the Bachelor franchise a few years ago I wore my roommate’s ear off with the studies and the statistics of all the reasons why the show is bullshit. While I tried to hold on to the skepticism, I very obviously lost most of it over the past several seasons. Elyse’s departure is the slap in the face that we all needed to remind us how bullshit the concept of this show is. And yet I’m still here writing the rest of this episode’s recap and the recap for every other episode this season.
Forward to the group date! All of the remaining contestants are getting better and better at making their move, taking risks, and standing out. The group date of ‘living in the jungle’ illustrated this. Hannah B ate that bug. Tayshia expertly stole him away for a make-out sesh. And Demi went to the bar to order drinks and burgers instead of looking for sustenance in the wild. Everyone was as on-brand as ever and it was a treat to see.
Hannah B was the first person to tell Colton that she is falling in love with him this season. It secured her the group date rose, so good on her. The moment actually brought me back to Nick’s season when Raven was the first person to say she was falling in love with Nick. I don’t know what it is about these incompetent, mediocre Southern women, but the speed with which they fall in love with people perplexes me to no end. I think Raven’s early admission bought her a couple extra weeks of roses and, unfortunately, I think Hannah B will be rewarded with the same treatment.
Cut to Colton’s date with Cassie. Now this date was longgg anticipated. Remember, three of the seven brackets in our Bachelor Fantasy League have Cassie ending up with the final rose, despite her relatively quiet start to the season. And what did the producers do? They dropped them off on a “private island” that was a sand bar in the middle of the ocean with nothing but each other. The producers seemed to have really dropped the ball on this one. They could have brought a picnic. Picnics are lovely on a beach. They could have brought a Frisbee. Frisbees are endlessly fun instruments when you have partner and some open space. That’s it, those are my ideas. But the producers couldn’t even put that together. Yet, it didn’t seem like Colton and Cassie minded as they spent the next, I don’t know, hours(?) making out on this island/sandbar. They really did seem like they got along well in previous episodes and it seems like they have a foundation to work off of, so it seems less weird that they just spent the whole time making out with each other.
The intriguing part, though, came at dinner. Cassie said that while Colton had to pretend not to be a virgin, she had to spend much of her time with particular family and friends pretending to be a virgin. And, while I can respect trying to fool a conservative family’s skeptical eyes, let’s take a brief gander at the facts. Fact number 1: Cassie is 23 years old. Look, the odds at 23—especially 23 and on the bachelor—indicate the high probability of her not being a virgin. Fact number 2: Cassie is from Huntington Beach, CA. Do you know what Huntington Beach, CA is called? Surf City. It’s located in the heart of Orange County and, sure, it’s the birthplace of modern conservatism, but it’s still got all the liberal social aspects of Southern California. And fact number 3: Cassie looks like Cassie, which is to say a very good-looking human being. Now that doesn’t mean that she’s for sure not a virgin. After all, Colton is a virgin. But there’s a reason that we’re all shocked that Colton is a virgin. And I would be equally shocked if I found out that Cassie was a virgin. Anyway, all that to say, Cassie isn’t a virgin and that’s not surprising.
For those of you who still weren’t considering Tayshia a frontrunner this season, I present to you Exhibit Floating Lantern. If I hadn’t already fallen in love with Tayshia I would have fallen in love with Tayshia in that moment. And who wouldn’t?
And finally, to round out one of the best episodes in the history of the Bachelor franchise, we are graced with a catty, rumor-fueled brawl between Onyeka and Nicole. Is Nicole here for the right reasons? Onyeka doesn’t think so because she heard from someone who heard Nicole say something that could theoretically be misconstrued that way. Two notable moments amidst the showdown: First was Tayshia who came in halfway through as a witness on behalf of the defense. She had seen the alleged crime and could testify that the rumors were false. The genius of her move, though, was that she didn’t use her time to tell Colton about it. Sure, she could have jumped into the fray to back-up Nicole., but she’s too smart for that. Frontrunners don’t get lost in the fray, frontrunners transcend the fray. So she took Nicole away from the situation and let her breathe and talk things out like a friend would. The second notable moment was when Colton came over to Nicole and Onyeka yelling at each other and he just sat down and listened to them. It was one of the most extraordinary moments of television I’d ever seen. He just sat there and listened. He. Just. Listened. And they continued to litigate in circles. Once he had heard enough to realize it was all a bunch of bullshit, he left. It was beautiful. It was my favorite thing any principal has ever done in a situation like that.
And that’s how the perfect episode ended. We got early-season brawling, we got late-season emotion, we got mid-season character arc payoffs, we got serious introspection on behalf of the show itself, and, last but not least, we got hot people being hot. Truly, what more could you possibly ask for in an episode of The Bachelor? A rose ceremony. We could have had a rose ceremony. But other that… perfect!
Four of the seven brackets had Elyse advancing to the Top 9, including the current first (Bonnie, 134), second (Caitlyn, 128), and third (Kristina, 128) place brackets. The other bracket with Elyse in the Top 9 was Justice’s. After this loss, Justice now has just three of her original Top 9 still in contention. Kristina was hit the hardest by Elyse leaving as she had her making it all the way to the final three.
My bold move after Week 3 to make a switch in Week 5 instead of Week 4 DID pay off in the end. I was 3 points ahead of Kristina and Caitlyn after Week 3 and I will be 4 points ahead of them after Week 5. So I only picked up a point, but whatever. (Caitlyn, Kristina, and my brackets are all similar enough, that our differences are all already set in stone following the fifth rose ceremony.) The move did help me gain ground on Bonnie, though. After being 6 points behind after Week 3, I may now only be 1 point behind or better after this rose ceremony.
Having no rose ceremony to end this week makes things much, much harder for all of us bracketeers. We all have to choose our Top 6 out of the twelve remaining contestants. This has the potential to throw the whole game into chaos and I couldn’t be more excited.