‘The Bachelorette’ Recap: Love and Basketball (and Male Insecurity)

Despite the fact that nearly every season in the history of The Bachelorette has done some variant of the classroom date wherein a number of small children berate a man named Nat for not being able to spell “limousine,” only Michelle’s earnestness makes it seem like a worthy endeavor in the journey to find love. Because there’s something to be said for subverting the narrative of a franchise as long-running and problematic as The Bachelor(ette)—but, as it turns out, there’s also something to be said for elevating the franchise by actually rising to its impossibly weird standards because you’re just that pure of heart. When Michelle earnestly said, “You can learn a lot about a person by how they play musical chairs,” I was shocked to find that she’s right.

Thus far, Michelle is the kind of lead who makes you want to support The Bachelorette, even if you’ve long drifted from supporting The Bachelorette. Am I, once again, begging for Michelle to fail by setting her up as the savior of this broken franchise even while actively watching her fall in love with a sentient pair of AND1 basketball shorts named Joe who has already proven he is the one man on Earth not absolutely frothing at the mouth to get her attention? Yes I am! But much like Michelle and her dynamic group of boyfriends wearing their most complicated Dan Flashes patterns, I simply contain multitudes.

All images via ABC

It’s recently come to my attention that Michelle is a Gemini, and while the extent of my Gemini knowledge begins and ends with that Lizzo lyric about threesomes, an innate duality residing within Michelle does make sense. For example, I remember Michelle being a spunky, goofy burst of energy upon her late entrance into Matt’s season. So, in her own premiere, I was a little surprised to discover that she approached her duty as the head of a polygamous-dating game show with all the seriousness and gravitas of a student body president, marching up and down the stairs of Renaissance Esmeralda Resort & Spa at Indian Wells until she had left absolutely no co-boyfriend stone unturned.

But that’s just a part of who she is. And while I, of course, loved the meticulousness to Michelle’s approach, the level of maturity and stability did have me a little concerned that this season might be extra low on drama, and that we’d have to settle for staring at Michelle while she made sensible decisions all season long. (Not a bad consolation prize given that Michelle looks like Michelle.) But I needn’t have worried. Because no matter how sensible Michelle is, there is simply no making this group of 23 men behave. Sooner or later, they’re going to turn on one another …

After all, Dan Flashes is a very aggressive store.

Squid Game, but Make It a Classroom

Let me tell you why Michelle’s season is not like others. Because where I have watched this classroom group-date setup approximately once a year for 12 years, I have never watched a little girl named Mia discover her first brush with love when a handsome mathematician named Romeo decides to calculate the number of seconds in a day he could tell Michelle she’s beautiful, instead of simply drawing an infinity sign like all the lesser men around him.

Mia is a star. Is it possible to get her on contract to host this whole thing? Does she have a twin? Isn’t that how you get around child labor laws? Speaking of, is that why they hired both Tayshia and Kaitlyn to host, so they too could take little naps in between scenes? Is the classroom where Romeo melted Mia’s brain actually Tayshia and Kaitlyn’s tutoring classroom?

Anyway, Riley and Kennedy—the other fifth-graders assisting Miss Young in testing half of her boyfriends’ readiness for love through a series of elementary school curriculum-based tests—were as adorable as they were dedicated to keeping their tiny feet on these dudes’ necks. Personally, I think death by Red-Light-Green-Light would be a more efficient way of trimming the suitor fat than seeing who slowly reveals themselves to be a self-obsessed weirdo who lies for fun…

But doing little math problems on little whiteboards also works. Romeo stood out immediately because he is a mathematician who went to Harvard, which not only means he aces the elementary school curriculum, but also reveals that it took him an entire episode to mention he went to Harvard—which is pretty good for someone who went to Harvard! In addition to short-circuiting Mia’s brain by making math romantic, Romeo is also a pretty solid competitor in the science and spelling portions of the date. As a woman of exactly one skill (YOU’RE LOOKING AT IT, FOLKS!), I found the liberal arts section of this group date a little lacking, but I’m sure there will be plenty of time to round out this season’s cringe with future standup comedy sets and spoken-word poetry battles.

For now, the cringe is reserved entirely to Peter the Pizzapreneur, who spends every portion of the classroom date trying to get Michelle’s attention. He cannot stop talking: He’s talking during the math equations, he’s talking during the spelling quiz, he’s talking during the science experiment where everyone else’s beaker contents explode with ropes of science-y something while his lies placid in a montage that the editors made as as suggestive as possible…

In his testimonial, Peter says, “I definitely consider myself an alpha presence. I’m not just a guy—I’m the guy.” And Mia hates him.

Because Mia has impeccable taste. And I feel in my bones that Mia is the one who decides to assign “narcissist” as the final spelling word. Only in her wildest dreams, then, could Mia have imagined that Will would choose this moment to make one final, deadly grab for the “class clown” title by spelling out P-E-T-E-R instead of N-A-R-C-I-S-S-I-S-T.

Peter is fuming. He says he “could care less” about Will calling him a narcissist. Then, in retaliation for being called a narcissist in front of Michelle, Peter says the following: “What about me now? What about me now? What the fuck about me? I was making tremendous progress, I was shining in this group!” You know, just classic non-narcissist sentiments!

So, what the fuck about Peter? Well, he takes his anger into the nighttime portion of the group date and pulls Will aside to yell at him while Michelle is 10 feet away. Like the levelheaded woman she is, Michelle doesn’t hop up to “squash this right now” (something Bachelorettes love to say shortly before ruining an entire date in an attempt to nip something in the bud that is completely un-nippable). She just powers through her conversations with the other men. Will, meanwhile, ends the argument with Peter by saying, “It’s pizza this, pizza that … what else do you have to offer besides a slice, bro?”

For her part, Michelle tells Peter that she was disappointed to overhear him sounding so aggressive over what seemed to be a simple disagreement. And yet, in the end, she decides to keep him—one can only assume because the producers threatened to take away her daily allotment of belVita Breakfast Biscuits and/or Nayte if she didn’t comply.

But we don’t want more Pizzapreneur! We want more Brandon! We want more RIIIIIICK! And so does Michelle. During her time with Brandon, Michelle is basically willing him to kiss her, but when he holds back and she asks him why he’s looking at her like that, Brandon tells her: “I’m trying to remember every single part of you … so I can go home and have a dream about you and wake up and realize my dream is true.” You guys—I swooned at this Selena-quoting, itty-bitty Dwayne Johnson impersonator. But not Michelle. She tells Brandon he’s being corny as hell and that she likes roasting him better anyway. And then they kiss.

Rick—out from his table and confusingly hot when not disembodied—also scores a kiss after preparing a cute little ad-lib game for Michelle where they both take turns adding in variations on the word “chemistry” over and over again. Rick kisses Michelle’s shoulder while they’re doing this, and I am simply astounded by a former table having this much game. Like, what if the candelabra in Beauty and the Beast came to life and suddenly stole Belle with a stealthy hip graze?

Unfortunately, the second we hear Rick say there’s no way he isn’t getting the group date rose we know there’s no way he’s getting that group date rose, which goes to Brandon and his delight in being negged by Michelle.

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