Has anyone else caught what's happening on The Bachelorette? Between the 25-year-old calling other contestants “a buncha weens” and Chis Harrison signing his name on people’s butts, this week's episode of slipped some genuine conversations into the nonsense as sneakily as a dog’s thyroid medication in a hunk of cheese.
Ever the audience surrogate, Bennett spoke for all of us when he said, bemused and nearly tearful, “I did not expect to end up here.” Looking helplessly into the camera, the confident Harvard man announced uncertainly, “Things got real.”
Of course, there’s always a gateway episode or two on The Bachelorette. As soon as we’ve settled into the wild antics and toxic masculinity that define the first half of the season, they’re suddenly yanked away and replaced with soaring string music and tears.
But this time around, we’re getting deeper, and we’re getting there faster than ever before.
Raising the bar
The standard for meaningful conversation certainly isn’t high on The Bachelorette – I mean, it’s not exactly a show known for getting deep. For all its grand claims about finding a life partner, discussions usually get about as serious as:
Contestant: “I need to tell you about [insert trauma here].”
Lead: “Thank you for sharing that with me.”
Contestant confessional: “I feel like we really became closer tonight.”
Whether it was Ben Higgens declaring “I love that” whenever anyone tried to tell him about themselves, or Clare (remember her?) spewing platitudes and demands loudly over any of the men’s attempts to get to know her, the deepest that contestant-on-lead conversations tend to get is vague declarations about the importance of “faith” and bland yearnings for “family.”
It’s something you can’t help but wonder when someone inevitably gets down on one knee: are you two ready for this? Like at all? Beyond painting Norman Rockwell-esque visions of “growing old together,” do you know anything about one another? Have you decided who’s going to move? What are your credit scores? Anything?? Hello??
Tayshia (and her men) are ready for some real talk
Much of the credit for this pivot to real conversations rests with our girl Tayshia. Even after an afternoon spent watching the men chug cow-intestine smoothies and reenact passionate orgasms over the La Quinta intercom, she wasn’t done grilling them. “What would your exes tell me about you?” she asked one. “What’s your biggest fear about marriage?” “Will you be able to prioritize family over your work?”
And to their credit, the men gave some thoughtful answers. Each one seemed to be seriously considering their feelings, not just reciting idealistic platitudes designed to win a reality game show.
But more than anyone, it was Ivan who stepped up to the plate and served up a piping-hot plate of real life to an audience who needed to hear it.
For nearly 10 minutes, Ivan and Tayshia spoke plainly about what it’s like to be Black in America. Uninterrupted by jump cuts or ads, they opened up about the ways in which the death of George Floyd and the renewed attention to the Black Lives Matter movement affected them personally; they shared how they’ve navigated – and continue to navigate — spaces fundamentally hostile to them.
For the first time in as long as I can remember, The Bachelorette held my full and undivided attention.
Real conversations make for better TV
And here’s the thing: this conversation wasn’t just aired because of “our current cultural moment” or this summer’s “social unrest” or whatever other thin euphemism you want to place on a subject that the majority of Bachelorette viewership finds uncomfortable.
It was also plain good television.
Because when two people have real conversations about things that are important to them, you can’t help but pay attention. If you’re here to watch two people fall in love, this – not helicopters and hot tubs – is how it happens.
If Tayshia keeps popping the Bachelorette bubble with real life needles, she might just walk out of here with a relationship that actually lasts. And I can say with a certainty I haven’t always felt in seasons past: Tayshia, I’m rooting for you.