The Bachelorette finale: Romance is Dead, But Reality TV Lives On

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Two roads diverged in an ABC wood

And sorry she could not travel both

And be a polygamist with TWO engagement rings, long she stood

And stared down a life of (alleged) mediocrity

To where it stood in the Miami sun, under the looming presence of Olga;

I shall be telling this with a sigh

For at least the next week until Bachelor in Paradise premieres;

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, and Rachel—

Rachel took the one most traveled by,

And that…has made all the (terrible) difference

My apologies to Robert Frost and 6th grade English teachers everywhere, but it simply had to be done. Rachel’s explanation to Bryan as to why she would be choosing to accept his marriage proposal (as constant torrential winds whipped her edges and lashes into a fury, while simultaneously numbing her recently shredded heart), is that she has always gone for the complicated, challenging man, and turned away from the easy choice in the past. And that has not worked out for her. So here, on the altar of ABC, and with literally only one option in front of her, Rachel is choosing the easy route this time: the man who wants to propose to her without exception, the man who does not challenge or complicate her life. Rachel is choosing the road most traveled by.

And that has really fucked up her Bachelorette legacy.

Watching Rachel’s 3-hour finale may have been stone-cold torture, but that was only because it contained one of the realest moments ever seen on this contrived reality show purportedly about romance. Given the choice between a man who would potentially give her that once-in-a-lifetime kinda love but wasn’t ready to propose that once-in-a -lifetime kinda commitment, and a man who was prepared to propose to her from the moment he met her when she still had 29 other boyfriends and he only knew her name, Rachel — the self-assured, luminescent, beloved, successful attorney from a wealthy Dallas family — chose the bro that was a sure thing to get her an engagement ring.

I’m not saying it’s the wrong choice. I’m saying, Rachel lived out the plot of The Notebook and she chose James Marsden over Noah. Because The Notebook is a movie and this is real life. And reality clearly states: for monogamy to live, romance must die. [Ed Note: But if you’re married and reading this, your relationship is probably the exception! Definitely!]

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In that moment, Bryan was Rachel’s second choice, and no amount of Instagram postssponsored by Dunkin’ Donuts Cold Brew are going to convince anyone of anything else. There are lots of people who fall passionately in love with someone and think they’re going to marry them, but it doesn’t work, so their now slightly hardened heart falls reasonably in love with someone else, and that’s the person they can make marriage work with. The caveat here is that most people don’t travel those two journeys at the same time until they reach a fork in the road with one path labeled, “Once a Girlfriend, Always a Girlfriend Ave,” and the other, “Fiancé to Bryan, Former Contestant on UPN Gameshow The Player Street.”

We’ll get to what Rachel’s ultimate choice means for the status of her #blessed life, but let’s put it off a little longer by focusing on some other, slightly more hopeful points of this season’s all-to-real conclusion:

The Glow Up of Eric

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What a difference a beard makes! I think every single person who watched The Bachelorettethis season had a complicated relationship with Eric’s physical appearance. At times he was boyishly handsome; at times he resembled a young, broader Steve Buscemi; at times he was hella fly; at times — those times usually spent in tiny, ornamental scarves — he was utterly goofy. But most times he resembled that episode of The Office where Jim tries to convince Dwight he’s a vampire by flipping up the collar on an oversized coat. Because Eric wasn’t always shown to be the zen-like sweetheart hottie that he is now, but he was always, always, wearing a winter coat with a big ass collar.

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But post-Hometown Eric was a different Eric. Yes, he still wore a lot of (thick?) crew neck t-shirts with sport jackets, and then, inexplicably, with a pea coat over that, but beginning with that first nicely-fitted Canadian tuxedo in Baltimore, post-Hometown Eric just generally looked more like a grown ass man. And when he returned to the Chris Harrison’s Loveseat of Terrors during his After the Final Rose segment, it became clear…

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Rachel broke Eric’s heart and made him a man. For real, he looked like he could have been in the singing group Boyz II Men, and he definitely looked like he could make love to you, like you’d want him to. Further, he looked like a man who can grow an excellent beard and weave a narrative about love and opening your heart and growing that makes you punch out one thousand heart eye emojis to your best friend while furiously googling “eric bigger bachelorette trainer baltimore phone number or email address.”

Everyone—seriously, everyone, even Neil Lane who got like a two seconds of airtime—came out looking like a loser in this Bachelorette finale, except for Eric. Glow on, baby, ya did good!

Evaluating a Few of the Other Rejects from Men Tell All So We Can Continue to Put Off the Painful Inevitable

Kenny, I love you. I cried when Chris “Plus-We-Got-Bloopers-Comin’-Up” Harrison told your daughter that you were going to Disneyland. But what in the fresh Men’s Wearhouse hell is this?

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Kenny. The tie! Kenny?!

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Kenny’s outfit choice was unfortunate, but hey, the man has has been a dad for 11 years — the last time fashion was his top priority, I guess he would have been wearing decorative dog tags and a Von Dutch hat. So I can cut Kenny some slack. You knew who I will cut zero slack?

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Dress for the gross, racist, sociopathic persona you want…because it looks exactly like the gross, racist, sociopathic persona you already have. I don’t know why Lee insists on wearing this teal shirt so much. Maybe he thinks it brings out the height in his Something About Maryjizz hair? Maybe he thinks it distracts from the fact that he sent out insanely racist and misogynistic tweets and has yet to apologize for them, and now his apology is just saying that he wants to “learn”? Here’s an educational tip, Lee: don’t wear a three piece suit where the third piece is from a different, somehow even uglier suit, where the overall combination comes together to make you look like a mortician’s apprentice at a family-run funeral home in Reno where something seems just a liiiiittle off about everybody.

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But I’m really not the expert to advise on these matters. No, for that let’s turn to Anthony, a master in both three-piece-suits with unorthodox shirt-color choices and racial rhetoric.

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“I think you’re just saying ‘I’ve been a bad person,’ but you’re not acknowledging the kind of invisible racism in your mind. You may not be doing it intentionally, but it’s still motivating your actions. The racism that is ingrained in your actions to the point of invisibility is still pushing you to behave in a certain way towards Kenny, towards Eric, towards me that you don’t even recognize. So, are your actions motivated by racist thoughts that are implicitly embedded in your mentality?”

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For the record, Lee’s response goes a little something like this:

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And finally, dear Dean, whose clock on being this franchise’s It Girl began running out the moment it started ticking — time is a cruel friend, Dean. You’ll learn that when you’re old enough to spot your first laugh line.

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I still love Dean, but this really ridiculous blazer has me nervous that he might grow too thirsty for his own britches post-Paradise. But at least those britches aren’t also navy camouflage.

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That, and the fact that he wasn’t a dick to Rachel, at least, gives me hope.

Define…Engagement

Okay, there’s no more putting off the inevitable. The episode preceding the finale ended on a cliffhanger because suddenly it became clear that Rachel and her hot co-boyfriend Peter were at an impasse. As of the Fantasy Suites — which is to say both his second-to-last solo date with Rachel and his fourth-ever solo date with Rachel — Peter was not sure if he would be ready to propose to her after just six weeks of being aware she existed. See, he believes, “Engagement is marriage. I want to do it as many times as I get married, which is once.“ And Rachel believes that getting engaged in the next two simply days means, "cultivating a relationship and seeing if it can work outside of that.”

This is the one place that Rachel is just crazy-wrong. She is defining a committed dating relationship, but she is assigning that definition to something else entirely. The hardest part of watching this finale is that Rachel was so good at being the Bachelorette. She was smart and thoughtful and in control. What I wanted out of Rachel as a Bachelorette was for her to be different, for her to grow beyond the vehicle she chose to ride in on her “journey to love”…

But Rachel Wasn’t Different

Rachel told Eric’s Aunt Verna [ed. note: long live the queen] that, yes, she was the first black Bachelorette, but she came to the show looking for one thing — love — and in that way, she should be exactly the same as the 12 Bachelorettes that came before her.

And that might have been the hardest pill to swallow while watching Peter and Rachel have a lash-destroying, sweater-ripping breakdown as they realized that they loved one another, but they simply couldn’t make their wants and their needs match up. In the end, Rachel wasn’t any different than the 12 Bachelorettes that came before her. She might have seemed better than the show, and she surely was too good for a lot of the dudes the show provided her with…but she and The Bachelorette shared one goal that overrides all of that: this journey for love ends in an engagement with a Neil-fucking-Lane diamond, and you can either get on board with that or get the hell off of the love train, ya'heard?

So Rachel chose Bryan. Which hopefully felt like a fairytale ending for them, but to everyone else, it kind of felt like the end of love and romance and passion and maybe the franchise. Watching The Bachelorette is supposed to be an escape, but hearing Peter tell Rachel that not choosing to meet him in the middle would be choosing a mediocre life, and then watching her do it was all too real. (He later apologized at After the Final Rose. Rachel insisted she was living her best life. The audience wept.)

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As I ruminated upon the disillusionment of romantic love as I know it though, my subconscious reminded me that oftentimes during Rachel’s journey for love© I found myself thinking of Des and Des’ Bangs journey for love© in season 9. Those comparison’s never made a ton of sense at face value because when it came to being the Bachelorette, Des managed the job with all the aplomb of a crumpled napkin whereas Rachel was a confident and assured polygamist leader.

But both women ended up in the same place. You may recall Des weeping on a dock for somewhere between four hours and four calendar years because Brooks the Secret Mormon realized he just wasn’t as into her as she was into him. She was running toward the altar and he was all, “This has been super fun Des, but I’m going to have to scoot on back to Salt Lake City now.” And that was really tough on Des, the human equivalent of a Lip Smackers. Then all of a sudden, as if the scales of Bad Boy Mormon Brooks had fallen from her eyes, Des realized that she was free to be fully in love with Boring Regular Boy Chris who came from a family of — I kid you fucking not — chiropractors.

And do you know what? Those two mediocre kids have lived happily ever after. Both Des and Rachel seemed to want one thing really, really badly, but in the end, maybe they actually needed another thing. And that thing was free chiropractic adjustments for life and not a handsome, well-adjusted former model (in both cases, I swear!)

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Of course, I have a hard time believing that this Bryan and Rachel can go the distance until they get a handle on his mom’s whole Lysa Arryn vibe, and his whole robot-made-of-plastic vibe. But sometimes…sometimes, mediocrity is built to last — I truly believe that Toyota Camrys will be all that survive the looming world apocalypse.

The most disappointing part of what was truly an emotionally grueling finale experience was not even getting the climactic relief of finding out who the next Bachelor is. Now, I understand the predicament ABC is in—there’s no perfect candidate from Rachel’s crop, probably because they took up valuable space of what could have been non-Bryans who were willing to propose after four weeks with numbnuts like Lee and Lucas. So let’s assess our options:

Peter and/or Dean

The most obvious options for the next Bachelor are Dean and Peter. The former was a favorite all season because he quickly revealed himself to be a hot Precious Moments doll with a heart of gold, and the former was always hot, but in the last analysis revealed himself to be someone who is aware that this process is bogus and while it might create a romantic adventure full of blimps and Greco-Roman wrestling simulations, it does not set couples up for long-term success.

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Unfortunately, both Peter and Dean’s greatest strengths are their greatest weaknesses, as well. Peter’s use of logic in not wanting to propose to Rachel if he wasn’t prepared to marry her, made him a more attractive candidate to as the Bachelor, but it also made him a worse one. As Rachel pointed out in their After the Final Rose segment, Peter might not be cut out for the speed of this this process. As I would like to point out, Peter definitely wasn’t cut out for this process, and Rachel’s comment was definitely fueled by still being in love with him and being defensive about choosing Bryan by default. Gasp, oh yes I did.

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As for Dean, the main problem seems to be that he’s going on Bachelor in Paradise, which is like starting with wine, moving to tequila shots, and then trying to go back to wine again—it’s not going to be pretty. The best thing about Dean being the Bachelor is that he would mess up so much. He is very young and very sweet, and needs to do quite a bit of, let’s say, self-work before he holds the hearts of 30 women in his clumsy Ken Doll hands. And being the woke young thing that he is, Dean said as much to The Hollywood Reporter: “I’d say I don’t think I’m ready yet, at this point in my life. Of course, I would never immediately dismiss any offer, but I think I’d really have to sit down and really think about it.”

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So, my I present for you consideration that Dean and Peter be the Bachelor together??? Not like when they made the dudes vote between Kaitlyn and Britt, and then Kaitlyn won, but not by a lot, so like half of the guys were still there to date someone else. That was really stupid. [Ed. Note: this probably would be too.] But as everyone knows, the most beautiful love affair to come out of Rachel’s season was that of handsome male bonding between Dean and Peter. And they complement each other so well! Dean could help Peter loosen up a little; Peter could help Dean get in touch with his emotions; Dean could help Peter experiment with florals; Peter could help Dean not experiment quite so much with florals. And they could have totally separate groups of potential women sister-girlfriends, and no one would ever have to get in a fight, they could just support each other and everyone could be happy.

Eric

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Eric would be an excellent Bachelor, his only problem is that the editors didn’t reveal his fun personality, and he didn’t reveal the full extent of his hotness until way too late in the season. I just don’t know if he has the popularity. Also, I know ABC is scared to cast a black Bachelor again because they haven’t yet realized that pretty much the only adjustment that needs to be made is not purposefully casting racist potential suitors to stir up racially-fueled drama. Which seems like a pretty easy fix!

A Semi-Famous Person’s Brother

The Bachelor already has a storied history in this arena. There was Aaron Murray’s brother Josh Murray; the much more famous Aaron Rodger’s (estranged) brother Jordan Rodgers; and most importantly for our purposes here, Jerry O'Connell’s brother Charlie O'Connell was cast as the actual Bachelor simply because he was Jerry O'Connell’s brother. Like, Zac Efron has a brother who’s in his mid-20s and already has a Buzzfeed article devoted to how cute he is. Doesn’t Scarlett Johansson have a twin or something? I don’t know, I’m not a casting agent, just find a reason to get someone random and hot on here so we don’t have to keep swimming around in the same tepid pool of candidates!

A Nostalgically Semi-Famous Person

Listen, I’m just trying to think outside the box here. Like…what’s Trey from Laguna Beach up to these days? He was cute with a budding career in trucker hat activism. Maybe a non-Ashley-Parker-Angel member of O-Town? Where’d that guy from Brink! disappear to? I’m pretty sure Ephram from The WB’s Everwood is still out there somewhere? I think we’re onto something here…

Bachelor: The Next Generation

I’m just crunching some numbers here, and if current contestant Kenny has a daughter that’s 11, then a contestant from the original season of The Bachelor 15 years ago could reasonably have a child that’s 25 or 26 now. It’s not a real suggestion that said hypothetical offspring should be the next Bachelor…but it’s worth noting that one day, in the not so distant future, someone will come onto this show as a contestant…whose parent was a contestant before them. It happened on American Idol, and it will happen here. Swear to me, dear reader, that we’ll make it out before that happens…

K, see you next week for Bachelor in Paradise, pending how awfully they handle the Corrinne/DeMario situation! It will probably be pretty awful!!!