Well, it finally happened. It’s kind of incredible that despite the years upon years of beefed-up bros living together, their battling for the same lady, and all subsequent heightened emotions, that never once has a physical altercation unfolded. Despite the many Chads and Luke Ps of Bachelor Nation and their clenched fists while they shouted millimetres from other’s faces, who’d have thought the franchise’s first-ever episode of violence would turn out to involve goofy, usually lovable Jordan? That body slam was no joke, and all parties—the show included—are lucky Christian landed on the sand and not face-down on that palapa’s wooden steps. It’s a relief to know that the violence clause in the franchise’s daunting contracts is taken as seriously as they claim it to be—the level of aggression we saw over a sad star piñata (it was a piñata, right?) was disturbing to say the least. Plus, these days, booze can only be so much to blame, thanks to the two-drinks-per-hour maximum implemented in the wake of what happened with Corinne and DeMario on season 4. Ahhhh, Paradise.
The hullabaloo nearly overshadowed the fact that we finally got another Rose Ceremony, where Hannah chose lovesick Dylan over evil Blake and America gave a collective sigh of relief. In a strange twist, Kristina gave her rose to Blake. When Kristina first arrived, that fact that she revealed her entire Blake backstory—plus that she took him on her date—felt producer-orchestrated. Further, last night, note how Kristina’s rose was last despite the fact that Hannah’s rose was the cliffhanger—hell if The Powers That Be had no part in her decision. Myself, I’ve had my Blake fill and would have preferred to have seen adorable Wills stick around in his place. Nonetheless, I can’t deny finding it intriguing to consider Kristina the season’s not-so-secret producer mole. Every season has one: the Michelle Moneys and Bibianas who give this show the grease it needs to run smoothly. Given how heartbreaking Kristina’s first Paradise go-around was to watch, this is an unexpected power dynamic shift I can get behind.
Directly following the Rose Ceremony, Hannah and Dylan canoodled and we were meant to believe Hannah had finally seen the light. However, call me a cynic, but I couldn’t quite get past the fact that she wore the very same romper she’d been wearing while straddling Blake one commercial break earlier. (I guess she saw the light in a matter of a few hours?) Not only was Dylan wearing the same outfit, I swear his eyes were still bloodshot from crying over said straddling. The show was quick to use the Jordan versus Christian violence as a catalyst to remind us why everyone was there in the first place (LOVE, REMEMBER?), and the The Powers That Be swiftly put their money where their mouths were by producing a date card with Dylan’s name on it. But I don’t care how romantic the music on their 1-on-1 date is, nor how many bodies of water Dylan and Hannah walk across barefoot, nor how many Aztec warriors dance for them while they “dine”—the show might be forcing this love story down my throat, but their relationship is marred.
I get that not every Paradise love story comes together in the same way; not every couple will be their season’s Jade and Tanner, nor should they have to be. I have no issue with couples taking a minute to get in sync and find each other—great examples of this would be Season 3’s Carly and Evan, or Season 5’s Krystal and Chris. I also don’t have an issue with halves of couples respectfully exploring other options, going zip lining with newcomers when invited, and generally enjoying Paradise for all it has to offer. I do, however, take issue with Hannah’s repeated trysts with Blake, while in plain sight of Dylan. Dylan wasn’t someone with whom she had a mere flirtation; their coupledom was established enough to have been referred to by others as “the strongest couple there.” And in light of Hannah’s history with Blake, these weren’t one-offs, they weren’t mistakes. Like I said, exploration is fine, but it’s possible to explore other relationships without disrespecting your existing relationship with such aplomb. There was a blatantness to how carelessly and unapologetically Hannah hurt someone she knew cared about her that destroyed my faith in them as a couple.
Don’t get me wrong: though he may have been the victim in the Blake drama, Dylan wasn’t entirely innocent, either. No human could live up to the impossibly high pedestal upon which he’d perched Hannah. Also, there’s a difference between being patient and understanding and being overly tolerant to the point where you no longer demand respect. In my opinion, the way Hannah handled Blake’s advances showed an innate lack of care and respect for Dylan, a lack of respect which, I’m sorry to say, I don’t think can be mended. When that sort of respect and admiration for a romantic partner is lost, it rarely returns. Maybe Dylan and Hannah will be the first couple ever to change my mind on that matter. Maybe.
Thankfully, other couples have been coming through and keeping me a believer in Paradise romance. Bukowski and Katie are downright adorbs; Katie really seems at ease with him, and I love how quickly he’s gone from franchise laughingstock to potential romantic lead and voice of reason. Dean continues to redeem himself with his unassuming and self-deprecating commentary—I laughed out loud when he declared, “Blake’s out-Deaned Dean, which I appreciate.” He and Caelynn seem suddenly rock-solid—given their familiar and easy rapport, that’s a couple I’d like to see get a bit more airtime. John Paul Jones and Tayshia bewilder me somewhat—I’m not sure if I could picture this pairing working out in real life, where the mutual benefits of coupling up aren’t so obvious and plentiful, but their time together is nonetheless very entertaining.
A Paradise season would be missing something if it didn’t include a not-so-surprise visit by the current reigning Bachelorette. I usually find these visits a bit forced as they’re predominantly used for previews, with the clear hope for a bit of drama. (Remember Colton’s trauma at Becca’s return last season?) However, given how strong a friendship we’ve come to know Hannah and Demi share, as well as the pre-season Girl Chat about Demi’s sexuality, I honestly really enjoyed this. Demi opened up in a way we haven’t seen so far this season; she sheds her stoicism in Hannah’s presence, and she stayed that way for her subsequent chat with Derek. The affection and appreciation Demi has for him is clear, and note how, versus Dylan, Derek did strike the right balance of patience and understanding without being too tolerant. He voiced wishing Demi hadn’t “downplayed” her relationship, but confessed he really liked Demi and would still like to see where things went. I have my doubts Demi’s upcoming chat with Chris Harrison was some spur-of-the-moment decision—since when does anyone need to speak with him when they’re speaking with producers all day? However, these conversations showed that, whatever does happen, Demi is legitimately torn about whatever decisions she’s about to make—likely far more torn than she thought she’d be.