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It never ceases to amaze me how quickly tables can turn, how the lasting impression of someone on this show can completely transform and do a 180 over the course of one episode. Think about how easily our minds can be changed—and how powerful a little persuasive editing can be—so that within one episode, a hero turns into a villain, or vice versa. Last season, Hannah became the season’s “crazy” contestant over the course of one episode, then became the I-Am-Woman-Hear-Me-Roar poster child in another. Now, I’m in no way suggesting Luke P. was redeemed by his Hometown. His many crimes and stomach churning moments are still far too fresh for even the warm-fuzziest of Hometowns to remedy. But it was still fascinating to watch how someone like him could be so adored and respected by not only his family, but his community. In real life, outside of a pressure cooker designed to bring out your worst traits, it would seem even a narcissist has his tribe.
I’m not going to lie, I found this to be a lacklustre Hometown episode. I’m willing to admit it could be because I went in with high expectations: Nick Viall, a friend whose opinion I respect (and who gets episodes in advance) told me on Sunday before I watched that this episode was a good one. I agree it was good to the extent that it was different—we’ve never seen anyone take all four contestants into Fantasy Suite week. And in a way, I love that it’s a Bachelorette season where that’s happening; I’ve always believed sexual compatibility is a MAJOR factor in how destined for success a couple may be, and it feels wonderfully feminist for a female lead to require exploring that before feeling confident in who she keeps or sends home. In fact, it’s always struck me as a bit absurd that Hometowns would be before Fantasy Suites. It should SO be the other way around!
That said, this episode oscillated between feeling painfully rote and painfully patronizing. On one hand—the rote hand—there were the stereotypical Hometowns, filled with feel-good family time, questions about the contestant’s readiness for marriage and parents fearing their child’s heart getting broken but doling out their blessings nonetheless. There was also the now-standard questionable Hometown, where the lead gets attitude from the guy’s family and ends up leaving with more doubts than when she arrived. The one exception was Tyler C.’s Hometown which, in the aftermath of this father’s health scare, made for a truly moving visit.
On the other hand—the patronizing hand—I am unconvinced last night’s Rose Ceremony wasn’t at least partially an act. Having been on the show and knowing very well how real everything is—or rather, how real everything can feel—I personally don’t think I’m one to overanalyze or doubt this show’s “realness.” (When people stop me on the street to ask me if the show is “real,” my answer is yes.) But—and again, having been there—I also know how little is left to chance. A contestant can’t even have the briefest of interactions with the lead without first consulting with a producer what he plans on discussing with her. (I remember telling my producer I’d rather go in with no plan, to just see where the conversation took us naturally, and being told what a bad idea that was.) My point is, a contestant can’t wing a 10-minute conversation, yet Hannah can wing the Final 4 Rose Ceremony? Give me a break.
There is little to no chance producers didn’t fully know where Hannah stood and that she didn’t feel comfortable sending anyone home. (Just imagine the hours’ worth of ITM conversation on the editing room floor.) There’s also little to no chance The Powers That Be didn’t have an inkling of Luke P.’s thoughts on premarital sex, and—being bonafide experts at spotting potential drama weeks before it occurs—the crucial fire that could spark. I’m not saying I’m 100% positive the entire Rose Ceremony was BS and that Hannah was acting. That said, I challenge you (seriously, do this!) to rewind your DVR, re-watch that Rose Ceremony through this lens and tell me I’m not onto something. Hannah was shaking and crying uncontrollably at sending home Mike last week—a relationship that doesn’t come close to comparing in intensity—yet she barely sheds a tear over potentially sending home one of these four guys? Nope. Not buying it.
Finally, while every other lead ever has HAD to axe a contestant after Hometowns, I highly doubt Hannah received much pushback over keeping all four. I’d even wager she was offered it as an option. Not only is she the first to do it, making it—gasp!—“unprecedented,” but the other guys are automatically irked Luke P. is still in the mix, providing yet another source of conflict. Last night was the first night all season where we saw Jed legitimately pissed off, at the thought that he’d be categorized the same as Luke P. Keeping all four men wasn’t only something that felt spoiled by the previews—it’s something that provided too many opportunities for drama for The Powers That Be to pass up on.
My frontrunners and predictions based on episode 9 are…
1. Tyler C., 26
Tyler’s Hometown truly tugged on my heartstrings. While I have my doubts that he’s really ready for an engagement, I do believe a parent’s illness can change your perspective and priorities. The chemistry these two have continues to be through the roof, but something I picked up on last night that I haven’t noticed as much with the other couples is that Tyler C. seems to make Hannah laugh. Hannah tends to be the funny one in her other relationships, but Tyler holds his own with her. We haven’t seen of ton of Peter’s or Jed’s humour—I would actually argue Jed is on the dry side—and given how I know women prioritize this (and rightfully so), it has nudged Tyler up into my tip top spot.
2. Jed, 25
As shocking as this may sound, I didn’t find Jed’s Hometown to be as detrimental to his story as people seem to think. I’m surely coming at this from the perspective of a musician, but, well… music is a huge part of my life, too. I know from experience that a great deal of Jed’s identity probably lies in his music, to the point where—and especially given the consistent positive reinforcement Hannah’s giving him over it—I’d be surprised if he hadn’t made his Hometown activity revolve around music. I know how hard on relationships a career in music can be, as well as the sacrifices on both sides you have to make on the regular. Above all, while Jed admitted to initially having come on for the #WrongReasons (and while I have heard the rumours surrounding his pre-filming relationship status, I’m reserving judgment on that for now), I’m still buying what he’s selling when it comes to his feelings for Hannah. In fact, I’d say he’s more surprised by those feelings than anyone.
Going home next week (assuming there are two cuts)…
1. Peter, 27
Gosh, Peter’s Hometown was sweet! On a show loaded with airplane and helicopter rides, it was damn cool for the date himself to be the one in the pilot’s seat. Best of all, he comes from a family that is positively bursting with unconditional love and acceptance for one another. Peter will make a phenomenal partner for someone at some point because of this; he has been bred for it. Unfortunately, while I think Hannah adores Peter, I don’t see her looking at him with the same googly eyes she uses for Jed or Tyler. But fear not; I have a feeling this isn’t the last we’ll be seeing of Peter the Pilot; he seems destined for Bachelor Nation greatness.
2. Luke P., 24
It’s tough to imagine a world in which Luke P. doesn’t go home next week—thanks to the previews that could be mistaken for spoilers—and it’ll be good riddance when that time comes. That said, I maintain what I said a few weeks ago: Hannah gave Luke P. a true gift in keeping him long enough for a Hometown episode. There’s no forgetting his cringeworthy behaviour this season. However, seeing him surrounded by people who love him and to whom he has nothing to prove, it was a reminder to us all that none of us know these people to begin with, much less based on their time in the Bachelor Bubble. It brings out the worst in all of us, some more than others.