Presented by SkipTheDishes
Content Warning: This story contains references to suicide and other mental health issues.
Last night’s strange (yet strangely sweet) Hometown episode gave me major Survivor vibes. I know that might sound random, but as my fellow Survivor viewers can attest, there’s a “loved ones visit” episode every season and it is famously tear-jerking. While I, of course, realize this season’s men are hardly starving on an island, nor have they advanced as a result of voting others off said island, I do think from an emotional standpoint they have a bit more in common than usual with a Survivor contestant. A common theme I’ve heard from my Survivor alum friends about their experience is the intense boredom and a feeling of deep loneliness. There’s no question these guys have had a very different experience, more than your usual Bachelor contestant—less travel, less glitz and less adventure ultimately do equate to less distraction. On my own season, I was plenty homesick, and that was with flights every five days or so, with foreign countries (and cuisines!) to explore on dates, and with a new hotel suite every week. I felt the guys’ emotional states in last night’s episode seemed to reflect this lack of distraction, and ultimately, the sense of homesickness boredom can incite.
Selfishly, as an audience member, I must say each of these guys is getting a phenomenal story arc. These men have shared so much of themselves with us this season, from their divorces to their potentially life-threatening traumas, so it’s only natural we’d have heard more than usual about the people who supported them through it all: their families. On most seasons, a contestant mentions something along the lines of “family is everything” and that’s that. On most seasons, the lead meets the families with a polite “I’ve heard so much about you!” But this season, even we’ve heard so much about them. We’ve heard in great detail about Ivan’s brother Gabriel and his stint in prison, not to mention his (lovely) father’s multiple health scares. We’ve heard all about Zac’s deep bond with his parents and how he credits them with having saved his life. (Hell, he has struggled not to cry just talking about them!) We’ve heard just how important Ben’s sister is to him, the constant support through his battles with eating disorders and (unbeknownst to her) his suicide attempts. In short, because this has been a season where contestants are prompted to open up more than those who came before them, we simply knew more about their families than we ever normally would on a regular season. The result was an incredibly satisfying and even momentous-feeling round of familial meet-and-greets. The ante was already pre-upped before this episode even began.
However, as inventive (and frankly impressive) as these Hometown dates were (not only on the guys’ parts but especially the many people behind the scenes who actually made things happen), there was one very familiar (and very tired) narrative to pay us a visit: the contestant who “chokes” on saying the L-word, only to get sent home and feel regret.
It’s hard to say whether this could be attributed at all to Tayshia, and it’s far more likely to be production shoehorning a narrative but, regardless, I didn’t appreciate even the subtle suggestion that Ben was the one responsible for his being sent home. And trust me, that narrative wasn’t subtle. Throughout Ben’s Hometown, we got multiple voiceovers of Tayshia’s along the lines of:
- “I know where my heart stands with Ben—I’m starting to fall in love with him—but he has not shared where his heart is.”
- “I’m hoping [Madalyn and Antonia] can give me insight as to who he really is, because I feel like it took him so long to open up about his past.”
- “I truly care about Ben but there’s so much more I have to uncover.”
In other words, Ben, who (despite obvious discomfort) has shared not one, but two serious traumas (his 15-year battle with eating disorders AND two instances of attempted suicide) could still be deemed “closed off.” Now, I understand there’s a clear difference between sharing a trauma and being verbally effusive with a romantic partner; they may both fall into the category of “opening up,” but they’re hardly the same. But for God’s sake, have some patience that a guy who has struggled with serious mental health issues might be a bit emotionally reticent while on NATIONAL TELEVISION.
I get that Ben might seem a bit too “on” and Tayshia maybe felt like he was never truly himself. Indeed, in a voiceover from Ben’s 1-on-1 last week, Tayshia said, “I’m still struggling to see who he really is.” When chatting with Madalyn, she said, “Him being so closed off has made me hesitant, and it’s to the point where I’m constantly looking for something to be wrong.” That is all perfectly understandable, so again, my issue isn’t necessarily directed at Tayshia herself. In fact, I can only imagine how tricky it would be as the lead to navigate which contestants are emotionally invested if you can’t hear what they’re saying in their ITMs. But what ground my gears last night was the overriding suggestion that Ben didn’t do enough. That he wasn’t “open” enough, wasn’t “vulnerable” enough, didn’t use enough of the right words. That not saying the magic word (apparently the L-word) at the exact right time (apparently during that sliver of time between saying goodbye to his family and Tayshia walking away) was his undoing. Or, to use his own words, that it somehow meant, “In true Ben fashion, I just blew it.”
What’s more likely than anything is that Tayshia and Ben just have different ways of being, of communicating their emotions, which absolutely can be difficult for a romantic relationship. But in that case, that’s a mutual misalignment—it’s not just Ben falling short, as was suggested last night by all parties, including Ben himself.
Considering Ben’s history with mental health and depression, I HATE that the show allowed (and even encouraged) Ben to believe that, by not divulging according to this show’s unforgiving requirements and hyper tight timeline, that was somehow him “blowing it.” Remember what I said last week, about how these terms eerily resemble ultimatums? Why should Ben need to share the L-word—or any emotions, really—before he feels good and ready? Especially considering, if Tayshia was willing to send Ben home at this point, his “opening up” most likely would have been for naught anyway. If Tayshia liked Ben the most, regardless of how “open” he was, she simply would not have sent him home, much less with THREE men ahead of him.
Tayshia was never going to pick Ben. On Monday night, Chris Harrison said to Tayshia, “At this point, you’re splitting hairs—you could end up with any of them and be happy.” Ugh, no, no no! I’ve mentioned here and there over the years how much I loathe the “It’s anyone’s game!” vibes of this show. This is not dating musical chairs. There is so much more to compatibility, chemistry, and aligned values than someone professing their feelings in the right way, at the right time. Can you imagine how much easier it’d be to find “The One” if that is all it took?
My episode 11 frontrunners are…
Zac C, 36
Zac was already at the top of my list but this is the week where he pulled ahead. I was pretty blown away by his thoughtful and intricate date. Hometowns are often all about the contestant and how they live their life, but it felt like Zac made a point of tailoring this “New York City” playground to Tayshia’s curiosity about the city, making it almost a gift of sorts for her. As I say in The Morning After video above, I feel based on this Hometown, and the degree of listening and thoughtfulness it displayed, that Zac will make an incredible partner one day. Above all, there’s a chemistry between these two that oozes through the TV screen. You can tell there’s a deep understanding and mutual respect between them. It’s hard to picture anyone else “winning” at this point.
I really enjoyed Ivan’s Hometown; he really seemed to glow in the presence of people he trusts, particularly his brother Gabriel. (Seriously, how great a big brother does he seem to be?!) We also got the first hint of Ivan’s deep confidence in all this; when his mother worried about Ivan getting hurt, saying “IF she keeps you,” he responded with, “I’ll be here.” It would be easy for a comment like this to come off a bit arrogant-sounding, but in Ivan’s case it only made me more confident in their relationship. The chemistry between Tayshia and Ivan doesn’t stand out quite as strongly to me as it does with Zac, which is why I have Ivan in this second spot, but I do still think these two have their steamy moments.
Going home next week…
I love the sweet rapport and mutual understanding between Brendan and Tayshia, so truly, the only reason I have him in this spot is because I feel there’s less electric chemistry between them. I get more of a youthfulness in their interactions, verging on almost platonic in vibe. To be blunt, when these two kiss, I don’t get the sense they’re dying to rip each other’s clothes off. I could be way off base, so we’ll see. It pains me to even predict Brendan going home because he truly is a favourite of mine, so either he does go home and I’ll have the satisfaction of being right in my prediction, or he stays and I’m lucky enough to watch him on my screen some more.