Bachelor Nation

Sharleen Joynt on Episode 2 of The Bachelorette

The former Bach contestant, podcast host and FLARE columnist shares her insider's POV on the second episode of Clare's season

Presented by SkipTheDishes

When it comes to this franchise (a franchise still finding its footing in shedding its sexist undertones), there are few things more satisfying than watching a Bachelorette you can tell is emboldened by the very fact that she’s Bachelorette. I mean this in the very best way: Power suits Clare. With some Bachelorettes, it feels as though it can take weeks for that power to kick in, to get the memo that this is their ship. But for Clare, it’s like she was born for this. She’d been waiting to try on that Cinderella slipper, sure it’d be a perfect fit. No one put it better than she did last week: “This is MY time.”

I rewatched Clare’s conversation with Brandon last night twice, partly because her sending him home thrilled me. It thrilled me because, this being on one of the season’s very first dates, it was an unquestionably authentic reaction (and action) on Clare’s part. Most leads would have had a basic conversation with Brandon, filed away their distaste for him and sent him home at a Rose Ceremony. But Clare wasted no time. And, no, she didn’t send him home because he hadn’t Googled her or didn’t compliment more about her than her looks. She didn’t send him home because he had a girlfriend, nor because he was a source of drama. No, Clare sent Brandon home for not being what she was looking for.

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I know opinions on this are varied, but to me Brandon dropped the ball. (Sorry, I had to!) He presumably knew for MONTHS whom he’d be going on national television to pursue. Filming was delayed AND they had their phones while they quarantined. (We know they must have had their phones since Yosef was able to DM ladies on Instagram. Just call me Sherlock!) In other words, even if Brandon hopped on a plane knowing nothing about Clare, he certainly had the time to do his research in quarantine. After all, men had the time to do pull-ups, to play chess, to jump on their beds….

To give you perspective, when Juan Pablo was announced, a casting director called me on the phone to ask me my thoughts. I asked her about the type of person he was, how religious he was, and what kind of a dad he was…. As much as I also went on the show for the experience, it mattered to me that certain things lined up with us as human beings if we were ostensibly going to “date.”  And this was before I had signed that contract. This was also with less time to spare pre-filming than Brandon had (Juan Pablo was announced in August and we began filming in September). Even after I had signed on and was filming, when other contestants and  I found out a certain producer had been “in the house” with Juan Pablo on Desiree’s season—meaning she had been with the contestants day in and day out (versus the lead)—we asked her a ton of questions about him, how he’d handled drama, who he’d been friends with. We wanted to know about the person we were “dating!” Who wouldn’t??

So, with all the build-up and literal months of anticipation, Brandon never once felt inspired to look Clare up? To briefly stalk her Instagram or watch an interview with her? To brush up on her time on Juan Pablo’s season, on Paradise, on Winter Games? To even ask a producer about her in their many pre- or mid-filming chats? Despite having every opportunity and all the access one could want, he went into this conversation with Clare with literally the same amount of information (or less!) most people know on a first Tinder date that both parties know is just a hook-up.

Now, I understand the good intentions in wanting to go into a dating situation without preconceived notions. However, newsflash: This is not a normal dating situation! With cameras on you, and with national television awaiting, if you intend to “wing it,” you do so at your own peril. And especially when you don’t have time on your side (time with Clare is always ticking), why not to make an effort? Why not do some research? I rarely make assumptions about contestants’ lives or how their actions on this show reflect them as real people, but based on the staggering and even conspicuous lack of effort on this front, I can’t help but imagine Brandon has gotten away with doing the bare minimum with women for a very, very long time.

The other reason I re-watched Clare’s conversation with Brandon was because I wanted to see the exact moment this conversation took a nosedive. I realized it stemmed from Clare asking, “So what made you want to be on here for me?” Brandon had said he came on the show specifically for her and most women would smile and say thank you and proceed with regular getting-to-know-you programming. (Indeed, Brandon attempted to steer things into less power-imbalanced territory by saying, “I know you’re from Sacramento; were you born and raised?”) But Clare held him to it: If he’d signed scary contracts, flown across the country in a pandemic and quarantined for two weeks “for her,” WHY?

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She didn’t let Brandon off the hook (even when he mumbled, “Can we not talk about that?”) and knowing Clare’s history, I applaud her for it. This is a woman who has been transparent about her struggles with an abusive relationship, with self esteem, with feeling worthy in the eyes of men. To watch her hold Brandon’s gaze and essentially ask “OK, what else about me spoke to you?” was the moment we were shown what has been advertised for so many months: Clare knowing what she wants.

You could argue Clare was entitled and fishing for compliments. I argue she wants a man who notices things about her. It could be as minute as the expression she makes when she’s listening, a certain mannerism she may have, or the way she laughs. It doesn’t have to be about her Bachelor story, nor does it have to be a compliment. It’s about noticing something—anything—that intrigues. And if there wasn’t one single thing he noticed about her (other than her beauty), well…is that someone you’d want to be with?

The reason I point this out: While my 35-year old self may have asked something along these lines on an early date (not in the vein of being Bachelorette, obviously, but more in zeroing in on what made a man into me specifically), my 25-year old self would not have. I would have felt embarrassed to ask a guy why he liked me, worried about the insecurity that would betray. Of course, I’d have preferred to not need to ask at all, to be naturally told or shown answers without prompting. But a huge part of being a woman in my 30s has been embracing the need for such information and being unapologetic about it. Whether you get those answers via a person’s actions, by their volunteered words or by expressly asking for them. (The method in getting that answer certainly plays a role; perhaps even needing to ask is all the information one needs.) But to me, this “fishing” on Clare’s part reflected just that: her unapologetic need to hear what about her speaks to a potential mate. Words of Affirmation should not be confused with mere compliments—that is far too simplistic a perspective. I am a Words of Affirmation person but it’s not like my husband compliments me all the time; what he does is NOTICE things about me, and he tells me those observations. It’s about being seen (I recently learned this aligns with my Enneagram type), to feel like what you put out into the world is landing in its full capacity. I for one could absolutely see why Clare would be put off by Brandon and too would have sent him packing.

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Leading up to this season, and in last week’s premiere, the message of what Clare was looking for often came down to a man being “open” and “vulnerable.” I’ll admit this concerned me, if only because it felt too vague. But I now see the message Clare is sending. She’s telling her men to PAY ATTENTION. Assert. Show curiosity. Given her no-holds-barred approach, she might be making up for lost time in her past with low-effort men. But aren’t we all products of our pasts? Clare is creating a future she wants by changing what she’s willing to put up with, and if being Bachelorette gives her the confidence (and the power) to execute on that, I’m all for it.

I’m not sure there’s any point in keeping up with my Top 4 frontrunners but here goes…

My Episode 2 frontrunners are:

Dale, 31

My predictions have never felt so tedious. That said, I love how undeniable Clare’s preference for Dale is. It’s refreshing on a show typically filled with faux hemming and hawing.

Blake Moynes, 29

I wasn’t wild about Blake’s decision to crash the Group Date party (as I said in the above The Morning After video, these few minutes of time aren’t worth the social rifts they cause). That said, I do feel like Blake is genuinely into Clare, and she certainly has an eye on him.

Jason, 31

I’m not sure any one man is getting as much airtime as Jason. (Think about it: We know far more about Jason’s personality than we do Dale’s.) Does that mean Clare’s interested? Not necessarily, and I’m not buying the romance here. But I do think Jason is a major player and certainly one to watch.

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Riley, 30

To be honest, I’m only putting Riley here because I traditionally have four contestants on this list. (Maybe I should just make it a list of one for Clare’s season?) At any rate, Riley stood out in an understated way this week. He put Clare at ease after the “stealing” (or lack thereof) debacle, and he has a distinctly calming presence I appreciate. I like him, and with that Group Date rose on his lapel, it would seem Clare does, too.