Presented by SkipTheDishes
I feel like a broken record talking endlessly about how great this season’s guys are, but…can we talk about how great this season’s guys are?! Maybe it has something to do with, having Clare in mind, casting a slightly older demographic? With so many of these men being around 35 versus the usual 25, it’s hard not to make that connection. Perhaps, with the big Bachelorette switch, withstanding the season’s twists together has allowed deeper bonding and a feeling of being truly safe with one another. Perhaps pandemic times are bringing out a better side in some of us, allowing these guys to appreciate underrated privileges like health and companionship in a way they might not have in years past. At any rate, this is a killer cast of contestants. I’ve said for weeks that these men are the stars of this season and I will gladly repeat myself!
As for the season itself, I am in awe of the punch it is packing. Is there a heavy-hitting topic we’re NOT getting this season? With Clare and Zach J, whether or not it was their intention, we got a discussion around consent and trauma after abusive relationships. With Tayshia and Ivan, we got conversation about Black Lives Matter and biracialism. Last night, we learned about Zac C’s past struggles with drug and alcohol addiction post-surgery, a disorder that plagues a sizeable portion of the population. Riley opened up about being estranged from his mother for many years. Ben told Tayshia about his 15-year battle (!) with anorexia and bulimia. Even Noah-versus-Bennett is flirting with shining a light on discrepancies in privilege and social class. I’ve often assumed I tune into this show for little more than a vacation for my brain, but this season is proving me wrong.
That’s not the say the season is without its eye roll-inducing moments. Last night, when Tayshia declared that, “one way or another” she would “get to the bottom” of Noah-versus-Bennett, I groaned. Since when isn’t there tension between choice contestants, and since when should it matter to the lead? At least in the past, the show has strategized ways for the tension to bleed into the lead’s experience, whether that means loud arguments she can overhear, or contestants just straight-up talking shit about each other to her. But in this case, I was left scratching my head wondering how Noah and Bennett making jabs at each other really affects Tayshia’s romantic relationships. At worst, it suggests not all the men are the best of friends. But remember: Tayshia had her own conflicts—namely with Caelynn—while on Colton’s season, yet was later close enough with her for them to travel to Paris together. In other words, she of all people should know the contestant environment is designed to make people who might otherwise get along, well, not get along.
As usual, I don’t blame Tayshia in the slightest for this. She is undeniably shrewd, and it’s hard to imagine she of all people would be losing sleep over why two guys—two guys we know she isn’t ending up with—don’t get along. But not only do I think some producer strings are being pulled on Tayshia’s part, I think they’re alive and well at the source, too. On this week’s Group Date, one must wonder if Bennett and Noah would have even argued again had Tayshia not shone a very direct and pointed light on their tension. What purpose did it serve, other than to incite further conflict, for Jojo to point-blank ask the two guys what was up between them? The same goes for the makeshift 2-on-1 date; how many hostile relationships have come and gone and been smoothed over throughout the course of the season, sans poking and prodding forcing both parties to defend themselves and keep the discord intact? The Powers That Be did more than just pounce on Noah-versus-Bennett—they’ve been actively blowing on the coals to keep the flame of conflict alive.
The Noah and Bennett saga is an interesting one. Our 2-on-1-worthy battle royales tend to feature one clear villain and one clear do-gooder (or rather, an attempted do-gooder). Just a few examples include Kenny (good cop) versus Lee (bad cop) on Rachel’s season, Jordan (likeable cop) versus David (unlikeable cop) on Becca’s season, Mykenna (good cop) versus Tammy (temporary bad cop) on Peter’s season. But with Noah-versus-Bennett, I find myself torn. On one hand, I recognize I’m more attached to Bennett; we’ve known him since the beginning, we’ve seen him avoid any and all drama until recent weeks, and I don’t know about you but I’ve been grateful for his comic relief more than a few times. I also really like how he just doesn’t give a rat’s ass what people think of him—we saw a hint of this on Clare’s roast Group Date, where Bennett “roasted” Dale within an inch of his life. However, his now recurring missteps with Noah can no longer go ignored—Noah complained last week about “passive aggressive tiny jabs” and we officially saw them last night. No matter how in the right Bennett may be, this way of handling things reflects less maturity than I’d like to see—and would expect—from him.
That’s not to say I think Noah is remotely innocent. We never really did see an apology from Noah for using his 1-on-1 time last week to manipulate Tayshia into thinking the men were doubting her “integrity.” While it’s possible this saga closed with some off-camera peacekeeping, we never saw it. And make no mistake: Noah did owe everyone there an apology, an apology I highly doubt he ever offered. In general, Noah seems to think only of himself and acts accordingly, but then behaves like a wounded victim when those selfish acts provoke teasing and condescension. He seems awfully annoyed by others’ treatment of him without taking responsibility for what he might have done to elicit that treatment. You cannot have it both ways: Either treat others as you would want to be treated, or expect that you won’t be the most popular guy in the bunch.
Unfortunately, as much as I wish the scales tilted in Bennett’s favour last night, they did not. If anything, Noah-versus-Bennett is a classic case of “two wrongs.” What Bennett failed to realize is that a huge part of “social awareness”—one of those four pillars of emotional intelligence he mentioned—is recognizing when you’re someone’s peer versus their superior. Being older than someone does not make you their superior. Simply put, as his peer in this scenario, it’s not Bennett’s place to tell Noah his shortcomings. Explaining the ways in which he’s underdeveloped or immature is something very few people are allowed to do—in my eyes, only Noah’s parents (or perhaps a schoolteacher when he was a child) would have that right. So, either Bennett was completely sincere in his “gift” and he’s the one to lack that aforementioned social awareness, or he meant this gift as an insult, in which case he really is that condescending. Unfortunately, neither is the best look.
My episode 8 frontrunners are…
Zac C, 36
A girlfriend and I were texting last night about how refreshingly ADULT Zac feels. It’d be easy to chalk that up to his age, but to agree with Noah, there isn’t necessarily a correlation between age and maturity. (Case in point: Each Ed and Bennett are Zac’s age but you wouldn’t necessarily guess that.) You can tell Zac’s past struggles with addiction and his subsequent hard-won victories have left a fully formed human: a man who knows himself, a man who manages to be dead serious and sincere, yet who also doesn’t take himself too seriously. I love how Zac keeps surprising us, both in what a dark horse he’s become (when Clare was Bachelorette, I don’t think any of us really had our sights set on him) and in displaying what true maturity looks like.
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One thing I dig about Ivan is that you can expect that if there’s drama, he won’t be there. As such, he doesn’t tend to get a lot of airtime in episodes like last night’s. We did get his fantastic “self portrait” (one of my favourites, truthfully!) and a snippet of his 1-on-1 time, making his presence subtle but omnipresent. We all know he’s one of the season’s guys to (continue to) watch.
I confess I was waiting to get to know Ben. He has said a lot of the “right” things, but last night was the first time he really got personal—and WOW did he show himself to us. Now that we know about his 15 year struggle with body image and eating disorders, so much more makes sense about him, from his hesitancy to truly open up, to his then-questionable but now-applaudable “self portrait” of stripping naked. Given a third or so of those who suffer eating disorders identify as male, I think his struggles will resonate with many across all genders. Kudos to him for being as honest as he was—something he frankly did not have to do. I do think it was Ben’s intention to share this to bring himself and Tayshia closer, and it certainly succeeded. We all know Ben’s 1-on-1 has to be next on the docket.
Brendan always makes me smile, and though he was on the down-low this week, we still got some key moments: his “self portrait” and a bit of his 1-on-1 time with Tayshia afterwards. Similar to Ivan, he’s blissfully drama-free but omnipresent in terms of airtime, and Tayshia has a sweet familiarity with him when they’re together. It’s hard to imagine Brendan going anywhere anytime soon.