In the advent calendar that is a Bachelorette season, there is perhaps no flap more satisfying to open than Men Tell All, which is just like Women Tell All, except fundamentally not as good, if we’re being honest with ourselves. Next Monday night, we’ll learn who Rachel Lindsay has chosen to spend the rest of her life with (well…), but for now, on Neil Lane Eve, it’s time to get reacquainted with the likes of Jamey (who), Tickle Monster (why), and Alex, who doesn’t say a word at Men Tell All, but whose blazer is more than loud enough to make up for it. Let me do you the kindness of breaking this news to you now: Prepare yourself for the glaring absence of Marine veteran and notable handsome human Blake K., unjustly eliminated before his time.
After he was unceremoniously thrown off the Bachelorette set, a drunken sexual encounter (that was originally reported to be possibly non-consensual) between DeMario and Corinne Olympios sparked a scandal that temporarily halted production on Bachelor in Paradise earlier this summer. The details remain murky. But DeMario, you’ll be pleased to know, is a new man, in that he improbably comes off worse here than ever before. Now, rather than pretending he’s never met Lexi, the woman he’d been seeing who confronted him mid-date with Rachel, he’s moved on to dismissing his ex as a “random-ass” side chick. He demands “ocular facts” that prove they were together. Then he invokes Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky, but whatever he says is so aggressively bleeped for profanity that I haven’t the slightest idea where he was going. If this is supposed to be the first stop on the DeMario Apology World Tour, then it’s off to a rocky start. (See you on Dancing with the Stars, I guess?)
As Chris Harrison says, this has been a season of “testosterone-fueled arguments.” First, there was Blake vs. Lucas, a conflict between two dummies—one of whom came on the show in character (god, I hope it’s a character) as a man who almost exclusively communicates by shouting “Whaboom,” and the other of whom somehow manages to be just as irritating by being himself—who’d previously competed on an entirely unrelated reality show together. I bind you, Whaboom, from Whabooming, Whabooming against other people and Whambooming against yourself. Then there was Iggy vs. Eric, and also Iggy vs. Josiah, and also Iggy vs. my rapidly dwindling attention span? I regret that I have at no point 100% understood what was going with Iggy, except that he always had something bad to say to Rachel about someone else. But the most uncomfortable storyline this season was easily the racially charged friction Lee caused first with Eric and then with Kenny. To review, Lee took visible delight in riling up Kenny, calling him “aggressive” and lying to Rachel that his competitor had “violently” pulled him out of a van.
“I will say this to the audience: If y’all thought y’all were sick of seeing this shit, I was very sick of living it,” says Kenny. This is extremely fair. That said: I’m still sick of seeing this shit. DeMario, perhaps the very last person who has not specifically been convicted of a war crime that you’d want in your corner, comes to Lee’s defense: “I’m just saying, the Lee that I know was a very genuine guy.” Kenny says Lee’s behavior “didn’t feel” like racism, but more like the desperate measures taken by a guy who feels like he’s way “out of his league.” For the record, I stan for Kenny. I am annoyed that so much of the season was about his drama with Lee, when it could have otherwise served as a proof of concept to sell the professional wrestler slash big-hearted single dad sitcom that America needs. Lee says he should have been a “better friend” and apologizes to Kenny. Kenny pushes back, reminding Lee—who keeps repeating that he has a lot to learn—how pleased he was in the talking-head interviews wherein he described tormenting his fellow contestants. As a reward to all of us for struggling through this, Chris Harrison brings out Kenny’s daughter Mackenzie, a gorgeous, self-possessed kid who I am now rooting for to star in The Bachelorette season 33. (Just kidding. Mackenzie, you are so much better than any of this.) But that’s not all: It’s almost Kenny’s birthday, so the show sends them to Disneyland, in what is obviously a (very effective) ploy to manipulate my emotions.
But we’re not out of the microaggression woods yet: Lee joins Chris Harrison in center stage. He says he makes jokes when he’s uncomfortable, but they they don’t always “come off right.” Well. Chris Harrison, to his credit, has the receipts. He pulls up tweets by Lee (that the production insists they didn’t know about until they surfaced as the show was airing—yup, “very unfortunate” indeed), including timeless classics like “Guys… When was the last time YOU actually saw a pretty Feminist? There is a reason for this” and “What’s the difference between the NAACP and the KKK? One has a sense of shame to cover their racist ass faces.” Ah, yes, the notorious hate group that is the NAACP.
Josiah takes the seat next to Lee and lays it on the line: “ …[If] you’re tweeting about black people and groups of black people who fought and died so I can be on the stage next to you, people who came before me so I can go to the same school like you, so I can drink from the fountain like you, and if you’re comparing them to the KKK—people who hung my ancestors—why are you trying to date a woman who looks like me?” (If I may float an extremely not implausible theory: Lee may have applied for this show thinking a white woman would be the star. You know, as was the case with literally every season up until now.)
“I don’t like racism at all,” Lee responds. “It bothers me morally. It bothers me inside. And I don’t like it.” Engrave those timeless words of grace and communion on my tombstone, please. Finally, after a mini-speech from Anthony (Hi, Anthony! Remember that time you fed a horse a cupcake?) on systemic racism, Lee takes a momentary break from all the mealy-mouthed half-apologies for his ignorance and finally brings himself to use the word “racist” in reference to his own tweets. I have a lot of respect and admiration for the black cast members who took it upon themselves to educate this man and take him to task, which was not their responsibility. I also appreciate that the producers gave these men the airtime they deserved in order to have this discussion, which is almost certainly the frankest conversation about race in franchise history (not that that’s saying much—and not that it was exactly encouraging to see a contestant’s bigotry edited into coming-up-next-week fodder to tease a two-on-one date this season). That said, I found Lee’s redemption far from convincing, and I am looking forward to never seeing him on my television again. Okay, bye!
Chris Harrison segues somewhat anticlimactically to a chat with third runner-up Dean, a known cutie-pie whose difficult relationship with his estranged father left us with an unmistakably cringey aftertaste coming out of hometowns. Nevertheless, Dean says it was a “cathartic” experience, and that he never would have addressed those difficult feelings if not for the show. I would like to believe that is true, for Dean’s sake, but I’m not sure I do.
Finally, Rachel emerges. After 90 straight minutes with these guys, I have never been happier to see her. She says she missed them. Well, “not all of them.” Dean takes the seat next to Rachel and tells her he’s at “a loss for words” about their breakup—why did she say she was falling in love with him just days before sending him home? She “100%” meant it, she insists. When Chris asks about Demario, she responds, “Who?” And as for Lee, if he hasn’t wised up yet, Rachel says, “You can exit stage left and meet me backstage. I’d be more than happy to give you a black history lesson and a lesson on women’s rights.” Lee apologizes to her, too, and she coolly accepts. She hopes this experience has expanded his horizons.
See you next week, when Rachel will probably pick Bryan and a small part of my soul will die. Until then, remember: Racism is bad, and it will bother you inside.
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