It’s time to celebrate one of the most amazing traditions in American television—nay, in all of American culture. It’s time to watch the baking soda of family grudges that have seethed for generations mix with the vinegar of an expert squadron of reality TV editors.
It’s time for Bachelor hometown dates.
Since Nick said goodbye to Kristina last week, we’re down to our final four: Rachel, Corinne, Raven, and Vanessa. (Given that Rachel’s already been confirmed as the next Bachelorette and that Corinne is an adult child living an R-rated version of the movie Big, it’s safe to assume that Raven or Vanessa will be snagging the final rose.)
First up is Raven, favorite daughter of Hoxie, Arkansas. Nick hops on the back of her ATV and they go mudding, a fun-looking activity that—as a person from Northern New Jersey—I am only aware of because of the television program Here Comes Honey Boo Boo. The happy couple is climbing up something called a grain bin when a cop car pulls up, sirens blaring. The responding officer is her brother, whose attempts to initially pretend he is not her brother reveal that he has the acting ability of a potato. (He’s so nice, though! I’m sorry, Raven’s brother!) After some more four-wheeling, Raven peels Nick’s shirt off and they splash around in the near-black waters of a…I don’t know, is it a swamp? Whatever it is, it is something I personally would not want to lie down and make out in, but Nick and Raven are undeterred.
At home, Raven’s parents have big news to share: Her dad—diagnosed with lung cancer a year and a half ago—is newly cancer free. It’s a very sweet moment among the family, and rather an awkward one for Nick, who blandly smiles and rests a hand on Raven’s knee, trying his hardest to pretend there is any reason a stranger should reasonably be there for this.
Raven tearfully thanks her parents for setting a good example of a happy relationship, and both Mom and Dad express their faith in their daughter’s judgment. Nick asks Papa Raven in the most roundabout way possible for permission to propose, and sure, it’s fine. The closest thing this hometown date has to drama is when Raven’s father says he didn’t expect to like Nick, but that he does. The second-closest is when Raven almost but doesn’t quite drop the L-word.
Next, Nick is off to Dallas to see Rachel. Heartbreakingly, Rachel’s dad—a federal judge who’s been built up throughout the season into a terrifying folk hero—can’t be there meet him because of “work obligations.” Conveeeeenient, sir.
Rachel takes Nick to church, both figuratively and literally. This is the fun kind of church—a singing, dancing, clapping church, and one that happens to have a primarily black congregation. “Faith was a big part of my parents’ upbringing,” says Nick, which to me seems like code for “Faith was not a big part of my upbringing,” but I digress.
Asks Rachel, in an interview: “As an interracial couple, every time we go out, are we going to fixate that we’re the only interracial couple?” Says Nick: “I’m not color blind. I know you’re black.” (Something tells me the next season of The Bachelorette is going to be a lot more compelling than this season of The Bachelor.) Nick is asked by multiple family members, including Rachel’s mother, whether Rachel is the first black woman he’s dated. She is. Her sister Constance is wary of Nick’s eagerness to overlook race, because racism is, well, real. “You have to know how you’re going to navigate that path,” she says.
I do wish Rachel’s hometown date could have been allotted more screentime to cover a broader variety of topics, but I’m also pleasantly surprised by how it went down: This is the most explicitly the Bachelor franchise has ever addressed race in its 15-year history.
Nick joins Corinne in Miami to spend a day embracing “the finer things in life”— that is, shopping at a mall where she’s on a first-name basis with every salesperson in every boutique. I am not necessarily proud to admit that I would love to watch a shopping-themed reality show starring Corinne, who I’d best describe as Donald Trump crossed with the spirit of Tinkerbell, Paris Hilton’s late purse Chihuahua. She spends more than $3,000 on an outfit for Nick and then tells him that she loves him (in the food court?), which seems slightly redundant following the first part of this sentence.
The long wait is over: We finally get to meet Corinne’s nanny, Raquel. Precious Raquel, dear Raquel—who we are repeatedly reminded is part of the family while she is actively cleaning their home and serving them dinner. Corinne’s charmingly boisterous dad, who marinates his own olives (I promise that’s not any kind of euphemism), decides he’s OK with the thought of his daughter getting engaged to Nick. “I think Corinne is the lid to Nick’s pot,” he says with a big smile. For the first and only time I feel bad that they will definitely not end up together.
Last up is Vanessa, who — to a soundtrack of “O Canada,” because the show put exactly three seconds of thought into this song choice — welcomes Nick to Montréal. She takes him to meet her students, a class of special-needs adults. They’re visibly emotional when they greet her, holding signs and roses, and it’s genuinely touching. Vanessa’s parents are divorced, so he meets them separately, starting with Mom. He joins their Italian Sunday lunch — a massive family gathering —where he meets not only Vanessa’s mother, but her sister and best friends, too.
Her family is protective. They’re not playing around. Nick is interrogated as to his future plans, where he and Vanessa would move, and what he really likes about her. This afternoon is a much-needed dose of pragmatism, cutting right through the saccharine fantasy the show is otherwise more than happy to push. Vanessa’s sister in particular gets teary, telling Nick, “I’ll hate you if you break her heart.”
That night, Nick meets Vanessa’s father and stepmother, and the vibe is somehow even weirder than it was at lunch. Vanessa mentions some of the places they’ve traveled to this season, and her stepmom observes, “So it’s been like a big vacation,” a suggestion that Vanessa bristles at. I get the impression that perhaps these two women do not like each other very much.
Better yet, Vanessa’s dad — dark-horse MVP of Hometowns 2017 — withholds his blessing when Nick broaches the topic of getting engaged. And even more deliciously, Vanessa’s father wants to know if Nick also asked the other three families’ for their daughters’ hands in marriage.
To say that Nick looks like a deer in the headlights would be to vastly overstate Nick’s confidence and poise in this moment. “In a way, I ran it by them —” he starts, but Vanessa’s dad has no time for any of this. “What do you mean, ran it by them? It’s yes or no.” Eventually, he comes around and offers his blessing, but not before suitably humiliating Nick.
Vanessa is excited to hear from her dad that Nick floated the idea of marriage, but significantly less excited to hear from her dad that he did the same with the other women. Girl. Have you even seen The Bachelor? This is what happens.
After showing us some B-roll of the Empire State Building, which for the record is not in Brooklyn, The Bachelor transports us to Brooklyn. Everyone is busy staring moodily out at the skyline from their hotel rooms when Nick is interrupted by a knock at his door: It’s Andi Dorfman, who rejected him on The Bachelorette in 2014.
Excuse me while I kiss my fingers like a satisfied Italian chef.
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