After a year without Bachelor Nation finding "love" in a Mexican resort, season seven of the popular Bachelor spinoff was highly anticipated for a number of reasons. First, the contestants hitting the beach would be some of the most personable and mixiest of the franchise's long history. Secondly, they'd be coming together after/during a global pandemic that prevented them from meeting and dating each other for an entire year. The seventh season was teeming with potential, these factors essentially guaranteeing the horniest and wildest installment of the show thus far.
And the first episode seemed to deliver; day one on the beach broke the show's record for the most kisses upon arrival on the beach, giving us hope that the thirst was real. Unfortunately, as days passed, the eruption of hormones that we were promised faded to a quiet buzz, replaced with — ugh — feelings. True to Bachelor tradition, initial discussions about hotness and sexual chemistry were quickly overshadowed by actual tears and premature concerns about who is on Paradise for "the right reasons" — as if achieving some modicum of celebrity isn't also on everyone's minds.
Enter Riley on the August 24 episode. Clad in a fetching muscle tank, the New York City attorney and fan favorite from Clayshia's season jogs casually down the steps to greet his new roommates for the summer, and the reaction is nothing short of magic. Brows raised, mouths agape, more sweat than usual trickling down the women's temples. The proof is in the pudding: Riley is fine as hell, and he knows it.
As he goes around greeting people, we're able to take Riley in fully. He's always looked good — obviously, we watched season 16 — and it seems like he's been working out a lot since then because his arms are literally cannons now. To top it off, he's wearing a single dangly earring in one of his ears, a telltale sign of a man who thinks and knows that he's that guy. That grown man energy manifests in Riley's introductions, which elicit shy smiles and mild panic attacks from the women on the beach.
"I wanna meet you," he calls out teasingly to an especially sweaty, nerve-racked Tahzjuan Hawkins with a smile. "Come here."
It's not long before Riley sets his sights on Maurissa Gunn, who was seemingly happily coupled up with Connor Brennan before thee hot boy landed in Paradise. Their date, which is hosted expertly by new host Lance Bass, quickly takes the steamy turn that we were waiting for as the couple learns more about each other over cow tongues and ancient moldy cheese. By the look of Maurissa's literal heart eyes and Riley's lip biting, there's obvious chemistry here, and a steamy kiss at the elegant dinner seals the deal. Later, Riley raises the stakes for the night by initiating a steamy make out on the way back to the resort.
"I think we should get out of here," he tells Maurissa in between deep kisses as I'm literally clutching a pillow to my chest at home. "I know somewhere we can go."
I don't think I can describe the sheer delight that I felt when the scene cuts to footage of this very good-looking couple making out in bed or when the teaser for next week's episode hints that they spent the night together. But in the week that we've seen Bachelor Nation in Paradise, this is by far the hottest thing that's occurred on this trip so far — and the most appropriate vibe to be bringing to this situation.
Just think about it. Summer 2021 was poised to be a wild, wild time for so many of us, especially after the pandemic-induced drought in our personal lives. Dating, romance, and sex, which were already complicated pre-COVID, became even more of a struggle during the pandemic as we socially distanced from each other in 2020, moving towards virtual meetups to "flatten the curve." However, the release of the different COVID vaccines, just in time for summer, meant that the tide was turning in our favor. Gone were the days of FaceTime dates or endless texting. We were back to the streets, negative COVID tests and vaccination cards in hand, and we had a year's worth of pent-up energy to expel in a variety of different ways.
That vibe is not translating on Paradise, which is currently channeling the gravity of Love Is Blind when really, it should be leaning more towards the free-spirited and fun irreverence of Love Island. The energy of this particular bunch seems more focused than ever on beef and establishing "real" connections — in this case, that means each contestant immediately attaching themselves to another person without even really scoping out the ever-changing scene. Though the references to love and finding the proverbial one early on aren't necessarily new for this show, they're somehow more eye roll-inducing than usual given the pandemic we're still living through as well as what we know about the low success rate of this process. On The Bachelor and The Bachelorette, the contestants have to act like marriage is their end goal whether they truly want that or not. Paradise doesn't typically come with those same stipulations, so why are we forcing them in only the second week of this experience? Why so serious already?
The rest of Bachelor Nation in Paradise could really take a cue from Riley in terms of how to take full advantage of this experience: doing everything with intention but still having fun with the process. He said it himself that he wants to be someone's husband and a father to a basketball team of kids (gulp), but first...Riley's going to be a hot boy with a dangly earring.
Kissing, being sexy, kissing some more, and then you settle down. That's the wave we need to be on right now.