Reality TV is one of the last true American art forms left. I would go so far as to say that no cultural work of the past 15 years better represents the shift toward the social media–fueled, personal brand–oriented narcissism of the 21st century than the Bachelor franchise. But as someone who watches a shitload of it, the cumulative effect of reality TV can be a little bleak. It’s intoxicating in concentrated doses, but after a few hours you start to think about the unbearable lightness of being and how everyone’s so fucking stupid and how you could be spending your time learning about the implications of Brexit or calling your dad or something.
But then there comes a moment — a rare and unpredictable confluence of production, cast, and sheer dumb luck that aligns for television so inexplicably magical it could never have been scripted — that reminds you why you show up here at 8 p.m. EST every Monday for two occasionally painful hours. It’s like a lunar eclipse: For a brief spell, by forces much greater than our puny, insignificant selves, our planet seems mystifying and we forget that we live in hell.
And oh man, just when shit was starting to get super fucking boring in these Chad-less weeks to come: it happened. JoJo’s on her two-on-one date in Buenos Aires — the perfect place to fall in love! — with comfortingly unproblematic Chase and Derek, whom the guys have decided to hate for no apparent reason. Three enter, only two will leave, Valar Morghulis. After an afternoon spent literally passing JoJo back and forth at their zesty salsa dancing lesson, JoJo decides that Derek must go. As he rides away in the loser car, he mutters to himself (or should I say, to the producer who is getting a fat bonus check this week): “I wasn’t enough. I thought I was, but I’m not. I’m Derek.” That one kind of stings, but we’re just getting warmed up here.
As Derek is shuttled away, JoJo and Chase wander into a mysterious ballroom where a string quartet awaits, playing the opening swells of something that sounds familiar. Derek is fighting back tears, his reality swirling into a Mr. Krabs–esque radial blur. JoJo and Chase see a rug in the middle of the room, which everyone knows is Bachelorette visual code for “DANCE AWKWARDLY ON TOP OF THIS.” A woman named Soledad Pastorutti begins to sing. Oh my god, wait, is that …? Cut to Derek: “Don’t … cry …” he commands himself in vain. And BOOM, Soledad bursts into the chorus — “Don’t cry for me, Argentina!” — as tears flow freely down Derek’s face. Tell me that isn’t art. Tell me where to cast my Emmy ballot.
Mostly, though, this episode was about getting rid of all the dudes who don’t look like a Macklemore from a different universe so JoJo can stop being polite and start getting real. That meant saying goodbye to Wells, the seemingly sweet radio DJ and favorite of viewers who don’t really get how this shit works. Before his one-on-one date, he makes the fatal error of admitting to the other men that he’s yet to kiss JoJo. Naturally, they make him feel horrible about it, and he panics. JoJo takes him to the set of Fuerza Bruta, a mixed-media performance experience where the couple are forced to touch each other on a Mylar slip-and-slide. “We are in the perfect situation to have our first kiss,” JoJo announces, as their bodies passively collide on a giant, suspended tarp in front of a warehouse full of film crew. “I really respect —” she says later at dinner, and you know shit’s over because invoking “respect” on this show is the kiss of death, a compliment along the lines of, “You have great posture!”
Meh. Whatever. Next week, we have been promised this vision of Alex wearing a jaunty beret: