A masquerade ball is a soap opera staple. A dramatic gathering of characters where secrets are revealed and true passions ignite is ripe for the sudsy stories of the rich and famous. Unfortunately, none of that occurs on Finding Prince Charming because the masquerade ball in question this evening had the budget of a Facebook Live talk show. The show's producers took the contestants to Sam's Club, handed them $20, and said "decorate the mansion yourselves," making it more of a masquerade reception, if we're being honest. Even the dramatic reveal of the episode doesn't live up to the hype of a masquerade — but we'll get to that in a moment.
Before the masquerade reception, bleached-blond Justin and Disney Prince Eric have a heart-to-heart upstairs. Justin's hair bleach must be seeping into his brain at this point because he is in a constant state of distress. From sobbing over Sam spitting on Dillon to whimpering over Robert's affections for him cooling, he's one episode away from fashioning poppets in a courtroom and claiming he saw Goody Osburn with the Devil. But it’s during this conversation with Eric that we're introduced to what might be reality television's first instance of Chekov's HIV. Usually, when someone reveals they're HIV-positive on a reality show, it comes at the climax of the episode (for instance, Trinity K. Bonet's reveal on RuPaul's Drag Race). But leave it to Finding Prince Charming to introduce the fact that Eric is HIV-positive and then spend the entire episode spinning drama out of whether or not he'll reveal it during a masquerade.
I'm just going to put this out there right now: Eric's HIV reveal put a sour taste in my mouth. There have been myriad articles about how brave it was for Eric to tell his story on national television and how important it is to remove the stigma of being a gay man with HIV. But girl, this episode did NONE of that. You know what doesn't help remove the stigma surrounding HIV? A dramatic admission of your status at a masquerade ball like you're Serena van Der Woodsen confessing that you killed someone on Gossip Girl. The build-up to whether Eric would reveal his status to Robert made it seem like he was going to reveal that he was possessed by a ghost or liked to kill orphans in his spare time. Granted, Eric discovered he was HIV-positive 10 years ago, but having HIV today is not a death sentence in the slightest. HIV-positive men and women are perfectly capable of having relationships (and, gasp, even casual sex) with people who are not positive.
Never mind the fact that Eric's reveals comes during an exercise where the contestants have to share their darkest secrets with Robert. Since Eric's secret is the DARKEST OF THEM ALL, everyone else's is pretty much a letdown — mostly the other contestants speak in vague platitudes about confronting their inner demons and how hard it was to come out of the closet. Thankfully, Robby uses the opportunity to mock the confessionals by theatrically telling Robert that he has a deep emotional side that the other suitors have come to know over "the past 87 days we've been here." Everyone cracks up, including Robert, who usually has less personality than a factory-sealed action figure.
When it's time for Eric's confession, he approaches Robert in a red mask — just in case you didn't know he was about to reveal he's HIV-positive — then practically bellows, "I should tell you, I should tell you!" like we're closing the first act of Rent. Robert, for his part, manages to pretend he has human emotions for a brief second and seems to genuinely care about Eric's well-being. He hugs Eric and tells him, "There's nothing you could say that would make me afraid of you," which, girl, you've known him for like five seconds. What if he told you he was a serial killer?
Robert selects Eric to go on an intimate late-night date (that I'm pretty sure just happened in the backyard of the mansion), where we continue to erase the stigma of living as an HIV-positive man in 2016 by Robert telling Eric that his uncle died of AIDS in the '90s. Encouraging! To be fair, it's a very heartfelt story, and one I can relate to; as a kid in the ‘90s, I was witness to my own uncle’s death. But juxtaposed with the Aaron Spelling–produced reveal of Eric's status, you'd be hard pressed to watch this episode and not think he was about to drop dead at any moment. They then make out in the backseat of an uber for a bit, but that's as far as this late-night date goes, which is frankly upsetting. People are fucking left and right by this point on The Bachelor, and we still haven't gotten past chaste kisses to fantasy suites and overnight dates on this show yet. When is the thotening?
The next day, Robert returns to the house to have a BBQ. Another damn date taking place in the mansion? Couldn't they get Dave and Busters to sponsor an episode? Outback Steakhouse? Arby's? The BBQ is mostly an excuse for Robert to make out with a bunch of people, but also for Justin, the Kelly Taylor of the house, to sob that he can tell how much Eric likes Robert and he doesn't want to stand in the way of that. Justin seems to actually be in love with Eric, which I completely ship. It would be great to see true love blossom in the house instead of continuing to watch the suitors interact with Robert the Brave Little Toaster.
Lance Bass is forced at gunpoint to return to the house for the black tie ceremony, and he looks less interested in these proceedings than he was during Justin Timberlake's Video Vanguard performance at the 2013 VMAs. Everyone wears red ribbons in solidarity with Eric, and I spend at least five minutes wondering if he brought them with him, if some intern had to run and get them last-minute, or if they made them with the leftover arts and crafts they used to build their Adolfo Pirelli–esque masquerade ball.
Robert continues to have zero chemistry with Dillon, but you certainly can't get rid of the last black guy in the house until the final four, so he stays. Brandon also gets to stay, because Robert outright tells him, "I'm attracted to you physically." After a lengthy pregnant pause, Robert's programming system reboots and he adds, "... and mentally!" (Whatever you say, girl.) Robert pretends like he's going to cut Justin because he might be more in love with Eric than him, but instead he cuts Robby because he's too "funny" and "playful" and other euphemisms for "non-masculine flaming homosexual."
Chad lets out the best ugly-cry face you've seen since Claire Danes in Homeland as Robby sashays off into the night, cracking jokes every step of the way. You were too good for everyone else on the show, Robby. May you return to our hearts next season as Prince Charming or else I'm burning this shit to the ground.