The Bachelor in Paradise finale has replaced Labor Day as the surest sign that summer is coming to an end. Our favorite reality stars have all returned to their indefinable careers and somewhere deep inside ABC headquarters, Chris Harrison has entered his cryosleep chamber to await Bachelor Season 20. It’s time for us to go home, too, and what a bittersweet feeling that is.
When this all began a month ago, the boozy Bachelor spin-off was the collective Mexico vacation we needed after slogging through a brutal season of the Bachelorette. But in hindsight, the show turned out to be less of a vacation and more of a “summer camp,” as several contestants called it along the way. What started out as lighthearted fun became a childish, gossipy mess. And much like summer camp, Bachelor in Paradise ended with a day full of tears and unrealistic promises.
Power couple Carly and Kirk parted ways after being inseparable all season, with the latter proving that you can still get cold feet on hot sand. Nick left Paradise still under the Samantha spell, which is sure to end well given her track record of deception on the show. Single mom Cassandra opted to give it a shot with single dad Justin but, after the show, we learned that she later left him for single dad Jonathan, who had been eliminated from Paradise before she arrived.
Most important, the producers made sure we got our standard-issue Bachelor proposal.
Tanner got down on one knee for Jade about 12 hours after telling her he loved her for the first time, which, after 13 years of The Bachelor, is no longer a shocking timeline. Jade said “yes” to both her beau and to the swanky Neil Lane engagement ring. In Bachelor-speak, of course, Jade’s answer means that there is a 90 percent chance they will break up in six months, but who knows? Paradise Season One alums Marcus and Lacy appear to be happily married, which is more than we can say for most couples to come out of The Bachelor or Bachelorette.
But the joy of Paradise was truly in the journey, not in the resort destination. The show was at its best early on when it was still throwing out curveballs and teasing things to come. Every time a show like this starts, Chris Harrison promises us “the most dramatic season in Bachelor history,” and then, after the show wraps, we are left to sift through the dust of that inflated claim. Much of the drama that we’ve been led to expect turns out to have been clever editing instead.
This time around, there were more than a few expected disappointments.
Virgin Ashley I. is still a virgin as far as we know, despite a trip to the fantasy suite with her schoolgirl crush Jared. Her promised pregnancy scare never materialized, either. (On Twitter, she explained that it was a joke her sister made that had been trumped up into something more.) A few of the men came this close to punching Joe—who cruelly led on young widowed mother Juelia in order to stay on the show—but, sadly, none of them actually did. The divorced and unemployed JJ was supposed to be the villain this time around but he somehow managed to leave a hero.
After three-dozen or so seasons of Bachelor-style shows, we all know that ABC over-promises and under-delivers, but do we even care if they do? As we strap in for a slate of serious fall shows, it doesn’t matter so much whether or not Ashley I.’s pregnancy scare actually happened, it only matters that we once believed it would. It’s like looking back on your summer reading pile in early September: You barely touched any of those books, but buying them was a nice thought.
In the absence of any earth-shattering television events, it was the little touches that made this season a pleasure to watch: the induction of the resort’s bartender Jorge into the rich Bachelor canon, and the use of the love theme from Footloose as the series’ theme song with a 1980s-style title sequence to match.
With an opening like that, it almost didn’t matter what came afterward.
The weekly live talk show After Paradise also compensated for this season’s drama deficit. Sports fans have long enjoyed postgame shows in which talking heads in suits dissect the athletes’ performances in excruciating detail. It’s about time that Bachelor addicts got equal treatment. Watching Chris Harrison, author Jenny Mollen, and a rotating cast of guests break down each episode’s happenings provided a much-needed sense of community for those of us who watch the show at home huddled over a pint of ice cream, feverishly checking Twitter for reactions. And in the summer television doldrums, an additional hour of weekly Bachelor coverage—for a staggering total of four—was the cherry on top of that lonely sundae.
After Paradise also produced some of the season’s rawest moments—like Carly’s post-show dressing-down of Kirk (and every other guy watching):
But it’s all over now. Bears hibernate in the winter but Bachelor fans hibernate in the fall. Come January, we’ll have another rapid-fire run of Bachelor, Bachelorette, and Paradise to carry us through our workaday lives, but 2016 is still a long way off. By then, our tans will have faded, we’ll all have sobered up, and we’ll be ready for the buttoned-down Ben Higgins to be the next bachelor. In these final days of summer, though, it’s hard not to feel like we’re falling from paradise.