This post contains spoilers for The Bachelorette Season 16 premiere.
Nothing screams “romance” like nasal swabs, swole medical sales reps quarantining in a La Quinta resort, and B-roll of George Stephanopoulos covering a pandemic, am I right? Am I right?!
On Monday night, after what feels like a millennium, The Bachelorette returned to our screens with a new, dystopian twist: As Chris Harrison dutifully noted at the top of the episode, “The coronavirus pandemic has changed so much about how we live our lives.” (Said people in quarantined living rooms across America, “We know!”) But outbreak be damned, true love—read: “true love”—cannot wait! And neither can Clare Crawley, whose Bach journey first began years ago when she vied for the infamously detestable Juan Pablo Galavis’ heart.
And so, we have the new and revamped “Bubble” Bachelorette—a season shot not at the Bachelor Mansion, but in a luxury resort in Palm Springs. “It took a lot of work, a lot of patience, and a whole lot of testing,” Harrison said, but by God, they did it.
What does the new, COVID-negative Bachelorette look like? Well, it’s a lot like the usual Bachelorette—save for the 30 or so minutes of pandemic-themed wind-up. After a quick look back at Clare’s famous exit from Juan Pablo’s season of The Bachelor back in 2014, we got in the car with her as she drove to visit her mom at a care facility—and before long, she was crying over the true tragedy of this pandemic.
“It’s just hard,” she said. “It feels like my chance to be the Bachelorette, it’s just over.” Later on, Harrison echoed that sentiment: Addressing the season’s delay, he said, “I know it feels like the universe has been conspiring against you.”
Honestly, this insanity might be just the balm we all need right now. The romantic fantasy underpinning Clare’s Bachelorette season isn’t about piles of roses and candle clusters big enough to set an entire resort ablaze. (But I mean, make no mistake—there are still lusty accoutrements aplenty.) This year the real fantasy is a world in which this competition, Clare’s “journey,” is the most pressing thing going on. Although Clare did drop a requisite acknowledgement that there are, in fact, far more important things going on in the world, for much of Bachelor Nation the premiere brings a whiff of comforting familiarity.
That isn’t to say that The Bachelorette ignores the pandemic; on the contrary, we spent several minutes this week watching our beloved contesticles settle down for sheet masks and solo games of chess as they awaited the results of their COVID tests. We watched with bated breath as Chris Harrison murmured those six sexy words: “I got your final test results.” And we watched Clare and her meaty man harem jump with glee as they all found out they were clear to tear off their masks, hug, and most importantly, MAKE OUT!
That is the real fantasy. Here, the stakes of a COVID test come down to whether or not Clare can cozy up with this clubhouse of goofy hunks. For millions around the world, this is not the case. But for two hours, two glorious hours, I’ll admit it was an embarrassingly immeasurable relief to just pretend.
And when Clare finally got that negative test result? She bounded onto her driveway—where the sun was shining and birds were chirping. (Props, as always, to the producers for the excellent use of animal footage as tongue-in-cheek emotional punctuation.)
“This is your time,” Harrison said. And judging from what we’ve seen so far, oh, what a time it will be!
“I definitely don’t take for granted knowing that we can hug each other, kiss, and date without having to worry about getting COVID,” Clare gushed. “I’m just ready for it. Bring on the men.”
Cue the limousines! This year, with a healthy dose of chilling lines about wanting to be “available and healthy for Clare” and “quarantining in order to meet my future wife Clare.”
All the usual gambits were present. One guy showed up with a fake baby bump like Clare did for Juan Pablo’s season, promising to “hold the weight of this relationship.” (Ugh.) Another guy showed up in a straitjacket because he’s been going crazy in quarantine. (Yikes.) Another brought moon pies for... some reason? (OK...) And yes, one guy showed up in a literal plastic bubble.
This season’s beefcake to watch is clearly Dale—a former pro football player who swept Clare off her feet from first sight and took home the first impression rose.
“I feel like I just met my husband,” a visibly besotted Clare told Chris as Dale walked away during their first meeting. “Oh God, I’m shaking... I’m 39. I know what I want. I know when I feel that feeling.” (One might ask whether it’s healthy that everything Clare apparently wants can be deduced from a 30-second meeting in formalwear—but whatever, do you, girl!)
Later on the conversation does get deeper: Dale tells Clare, “I always say I’m an empath,” to which she responds, “I’m big on energy and vibes.” (You know what? I take it back; maybe they are a match made in heaven.) Either way, you’ll likely be shocked to learn that from season previews, it appears the other guys do not like Dale nearly as much as Clare does.
Other than that, though, this premiere was relatively drama free, save for a very boring non-conflict between contestants Tyler and Yosef, in which the former accused the latter of not being on the show (you guessed it!) For The Right Reasons. Clare ultimately kept Yosef around and booted Tyler—because no rose ceremony would be complete without at least one controversial decision!
But there was only one star of this week’s premiere, and undoubtedly it was Clare’s beloved golden retriever, Honey—who crashed her meet-and-greet to provide a very easy litmus test for elimination. I will readily admit that I am no romance expert, but I do have one piece of advice for our plague Bachelorette: If he didn’t immediately stoop over to pet the dog, he’s not worth your time.