After all that drama, this season of The Bachelorette ended with a big ol’ shrug

Chris Harrison and Tayshia Adams on The Bachelorette

Chris Harrison and Tayshia Adams on The Bachelorette
Photo: Craig Sjodin/ABC

This season of The Bachelorette has been deeply, often uncomfortably, weird. Most of this is for an obvious reason—the COVID-birthed safety precautions that eliminated most of the scenery, date possibilities, and interactions that normally lend color and drama to the series—but some of it was also badly engineered bullshit on the part of the show. Shoving the first older bachelorette (poor, maligned Clare Crawley) out of the spotlight as quickly as humanly possible was a bad look for The Bachelorette, and made the producers and creative team behind the reality program look like way bigger assholes than usual. So while the younger, admittedly more telegenic Tayshia Adams was a charming and interesting replacement, the bad taste had already been left in viewers’ mouths, knowing they couldn’t trust the show any farther than Clare could throw it.

But still, after all the drama of Tayshia’s abbreviated season, we got a finale that delivered a pretty milquetoast conclusion. Zac C., the “addiction specialist,” won Tayshia’s heart, leading to a conclusion that may genuinely be happy for the couple, but wasn’t exactly TV fireworks. Also, let’s spell out the obvious: She’s a woman from SoCal who wants to be an influencer as a career, and he runs a sober living facility in New York. Call us skeptical, but this doesn’t look like a recipe for long-term happiness. But let’s once more turn to our TV critics who have been following along all season to get their final thoughts:

Gwen Ihnat: What a crazy season. Gotta hand it to the Bachelor powers-that-be, though, for taking the lemons of the Clare and Dale relationship and making a lemon drop martini out of it with Tayshia mid-season. She was a great Bachelorette: adorable and engaging but also not afraid to bring the smackdown when it was necessary (jeebus, Bennett and Noah were such children. And can you say what college any of the other contestants went to? I hated Noah, but I also hated Bennett name-dropping Harvard every few seconds.)

What do you guys think about this business of people returning? It happened in Peter’s season, Luke came back to bug Hannah Brown, and now both Bennett and Ben came back. It seems so disrespectful: You didn’t get a rose! Respect the rose ceremony! Learn to take no for an answer!

That said, ironically I was still really pulling for Ben; he seemed so sincere about his feelings for Tayshia. Compared to Zac, who just reminded me of a short McConaughey lite. So I was sad when Ben got sent home. These people never pick who I think they should pick. Then when the Bachelor couples inevitably don’t work out, I feel somehow vindicated (Should have listened to me about that horrible Garrett, Becca! Blake was right there!) Then the larger question creeps in: Why am I still watching this ridiculous saga anyway, what with the manufactured drama and the fact that the winning relationships never seem to last? It’s like watching a game show to see someone win a million dollars only to find out that the prize money is taken away in a month or so. Kind of. Clare and Dale certainly seemed smitten, but they’d also known each other for less time than I’ve owned certain cartons of yogurt.

That said, I did enjoy Tayshia and Zac’s apparently heartfelt ending. Like they both admitted, they really are just a couple of dorks, and it’s fun that they can just be their goofball selves with each other. Even as my cynical self watches these manipulated social settings play out season after season (thank goodness no After The Final Rose this week), I really hope those crazy kids make it. And if they don’t, it’ll absolutely affect my life not one iota, because I will undoubtedly be knee deep in whatever Bachelor/Bachelorette season we’ll be obsessed with by that time. (Look for my recap of the next Bachelor premiere January 4!)

Randall Colburn: How novel, a season of The Bachelor(ette) that ended with two people expressing their love for each other and getting engaged without any fence-jumping or post-proposal bullshit. When’s the last time a season ended in traditional fashion? Rachel Lindsay? Colton jumped the fence, Hannah B. was almost instantly informed of her pick’s chick back home, and Ari and Peter both pulled the ‘ol switcheroo. Tayshia and Zac seem like they like each other a lot! Not sure how their lifestyles will dovetail off the show, but these two actually seem like they’re ready and capable of being in a long-term relationship, which is more than I can say for most of our past couples. When he said, “I think she believes in me,” I felt my spirit soar a little bit. I’m rooting for them.

What’s refreshing about both Tayshia and Zac is that they’ve lived through some real shit. They’re both divorced. He’s overcome addiction issues. They’re both in their 30s. They’re not new at this! Does that make them a little boring? Oh, yes. Tayshia didn’t even pull a Higgins, a.k.a. telling two people you love them. She simply dated a bunch of guys, gave a few who probably didn’t deserve it second chances, and then chose the one she liked best without making false promises to other dudes. Who knew it could still work like that?

As to your question about guys returning, Gwen, I can only remind you that all is fair in love and war. The heart is a fickle beast, after all. Personally, I enjoy it whenever the show pushes against its established rules, dissolving the fairy tale glow of the early seasons. I loved the franchise-snapping chaos of Clare Crawley in the early episodes, the ways in which she refused to fit into the show’s idea of how a season operates. As I’ve written in previous recaps, it was refreshing (and hilarious) to see the guys who weren’t Dale react to being cast aside and then try to recalibrate their feelings for an entirely new Bachelorette. You see the seams in seasons like this, and, for me, it’s important to see the seams when everyone at home and on the show knows what being on ABC does for your public profile. We know this isn’t a fairytale. Stop pretending it is one.

Now it’s time for the fun part: Who’s going to Paradise? The shirtless shots (and ready-made romantic narrative) of Ben have me thinking they’re grooming him to be the next Bachelor. That leaves Ivan to serve as the beach’s most eligible (lower case b) bachelor, with, I imagine, Bennett and Noah thrown in to keep the rivalry alive. Stay tuned for our exasperated coverage.

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