This week's Bachelor was all about Americana: small towns where everyone knows your name, carnivals, vintage pickup trucks and McDonald's. Ben Higgins took the six remaining girls to his hometown of Warsaw, Ind., population 13,559, with a brief stop in Chicago for one Joelle Fletcher. The girls who got one-on-one dates all got different degrees of pomp and circumstance -- while Jojo got Wrigley Field (and Benny Boy) all to herself and Amanda got a freakin' parade, Lauren B. played basketball with a bunch of children and Emily just hung out at his parents' house and then got eliminated. Honestly, though, Lauren B.'s seemed like the most fun. She learned the most about Ben by seeing him in action in the youth center where he used to work, and she probably liked what she saw. He's great with kids. And the Pacers who showed up aren't second-tier Pacers: Paul George and George Hill are the best and possibly second-best players on the team (it's a toss-up between Hill and Monta Ellis), and Frank Vogel is the head coach. If I were a kid at that youth center, I would be freaking out. Plus, his tour of Warsaw in that obviously borrowed truck and hanging out with his friends at a bar seemed effortless in good way. Ben and Lauren B. have such natural chemistry that it almost felt like they would be doing this even of the cameras weren't on. Also, this was the first episode where Lauren B. was the only Lauren, but everyone still calls her Lauren B., which is pretty funny.
But Lauren B. isn't the only one with whom Ben has chemistry. It seems like he and Jojo get along so well that they don't get much camera time together, because it's boring to watch people get along. Jojo has perhaps been underrepresented as a strong competitor. "I'm more myself around Jojo than I am around any other woman in my life," Ben says. I would be surprised if the two women Ben says he's in love with in the previews are not Lauren and Jojo. Don't forget, though, that Jojo doesn't know basic geography.
Since the remaining contestants all pretty much get along, this episode was light on intra-girl drama, plus the bulk of the running time was one-on-ones, so the awkward moments were less awkward than previous weeks. There were a few, though.
8. Ben is a Cubs fan
The fact that he's a Cubs fan explains so much about Ben. The Chicago Cubs haven't won a World Series since 1908, the longest championship-less streak in all of American sports. Their brand is wholesome and guileless. Even when they're good, they can't seal the deal. They are the Lovable Losers. Ben has a similar "nice guys finish second" vibe. Ben is a good man, but you don't look at him and say, "This is a champion." He has the misguided hope of a Cubs fan. He had his heart broken many times before he ever started dating women.
7. Becca gets testy
While most girls get sad when they're eliminated, Becca gets mad. "Why did you do that?" she whispers sharply as Ben is walking her to the SUV that will whisk her away. Apparently she thought he had promised her she wasn't going to be eliminated? Or that he had promised to warn her she wasn't going to be eliminated? That's not how it works, Becca. The tension pretty much passed when Ben explained where he was coming from, but there was definitely a moment of, like, "Is she going to hit him?"
6. The continued "Lauren B. is fake" story line
This is not awkward because it's cringe-worthy, but because it's so obviously forced. This subplot only exists in an attempt to create some tension in Lauren B.'s smooth-sailing story line. Last week, Leah said Lauren B. acted differently with the other girls than she does with Ben in a last-ditch attempt to make herself stand out. So Ben had to ask Lauren, "Is this true?" and Lauren was like, "I don't even know how to respond to this," because no direct allegations were made and there was nothing for her to respond to. It was baloney. This week, during Ben and Lauren's date, it got dragged up again, until Ben said, "You know that I care about you enough where one thing that somebody else says about you wouldn't change everything," which is all that needed to be said in the first place. It's a transparently manufactured story line that breaks the deal viewers make with The Bachelor (and all reality TV, but especially The Bachelor).
5. The group date
The group date is just Amanda, Becca and Caila, and the rose has increased significance, as it not only grants immunity, it also means its winner will get a hometown date and a one-on-one effective immediately. Amanda gets it, to the surprise of no one. "Ladies, I'm sorry, but Amanda and I have a date to continue," Ben says, which reads meaner than it sounds. Still, it was a harsh way to phrase it. He maybe could have softened the blow a little bit.
4. "I picture myself as moss"
Caila is super weird. I don't think it's been talked about enough this season, but Caila definitely exists on a different plane than the rest of us earthlings. The constant smiling and the precise diction (precise diction is an indicator of overcompensation) and the fantasy-tripping really should indicate that something is off about Caila. She's obviously intelligent, but her grasp on reality seems shaky. She gets upset over weird stuff, like the time she cried when she realized other girls were competing with her, and in this episode, when she worried that Ben wouldn't pick her because she moved around a lot growing up and doesn't have roots in a community. That isn't a thing to get upset about? It's a problem that's easily solved by settling in one place for an extended period of time? Unless she's actually worried that she can't relate to other human beings but she can't articulate that. That's a valid fear for Caila. Her metaphor, "I picture myself as moss and I've always been trying to find a perfect tree to grow with," is uncommonly literary for a Bachelor contestant, but it's also a head-scratcher, like, "really?" Ben's response -- an uncertain "OK" -- was perfect. She's only made it to the final four because he thinks she's a sex panther.
3. Ben's mom is so unimpressed with Emily
On Ben's one-on-one with Emily, he took her to meet his parents. The other girls, Olivia last week and Caila this week, have been talking a lot about how immature Emily is. That got reaffirmed by Ben's mother, who says "she's definitely a really fun individual" in the straining-to-say-something-nice tone that polite mothers have. She called her an "individual!" So dismissive. Mom thinks Emily is too young and inexperienced for Ben, which the editing reinforces by having the dominant twin talk about her dream of being an NFL cheerleader and reiterating her dislike of vegetables. I mean, Emily went to meet Ben's parents with ripped-up jeans! If I brought a girl home who was wearing ripped-up jeans, my mom would mention it. Ben's mom shares her doubts with him, and he knows she's right, and he sends Emily home in one of the sadder eliminations of the season. He genuinely likes Emily, he just doesn't think she's ready. All the other girls are crying when Emily is leaving, because they all love Emily. I predicted it last week: Once Olivia is gone, Emily is superfluous.
2. Ben's joke about his parents having sex
When Ben is telling the girls that the house they're staying in in Warsaw is within walking distance of his parents' house, he asks them to not go over there and look in the windows, because "they're still very much in love." When he said this, I went "EWWWWW" out loud. Don't joke about your parents boning! That's gross, dude! No one wants to think about that! Why are you thinking about that, Ben, you big weird goon?
The McDonald's date is one of the most insane bits of product placement I've ever seen, and everything about it was so bizarre. The only thing that wasn't bizarre was when Ben said, "I'm gonna take you to McDonald's, because that's a normal thing for me." I totally believe that Ben has spent a lot of time at McDonald's. But once inside, things went crazy. The lady behind the counter greeted Ben with a cheery "Nice to meet you!" and said to Amanda, completely heartfelt, "Hi Amanda, you're beautiful!" This is unfathomable to me. I live in New York City, where McDonald's are first and foremost wrestling rings for teenagers. No one who works in a McDonald's in New York City has ever smiled. But this is the happiest McDonald's in America. Then Ben and Amanda went behind the counter and started working the drive-thru. And Ben knew everyone who came through the drive-thru! They were pushing those McMuffins hard, trying get McDonald's All Day Breakfast sales up. I know you know this was an ad for McDonald's Trojan-Horsed inside of The Bachelor, but it must be noted, in case you missed it, that there was a note in the credits: "Promotional considerations provided by McDonald's." Where do you think The Bachelor got the money for that carnival? McDonald's has to get people buying breakfast somehow.
This was a good episode despite the relative lack of emotional fireworks. We said goodbye to Emily and Becca, and now we have our final four: Amanda, Caila, Jojo and Lauren.