Kristen Baldwin Explains Why Fans Are Still Excited About ‘The Bachelor’ Twenty-Five Seasons In
EW TV Critic, Kristen Baldwin, discusses the new season of 'The Bachelor,' and chats about Matt James, the show's first Black bachelor, what makes the star so endearing, this year's contestants, what twists fans can expect, and more!
Bachelor history question, rose lovers: Have we ever had a season where three women self-eliminated? I can't recall it happening before — then again, I can't remember what I ate for dinner last night, so I'm not the best resource. Anyhow, I wonder how all this affected Matt's self-esteem.
It's "hometowns" week at Nemacolin. Let's recap!
Date No. 1: Michelle
Family present: Michelle's mom, Lavonne, and her dad, Ephraim
With the "let me show you around Edina, Minn." off the table, Michelle takes Matt on a bike ride, which is something she and her family used to do together growing up. After that, they head to the auditorium, where a bunch of students from Michelle's class — sorry, Ms. Young's class — are waiting via Zoom.
"Is that your boyfriend?" a little girl named Leona asks, right on cue. Evie wants Mr. James to tell her what he's learned from Ms. Young ("to be open-minded"), but Jillian gets right to the point: "Are you going to give Ms. Young a rose?" (The Bachelor demurs.) Matt sidesteps the harder questions — "Have you kissed yet?" and "Are you going to marry her?" — but he does make sure to let them know that he will be Michelle's "biggest champion."
It's tears all around when Michelle brings the Bachelor to meet Lavonne and Ephraim. (The emotional way Michelle said, "Hi, mom" got me all choked up, too. Damn these family visits!) "As soon as you walked in the room, we could tell you were happy," Ephraim tells his daughter during their one-on-one chat. He wants to know what Michelle likes most about him, and I love that the first thing she says is, "He wants to make a difference." Of course, dad is worried about the other women — he doesn't want to see his little girl get hurt — but he stays supportive. "That's our job, is to be there when things get tough." Gah, I love these two!
Matt sits down with Ephraim next, and he gushes about Michelle's convictions, how she stands for what she believes in, and tells it like it is. Dad's like, That's all great but… do you love her? The Bachelor is as honest as he can be ("I'm falling for your daughter"), and also says he'd be open to moving to Minnesota if Michelle is The One. For now, that's good enough for Ephraim. "We trust her decision-making process," says dad. "We will respect Michelle's choice." (I love him!)
Over in another room, Michelle is getting emotional while talking to her mom about how much she likes Matt. Mom talks her through it with no judgment — she just wants to know if Michelle trusts that Matt will treat her well. (She does.) "I just want you to be happy," says mom. "If he makes you happy… we'll love him, and he'll be part of our family." Ugh, I know it's "better TV" when the families are all judgmental and throw cold water on their child's reality romance… but man, do these "we will support you no matter what" moments really get me right in emotional solar plexus.
Everything goes so well, Michelle feels comfortable ending the night with the all-important "I am falling in love with you" declaration. He does not reciprocate, which makes me a little anxious… but Michelle doesn't seem worried. "When Matt and I walk away from this experience hand-in-hand, life will be so full."
Date No. 2: Rachael
Family present: Rachael's mom, Kim, her dad, Darrell, and her sister, Trinity (!)
So Rachael drives up in this weird-looking sports car and announces to Matt that she needs communication and trust in a relationship. "Do you trust me?" she asks. The guy has to say yes, right? Welp, buckle up, buddy.
"Where the heck are we going?" Matt yells into the wind. Dude, didn't you watch the previews from last week? You're going skydiving, of course! Say it with me, rose lovers: Love is like a leap of faith™.
Has anyone reading this gone skydiving? I don't think it's something I would ever do in one bazillion years, and here's one reason why:
And that's with a parachute! Though her back hurts and she's got grass in her mouth and her hair, Rachael and her bones and organs are intact after that nasty collision with mother Earth. "My heart hurt when I was watching you," says Matt, who rushed to her side after the fall. "Because you weren't moving for a second." Can you imagine if Matt had to go see Rachael's parents alone, carrying a hotel gift-shop bouquet and some really bad news?
Fortunately, no one is dead. Though Rachael's sister Trinity (!) maybe wishes she was?
Is she miserable or nervous? Hard to say. Anyhow, let's get this family meeting going. Papa Darrell is a skeptic going in ("I don't see how somebody would propose that soon — what's the rush?"), and mom is also a little hesitant to just take her daughter's encomium about Matt at face value. "Have you seen anything bad or anything you don't like about him?" Kim says. "I'm sure everybody has a bad day!" Rachael insists that Matt has displayed zero "red flags," and she's ready to get engaged. (Insert joke about the red flags Matt is yet to discover about Rachael here.)
Outside by the bonfire, Darrell lays it down for the Bachelor: "I don't see how you could get to that point [of engagement] in such a short period of time," he says. "To me, it'd be difficult to truly care about somebody when you're seeing other people. I don't see how that works." Preach it, dad! Matt wants Mr. Kirkconnell to know that he's taking his televised search for a wife seriously, and when he's with Rachael, he's only thinking about Rachael.
Yeah, Darrell's not buying it. "He's got other ladies here," says dad in his interview. "So who knows? What he's telling Rachael, he could be turning around and saying to the other two or three ladies." Dang, the poor guy is stressed out. Could someone please get Darrell a drink?
That's better. "I really do see that future with him," Rachael tells her dad. When Darrell's all, What about the other three "ladies"?, Rachael holds her ground. "It might be a little naïve of me to think that I'm different, but I really do think that I am," she says. Having said his piece, Darrell lets it go. "Well, you know mom and I love you," he says with a suppressed sigh. "We'll support you whatever you do."
Wait, the night is over? But we never got to hear from Trinity! Sigh. Before he leaves for the night, Matt lets Rachael know that while he had a good conversation with her dad, he did not ask for his blessing. "If I'm being honest with you, that's not a conversation I want to have with four families," he says. "When I get to that point, I will call them and ask for it." Holy cow, why have we never heard a Bachelor make this completely reasonable statement before? No one is forcing them to ask all four dads for a blessing — and here's proof. Good on you, Matt.
Rachael, however, does NOT love it.
"Part of me was hoping that he would have asked my dad for a blessing," she says sadly. "It's hard to accept the fact that there are three other women involved."
Date No. 3: Bri
Family/friends present: Bri's best friend, Bri, her mom, Lauren, and her baby sister
Bri, who is a communications manager from San Francisco, has planned something very special for her "hometown" date: Off-roading! Just like they do in San Francisco! Just go with it because Nemacolin only has so many outdoor activities to choose from! (Also, it allows producers to push the whole "love can be a bumpy ride" theme.)
According to Bri, this muddy, bumpy adventure is "payback" for the time Matt almost killed her on their ATV date. She does not flip the jeep; instead, they drive out into the middle of a field and picnic among the horses. There they talk about how neither of them has a "conventional" family — and it's only at this point that I remembered about Bri's mom, and how she recently got engaged and had a baby. That's the "baby sister" Chris Harrison referenced at the beginning of the show. Hooray for babies! Thank goodness, Matt shows up prepared.
Okay, just don't put that thing in the crib. That's a suffocation hazard if I ever saw one. Oh man, this is the first time Bri is meeting her baby sister!
"She's very rambunctious, just like her big sister," says Lauren. Okay, that's enough small talk! Mom is ready to grill Matt outside. "Are you in love with her?" she asks. Once again, the Bachelor gives the "I'm falling for her" answer, which is definitely not what Lauren was hoping to hear. Still, she believes Matt has a "special connection" with her daughter. As for Bri, she tells mom that she's falling in love with Matt, which makes her "so, so scared." Awww, and I love Lauren's response to that: "Worst case scenario, we are mending a broken heart together. But we'll survive."
That's right! Listen to your mom, Bri! No matter what happens, you're alive, you're healthy, and you have incredible skin. Life is good!
Man, that was a short visit! We didn't even get to hear from Friend Bri. Boo! Still, Bri must have taken her mom's pep talk to heart, because she ends the night professing her feelings to Matt: "I… feel… like… I'm falling in love with you… and I want more time with you." Once again, Matt doesn't reciprocate ("thank you for sharing that with me"), but Bri is happy and relieved. "I am so happy to have had today," she gushes.
Date No. 4: Serena P.
Family present: Serena's mom, Rasna, her dad, and her sister, Talia
Am I the only one who forgot that Serena is from Toronto? In order to bring a little Canada to the U.S., production has decked out one of Nemacolin's bar and grills with a bunch of Canadian flags, some maple syrup, a stuffed moose, and…
…a lovely map of Canada! After quizzing Matt on some Canadian lingo (I did not know that "toque" meant "knit cap"!), Serena treats him to some culinary delicacies from the Great White North: Poutine, peameal bacon (?), and some various Canadian pastries.
Mmmm… looks delicious! Not sure how smart it was to play hockey after eating all that food, but remarkably neither Serena nor Matt barf on the ice.
It's clear that Matt really likes Serena, and they do seem to have a good time together. But after last week's disastrous tantric yoga date, it's also pretty clear that Serena maybe isn't as into the Bachelor as he is into her. Will her family feel the same way? Let's find out!
The Pitt family greets Matt warmly, and then Rasna pulls him aside for some get-to-know-you time. "I guess I want to know from him, why Serena?" she says. The Bachelor's answer is good: "She's smart, beautiful, has her head on her shoulders, and she challenges me. She doesn't take crap from anybody." Mom appreciates that, but she's still worried that Serena — who, may I remind you, is only 23!!!! — will be "ready to get engaged this quickly."
Oh, looks like lil' sister Talia is in another room with Serena, posing the million-dollar question:
Hooo boy, rose lovers, Matt is not gonna like Serena's response when he watches this back. "He, on paper and in my head, checks every single box," says Serena. "I do sometimes feel like I'm catching up to his feelings… I'm falling for him, yes."
Talia's like, But are you, though? She doesn't see it, and she lets Serena know that in no uncertain terms. "To me, it seems like there's just something missing," she says. "You don't seem smitten." Hard agree, Talia! This definitely throws Serena for a bit of a loop. When she goes to chat with her dad, he gently reminds her that an engagement "is a very, very strong commitment," and she admits she's "not 1,000 percent sure."
Girl, you're not even 10 percent sure, and you know it! Rasna listens to her daughter's concerns without judgment, prompting her with questions that allow Serena to let all of her feelings out. She's still shaken up about her last relationship, which fell apart even though she was "so sure" the guy was The One. "I was so sure and then I was wrong," says Serena, wiping tears away. "And I got so hurt." Now she's having a very hard time trusting her feelings… all of which are telling her that Matt is not the guy she's supposed to marry.
Awwww, moms are the best.
When it comes time to say goodbye to Matt, Serena is honest about her doubts. "I just have a lot of thinking to do," she tells him. "It's just, I'm going through some of my stuff, doubts that don't even come from you in any way, just come from within myself, and internal battles that I'm dealing with." The Bachelor tries to talk her down, like, Don't worry about the engagement stuff, just think about dating me — but Serena clearly can't get the image of the Proposal Platform out of her mind. "I don't think I expected him to take that so calmly," she tells us. "I was like, 'What do you mean? I'm sitting here freaking out!'"
With the dates over, Matt sits down with Chris Harrison for a little pre-rose ceremony debrief. "Are there any concerns here, or was it all green lights?" the host asks. The Bachelor fills Harrison in on the Serena P. vagueness — "To be honest, I don't know where she's at" — and the host encourages him to "dive into" the situation before handing out another rose. Cut to:
"I've known how I felt about you for a long time," says Matt. "I can say without a doubt, you are the person I've spent the most time with, and that's intentional." (Ooof. Sorry person who eventually "wins" this season — but it sounds like maaaaybe you weren't the Bachelor's first choice.)
Hearing this, Serena knows it's time for some brutal but necessary honesty. "I felt so excited and good about everything, but I think you also know that I've had moments where I've struggled and had doubts," she says. "I thought that it was fear, initially… but I think if I'm being honest with myself, it's more than that. I think that it just comes down to the fact that I don't think that you're my person."
Oh man, Matt is just crushed.
The Bachelor reels in silence for a good 30 seconds, poor guy. "It sucks to hear that," he says sadly. "I just want what's best for you, and if that's not gonna be me… that stinks." Gah, Matt was totally going to propose to Serena, wasn't he? And now she's dumping him! Even though he can be kind of dull sometimes, I still feel so bad for him. As does Serena.
"That's not how I saw our journey ending," says the Bachelor through his tears. Now he's worried about the other "ladies" — what if one or more of them is having doubts? That's a reasonable question, Matt, but maybe you should be more worried about the fact that the woman you apparently liked the most is gone… Do you really want to propose to a runner-up?
Survey says… I guess so!
Even though there are only three women left, the rose ceremony goes ahead as planned — and Michelle, Rachael, and Bri all accept roses.
We're in the home stretch! I know there's a lot to discuss about what went down this week, but I really can't focus on anything but this:
Damn! What did Matt do to his face? I guess we'll find out next week at the Women Tell All. Before you log off, rose lovers, a few questions: Were you surprised to see how torn up Matt was about Serena? Do you think Michelle would make a good Bachelorette (if she doesn't "win," that is)? And seriously, what is up with Matt's doomsday-prepper beard? Post your thoughts below!