Remember last week, when I said I was starting to enjoy this show? I take it all back. One minute into last night’s episode, and I was annoyed and resentful at having to spend my Monday night being gaslit about the nature of love by a network television “reality” show. “God I hate these people,” I texted, pretty unfairly, to my friend Katherine, who was watching along with me from her house. Hate is a strong word. I don’t hate any of the poor souls on the show, except for maybe Chris Harrison.

But man, last night’s episode was painful to watch. With only four couples left on the show, these are “serious” relationships now. And since one couple, Chris and Bri, said “I love you” in front of Toni Braxton last week, the theme for this week seemed to be “force the other three couples to say ‘the l-word.’” The manipulation was off the charts. Of course we can’t know what producers are asking contestants offscreen, but I’m almost certain they’re just variations on the questions “Do you see yourself falling in love with him/her?” and “How do you think he/she feels?” And all the couples seemed in competition with one another, as though the only way to win the prize (and I still don’t really know what that is—maybe a recording contract and a post-pandemic tour in 2021 or 2022?) was to get to the fabled next level in their relationship before anybody else.

Any loyal viewer can tell you that Bachelor Nation relationships proceed as follows: at first there is “a connection,” then comes “potential” or perhaps “real potential.” Then one of the parties will acknowledge that “I can see myself maybe falling for you,” dropping the qualifiers in that statement as the weeks progress. “I am falling for you” morphs into the more serious “I am falling in love with you,” and if those feelings are reciprocated, maybe you get to “I am in love with you” or “I love you.” It’s typical this far in a season for all the contestants to be between the “falling for” and “in love” stage of their relationships, so it’s not a shocker that the producers of The Bachelor Presents: Listen to Your Heart have led us here.

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What’s different is that it’s not one bachelor or bachelorette trying to emotionally rank each of his or her simultaneous relationships in order to move forward (because that is the job ABC hired them to do). It’s four independent relationships being ranked by the television show itself. Who is the most in love? Who is the most authentic? Who is opening up the most? Who is being vulnerable the most? If you and your “partner” aren’t quite ready to say “I love you” after these few weeks, that is a failing on your part. It has nothing to do with you being a person with one foot remaining in reality, aware that this isn’t how love and commitment work at all. Of course you can develop intense feelings for a person you’ve been locked up with in these very unusual and surreal circumstances. But you’ll never know the stability or even the reality of your relationship until the show is over. That’s why almost all Bachelor Nation relationships fall apart almost immediately.

But no Bachelor show will ever acknowledge this blatant truth. While the show is filming and airing, the contestants and viewers must operate as if the love is real. I know this. I know how these shows work and I keep coming back for more. But damn, it is brutal to watch. These eight people are being brainwashed into believing they need something that the rest of us know they can easily survive without. And now that Julia and Brandon are gone, there’s no clear villain (except of course for Chris Harrison), so I found myself watching young, emotionally unintelligent Americans lose their minds for nothing more than our entertainment. And that hits differently in a pandemic, I guess. Normally, I’d invite all my Bachelor-watching buddies over to my place, and I’d feed them chicken spaghetti or enchiladas verdes and homemade oatmeal raisin cookies or perhaps a cake. Instead, I eat leftovers and text them videos of Chris Harrison shouting “THREE-TIME GRAMMY WINNER FROM THE SUPERGROUP TRAIN” while he introduces celebrity guest judge Pat Monahan, a three-time Grammy winner from the supergroup Train. That is significantly less fun.

But anyway, I guess I’m supposed to be power-ranking Texans now. Spoiler alert: there’s only one left, so Rudi, a pop singer from San Antonio, who definitely has the best voice of any remaining contestant on the show, is at the top and bottom of this week’s ranking.

 

1. Rudi

Age: 24

Location: San Antonio

Style: R&B/pop

Rudi was perhaps one of the Bachelor producers’ biggest victims this week. She was definitely caught up in the race to get her relationship with Matt to the l-word level. Let’s look at their relationship objectively. They had an unusual meet-cute in a fancy mansion in the L.A. area. The get-to-know-you period of their courtship was sped up because they were already living together, and they’ve shared some very exciting moments during performances onstage. We do not know if they have yet banged, but I’m inclined to think they haven’t, or if they have, it’s been once, and it was awkward because there were producers and cameramen pretty close by. Within the very limited parameters of the television show that they are currently filming, they have something real, I guess. They obviously dig each other a lot. They’ve definitely moved beyond “connection” to “real potential.” But of course they don’t actually know each other at all. And their emotions should be analyzed with suspicion, since they are being manipulated not just by their isolated setting (it’s like falling in love at summer camp—who knows if you can survive the school year?), but also by a team of producers who don’t have their best interests in mind.

But Rudi really wanted to tell Matt she was maybe starting to fall for him. And since everybody else was doing it, she decided it was the right move. When he didn’t say those words back to her (words that, if you really think about it, are kind of meaningless), she got really upset. And she cried, surely a win for whatever producer was handling her that episode. I think Matt was supposed to come off as an asshole, but I think being honest about where he actually was in the relationship—that he was really, really into her, but not ready to mention love—was the most likable thing anyone did on last night’s episode. If Rudi was my friend, and she and Matt were dating IRL, not on TV, and had been together for several months with no real commitment,  I might say, “Girl, he’s just not that into you.” But that’s what happening here. And if this is going to be one of the extremely rare Bachelor Nation relationships to last beyond the show (which, let’s be honest, it isn’t), then Matt’s realistic approach is clutch.

Fortunately, Rudi was able to push through her pain and lean into the music. As a result, her performance of “Shallow” was easily the most compelling of the night. Three-time Grammy winner from the supergroup Train Pat Monahan loved it. And Matt and Rudi were great together onstage; they had more sexual chemistry than even Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga did in that Oscars performance that made everyone think they were actually dating. After their performance was over, you could tell that Rudi and Matt were both high as a kite from the excitement. And if they weren’t already DTB (down to bang) they definitely are now. Maybe they’ll get closer to that next level, incrementally. Maybe the fun of their onstage relationship is only temporarily distracting them from the real problems offstage. Maybe it’s all going to come crashing down in next week’s finale, as I’m sure the Bachelor producers have hoped.

At the very least, Rudi’s got power. She’s made it further in the competition than probably anyone expected she would, and she’s continued to prove that she’s the best singer of the bunch, with the most compelling stage performance. She’s showed that she’s a person who can get her feelings hurt and still do her job (sing real good). She will almost certainly be able to turn her time on this show into some kind of living, probably as a part-time musician, part-time influencer. She’s got 70,000 Instagram followers at the time of this posting. She has a single out, Smile (it’s okay), which has 26,351 streams on Spotify. She’s doing great, all things considered. Good for her!