Image via ABC.

On Monday night, two women watched the finale of Rachel’s season of The Bachelorette. This is their story.

Kate: As these things go, and as I’ve said before, I tend to forget how intense things get at the end of this show, when all the people the lead was clearly never going to pick are gone and they’re forced to choose between those they ostensibly feel the strongest for. Being as this was your first time watching this season, how did you feel about it Clover?

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Clover: Okay, I had no idea, one, that the finale would be three hours long and that, two, they had switched up the format on poor Rachel so that she had to endure the agony of watching it along with a studio audience and the entirety of America. She’s like, “I don’t know why y’all keep doing stuff like this to me.” I know why! I walked away, of course, annoyed that she chose Bryan, but it also seemed like the apropos choice for a show that really pushes the institution of marriage as a forced decision. RIP Peter.

Kate: So many people admit they go on these shows for the experience and the off chance they’ll find someone to be with for maybe a little while. Rachel’s one of the few who genuinely went on it to get married, which is sort of fascinating! The divide between her and Peter was compelling, because it’s a fight you’d have with a partner outside of this show who doesn’t want the same things as you do—the trope of the guy who isn’t ready to get married is as old as time—except in this case, it was easy to feel for both of them. Peter was totally rational for doing what many people do on this show, which is to not rush an engagement. But Rachel was also totally rational, in that she was actually going along with the conceit of the show.

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I thought this interview from People was somewhat illuminating: “With Peter, I constantly got this push and this pull. What I hate so much is that it seems like the reason that Peter wasn’t the one for me is due to the proposal, and I think that it became such a big issue because that’s what happens at the end of this, but there were other deep-rooted issues in my relationship with him.” What were those issues, and did they get cut because this is a TV show and they’re trying to make good TV?

Clover: Right, I wondered where exactly the “deep-rooted issues” were and why we didn’t see them so that we could understand her choice better. Maybe that will come out in the days and interviews to come. But the fight scene was super intense and visceral, and not only did it screw with Rachel’s emotions but I think those of the viewers (me) as well, because it was such a reflection of the stress of an undefined relationship. That scene was where I really noticed the orange-y soap opera-esque lighting that seems to amplify the emotion for whatever reason.

I thought that conversation and their whole relationship was meant to show how people are attracted to complication and complexity and that’s actually (sometimes) good, to me, except when you want marriage. Like you said, Peter was being practical and Rachel was fighting against her needs and desires and a ridiculous time crunch. Their argument read way more realistic and human to me than Bryan’s strange idealism, which I guess is more appealing to a person searching for some type of perfection, or in her words a love that’s “mature.” I dunno. The real burn was when Peter’s like, “Go find someone to have a mediocre life with.” God, there was so much realness to the conversation I almost forgot it was TV. This was also a very slow realization that we were watching a breakup.

Kate: It definitely seemed as though Rachel’s done something a lot of us have done in relationships, which is gravitate towards someone who is “difficult” because she’s somehow been taught that the value of a relationship is defined by how hard you work at it. With Bryan, she’s seemed to suggest that he’s not a lot of work, and that that’s a blessing. Which is great for her. It did make for confusing viewing, though; her inward and not totally clear desires, versus the structure of this show. So much of that came out during her talk with Peter after their breakup aired, which was obviously tense and at times a little hostile. She seemed to bristle at the “mediocre life” comment, which I think to much of the viewing audience read as something that was said by Peter in the height of passion and frustration (particularly because it’s clear he doesn’t like Bryan or think he’s genuine).

But the more I thought about it, the more Rachel reminded me of a lot of past leads who have to come on this show and defend the person they’ve chosen after months of A) Getting over the person they didn’t and B) Having to keep the person they did a secret. Take Nick and Vanessa, who seemed highly awkward and uncomfortable. Rachel’s defensiveness—what Peter called feeling “attacked”—and her spin to him that “this franchise is not for you” seemed to come from that place. (It also seemed to undercut the speculation that he will be the next Bachelor.) She wants people to be happy for her now, not dwelling on the past. But the past is still very present for everyone but her.

Clover: I definitely kept wondering what the standard is as far as who gets chosen and whether there’s a typical set of qualities or traits that the Chosen One tends to have. I really thought it would be Peter and Eric at the end, two men who appear, at least on television, to have genuine emotions. Then you think about it and a lot of dating is really selling yourself, and Bryan was the better salesman throughout. As far as the defensiveness, maybe Rachel felt during the live interview like Peter was trying to set himself to become the next Bachelor (which I don’t think he was really thinking about) and wanted to obstruct that in some way.

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There were clearly residual feelings between Rachel and Peter, which I would think becomes even more of an issue given the show’s format — in that, people are forced to cut off their feelings in a way that’s unnatural. Peter and Rachel needed more time! And they could’ve been great together. Meanwhile, we haven’t seen any of Bryan’s real faults or what makes him an actual person and that really bothers me. Though I know the show is about making smart choices. I’m happy that Rachel found someone who makes her happy, at any rate. I just wonder what her family will think ha. I’m not sure Bryan or Rachel have the deep-deep feelings they claim to have, I just think they’re more confident that it can develop into something stronger.

Kate: I’m more cynical; I think Peter did a really incredible performance to set himself up as the next Bachelor, both in the finale and in his conversation with Rachel after it. But I don’t really see that as a bad thing necessarily; he knows at that point that he and Rachel aren’t on the same page, and is setting himself up to get what he wants. The further out people get from this franchise the more honest they are about what they wanted when, and so as you said before, perhaps at one point we’ll get some of that honesty from both of them.

Last night’s episode in many ways reminded me a lot of Desiree’s season (which obviously you haven’t watched). At the end of that season, Desiree had a few guys left, but one of them, Brooks—the one she seemed to want to be with more—rejected her before she could pick or reject him. She then picked what seemed to be her default, Chris. They’re now married and a child. Which is neither here nor there, but there you go!

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Clover: I mean, a good amount of marriages are the result of settling, so that makes sense. I guess, re: Peter’s Bachelor prospects, this sets the show up extremely well to extend the narrative of him being uncertain in love and then finally getting to be the one who chooses. I kind of would like to see that and what love looks like to him, since he says he’s not looking for mediocrity or a default choice on a show where those seem to be the most natural options. Eric would also be a great choice, I think, especially with the zaddy beard and now that he’s gotten his heart broken, he can feel like a real person.

I have an unrelated question about the fantasy suite, which is why do they talk about it in such vague terms?? That is the place there why bone, right? Are they not allowed to say what they did in there? It was always just like “Last night was great…” (Wink).

Back to Eric, what stood out to me during the live portion was when Rachel tells him she had to compare the love she had for him with the other two men. And ultimately she realized she wasn’t “in love” with him, which is always the marker for whether a relationship is serious or not. Eric’s progression has been impressive and most interesting to watch.

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Kate: OMG yes, the fantasy suite is where they bone (though they obviously don’t have to; it’s just the first and ostensibly only time they’re allowed to be alone together without cameras). Some people eventually reveal who they slept with and what happened in there, while others keep it more discreet; I have a feeling Rachel will fall into the latter category.

Eric was a joy to watch and I’m so glad he didn’t end up on Paradise, which, as we saw from the extended trailer last night, is really being milked for all its cleared-via-internal-investigation is worth.

What were your thoughts overall on this season? Do you think you’ll watch again? Every recent season I’ve said I won’t but then I get sucked back in again because of the new lead… though I really did think this one would be my last.

Clover: Well, it’s smart of them to choose candidates based on the previous batch of “losers”—that’s what keeps me invested in a show like The Challenge when I really have no business watching it as an adult; it’s because I’m familiar with the contestants and develop a kinship with them and I end up rooting for certain people. The connection to Peter and Eric makes me feel like I will give The Bachelor a chance (which I’ve never watched), now that I know the guys and feel some sort of attachment to not only them as people but their stories. Whether I watch The Bachelorette or not depends on the candidate.

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The show’s race experiment gave producers what they wanted, which was tension, but not in a way I found super enjoyable, enlightening or progressive. There were points where there could’ve been better discussion about interracial dating, invisible racism, etc., or maybe activities they could’ve done that would’ve brought those discussions out. I hope they stick to keeping the demographic of the dating pool diverse and that they see how much viewers are drawn to a realistic set of options. Obviously, this shouldn’t be the only time that they have a broader mix, just because it’s a black woman. Again, I thought the fact that they introduced the live format for the first time was the proper metaphor for the season, giving her this extra burden and pressure. Chris Harrison was eating it up.

Kate: Yeah, this season was the ultimate testament to how much the contestants of this show are the show; Rachel was a highly compelling lead and could handle all the stuff they threw at her, though it was very clear at times that she didn’t want to. I hope also that they stop relying on their old tropes—the stuff with Lee and Kenny was the weakest link of this season, and made it very clear who is producing this show—and instead realize that casting diversely does a lot of the work for them in terms of making good TV. I think it’s likely we’ll see Peter as the next Bachelor, which is a bummer because Eric is also a good candidate, but as Peter has made it abundantly clear, he has lots of black friends! So maybe his season won’t be the usual mix of blondes.

Clover: LOL, he does have black friends, forgot about that. Rachel really did hold up as far as being the “right” first black Bachelorette. In terms of personality, desires, intentions and her relationship preference, she worked for the show, though it was clear that some of it involved shifting her ideal and molding to the format. I hope she gets to talk about that emotional experience as the First, now that the filter is off and she can relax a bit. Ultimately, I’m glad I watched. I’ve learned a lot about everything and nothing.

Kate: Which is really all there is.