This week, the 24th season of The Bachelor will come to a merciful end, but not before a two-night, four-hour finale in which Americans must endure Delta Airlines pilot and noted windmill enthusiast Peter Weber cheerfully narrating his own romantic blunders one last time.
Soon, Peter will presumably decide whether to subject Hannah Ann Sluss or Madison Prewett to a proposal that, if history is any indication, has roughly a 12 percent chance of ending in marriage, and a 100 percent chance of host Chris Harrison solemnly declaring whatever happens to be “the most dramatic conclusion in Bachelor history.” At a moment when the deranged ludicrousness of Netflix's Love Is Blind suddenly poses a legitimate threat to The Bachelor's reality dating show hegemony, the powers that be are, for the first time in recent memory, perhaps under some pressure to make good on Harrison’s oft-repeated promise.
Here’s everything you need to know about the last act of this season before we all agree to forget it ever happened in the first place.
What made Peter a bad Bachelor?
Peter, it turns out, has the relationship bedside manner of a shock jock and the emotional intelligence of a bathmat; the 28-year-old seemed incapable of ending things with any of the women without twisting the rhetorical knife as the limousine door swung shut. “I know you probably didn’t see that coming at all,” he said to Kelsey after her hometown-date elimination. “Believe me, I wish this could have worked,” he confessed to a visibly-irritated Kelley, as if determining that it did not work were not entirely his prerogative. The most important rule of breakups is to not feel a compulsion to explain yourself, and yet Peter has done it every time.
Even Victoria, who emerged as one of the villains thanks to her on-screen insufferability and her off-screen modeling for “White Lives Matter” apparel that makes prominent use of Confederate flag iconography, managed to briefly look sympathetic thanks to Peter’s bumbling. (She has since clarified that the slogan refers to endangered marlins; again, the apparel makes prominent use of Confederate flag iconography.) “You really put your heart out there,” Peter said to Victoria while dumping her, like my Little League coach consoling six-year-old me after each strikeout as I tried not to cry in the dugout.
Victoria’s response—“I don’t want to hear it”—was almost enough to make you forget that she tried to excuse her association with racism by invoking a passion for marine conservation.
Are there other reasons Peter was bad?
Several! Peter’s tenure was defined by baffling elimination decisions in which he bestowed roses on women with whom he had no chemistry, and abruptly sent home others with whom he did, nearly prompting the contestants to mutiny halfway through the season. At one point, he gushed that he loved “everything” about his relationship with Victoria, “except when it comes to just communicating.” Even for a show that traffics heavily in clichés, Peter acted at all times as if kidnappers were holding his family hostage just outside the frame, and their only demand was that he say the word “journey” as many times as possible.
Also, midway through the season, he ended up with a wicked scar on his forehead after he—I am not making this up—bumped his head on a golf cart and then instinctively raised his hand to his face, causing the drinking glass in his hand to shatter and open a gash that required 22 stitches. Or, in Peter’s own words: “I freaking stabbed myself in the head.”
Does Peter know he was bad?
Seems like it! “I’m definitely getting some tough skin now,” he told E! News, expressing his wish that the critics would “focus more on spreading love.” In the extended Bachelor universe, this is about as close anyone gets to saying, “Look, I’m sorry, okay? Now, please do not deprive me of the 18 months of spon-con income on which I’ve been counting.”
Who is left?
In one corner is Hannah Ann, a model from Tennessee whose résumé includes stints as Downy Detergent Bottle Girl, Friendly Sonic Drive-In Employee, and Love Interest In A Generic Country Music Video. Hannah Ann emerged as an early frontrunner by displaying the easy confidence of someone who came in with a plan and executed it to perfection. During a modeling group date, she strutted onto the runway in a wedding dress and cheekily tossed her veil into Peter’s lap, reducing him to a babbling pile of goo; later, she hand-wrote a list of things she loved about him, replete with little hearts dotting each “I.”
As the field dwindled, though, Hannah Ann grew increasingly uneasy, like she had long ago passed the point when she hoped to gracefully bow out and return home to a pile of more lucrative modeling offers. Now that she’s down to a 50-50 shot of getting an honest-to-God marriage proposal from Aviation Harry Potter, her wry smirk has given way to the frozen smile of someone committed to keeping up appearances while also searching frantically for an escape route. “My love for him just strengthens me each and every day,” she said during a recent episode, in a manner that convinced neither viewers at home nor herself.
Her competition is Madison, a 23-year-old foster parent recruiter and former Alabama high school basketball champion whom Peter obviously adores. To Hannah Ann’s immense relief, she would be—under normal circumstances—the overwhelming favorite to win.
Wait: What isn’t normal about these particular circumstances?
Madison, a devout Christian, has decided not to have sex before marriage. Peter, who is notorious for fucking in a windmill four times, obviously made different choices with his life.
I should pause to say that Madison’s stance here is admirable—not because it is morally superior to anyone else’s, but because she’s stuck with it. She knows perfectly well that pop culture treats adults who haven’t sex with some combination of curiosity, bemusement, and condescending scorn, and it would be so, so easy for someone on the precipice of winning a reality TV show to compromise for the sake of the attendant fame. But Madison didn’t, and she took great pains to make clear that she doesn’t think less of Peter for being different than her, either, and that these are expectations she’s set for herself. Good on her.
That said: If it is important to you to not have sex before marriage, and to find a life partner who at the very least espouses values that align with that outlook, maybe The Bachelor—a 20-year-old franchise on which a trio of sex dates is literally programmed into the schedule every year—is not the ideal venue in which to search. Just a thought!
How could Peter and Madison have possibly gotten so deep into the season without resolving this seemingly-intractable problem?
A broken, gushing fire hydrant of miscommunications, that’s how. The two apparently danced around the subject until the week of Fantasy Suites, when Madison could wait no longer to pull Peter aside for a Very Serious Talk. But instead of explaining the specific stakes of her commitment, she resorted to vagaries, informing Peter that she would find it “really hard” to “move forward” if he slept with Victoria or Hannah Ann during the overnight dates.
You can probably guess what ensued: The legendarily horny Peter interpreted this more as an expression of the intensity of Madison’s feelings for him, not as a de facto ultimatum with real stakes, and thus ignored it. The producers, in a stroke of evil genius, put up all three women in the same house, meaning Madison had to watch Hannah Ann’s and Victoria’s respective walks of shame and have her worst fears confirmed via morning-after living room chitchat. (“I feel like it was productive,” Victoria said, turning Madison’s face to ash.)
During the heart-to-heart that followed, Madison finally made her choice to remain a virgin explicit, and said she couldn’t imagine accepting a proposal six days after he’d slept with someone else. The night ended with a tearful Peter, who at last understood the true consequences of his sex-having, pleading for another chance. When he asked Madison if she’d accept a rose, her dejected response—“Yeah”—was brimming with the enthusiasm of someone who’d just ordered a Coke at a restaurant, only to be asked if Pepsi was alright.
The tension to be resolved boils down to whether Madison decides she’s willing to compromise, or if Hannah Ann—a nice person who just wanted to boost her Instagram following—wins by default, assuming the supremely unfair role of matrimonial consolation prize. I don’t know which of these options is better, but I’m not thrilled about either one.
How did this all go so wrong?
The youths are good for many things: TikTok memes, clout accumulation, setting up wireless routers, and so on. But this season, The Bachelor crashed hard into the outer limits of the ability of young, carefree, hot people to make a believable show about finding a spouse. Peter is 28, but hardly exhibited the maturity of someone ready for a lifelong commitment. The two finalists are both just 23, and by Hannah Ann’s own admission, she had never been in love before (allegedly) deciding she felt that way for Peter, whom she’d known for all of eight weeks.
This is not to say that attractive twenty-somethings are incapable of falling in love or getting married. But the attractive twenty-somethings who try out for shows like The Bachelor are, as a general rule, far less interested in doing those things than they are in launching lucrative careers as social media influencers afterwards. More than ever, this season felt like watching kids read canned lines from jettisoned Netflix rom-com scripts, all while secretly hoping their performances wouldn’t prove convincing enough to stick them with a token sham engagement.
Is there any hope for the future of the franchise?
Yes! Clare Crawley, who appeared as a contestant on Juan Pablo’s season of The Bachelor six years ago, has already been announced as the next Bachelorette. At 38, she’ll be the oldest lead in that show’s history by a wide margin—and, in theory, a bit more earnest about fulfilling its premise than the collections of large adult sons and daughters who preceded her.
The Bachelor franchise has long treated people in their thirties—especially women—as past their primes, desperate for a final shot at love before succumbing to their advanced age. But Americans are increasingly waiting until they get older to settle down; today, around a quarter of people Clare’s age have never been married. After Peter’s season, the decision to cast her comes as a welcome course correction, and will maybe help future iterations of this reality show reflect reality a little better. We just have to let the kids bring theirs to a close first.
Originally Appeared on GQ