By Matt Mueller Culture Editor Published Aug 24, 2021 at 8:41 AM

If you're dating someone, you'd think the one place you definitely don't need to be is on a reality dating show – but not the case apparently this season on "Bachelor in Paradise," as not one but two people apparently have secret (welp, not so secret now) off-screen arrangements going on back home. Listen, I get that you gotta bump up those Instagram follows and boost your "Bachelor" podcast resume – and I know the idea of ABC paying for a sunny beach vacay sounds wonderful – but it's not worth it! You're going to get caught, you're going to embarrassed on television, you won't get a podcast and also the beach is infested in crabs, so just cough up the money for a real vacation. 

So yes, "Bachelor in Paradise" was back Monday night – complete with the proper Reno-and-Wilson-scored corny intros. Honestly, I was expecting a lot more goofiness. Too many people just smiling and being generically attractive. You misunderstood the assignment. Seriously, how do you not put a fake mustache on Noah? MUST I DO EVERYTHING AROUND HERE!?

A few contestants did it right, though: Connor was of course in his cat suit, Kelsey naturally battled a champagne bottle, Tahzjuan was working every fan on the beach, Brendan busted out his turtleneck, Victoria the Goddess looked like she took a wrong turn on her way to being the most extra person at Coachella and Kenny was butt-naked trying to give the editor responsible for black-boxing his man business a panic attack. In a startling turn of events, though, Kenny wore clothes this episode. You didn't even make it to the first rose ceremony?! COWARD! I am alarmed by this lack of commitment; that's a red flag for me. 

Speaking of red flags, while doing the relationship recap at the start of the episode, Natasha notes that she and Brendan are doing great, and that she's feeling confident about how things are going. We all know what that means: DOOM! She's hoping to spend time with him throughout the day before the rose ceremony, but "it's Paradise – anything can happen." And in this case, "anything" is named Demi, the patron saint of Paradise, who strolls onto the beach eager to start some chaos. Heck, her intro is her literally stirring a pot – and no, she's not cooking up a lovely bechamel; she's making drama. So of course she uses her date card for a one-on-one date with Brendan while Natasha stays on the beach, going through all the phases of grief simultaneously. 

Lucky for her, no grief necessary! While she tries to keep it together on the beach, Demi and Brendan go jet-skiing and then makeout on a bungalow – but as soon as the makeout sesh ends, Brendan jumps ship (or jet-ski, to stay on theme with this date). He tells Demi that, while he thinks she's cool, she should probably consider chatting with other guys and pursuing other potential connections – aka there's nothing for her here. For the one eager to stir things up, it's Demi getting shaken as she arrives back on the beach alone and with a wasted date card. Aww, look at that: Brendan's staying loyal to Natasha after all!

Orrrrrrrr maybe not. He's being loyal to SOMEBODY as gossip starts mixing around on the beach that Brendan joined "Paradise" in the hopes Pieper would show up ... because the two are actually dating in the real world. So now Demi and Natasha are looking for answers on why a guy would pop on a dating show with a prearranged relationship in normal society. (Though Demi, before you get too sassy and self-righteous at Brendan, need I remind you how things went last time you were on Paradise? When you showed up dating someone and the show broke itself to bring her on for you? You know what they say about people in glass houses ... that's right, they spent a lot on Windex.) As for Natasha, she hears Brendan out – he claims they broke up before the show – and sticks with him, though possibly just because the guys have the roses this week. 

So over/under on when Pieper is showing up: three episodes from now?

Amazingly, that wasn't Monday night's only storyline involving a hidden real-world relationship. Summon Victoria – no, not the goddess, the other one. The one nobody remembered and barely made an impact in the first episode. WELP, SHE MADE HER IMPACT THIS WEEK!

Desperate for a rose and for another free week of beach vacation, Victoria hops aboard one of the few remaining un-coupled guys on the sand: James, aka "Bro in a Box" from Katie's season. (It really is a shame his name isn't Richard.) They flirtily bond over Victoria asking him if he brushes his teeth before or after morning coffee and if ... he pees outside? There's just one problem (beyond the pee question): Victoria could not actually care less about James – and she's really bad at hiding it. She talks aloof about their supposed connection in the confessional, and she can't even remember his name when talking about him with other cast members, instead calling him Jordan. HEY, GETTING CONFUSED BY WHICH GENERIC HANDSOME STUBBLE IS WHICH IS MY SCHTICK! GET YOUR OWN!

To make matters worse, according to Tammy and Kelsey, Victoria's not looking for a boyfriend right now because she already has a boyfriend: an aspiring country music singer back home in Nashville. Tammy thinks Victoria has this elaborate conspiracy to fall in "love" on "Paradise," bring the attention back home to Nashville, break up and then shift the cameras over to her and her Jed of a boyfriend. But it might just be as simple as Victoria wanted a free vacation. No matter the reasoning, it's not great – to the point that Tammy and Kelsey tell James everything they know about Victoria's secret beau ... and also that she barely knows his name. 

When Jordan James confronts Victoria with his info, she denies that she has a boyfriend and that she can't remember his name without jotting it down somewhere "Memento" style. But shortly after, when she goes up to Tammy and Kelsey, she changes her tune, saying that she was going to get around to talking to Jebediah James about her relationship situation and that it's ACTUALLY Tammy and Kelsey's fault for intervening. In order to keep things calm, Victoria also uses some therapy techniques ... which seem to consist entirely of talking about how you're going to use some therapy techniques. Tammy seemed unimpressed.  

In the end, Victoria's pretty much cornered so she resorts to the only solution she has left: She gets the hell outta Dodge. She drops a quick goodbye to Jackie Jormp Jomp James, then bolts for the escape SUV – which I don't even think was expecting a passenger yet; the driver was probably catching a nap before she knocked – and calls it a day, complete with basically a confession that yes, everything Kelsey and Tammy said was true. It's back home to her Jed, with very few cameras interested in following. Maybe next time, Vicky. Maybe they'll do another "Bachelor: All Jeds Edition" season? (But really, please don't, producers.)

So after that delightful self-immolation, it's time for some actual proper rose ceremony eliminations – just three instead of four thanks to Victoria's disappearing act.

Noah gives his rose to Abigail, to which we all approve because they're adorable. Despite Serena C.'s best efforts, Aaron gives his rose to Tammy – because of course these two are a couple. They're the couple you'd never want to take anywhere because they're guaranteed to start a fight with somebody – the bouncer, the bartender, a rowdy guest, the television – at the bar. They're kinda perfect for each other – real disgruntled RA energy. Ivan gives his rose to Jessenia after they had a cute one-on-one date where the two bonded over speaking out on current issues. (Props to Ivan for acknowledging that men have it a million times easier than women on social media.) Connor gives his rose to Maurissa, while Brendan hands his carnation off to a VERY DUBIOUS Natasha. I give them another two weeks at best. 

Tre and Tahzjuan, Grocery Store Joe and Serena P., and a still miraculously clothed Kenny and Mari lock things up together before we get to some of the more dramatic roses: Karl and James. Karl's rose is up in the air merely because no one seems interested – the guy came down the beach earlier this episode with a date card to give away, and I really thought no one would claim it simply because he was so loud and annoying – and even the show couldn't care less. He has a rose, though, and congrats to Deandra for using it to score another week on the beach. Bad news, Karl: You're probably packing up next week. 

And that leaves Big Time Timmy Jim James to give away the final rose – which, of course, went to Demi. Because the producers of this show didn't bring Demi on just to boot her off after one episode. And admit it: Even if you  don't like her, the show's much more interesting with her stirring things up (even, as with this week, if she's the one who ends up dizzy from it) and providing snarky commentary.

So instead "Paradise" sent home Serena C. – and I guess the beach converted to atheism because the Goddess was banished too, though not before she called Demi a "minor idiot" for falling for Brendan. If her entire schtick was building to that moment, it was almost worth it. Also: Kelsey didn't get a rose, but she did get heat stroke! Poor girl: She finally exorcised her champagne demons just to get booted right away. I GUESS EVERYONE ON THE BEACH CAN OPEN THEIR OWN BUBBLY FROM HERE ON OUT! I will miss the crime-fighting team of Tammy and Kelsey. 

And with that, the tables now turn to the ladies, who get rose duties next week. Also: Thomas is arriving on the beach. I'm sure Aaron won't have a problem with that at all. 

Matt Mueller Culture Editor

As much as it is a gigantic cliché to say that one has always had a passion for film, Matt Mueller has always had a passion for film. Whether it was bringing in the latest movie reviews for his first grade show-and-tell or writing film reviews for the St. Norbert College Times as a high school student, Matt is way too obsessed with movies for his own good.

When he's not writing about the latest blockbuster or talking much too glowingly about "Piranha 3D," Matt can probably be found watching literally any sport (minus cricket) or working at - get this - a local movie theater. Or watching a movie. Yeah, he's probably watching a movie.