By Matt Mueller Culture Editor Published Sep 06, 2022 at 12:56 PM

And so we return to the scene of the crime: fantasy suites week, which even when it goes well is the worst episode of the season and requires a shower afterwards.

Even after all of these seasons, "The Bachelor" franchise still hasn't figured out how it wants to handle a person sleeping with a person and telling them that they have something special and important ... only to wave goodbye and do the same thing with two other people. Should we embrace the sleaze of the concept? Or keep the gauzy traditional storybook romance vibe? No wonder contestants every year seem baffled on how to handle this week – even the show can't decide if it's swooning, shady, empowering or a necessary evil. (After all, what's the show to do: pretend the physical aspect of a relationship doesn't exist? Want to see that already ocean floor-level success rate on this show plummet through the planet's core?)

That being said, we're at 45 seasons of this franchise: HOW ARE PEOPLE STILL SURPRISED AND AGHAST WHEN THIS PART OF THE SEASON HAPPENS?! How many times can we hit Have Sex Week, only for one of the remaining contestants go, "Wait, hold on: SEX HAPPENS ON HAVE SEX WEEK!?" I don't turn on a "Saw" movie and say, "Gah, violent gory murder traps: What's this doing here!?" No one's a fan of fantasy suites week – but no one should be getting surprised by it either twenty years into this show's existence.

AND YET HERE WE ARE! We didn't quite reach The Unspoken One levels of mess – mostly because, if you remember, his mistake wasn't engaging in fantasy suite week ... activities, but the way he handled everything before and after them, being selfishly cavalier and occasionally cruel with the remaining women due to an uncurable case of Bachelor Brain. (Well, that and also being tremendously boring in all the episodes prior.) But this fantasy suites week did bring plenty of nonsense, with a plethora of guys proving themselves to be wholly unprepared for this point of the show in an exciting variety of ways.

Or maybe make that "exciting" – at least for the first ten minutes where Rachel and Gabby fill time by recapping how poorly things went at this point on The Unspoken One's season, all while the editor attempts to set the world record for most shots of people entering hotel rooms. Scintillating television. Is this time that could've been spent jumping straight into the dates, rather than wasting so much time that we can't fit all of the fantasy suites into a single episode? I don't know; will Palmer say this is the most shocking, dramatic finale in "Bachelorette" history next week? You know the answers to these questions. 

Finally, we get to our first fantasy suite date, joining Gabby, Erich and Erich's mini-mullet on a trip to a cenote – aka a giant naturally made in-ground swimming pool. The two have fun splashing around until they decide they want to jump off the highest platform next to the pool – almost like some sort of leap of faith. I WONDER WHAT ELSE IS LIKE A LEAP OF FAITH! HMMM! COULD IT BE FALLING IN LOVE?! In case you didn't pick up that metaphor, the show spends the next ten minutes beating it to death as Gabby and Erich anxiously refuse to take the jump. Even the world's most literal person would be like, "Seems a little heavy-handed," by the end of this scene – which does FINALLY end with the two casually hopping off the platform into the water. 

Things finally pick up some momentum at night as the two talk about their childhoods and family dynamics – particularly Gabby, opening up about having divorced parents who weren't around much for her growing up. She tops off the conversation by stating that she's falling in love with Erich, melting into him for a kiss before grabbing the fantasy suite key from under a whole tray of uneaten capicola and heading off to the Boinking Suite. It seems Erich has a strong chance to come out happily engaged this season – impressive work considering how much his haircut is threatening to turn into a straight-up mullet. The man's an inspiration to bad hair decisions everywhere – and as one whose hair also has a habit of accidentally morphing into a Kentucky waterfall, I feel seen. 

Unfortunately, his bad hair gets replaced by bad decisions the next morning. Everything seems to be going great; Gabby seems pleased the next day while Erich wakes up wearing the official uniform of A Guy Who Just Had Sex, aka the world's most ruffled and wrinkled shirt with maybe three buttons done. They even cutely make an omelette together. WHAT COULD GO WRONG?! Answer: EVERYTHING, as Erich's suddenly in his head thinking about how Gabby's about to go have fantasy suites with two other guys. Yes, indeed, that sucks ... BUT DID YOU JUST NOW FIGURE THAT OUT!? Listen, I know we all disliked Chris early on this season for thinking about fantasy suites on day two – but at least that dude was smart enough to brace himself and knew how this show worked. Apparently Erich's suddenly piecing it together now, being all mopey, sad and confused – which is making Gabby all mopey, sad and confused. 

It's all bumming me out – especially since Erich is the only one of Gabby's three remaining dudes who seems eager to get engaged at the end of this show. ERICH, YOU'RE PLAYING YOURSELF!

Anyways, off to Rachel and Aven's fantasy suite date – surely that must go better, right? Welp, I guess we'll never know because the show DOES. NOT. CARE ABOUT IT. Their adventure out on the ocean (the producers this season must have put all their stock in yachts) seems to go well enough but it must've been the most boring date of all time because the episode basically doesn't play any of it. Instead, Rachel and Aven voiceover through half of the date because their actual conversations were the cardboard of television, I guess. When a show that thought Clayton would be a captivating lead thinks your interactions are too dull to air, I am concerned about how bland you two might be together. (Or how bad this show's judgment is which ... *sips wine with side-eye*)

When it's not narrating over the actual date, the show just cuts away from the two entirely to instead spend time with Tino, continuing his quest to live up to Ethan's "baby back b*tch" assessment. Yes, Tino too is whiny that Rachel's with another guy who isn't him. Indeed, amnesia about how this show works is apparently in the air and contagious. Palmer tries to talk him down – all the while Aven and Rachel continue having a great date, having a pleasant conversation at night, busting out the L-word to one another and watching some metaphorical fireworks before heading to the Boinking Suite. The next morning, Rachel happily proclaims that he's the FULL package. (Hi Tino's family! Still not fans of the process!?)

About that! We move onto Tino's fantasy suite with Rachel, where the vibes stink – and not just because they clearly have to walk around a pile of manure right off the bat. No, it's because the date is horse riding – aka a date where there's inherent distance between our allegedly happy couple. Aven and Rachel's date was a boat ride with all sorts of suntan lotion rubbing and cuddling and snuggling and close comfort. This date, on the other hand, puts our couple on two completely different animals, denying any kind of close proximity or intimacy – and that's if things are going well and the horses aren't refusing to move or galloping off in opposite directions because they reject your love story and refuse to participate in it. 

After the ponies try and fail to crap over their fantasy suite date, Rachel and Tino head to a cenote – because apparently this episode is not only in the pocket of Big Boat but also Big Cenote. There, they sit and relax on a blanket – or at least as much as one can relax when you've set up your blanket on the LITERAL EDGE OF A CLIFFSIDE. I was having stressful flashes to the future "Dateline" episode this could turn into – but thankfully everyone survives without incident. Well, not entirely without incident: Rachel still can't grasp that normal people might find the "Bachelor" process problematic while Tino still can't grasp that his parents were kind of rude. Plus, he calls his father's hometown date questions "penetrating," which is not the kind of word choice I would make during fantasy suite week. But it's fine as the two dive into the cenote and swim some more – no laborious "leap of faith" metaphor necessary. 

The parent conversation STILL isn't done, though, as Rachel brings up Tino's family later that night as well, with Tino explaining that his parents are just skeptical of the situation, not of her. THANK YOU! A lot of fans have been on Rachel's case for being too emotional this season – but this is the only time I've been annoyed. THEY DON'T HATE YOU; THEY THINK THE PROCESS SUCKS, WHICH (*looks at scoreboard*) YAWP! Could they have been more tactful with their interrogation? Absoutely! But why do you think parents would be all hunky-dory with their son pondering an engagement to a person they've dated for two months while simultaneously seeing three other people for America's amusement? It's a shock MORE parents aren't that baffled and critical during hometowns. 

AND YET, despite Tino rationally explaining that his parents will learn to love her outside the weirdness of "The Bachelor" and that what matters is that he loves her, Rachel refuses to believe him. Throw in one more L-word, though, and everything's fine, with the two making their visit to the Boinking Suite. I'm still 1,000,000 percent sure that this is all a dramatic producer-crafted smokescreen invented to make the very obvious ending – Rachel and Tino engaged – seem slightly less obvious. What, she's gonna end up with the guy whose fantasy suite date was too boring to show and whose hometown date was such an afterthought it came a week later attached to the Bros Press Junket/Men Tell All? I HAVE DOUBTS!

While we're on the topic of doubts: Johnny! Last we checked on Johnny, he was telling his parents that he SUPER does not see himself getting engaged anytime soon. THEN WHY DID YOU COME HERE, SIR?! DOES NO ONE KNOW HOW THIS SHOW WORKS?! I hope he goes on "Wheel of Fortune" only to leave at the last second because he didn't know there would be word games. 

Realistically, it just looks like Johnny is showing symptoms of that most vicious and brutal "Bachelor" ailments: wantstobeonparadise-itis. And thankfully Gabby starts to put it together too. After – what else? – a boating trip, the two perch on the beach to chat about what Johnny sees in their future, aka nothing. This is a guy who calls Gabby "the dopest girl I've ever hung with," so clearly he's handling this week with the gravity and romance one would hope for in a significant other. When asked about how he feels about next steps, he also says "the end result scares me" – so yeah, Gabby doesn't need long to figure out this guy isn't ready for the next step of a real-life serious relationship. So she pops back on the boat and sails off, leaving Johnny to pick up an Uber back to society ... or maybe he just meanders down the beach to the "Paradise" set.

(BTW excellent work, producers, on showing Johnny in the ad for the upcoming season ... before Gabby actually booted him from the show. Glad to see the person who revealed Rachel was the next Bachelorette before she was eliminated from Nick Viall's season is still employed at ABC!)

It's OK, Gabby, at least you've got Erich and JasooOOOOH NOOO! That's right: Jason too came down with a case of wantstobeonparadise-itis during hometowns – and he hasn't been able to shake it, talking to Palmer about how he's not quite where he wants to be emotionally with Gabby at this point. So no need to write up the special card hiding under the cold cuts tray, producers: That fantasy suite date's probably looking at a premature end too. Which means ... congrats Erich? The guy's basically the last man left for Gabby, as long as he doesn't do anything stupid like start awkwardly guilting her for participating in fantasy suites week without giving her any prior warning that he felt uncomfortable about it.

OH WELL WOULD YOU LOOK AT THAT! Indeed, in the middle of the night, Gabby gets a mystery message asking to meet her on their resort's bridge. I assumed it would be Jason perhaps cutting things off early before even bothering with the fantasy suite date – or maybe even finally the return of Logan considering he never got a proper wrap-up to his plotline. But no, it ends up being Erich trying to get some bonus time with Gabby ... only to shoot himself in the foot by complaing about how "it feels like she's cheating" if she sleeps with another guy during this week. ERICH! YOU LITERALLY HAVE THIS THING WON! THERE'S ABOUT TO BE NO MORE GUYS FOR GABBY! ALL YOU HAVE TO DO IS ... NOT SAY AWKWARD STUFF LIKE THAT! Somehow this feels like the mini-mullet's fault.

It's all just so out of nowhere and silly and self-defeating and ... oh my god, almost certainly ALSO a smokescreen. I can't believe it took me this long to see that this is just a dramatic mirage. Much like the Tino family kerfuffle is designed to make the obvious seem in question, Erich is suddenly upset about fantasy suites because they need to give Gabby's storyline something resembling intrigue now that, well, we're all out of guys. There's literally no other option left, and Erich's been confident and secure this entire time, so it's either we just wrap up her storyline early ... or we invent some tension to give her storyline some juice for the final episode. 

So sure, we could debate whether Gabby's being hypocritical after the uproar last season (she's not; again, The Unspoken One's mistake was less his actions and more so his cavalier words and how selfishy he behaved once they were questioned). But really, it'd be like having an argument with a bot, a waste of energy dedicated to a fiction and fighting against the inevitable. In the end, it's gonna be Gabby and Erich, and it's gonna be Rachel and Tino.

Funny – such a predictable ending for a seemingly unpredictable season. The only question remaining: How many boat rides will the show be able to cram into the final episodes? My bet's on four – plus one more bonus cruise-exclusive champagne delivery app demonstration. BIG BOAT'S GETTING ITS MONEY'S WORTH OUT OF THIS SEASON, DAMMIT!

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.