By Matt Mueller Culture Editor Published Mar 14, 2023 at 3:56 PM

Gas up the Bach-Uber: We're on the road for Zach's hometowns week! But before we hit the highway and disgrace the good name of Vermont, here's a touchdown and two-point conversion's worth of rapidfire takeaways to catch up with last week's grand Budapest episode:

  1. Ban magicians from this show. Not since that David Blaine parody video mindfreaked those two guys with Cheez-Its (CHEEZ-ITS!) have I seen a group of people so menaced by a magician. Nothing like having your insecurities and your sense of grounded reality ripped out of your body and displayed on national television, "Temple of Doom" style!
  2. My favorite part of the episode was Zach on his one-on-one date with Kaity, saying, "Let's do something CrAzY: smalltalk!" A real innovator on this show. My second favorite part was Kaity saying that Zach checks all the boxes – he's goofy AND silly. She also likes both kinds of music: country and western.
  3. Whoever is captaining the Hungarian Bath House Marketing Department deserves a raise and a half. 
  4. I know a lot of people were sad for Greer recovering from COVID quarantine and flying out to Hungary, all just for Zach to show up at her hotel room and tell her right away that she's donezo. I, however, call that a free vacation on ABC's dime that doesn't require having to be locked in a hotel room with a bunch of stressed people all dating the same guy as you –  aka a life win.
  5. Ariel's dad thinks they have orgies on this show. We must meet this man, who clearly has been watching "Game of Thrones" instead of "The Bachelor," immediately. 
  6. Zach's been clearly trying to do right by the women this season ... but asking to take a second and leave the room RIGHT after Brooklyn opened up to him on their one-on-one date wasn't his most savvy move. Woman should've just strolled her over to the Uber Ride of Sadness right there – and indeed, after his timeout, Zach returned and broke up with her. Not his most graceful dismount. 
  7. After struggling both with the magician and with Brooklyn in this season's lone display of drama, Kat ended up getting the boot at last week's rose ceremony, which is personally very annoying to me because I JUST realized who she reminds me of: Lily James from "Mamma Mia 2" and "Downton Abbey." A factoid that is now USELESS!
  8. The internet is giving Zach a hard time about how he seems to bail on his contestants as soon as they display any emotional complications. Former "Bachelor" Nick Viall even called him out on Twitter for not being able to hide his disappointment about their insecurities – but I think that's more a face of sadness about what they've had to go through rather than sadness toward the women. Other than the Brooklyn breakup, I think Zach's done a pretty admirable job this season – a statement, judging by the preview for next week's Fantasy Suites, I definitely won't regret at all!

Thanks for allowing me that brief U-turn. Now, with no further ado, ON THE ROAD TO HOMETOWNS – a path that takes us first to Gabi D'Amelio's origins in Vermont, the home of the Catamounts. The state looks gorgeous ... too bad Vermont University, however, is scheduled to play my alma mater in the first round of March Madness and therefore it must all be destroyed. 

Besides impending first-round NCAA tournament defeats, though, Vermont is most famous for maple syrup – so of course Gabi plans "a full maple experience" for Zach, starting with actually harvesting some of that good tree juice. So they take a big, long rod and drill it hard into an increasing wet hole and WHY IS EVERYONE LAUGHING, WE'RE JUST HARVESTING TREE SAP!? Indeed, after everyone gets all their worst Michael Scott behavior out of their system, we move onto the true test: tasting several jars of maple syrup and trying to spot the fake stuff in the bunch. Close your ears for this, people of Vermont (Vermontians?): Zach picks the faux junk. Gabi is APPALLED – somehow even more so than when Zach admits that his family doesn't normally eat pancakes with maple syrup ... but with MUSTARD. I take everything back, the internet is right: ZACH IS A MONSTER!

Riding the world's most intense sugar high, Zach and Gabi make their way over to the D'Amelio family's house to meet her parents, her parents' adorable sweater-wearing pupper and her siblings – including Gabi's sister who may or may not be her clone. She's also getting married soon, and in Gabi's dreams, she'll get married at the same time as her sister. (And in her dreams is where that scenario will stay!) Since Zach's mustard pancake ways don't come up, the family meet-and-greet is fairly drama-free. Her brother grills the couple a safe amount while Gabi notes that "she could be falling in love soon" ... whatever THAT means. ("I'm on the precipice of thining of the potential of falling in love" word salad nonsense.) But otherwise, it's pleasant night – mostly thanks to Gabi's dad, who is maybe even more adorable than the sweater dog. The man is in love with love, so he gives his blessing to Gabi on her journey and cheers her on. 

Oddly enough, it's AFTER meeting the family where the drama – or something vaguely resembling it – kicks in, as Gabi has a small freakout saying goodbye to Zach. No, she doesn't say the L-word – but she does insist that she doesn't forget about him, getting in her own head about how hard she's falling and how she's the first of his four dates, meaning it'll be a week before they're together again. Zach doesn't look pumped about ending this otherwise pleasant night on a teary downer note – but I think this is the show trying to come up with something, anything, to approximate tension on an otherwise easy-going hometown date. 

Things are significantly less easy-going, though, as Zach moves onto bustling New York City for his hometown date with Ariel. She's got the perfect date planned for him: EATING! They stop for some pizza at a classic New York-style slice – complete with a guy honking his horn outside to either approve or disapprove of their love of carbs – then venture over to a deli to knock back a cow tongue sandwich. It's no mustard pancake, but Zach's still a fan nevertheless. They end their solo time with a trip to a speakeasy disguised as a coffee house, where Zach learns about Ariel's parents and history – mainly that they're immigrants who fled Russia to escape persecution for their Judaism, an aspect of Ariel's family and life that she holds near and dear to her heart. Ariel: You're too confident, self-assured and grounded to be on this very silly mess of a show. 

Oh, one last thing: Ariel's brother is a hard-ass who has threatened to beat up exes before. Eh, whatever: We've heard this before during hometowns week, and typically it's a paper tiger situation where the brother (or dad) puts on a grumpy face and says "oooooh I don't know about this; he's gonna have to REALLY impress me" only to ask maybe one tough question and immediately give his approval. I'm not scared!

Oops, nevermind: Ariel's brother actually DOES NOT PLAY after all. After meeting up at a Brooklyn winery and sharing some quick anecdotes from their dating travels ("Remember those weird nudists? Ah, romance!"), Ariel's exceptionally skeptical brother takes Zach aside and genuinely grills him. His real stumper of a question: Why should Ariel choose you? Zach's gast is once again flabbered. Sure, my dude, you have the power on this show – but the final woman at the end still gets to choose whether to say yay or nay at the final proposal. DID YOU NOT KNOW HOW PROPOSALS WORK!? Our guy was ill-prepared to have to argue for himself – and the man is so bland that he doesn't really seem to have much to say in his favor beyond some word slurry of "I have a heart and it's big and I'll make sure people know that I've given her my big heart."

Ariel's brother: UNCONVINCED. And he doesn't get any more so after asking Zach if he knows some basics like Ariel's birthday or middle name. Dammit, Zach: You wasted that purposeful smalltalk in Budapest on the wrong person! In the end, call Ariel's brother a fancy steakhouse – because this grill was worth the hype. And it's also not done, because here comes Ariel's father to take his turn, basically asking where Zach's heart is at with his daughter. Zach explains that he feels confident now but things are constantly changing – to which Ariel's dad notes, "Why do I have to be fully committed to this relationship if you're not?" Basically: I support my daughter and her decisions, but come back to me when you're not dating three other women. FAIR ENOUGH!

In the end, a quality hometown date in terms of drama and personality – though I wanted her dad to ask more about the supposed orgies that happen on the show. 

Zach's hometown date road show moves down South to visit Charity's family in Columbus, greeted right away with a delicious Southern spread of soul food. Damn, I suddenly want to be "The Bachelor": He eats so well! Zach must've really hit the spread and fallen into a satisfied food coma, because he basically vanishes from this hometown date. There's a brief chat with Charity's brother – but otherwise, this hometown date is almost entirely focused on Charity and her family, who seem like lovely people that she loves very much. They all seem very concerned about how hurt Charity was by her past relationships, but after a plethora of teary conversations – seriously, that house was guaranteed out of Kleenex when they were all done – they're confident she's emotionally ready for whatever comes next, good or bad. 

And what's coming next ... is the L-word. It's very clear that the word is on Charity's mind, considering she brings it up approximately four times during the family luncheon. She hasn't used it yet – but she thinks she's ready to, and indeed, after saying goodbye to her family and busting out some line dancing at a local Columbus honky-tonk, Charity tells Zach that she's honestly falling in love with him. And Zach responds ... with a LONG, TERRIFYING SILENCE followed by "Thanks, that feels amazing!" NOT GREAT! I know we're at the time of the show where Zach has to be careful about how he uses that word, lest he Claytons this up, leads these women along and crushes some hearts ... BUT THIS WAS NO LESS HEART-CRUSHING! I have bad feelings about how this is ending for Charity tonight ... 

I'm ESPECIALLY nervous for her after seeing Kaity's hometown date, because she's definitely getting a rose at the end of this episode, if not getting the final rose at the end of the whole dang show. You see, the two don't go on a date: They just ... live life as a normal married couple. I know that's in part because Kaity lives in Austin, Texas, which is conveniently also where Zach lives – meaning that there's no real need to tour Zach around and show where you're from. But as a result, their date is just ... test-driving what regular life would be. They go to a grocery store to snag some food – including a tough question about what Zach's favorite noodle shape is. (COWARDS! SHOW HIS CHOICE! You just know he picked something boring like spaghetti or penne. LIVE A LITTLE AND PICK CAVATELLI!) Then the two go back to Kaity's apartment and assemble a bookshelf – one of the truest tests of a relationship's foundation. So the two already live in the same town and are literally trial-running what their everyday lives would be like together? JUST CALL IT A SEASON; IT'S A WRAP!

Well, not entirely – first Kaity's mom gets a say, because Kaity loves her mom hardcore. She deeply appreciates everything that her mother's done for her over the years, supporting her and serving as her strong parental figure when all the men in her life bailed or failed. So if Kaity's mom doesn't like Zach, that's gonna be a big ol' welp for Zach. But he doesn't have to worry about that, because after asking Zach if he's falling in love with her daughter, she says that she would support their relationship moving forward. L-WORD APPROVAL: SECURED!

So we've visited all four homes and visited all four families. There's only one thing left to do ... summon Sean Lowe again, for some reason, and RECAP THE VERY EPISODE OF TELEVISION WE'RE ALREADY WATCHING!? I don't need a reminder of what happened during Kaity's hometown date: IT ENDED FOUR MINUTES AGO! Did Sean Lowe have some weird two-episode minimum requirement written into his contract or something? Let's move on!

And indeed, we move on to the rose ceremony, which Zach calls "the hardest decision he'll ever have to make." Ehhh, you've got two more episode of this coming up, so I got a feeling that this'll finish with the bronze medal in the Tough Decisions Championship when all is said and done, good sir. In a mild twist, Ariel gets the first rose of the night. I frankly thought she was at risk along with Charity, since their connections with Zach's always felt more mild and since Kaity and Gabi have seemed pretty locked into the finale for weeks – but here she is with the first rose. Bodes poorly for Charity – and as predicted, she's left heartbroken as Kaity and Gabi get the final two roses while she gets a trip to the Cry And Closure Bench. Zach tries to explain and rationalize his decision – which, as well-intended as it may be, is never a good idea. Nothing you say in the immediate aftermath is going to make the hurt better – and yep, "I can't give you the love that you deserve" makes no flipping sense to Charity. I hope he's ready for her at the Women Tell All!

And so there were three: Gabi, Ariel and the winner ... I mean Kaity. Seems like we're on the way to a pretty predictable but peaceful conclusion. All Zach has to do to maintain this drama-free, respect-forward, non-toxic season is get through Fantasy Suite week without tripping up. Surely he can manage that! (*puts finger to earpiece*) I'm getting reports he could not manage that.

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.