Okay, let’s just get this out of the way. I hate the Men Tell All episodes. There is very rarely any new information or context that matters. Sure, we sometimes get “receipts,” and we always get excuses for bad behavior, but (with very few exceptions) it’s never consequential. They’re just rehashing drama we’ve already seen, digested, and moved on from. I don’t care about any of this anymore! But these shows are populated by narcissists, so they very much need to have the last word. It’s exhausting. This applies to all reality reunion shows, which I unilaterally dislike (judging Housewives fashions excepted, obviously.) I hate the Men (and Women — my contempt is gender-neutral) Tell All, though, because it takes place before the finale. We can’t even talk through the whole show, so now we have the live After The Final Rose special, too. It’s exhausting and a waste of airtime! If you really must do a reunion, do it all at once. I understand wanting to be live so that the audience doesn’t find out who won, but you’re telling me ABC doesn’t know its way around an NDA?

I have been very clear about my stance that only what happens on the show is canon. Everything in the extended universe — this includes anything that happens on social media, but also Men/Women Tell All and After the Final Rose — is non-canonical. (Hey, Disney did it with Star Wars, they can do it with The Bachelor.) So let’s get into this very expensive piece of fanfiction.

Sorry for being extra cranky this week — my baby is in the middle of a sleep regression, so I am running on Diet Coke and anxiety.

The very first thing that happens is this: Jesse looks directly into the camera and says, “They can’t wait to spill all the tea, and I, for one, am very thirsty.” He has the exact cadence of someone filming a ransom video. There is no light in his eyes. To close out the segment, he comes back with, “I told you all I wanted the tea, and at last, my cup runneth over.” Jesus Christ. This is exactly why we need Jesse Palmer. Chris Harrison would never let himself be talked into saying something so beautifully asinine. Jesse Palmer, the straightest man in America, using a slang term cribbed from drag culture, with the same enthusiasm I showed at my 5th-grade basketball games that I didn’t want to attend but also desperately wanted to be doing a good job? That’s beautiful to me.

Jesse introduces the men who all wave to the audience except for Brayden and Sean, who do a peace sign (bad); Caleb, who tips his cowboy hat (good); John, who does a peace sign AND prayer hands (BAD); and Xavier who does that finger heart thing you thought you invented with your eighth grade besties (fine).

Immediately Jesse asks Spencer if he regrets asking Charity to kick him in the balls, and he says he does not. I think I love this weirdo. But of course the big story of the night is Brayden, the clear villain of the season. Jesse gives the other men a chance to air their grievances, which are twofold. The first is that he called Charity classless, which he denies. (He did.) The second is that when he returned to talk to Charity after he (arguably) self-eliminated, he took time away from other guys who still had a shot. (I highly doubt one cocktail party conversation is a make-or-break moment.) Brayden argues that he’s being authentic and real, and he doesn’t care if that upsets the guys. If this all sounds familiar, that’s because it very much is! This is the problem with the Men Tell All. I have already stopped caring about Brayden and his earrings. The only funny thing that comes out of this conversation is Brayden making fun of the guys for censoring their language, saying, “At home you’d be cursing like regular.” “Cursing like regular” is going to become part of my lexicon now, so thanks for that, Brayden.

Next, Jesse wants to address the mild dustup after Sean failed to read the room in Oceanside. This is so inconsequential I have literally nothing to say about it.

This is when things get weird, and not in a fun way like when you discover that Diet Coke and red wine taste really good together. Peter (who, like Caleb, I could swear I’ve never seen before in my life) speaks up, and Jesse asks if he wants to address what was going on. Piecing together the narrative, it seems like Peter was the victim of some light cyberbullying by the rest of the cast. Several of the guys wrote “FP” at the end of some Instagram posts, which stands for “Fuck Peter.” (Apparently ABC standards and practices are so scandalized by the word fuck that they even blurred out the F. Just curse like regular!) This is the problem with the social media universe bleeding into the show universe. I had no idea what Peter was talking about, and I also have no idea if I was supposed to. I talked to my friend Devon Ivie about this briefly when we discussed the state of Bachelor Nation, but I am much less online these days because of the whole baby thing, and it takes a lot of fun out of the show if I’m expected to keep up with conversations happening on Instagram or the Bachelor Podcast Industrial Complex or the website formerly known as Twitter. If it’s relevant to what happens on the show (the Rachel Kirkconnell controversy, for example), give us a brief explainer on After the Final Rose or whatever. Don’t assume I already know about it. This kind of petty gossip, though? Save it for r/BachelorNation.

After the Peter debacle (for which Xavier is the only one to apologize), we’re back on Brayden. Jesse invites him up to the “hot seat,” and we get the requisite montage of his time on the show: meeting Charity, getting the first impression rose, getting eliminated, and then coming back. When pressed again about taking time away from the other guys, Brayden says his only intention was to apologize to a woman he hurt. For all of Brayden’s talk about honesty, this is a damn lie. That, or he’s delusional. Charity has ten other guys to make out with; she isn’t thinking about you. Brayden went back because a producer convinced him to. This is the fundamental problem with this archetype of villain. They act like they’re better than the rest of the contestants because they’re the only ones being real, but they won’t be so honest that they ruin their chances of that BiP paycheck. Of course Brayden is going to Paradise. We get footage of him making out with Kat, a fellow villain whose main crime is being annoying. Hold on; they’ve already shot Bachelor in Paradise??? Strange, the passage of time.

Okay, now I guess we have to talk about Xavier. This segment, I think, is illustrative of the main reason Bachelor relationships — and reality show relationships in general — rarely work. It’s not the accelerated time frame, it’s not “wrong reasons,” it’s not the inherent power imbalance (though that certainly plays into it.) It’s not even that you don’t know if they talk at the movies (an immediate dealbreaker.) It’s that you’re performing your relationship for an audience. If I had to think about the way my words would be perceived by others during every argument with my husband, I’d be miserable. Relationships are messy and it’s hard to have a messy conversation with literal applause breaks. There’s a tendency for people on this show to talk like they’re writing Instagram comments or Taylor Swift lyrics, and Charity, to her credit, has mostly avoided that. But when seated in front of an audience that’s already primed to be on her side, it’s (understandably) tempting to try and win the exchange. This is how we get empty statements like Xavier having to come out and say that he condemns cheating. (Also feels like a good time to mention that monogamy isn’t for everyone, and if Xavier is that worried about committing to one woman, maybe he should read Sex at Dawn or just watch a lot of ethical non-monogamy TikToks. Same thing.)

This is the only conflict I find interesting and worth exploring on the Men Tell All. Charity was so caught off guard when Xavier went home that the conversation benefited from having time to process. Charity says that Xavier should have told her about his past infidelities before that dinner. I am inclined to agree, but it’s tricky! This is another way that the show fucks with relationship dynamics. Yes, you should absolutely tell someone about your past relationships before you get engaged. (And not just infidelity! It’s good to talk about past relationships and what you learned from them with your current partner. I highly recommend it.) But do you need to tell them before you have sex for the first time? Do you need to tell them before you say you love them? I don’t think there are hard and fast rules to this one, and reasonable people can disagree. Anyway, clearly Xavier reads these recaps because he brings Charity a knit rose. He’s making the hard sell for Bachelor, but America can’t forgive a cheater unless he’s running for president, so I think BiP will be Xavier’s ceiling. Looking forward to his career as a knitting/polyamory influencer!

Okay, we’re almost done. Rapid-fire: there’s some more sponcon of the Barbie date, there are bloopers, and there is a reunion of three former Bachelorettes. Captain Tom is in the audience!

The last 15 minutes are dedicated to introducing our Golden Bachelor. Oh my god, y’all, I can’t believe this is finally happening. I feel like they’ve been casting for this since I started watching The Bachelor, which was approximately 500 years ago (2015). He’s a girl dad from Indiana named Gerry (pronounced Gary), and clearly someone in casting is a Parks and Rec stan. I initially scoffed at the idea of this show, but I’m actually pretty excited for it. With an entirely new lead, unconnected to Bachelor Nation in any way (and, crucially, someone who has no interest in becoming an influencer), we might actually get back to the show’s roots: watching “the most eligible bachelor in America” find a compatible partner. Either that, or we’ll get more of a Housewives vibe, with middle-aged women getting boozed up and complaining. If there is a God (and he’s gay), we’ll get both.

The Bachelorette Recap: Lukewarm Tea