Brad meets the parents, dogs, and prep tables during a whirlwind Hometown Date Week.
4. Season 5 (Jesse Palmer)
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We’re getting close to the finish line, rose-lovers — can you feel it? But before Brad can finish his “journey,” he must engage in the traditional Bachelor ritual known as the Masquerade of Denial and Inexplicable Familial Complicity, otherwise known as hometown daaaaaaaaaates! Are you ready? Let’s do this!

We open on Brad in a New York hotel room, prepping for his upcoming ordeal. “I feel very excited,” he says, “and also, I’m thinking a lot.” Careful, pal — don’t pull something! He reminisces about the other “ladies”: sexy but emotionally disastrous Chantal; chipper but withholding Ashley; consistent Shawntel; and sweet but overprotective Emily. Who to choose? Only the hometowns know for sure.

First up is Seattle, where Chantal — wearing a scarf she may or may not have stolen from a flight attendant — waits for Brad in a picturesque park overlooking the Space Needled skyline. The Bachelor is relieved to see that Chantal has gotten over her poolside meltdown and seems relatively calm as she shows Brad around her house. Perhaps it’s the soothing influence of her pet dog and cats, Boca, Jinxy, and Bailey. Boca looks kind of like Mr. Winkle; though Chantal warns Brad that Boca may bite him, the dog does not deliver. Then the couple is off to Chantal’s parents house — or should I say Chantal’s parents’ ginormous, Real Housewives of New Jersey-style McMansion — where her mom Billie Jo, dad Michael, and brother Tom are there to receive them. Dad leads the Bachelor out to the foyer, or something, to show him a large bronze statue of man chiseling himself out of stone. “The concept is self-made man,” he explains. He likes that Brad built up a “successful business” from scratch, and he’s even more tickled that Brad’s grandfather was a mason, like Chantal’s granddad. “I feel like Chantal and Brad could get married tomorrow,” says Mike. “I’d be proud to have him as my son-in-law.” Meanwhile, Chantal is elsewhere on the compound doing — what else? — drinking wine and crying. For the love of God, woman, hold it together.

And with that we’re off to Madawaska, Maine to visit Ashley the dentist, who feels a little “disconnected” from Brad due to their long separation, but she’s hoping their proximity to the Canadian border will magically reignite her spark with the Bachelor. Over a lunch of fries and gravy, Brad — perhaps still embarrassed that he greeted the French-speaking waitress in Spanish — reminds Ashley that in order to move forward in their relationship she has to stop with the whole “disconnected” thing. She agrees: “Me reassuring you, you reassuring me all the time — we wasted so much time on that. I don’t want to do it anymore.” Ok then, it’s settled! Let’s go find some lobsters to kill for dinner!

NEXT: A deadly hometown dateDing dong! There’s a squealing dentist at the door! A gleeful Ashley greets her family with screeches and giggles, and her pleasantly peppy family receives her in kind. At dinner, Ashley’s tattooed sister Chrystie gives a toast to the happy kind-of couple: “Thank you for choosing her… and we look forward to dinner and the start of whatever comes next.” Brad scores major points with the whole clan by reminding them all, “It takes her choosing me, too.” It’s a nice sentiment, pal, but if Ashley believed that she wouldn’t be on The Bachelor in the first place. Things get a little dicey when Brad sits down to talk to Ashley’s dad Mike, who lets him know that Ashley is determined to finish her dentistry schooling — so settling down and popping out kids may not be part of her five-year plan. “Now I’m wondering if I’m going to hold Ashley back a little bit,” muses Brad. “I need to figure this out — will a proposal scare Ashley?” And here’s what I need to figure out: Why did Team Bachelor blur out the large framed photo or painting hanging in Ashley’s family’s living room? It looked like an aerial photo of flowers or cupcakes or something… but maybe it was obscene.

After a commercial break, we’re greeted with… a commercial, for Newton Bracewell Funeral Home, where Shawntel and her family work, which I guess is supposed to be, what, funny? This sets the tone for Shawntel’s entire hometown date, which has been tastelessly hijacked by Team Bachelor to maximize the morbidity and squirm-inducing effect of her profession. In keeping with that theme, Shawntel meets Brad at the funeral home where she works. “This is really going to almost be the final test of Brad and I’s relationship,” Shawntel explains in broken English. “I mean, we might as well find out now if he’s comfortable with this.”

Ok, fair enough, but are we really to believe that it was Shawntel’s idea to start their date in a crypt? None of the other “ladies” had to turn their dates into Take Your Bachelor to Work Day — we didn’t see Ashley scraping plaque off of his teeth, or Emily asking him to help her arrange a birthday party for a kid with cancer, or Chantal… answering his phone, or whatever it is that she does. But there Shawntel is, leading Brad to the terrifyingly sterile “prep room,” where all sorts of creepy hooks and hoses hang from the ceilings and walls. Then Shawntel asks Brad to lie down on the embalming table. “Ok, I’m starting to freak out a little bit,” admits the Bachelor. “How many bodies have been on this table?” Shawntel proceeds to give Brad an excessively detailed account of how to embalm a body, and I’ve gotta give him props for not passing out — once I heard the words “aneurysm hook,” I hit the FF button, fast.

NEXT: Emily’s daughter tells Brad to go fly a kite{C}At dinner, Shawntel’s dad Ric explains that the Newtons have been in the funeral business for 40 years, and that he’s looking forward to the day that Shawntel will take over the family business. Apparently, Mom and Dad haven’t considered the idea that their dear daughter may want to settle somewhere other than Chico; there’s an uncomfortable pause, and then Shawntel speaks. “Dad and Mom, Brad lives in Austin,” she begins. “And I’m falling in love with him… When you fall in love with someone things change.” Womack Holmes susses out the situation quickly: “I’m getting the strong sense that Shawntel’s family does not want her to leave Chico.” Dad certainly doesn’t; he goes so far as to lay a guilt trip on Shawntel for not being there when her high school teacher’s son died. “She desperately needed you and wanted you,” he intones gravely. “And not to feel bad about that… You’ve already been part of this community in the area of caregiving.” Daddy warns that if Shawntel has the audacity to live her own life, there will be a “lack of succession” at Newton Bracewell: “Now our plan’s just been kind of destroyed.” Despite this uncalled for paternal browbeating, Shawntel maintains an impressive equanimity about the whole situation, saying, “I pray that everything works out the way it should.” And despite his dickish behavior, Ric grants his blessing to Brad and Shawntel, perhaps comforted by the fact that there’s only a one-in-four chance his little girl will get the final rose — and about a one-in-four-kabillion chance that she and Brad will actually get married.

Last but not least awkward is Emily’s date in Charlotte, North Carolina. The good news is, Emily gets to spend some time with her little girl for a few minutes alone before Brad arrives. The bad news is that little Ricki knows something is up when mommy says, “You know how when you went to school you made new friends? I made new friends, too. Isn’t that cool?” Nice try, mom. Ricki is not having it. Brad arrives, carrying a present wrapped in hot pink paper, but Ricki cannot be bought with a butterfly kite, thank you very much. She refuses to speak to the Bachelor or even make eye contact with him, which leaves Brad flummoxed — why won’t this child “open up” to him? Eventually, however, the temptation of flying that colorful kite is too much for Ricki to bear, and she allows Brad to help her.

Things get even cuter at home, where Ricki trounces Brad and Emily in a game of Candy Land, and goes to sleep contented — though no doubt confused. The same can be said for the Bachelor, who wants to get busy with Emily on the couch downstairs but just can’t bring himself to do it. “I just met your daughter, she’s sleeping upstairs…,” he begins, before trying to sell Emily a Hug of Respect instead of a kiss. This time, mommy’s not buying it. “If this thing works out, she’ll always be upstairs sleeping,” says Emily, no doubt adding a silent you dumbass to the end of that sentence. Not willing to take no for an answer, Emily grabs Brad in the doorway and all but forces his lips to hers. At least one person in this “relationship” has some balls.

NEXT: The ugliest four dresses ever made appear at the rose ceremony

Back in New York, Brad sits with Harrison — who’s sporting an interesting sweater-vest-suit-jacket combo — to debrief about the final four “ladies.” It’s nothing we haven’t heard before, though Harrison does raise the point that Ashley is the only woman who hasn’t prematurely professed her love — will that work against her, or is our fearless host’s question just a red herring? I’d like to find out, but I have to keep pausing the show to marvel at the four truly atrocious dresses assaulting my eyes at the rose ceremony: Emily’s looks like she just walked off the set of the Sixteen Candles dance scene in her royal blue minidress with the one-shoulder ruffle; Ashley’s bedazzled cream-and-silver spaghetti strap situation somehow manages to make her look lumpy around the waist; Chantal’s too-tight shiny red satin disaster is the kind of aggressively unflattering monstrosity insecure bridezillas force their bridesmaids to wear; and Shawntel’s shoulder-studded mock turtleneck abomination would be appropriate for a cocktail waitress at a Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome-themed strip club, but nowhere else.

Before I’ve had time to recover from this fashion nightmare, Brad has handed out his three roses. As soon as Ashley’s name is called, poor Shawntel knows she’s a goner, and she handles the rejection with poise. “I definitely didn’t see this coming,” she says sadly. “He’s so perfect. I’ve never really been treated like that in a relationship.” Girl, you weren’t in a relationship, you were on a game show — leave the “princess” dates to reality TV and just go find a nice guy who doesn’t mind talking about death.

So, rose-lovers, what do you think of Brad’s decision? Though I’m sad we won’t get a chance to see what Shawntel would have worn on safari, I’m happy to be that much closer to the end of Brad’s “journey.” South Africa awaits — is it too much to hope for that one of the elephants will go rogue and stampede through the rose ceremony? Post your comments below, and then be sure to check out Chris Harrison’s exclusive Bachelor blog on PopWatch. Also: post your burning questions for Chris Harrison about this season or anything Bachelor related below, and we may run your question and Chris’ answer in an upcoming issue of Entertainment Weekly. Now, lie down on that embalming table and let’s talk Bachelor!

Episode Recaps

4. Season 5 (Jesse Palmer)
The Bachelor

This romantic reality competition series follows a gaggle of women vying for the Bachelor’s heart — and a wedding proposal. Will you accept this rose?

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