One bachelorette's unexpected exit -- and another's surprise rose-ceremony arrival -- leaves Ben and his "ladies" wishing they hadn't brought their hearts to San Francisco.

By Kristen Baldwin
Updated March 13, 2015 at 09:20 PM EDT

Good morning, rose lovers! You know, I’ve been thinking a lot about the book I’m currently reading: 11/22/63 by Stephen King. In it, a mild-mannered English teacher living an unremarkable life suddenly finds himself traveling back in time to stop the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Before he goes, the teacher’s dying friend — the one who sends him on this fool’s errand — warns him that history will not make it easy, because the past doesn’t want to be changed.

What does this have to do with The Bachelor? Well, rose lovers, I’ll be honest: Given the sad ratings so far this season, I’m starting to worry that when it comes to trying anything new with The Bachelor, success is just as unlikely as stopping the murder of JFK. Why? Because the formula doesn’t want to be changed. Oh, you know what formula I mean: It’s the one where a man who looks as much like a human Ken doll as physically possible — blondish hair, all-American grin, rigidly sculpted upper torso — and has no discernible personality whatsoever parrots out producer-fed “dialogue” about “journeys” and “amazing” “connections” with “ladies” etc. These are the Bachelors the universe seems to want. Any time ABC tries to deviate from the formula, they either get depressed ratings (Charlie, Ben), a season full of uncomfortable jackassery (Bob, Jason) — or both (Charlie). The formula doesn’t want to be changed, folks. And if things don’t start picking up for our boy Ben — both in regard to the ratings and Benjamin’s own common sense — you can bet your rose-loving booties that after this season, we will never again be treated to a Bachelor who doesn’t look (and act) like he was carved out of cream cheese. I find that pretty depressing. Am I alone?

Anyhoo, on to this week’s leg of our “journey.” Ben is back in San Francisco, and his first order of business is to meet up with his sister Julia for ice tea and a recap of the “ladies” he’s found most memorable so far: Lindzi, Kacie B., Courtney, Emily, and Jennifer. (Does he even remember the other Casey?) I’m sure he probably said something nice about all the remaining “ladies,” but who has time for that? Harrison’s already gathered the women in their hotel suite to run down their week: one group date and two do-or-die one-on-one dates. The first date card goes to Emily, and she’s a little overwhelmed about the card’s “love lifts us up” message. “I’m scared of heights!” she squawks. “This is my first time with him. What am I going to wear? Is he going to like me? What the heck does it mean to be ‘lifted up’? Does this involve heights? Am I going to pee my pants?” I doubt it, honey. That kind of stuff usually only happens on Flavor of Love.

Naturally, Ben has chosen a date for acrophobic Emily that involves climbing the Bay Bridge, and he gives the standard BS Bachelor “if we can conquer this fear together, we can conquer anything!” reason. Of course, the duo plays this narrative out to the letter: shortly into the climb, Emily panics, so Ben plants one on her. Hurrah! The curse is lifted! Empowered by her prince’s touch, Emily manages to both make her way to the top and make a mawkish comparison between bridges and love: “A bridge takes two things that are separate and it brings them together. And here Ben and I are two different people… and we’re coming together on top of this bridge.”

NEXT: The group date gets overshadowed by a solitary exit

Later they come together for a waterside dinner, where Emily shares her go-to funny first date story about being matched with her brother by an online dating site. Ultimately, Ben gives her the rose in large part, it seems, because his dad taught him that you should always date a woman who’s smarter than you are. The Bachelor offers an obligatory “I very well might be able to spend the rest of my life with her,” but I’m not buying it.

Squeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee! It’s time for the group date! Get in the (promotional consideration provided by) Hondas, “ladies,” because Ben is taking you skiing. Yes, Team Bachelor has packed a steep San Francisco street with man-made snow just so the women can strip down to their bikinis now, rather than waiting hours for the post-date cocktail party. Residents and passersby camp out along the sidewalks to watch the 10 scantily-clad women slide unsteadily down the hill. Despite wiping out repeatedly and skiing down the hill backwards with her barely-covered ass in the air, Kacie B. somehow manages to maintain her cheery spirit.

Meanwhile, back at the hotel, the date card arrives (Brittney!) along with a Neil Lane jewelry box. Inside? A garish “key to the city” necklace, which Brittney dutifully puts on. “Wow, that’s awesome,” she says flatly. As Lindzi glowers, Emily helpfully informs Brittney that she and Ben will “get along great” and that she’ll have “a fun time” on the date. Timidly, Brittney wonders aloud, “What if I don’t?” [screeching sound of needle being pulled off a record] Wait a minute — what just happened? Did Brittney just suggest that the Bachelor may not be someone that she should and must spend the rest of her life with? “Something just doesn’t feel right to me,” she admits. “I should be thrilled and excited, and I’m not.” That’s right, Brittney — something’s not right. Get out now, before you end up like this. And that’s just what she does, interrupting Ben’s après-ski drinks with his ski bunnies. “I really think you’re going to find a great woman here,” Brittney tells him, tearfully. “It’s just not me.” Though he’s clearly rattled, Ben shakes it off and gives Rachel the group date rose.

So who gets Brittney’s one-on-one? Miss First Impression herself, Lindzi, who is determined not to let it bother her that she is Ben’s consolation prize. First up, a trolley ride to Swensen’s for ice cream (arrrgh why don’t I have any ice cream in the house??), then a detour through Chinatown (“Where are we now?” Lindzi asks cluelessly), and for their final stop, City Hall. They enter the grand rotunda, which is dimly lit and empty… except for a musician named Matt Nathanson. (No, I’d never heard of him either, but he does have a wry sense of humor.) After a few rounds of tonsil hockey, the couple retires to an old-fashioned speakeasy, where Lindzi shares her go-to funny/sad first date story (“Babe, welcome to Dumpsville, population YOU”). Ben, having been the victim of a humiliating breakup himself, feels her pain… and Lindzi gets the rose. That would have been a good spot to end the night, but Ben just can’t stop himself from turning the cheese factor up to 11: He takes Lindzi to an empty piano store and serenades her with “This Year’s Love.” And she LOVES it.

NEXT: “Who IS she???”

But by the pricking of Team Bachelor‘s thumbs, something wicked this way comes… It’s a woman in a car, driving through the darkness to San Francisco. “I’m about 20 minutes away,” the faceless woman tells Harrison via cell phone. It seems she knows Ben, somehow — “I’ve talked to him many times and I feel like there’s a connection there already” — and for whatever reason Team Bachelor has waited until now to dust her off and send her in to crash the cocktail party. Looks like Courtney’s toast — “To a drama free night!” — isn’t going to hold true, even before the Mystery Woman arrives. Within minutes, Courtney lobs a canister of emotional tear gas into the room by informing Lindzi that she shouldn’t give such dirty looks to Elyse. I think Emily speaks for all of America when she says, “Why is she so weird?” Because she can be, I suspect. Though he didn’t choose Courtney for a date this week, Ben’s still clearly super-smitten with the model. “I don’t know what you did to me that day, but you did something — I haven’t gotten you out of my head,” he gushes as the two of them make goo-goo eyes at each other on the roof. “I like you a lot too,” coos Courtney in her baby voice. “I think we’d make cute babies.” Rein it in, toots — we’ve still got at least six weeks to go.

Click-clack click-clack click-clack go the Mystery Woman’s hooker heels on the tile floor as she strides boldly towards the cocktail party. By now we’ve all learned that the interloper is Shawntel the funeral director from Brad’s second season — but to be honest we still don’t really know why she’s the interloper. Neither do the “ladies,” who scamper to their hind legs like a pack of startled meerkats when Shawntel walks through the suite looking for Ben. But none of them are as startled as Ben, who takes a minute to realize what’s going on and then greets the funeral director with a suave, “Ho-ly s–t!” As Samantha and Courtney stand seething in the doorway a few feet away, Shawntel makes her pitch: “When I found out that you were the Bachelor, I of course was not happy, because you know that I wanted to get to know you. I felt something, and we’ve talked before.” There’s that phrase again — “we’ve talked before.” I’ve talked to the guy who delivers Indian food to our apartment before, but I don’t think that means I’ve got the right to crash his reality show. Anyhow, Shawntel’s still talking: “I’ve decided that I’ve got to know… I want to be at the rose ceremony, and if you are willing to give me a rose I’ll be really happy.”

Ben is beyond flummoxed, and can’t get rid of the funeral director fast enough. He leads her into the sitting room, mutters a weak, “Ladies, this is Shawntel,” and then flees before any blood or torn muscle tissue gets on his suit. The “ladies” try to knock the newcomer over with a firehose of hate: “Why are you here?” “That’s not a good thing!” “You don’t know Ben! You were with Brad’s season!” “Why do you think you deserve to be here more than the girls who have gone home already?” In private, the women are even nastier. “I think she’s uglier in person, which made me feel better,” says Erika. “And she’s got thicker thighs than I do, which always makes me feel better.” Scoffs Jacklyn, “We don’t reuse, like, Brad’s dumpster trash!” Courtney threatens to leave if the funeral director gets a rose… Let’s just fantasize about that scenario for a moment, shall we?

NEXT: She probably shouldn’t have shown him the mouth tattoo

Enough talk — the cocktail party is oh-vah! It’s time for Ben to hand out the roses. The first one goes to Courtney, and as she is in no way a woman of her word, she takes it — but not before getting in a third-grade level insult at Shawntel: “Tonight was a lot,” she mumbles to the Bachelor. “It was heavy for me, I saw you talking to what’s-her-butt, and it was not easy.” Kacie B., Elyse, Jamie, Jennifer, Casey S. (hey — she actually spoke this week!), Blakeley, Monica, Nicki, Samantha, and… hold up a second. Erika is live-blogging her own fainting spell. “I feel nauseous… Oh, s–t… I’m going to pass out, I’m passing out… [thud]” Give her some air, people! Give her some air!

Ok, that’s enough. Erika’s fine, nothing to see here. Everybody back on your platforms, because we have not taken care of a little piece of business called handing out the Final Rose Tonight. Rather, not handing it out: Ben has decided that Erika, Jacklyn and Shawntel need to be sent packing. “See ya!” cackles Courtney as Ben leads Shawntel out of the room. Sniffs the funeral director, “I just feel so dumb.” Cheer up, honey — at least you didn’t get booted for yanking your bottom lip down and exposing a truly unsexy inner-mouth tattoo. Ben just didn’t have any idea who you are! That’s a lot less embarrassing.

Well, rose lovers, what a night. For those of you who have remained spoiler-free so far this season, what did you think of Shawntel’s surprise return? Were you, like me, more shocked that Erika and Jacklyn were still around than you were by their elimination? And are you excited for the Courtney vs. Emily showdown next week? Post your comments below! Before you log off, don’t forget to check out Chris Harrison’s exclusive blog over on PopWatch. Now put your head between your knees and let’s talk Bachelor!

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