Tia, Kendall, Becca, and Lauren introduce Arie to their families, which leads to a blindside elimination
Credit: ABC
4. Season 5 (Jesse Palmer)

Picture it, rose lovers: a hometown dates episode of The Bachelor, only melded with Bachelor Winter Games. Our final four “ladies” — Kendall, Tia, Becca, and Lauren — would each have to compete in strenuous winter sports like the biathalon, speed skating, and curling, while their families cheered them on from the sidelines. The three women with the highest score receive gold-plated invitations to the Fantasy Suite…

Maybe in 2020.

This year, the hometowns are pretty straightforward. In fact, the first one doesn’t even require any travel!

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Kendall and Arie greet each other with copious smooches and hugs before heading out to a nondescript-looking warehouse… filled with dead animals, of course. “To me it’s just a way to really appreciate animals,” explains Kendall, before giving Arie the bad news: “We are going to be mounting some taxidermy of our own!” Doesn’t he look thrilled?

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“This is some Silence of the Lambs stuff,” mutters the Bachelor as he stretches a limp rat skin over a wooden form. But Kendall has a much more romantic view: “In a way, taxidermy is like a perfect relationship, because it’s something that’s going to last forever.”

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If those rats weren’t already dead, I suspect they’d want to kill themselves.

That night, Kendall introduces Arie to her father Bob, her mom Michele, her identical twin sister Kylie, and her little brother Colton. (Pause. Kendall and Kylie? Sorry, Kardashian-Jenner clan, but these two L.A. babes did it first.) Kylie immediately feels that there’s “a little bit of space” between Arie and her sister, and she’s anxious about it. “My fear for Kendall is that she’d lie to herself and jump into a relationship without actually having the base to really feel out everything,” she tells us. (Oh girl, too late — the willingness to lie to yourself is a prerequisite to getting on this show.) Fortunately, Kendall is self-aware enough to know that she’s not ready for an engagement, so Kylie offers some sisterly advice.

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Dad, meanwhile, asks Arie point blank if “this is something that’s real.” The Bachelor’s all potential blah blah possible engagement blah blah…and Dad does the classic blessing bait-and-switch, telling Arie that his “first thought” would be to deny giving the Bachelor his blessing to propose…but then he concedes that if it’s something that Kendall “really wanted,” he’d go with it. Crisis averted! (Next: On to Weiner, Arkansas!)

Before the Bachelor drives off in the Escape SUV, Kendall follows her twin’s advice and tells him that she’s “falling” for him too. Looks like all the boxes have been checked — time to move on to date No. 2!

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Uh… thanks? If you were hoping Tia was going to take Arie froggin’, you’re going to be disappointed. Instead, they amble over to Crowley’s Ridge Raceway for something “near and dear” to Arie’s heart: driving fast in dangerous cars!

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As you can see, Arie literally leaves Tia in the dust, and he LOVES it. (There isn’t much the guy excels at, so Tia chose wisely.)

Though Tia’s dad Kenny jokes that he wanted to be polishing his shotgun when Arie walked in with his little girl, instead the family gives the Bachelor a warm welcome — complete with a cocktail wiener/pigs in a blanket toast!

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Then it’s brother Jason’s turn to talk.

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“How can you prove to me tonight that that’s not who you are?” asks Jason, who clearly has been reading up on Arie on the interwebs. To his credit, Arie admits that he slutted around a bit when he was racing and traveling the world, but “I don’t feel like that’s me now,” he adds. “I am ready to settle down, I am ready to find a wife. And I’m falling for your sister.” Jason is relieved to hear it and decides that he’s “a lot more comfortable about him” than he was before.

Daddy’s also worried that Arie is “a playboy,” but the Bachelor assures him that is not the case. (Also, dating 25 women at once is “stressful.” Who knew?) Who knows how long their conversation really was, but about 45 seconds later Kenny gives Arie his blessing, with one caveat.

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Stop laughing, Speed Racer — he’s not joking. Before letting Arie go, Tia makes sure he knows that she’s “in love” with him, not just “falling in love.” As we all know, it’s an important distinction. On to Minneapolis!

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Ah, Minnesota — land of 10,000 lakes and do-it-yourself caramel apples. Becca warns Arie that her Uncle Gary, who’s been like a second father to her after her dad died, will likely be the toughest family interrogator. Maybe, but this lady looks pretty tough, too.

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I’d love to see her on all Bachelor dates, serving that skeptical realness. Anyhow, it turns out Becca’s mom Jill may be the toughest one to convince about the validity of “this process.” Jill says she likes Arie fine, but when it comes to giving the Bachelor her blessing to propose to Becca?

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Damn right. When mom sits downs with Arie, he impresses her by noting that his parents have sustained their marriage for 36 years because “they choose each other every day.” [Pause while I consider asking my husband if he thinks we choose each other every day…and then decide not to.] Becca, Arie continues, makes him “very happy,” so would mom be okay with him proposing (possibly)? Jill is hesitant to give her “blessing,” per se, but she basically tells Arie that she won’t file a missing persons report if Becca decides to marry him. And I think we all can guess what Arie says in response: “I love that!” (He also fibs and tells Becca that he got mom’s blessing, but why quibble?)

Three down, one to go! (Next: Is it cold in here or is it just Lauren’s family?)

I’ll admit, I’m excited to meet the family that produced Lauren. Are they all stone faced? Do they eat their meals in silence? Do they all prefer off-the-shoulder tops? Let’s find out…right after this Kodak moment.

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“I don’t know if Arie realizes how conservative our family is,” muses Lauren’s mom Pamela as she and the rest of Lauren’s clan wait for the couple to arrive. And when Arie walks in, his Bachelor’s intuition tells him he might encounter some friendly fire tonight. “It was a little tense,” he says. “We were really far away from them.” That’s for sure.

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The Bachelor is able to entertain the family for about .3 seconds by saying “Lauren, you’re beautiful” in Dutch…but then it’s back to awkward silence again.

“Have you ever known anybody in a military family before?” asks Lauren’s dad Dave. That’s followed up quickly with, “Do you play golf?” Another “no” from Arie — this is not going well.

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Things get a little better when Arie sits down with Dave, a former military pilot, and casually mentions that once he and his racing buddies went to Iraq for a goodwill tour and “hung out” with soldiers on different bases. “Seriously?” asks Dave, truly impressed. “Wow. Thank you.” And from there, we wind up in “If Lauren likes you, I like you” territory — which is a bit of a letdown given all the promos showing Dave threatening to “kill” Arie if he hurts his daughter. But he still has to win over mom.

Pamela’s worried that because Arie is “compartmentalizing” his relationships with four different women, he’s not going to be able to commit fully to any of them — and she’s also not buying Arie’s assertion that he’s not giving the same spiel to each set of parents. Still, when the Bachelor asks for her blessing to propose to Lauren, mom doesn’t completely refuse. “I’d have to revert back to ‘I trust Lauren,’” says Pamela.

Later, Lauren tries to calm her mom’s fears by telling her that Arie said he was falling “deeply” in love with her, and “I don’t think he would’ve said that to me if he was saying that to other people.” Oh gurl, we have two words for you: Ben. Higgins. “I hope it’s real,” mom replies. “And I hope it lasts forever. I want you to be happy.” Awwwwww. Aren’t moms the best?

Welp, rose lovers, it’s all over but the crying. Who will get the boot at this Final Four rose ceremony? Let’s head back to Casa Bachelor to find out. (Next: A surprising goodbye.)

“For me, It’s like an impossible decision right now,” Arie tells us, before heading into the Rose Ceremony Room to deliver the good news/bad news. The Bachelor can barely get out his “you’re all great, sorry about the rejection” speech, and indeed has to leave the room to collect himself before handing out the roses. Once back, Arie announces that he needs to talk to Kendall. (Noooooo!) It seems he really needs to know whether Kendall can “get there” — meaning, will she be able to get engaged in eight days, or whatever, and be “comfortable” with that? “If you stay, someone else goes who’s very ready to get married,” Arie reminds her.

Kendall, bless her, stands her ground, saying that while she doesn’t want to lose Arie, she “can’t say, at this very moment…that I’m ready to be engaged.” I think we all know what that means.

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WHAT? Tia’s getting the boot over taxidermy girl? I’ll admit it, rose lovers, I did not see that coming. (Man, after watching this show for so long, I really should be better at predicting these fake-outs, huh?) “I did not expect this,” she sobs, as Arie walks her out to the Bye-Bye Bench. “What did I do wrong?” Besides going on this show, honey, absolutely nothing. Arie is apologetic and sad, but he has no answers for Tia. “I sat up all night last night,” he says. “I don’t know. There’s just something missing.” In a remarkable moment of emotional intelligence, Arie reminds Tia that this breakup “is not about your worth,” it’s just “about the emotion between two people.”

Still, she is heartbroken, and it’s hard to watch.

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Also hard to watch? Two back-to-back episodes of The Bachelor next week! “Women Tell All” on Sunday, and the overnight dates on Monday. I’m exhausted just typing that. Sigh. But I’ll try to stay focused: Were you surprised to see Tia go home? Is there any chance Kendall will make it to the final two? And will you ever get the image of those empty rat skins out of your mind? Post your thoughts now! And be sure to check out Chris Harrison’s exclusive behind-the-scenes blog right here.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go launch a Kendall for Bachelorette petition on change.org.

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