As Desiree's "journey" marches toward its inevitable conclusion, Brooks finally begins to feel comfortable with the idea of a Happily Ever After with Des

By Kristen Baldwin
Updated July 16, 2013 at 05:04 AM EDT

Awwww yeah, rose lovers. You know what time it is. Time for a bunch of random relatives – most of whom Desiree will never see again — to get all up in the Bachelorette’s business. Place your seat backs and tray tables in their upright and locked position, because our hometown “journey” is about to begin.

First stop: Dallas, Texas, home to absurdly restrictive abortion laws and Zak the drilling fluid engineer. And as we all know, everything’s bigger in Texas — including neuroses. “If people think I’m crazy,” warns Zak, “just wait until you see my crazy family.” But first, we’re going to have to hear all about Zak’s symbolism-laden dream about Des from the night before. “You and I were on this beach… All of a sudden it started getting really hot, and the sun is, like, melting us, and we started melting into the sand, right?” says Zak, who sounds a little drunk, to be honest. “We were almost completely gone, and then it started snowing…” Eventually they ate the snow out of cups while being trampled by “hundreds of kids,” or something. Des is understandably confused by Zak’s prophecy, but she smiles gamely as her suitor hops over a fence and runs off to fetch some sort of surprise.

Turns out the dream was not Zak’s subconscious telling him that his and Desiree’s very identities are being melted away by the hot glare of Team Bachelorette‘s camera lights and the only way to save themselves is to go “underground” and join the witless protection program… No, it was just a silly little set-up to his hometown date hazing ritual: Working in the “family snow cone business”! Yes, apparently Zak’s clan owns a snow cone truck, and before the Bachelorette can join his family she’s going to have to prove she can handle working the sugar-rush shift at Treetops School. Desiree calmly hands out mounds of shaved ice as the children swarm like zombies around the truck. Zak helps maintain order by dressing up like a giant penguin and delivering spinning high-fives. “The penguin’s my boyfriend,” Des tells the kids, who let out a disgusted “Ewwwwwwwww!” after she kisses the bird’s fuzzy cheek.

Having dispensed with the goofy portion of the date, Zak strips off the mascot costume and drives Des to meet his clan. “This is where I get my lunacy from,” he explains. “I just hope they don’t scare Desiree off.” It’s all squeals and hugs and bright-colored clothing as Zak’s mom Maryann, dad Jeff, brother Denton, and sister Carly greet the duo. The family’s smiles turn to groans as soon as Zak describes his shirtless limo exit, and mom looks particularly chagrined by his next admission: “I’ve been completely naked at least three times… It can be blurred out!” (How many naked Zak set-ups did Team Bachelorette really need to film for the premiere, anyway?)

Anyhoo, despite the teasing, the mood at lunch is indeed very light-hearted and upbeat, with lots of laughter that doesn’t seem forced. Mom hops on board the Des-as-daughter-in-law train almost immediately — “When those two walked in I went, ‘Are you kidding me?’ They are amazing together” — and though Carly thinks Desiree is “an awesome person,” she’s not convinced her brother is going to make it out of this “journey” unscathed. “I’m a little scared,” she admits. But really it’s Des who should be frightened, because something truly terrifying is about to happen: Zak and his siblings are about to go all Von Trap Family Singers on her ass by performing a rewritten version of the ditty Zak sang in Atlantic City.

NEXT: Oh good Lord why are they singing??

I’ll be honest, rose lovers — it’s going to be hard for me to recap this portion of the episode for you because I literally (and I mean literally literally, not figuratively literally) could not get through more than three seconds at a time without hitting pause and yelling “Oh my God oh my God oh my GOD!” at my TV. But I’ll do my best:

“You light a fire inside his eyes — it’s true,” croons Carly in a clear, not unpleasant voice, as Zak strums the guitar. “You’ve given hope that love survives…” At first it looks like Des wants to make Zak’s dream a reality by melting into the couch and disappearing while all of this is going on, but she’s nearly moved to tears recounting the scene to Team Bachelorette later. “It was such a special moment to hear Zak’s sister and brother sing a song that Zak wrote for me. It’s a moment I’ll never forget,” she says, her voice breaking. “Those words, like, hit my heart.” Indeed, the song seems to have been crafted for maximum guilt inducement — I mean, how is she supposed to give Zak the boot after his brother and sister belt out, “Oh Desiree now we can see/ your place among our family!”

And if that wasn’t enough pressure, suddenly Zak produces a ring he bought for Des in Atlantic City. “I wanted something to, like, symbolize — that moment, I knew I was falling in love with you,” he tells the Bachelorette, whose face has turned beet-red from the effort it’s taking her not to cry. “Des, I love you. I do.”

Our next stop is Scottsdale, Arizona, where Drew awaits the love of his life in a parking lot. From there they find a rare patch of green and relax in the shade as Drew explains the complicated family dynamics Des is about to experience. It seems everyone’s going to gather at Drew’s mom Linda’s house, which she shares with his step-dad, Bob. His dad Mal (short for Malachi) will be there, too. “This is the first time my dad will have ever been in my mom’s house,” Drew says with a nervous giggle. “You know, they’re… they’re on good terms.” (You keep telling yourself that, pal.) Before they head to meet the parents, however, Drew needs to pick up his sister Melissa, who is “severely mentally handicapped,” at her home.

You know, Drew might not be the most masculine guy, and he might rival Pauly D in the hair product use and abuse department, but it’s truly moving to see what a loving, devoted brother he is to Melissa. As her caregiver leads her out into the yard, Melissa is so overwhelmed with excitement and emotion at the sight of her brother that she can’t stop squeezing his hand and rocking with delight. She gives Desiree’s long brown locks a playful flick (“She likes hair,” explains Drew), and then they’re off to Linda’s house, where eleven people — including Drew’s cute little blonde niece Erin and a chubby-cheeked baby boy — await.

NEXT: Batter up!

After dinner, the Bachelorette sits down with Mal for a heart-to-heart. “Do you believe in angels?” he asks her. Affirmative. “Have you ever met one?” Negative. “Yes you have,” continues Mal. “Melissa. She taught us things as a family that we would have never ever been able to learn without her… I think Drew anted you to know that about him, and I think that’s what you guys picking up Melissa was about.” (Must… not… cry…) Meanwhile, Drew clasps hands with his mom and reveals that he’s ready to propose to Des. Linda responds with a hug, and it seems that Mal is on board, too: “If you want to marry this girl,” he tells Drew, “I’ll throw a party.” Unfortunately, the rest of Drew’s family will not be getting a chance to speak on camera, because before we know it Drew is leading Des out to the waiting SUV and making the most of their goodbye. “I love you,” he says. “I want you a part of my life.” (Uh oh, Brooksy — are your ears burning? Now you’re the only guy who hasn’t dropped the l-bomb. Game on, wolf boy!)

Welcome to McMinnville, Oregon, rose lovers! Chris — decked out in a blue flannel shirt in a nod to the crispy McMinnville weather — greets the Bachelorette in a lush green park with smooches, hugs, and a little sprig of flowers. Soon enough they’re both wearing blue and white baseball tees and tossing balls and cutesy puns (“You’re a catch!”) back and forth. During batting practice, Des pegs several line drives in a row, leaving Chris giddy. “She didn’t tell me she can hit!” he raves. “This is perfect!”

Now all Chris needs is for his family — who apparently all hated his last girlfriend — to agree that Des is The One. They seem ready enough to oblige, as Chris’ dad George begins dinner with a toast: “Here’s to the ones that I love, here’s to the ones that love me, here’s to the ones that love those that I love, and to those that love those who love me.” Also, here’s to the ones who practice a pseudo-medicine called chiropractic, including George himself. “Would you like to come get adjusted?” he asks Des, who clearly wants to say no but can’t bring herself to decline. George’s heart is in the right place — “This treatment promotes clarity,” he explains — but you’ve gotta wonder why Chris didn’t pull his pops aside and ask him to wait a few dates before groping his intended’s spinal cord in the basement. “Laying down face first with my butt in the air, with Chris’ dad who I just met massaging my back — it’s not weird at all,” jokes Des. “I really enjoy getting my back aligned, but I really do want to talk to him about his son.”

Eventually she gets her chance, and but George’s conversation with his son is way more interesting. “How about the situation where — in terms of the way you eat, the way you take care of yourself from a health standpoint?” he asks Chris, who casually lies down on the table while assuring his dad that Des also treats her body like a temple. George then proceeds to shove a balloon up his son’s nose and perform some kind of ridiculous chiropractic quackery. “It may look a little awkward,” admits Chris. “But that’s how we talk.” (Fair enough, but I could have done without the booger-cam, Team Bachelorette.)

NEXT: “Fireworks in our face”

Back above ground, Des and Chris’ mom Becky are having a far more traditional conversation, sans balloons and skull-bone adjustments. “For Chris to be staying in this situation with you, he must really be so completely smitten by you,” says mom. “But the thing is, the last one really hurt him bad, and I don’t want to see that happen again.” Still, Mom stares impassively as Des raves on and on about how Chris is “so kind-hearted” and has the “lasting qualities” she wants in a husband. At first, not even Chris can get much of a reaction out of his mom; her response to Chris’ declaration “I told dad that I think she’s the one” is a barely-audible “okay.”

But just when it seems like Becky may be about to burst her son’s nasal balloon, she lets out a heavy sigh and issues this proclamation: “Well, I like her a lot… You have our blessing.” Awww, don’t cry, mom! If Des gives your son’s heart a boo-boo, he’ll be okay as long as he has you. For the moment, though, it seems like Des and Chris will get their happily ever after, as they share a 15-second smooch by the Escape SUV.

And with that, we’re off to Brooks’ hometown, Salt Lake City. He’s definitely ready to see Des and remind himself what he’s even doing here on this fakakta TV show. “When I’m with Desiree, everything is so amazing,” he says. “But then the time apart is difficult, and I kind of forget, a little bit.” Oh, how very romantic, Brooks! Do go on. ” I don’t know entirely how I feel about Desiree,” continues wolfie. “I’m still trying to figure that out.” The Bachelorette has no question about how she feels. “I love Brooks,” she declares, as the duo meet up in Liberty Park. “I think Brooks may be holding back from really falling in love… because I am dating other guys.”

In order to set his mind at ease, Des produces a paper rose that unrolls to become a list of all their “special” moments together, including sitting on “cloud nine” in Madeira, “fireworks in our face — romantic yet dangerous,” and of course the time Brooks broke his finger playing dodgeball. “I’ll always remember that moment you were on the ground,” the Bachelorette tells him. “You were in so much pain but you were still being so adorable.” (If you call whining like a 3-year-old girl “adorable.”) Then they paddle around the lake in a canoe, and narrowly escape death when Brooks almost gives in to his self-destructive urge to capsize the craft and drown them both.

Once at the family abode, Des gets a giant Utah welcome from a crowd of siblings and significant others, all wearing “Hello My Name Is” name tags — which is a pretty cute touch. It’s such a big group that the sound of forks and knives clinking on plates nearly drowns out the conversation over dinner. (Hurrah for people who actually eat!) But Brooks’ mom Janice doesn’t need to hear what her son has to say to know that he’s smitten. “Brooks and Des, they seem to be looking at each other with that — kind of a love look,” muses mama. “It was very tender to see that happening between the two of them.” After dinner, Brooks’ brothers fire questions at him — Could you live without her? Can you make her happy for the rest of her life? — but Team Bachelorette doesn’t allow us to see his answers.

NEXT: “You’re my favorite” (You’re not the only one, mom)

Later he and Janice discuss other Big Questions in hushed tones – is he ready to get married? – and we finally get a glimpse at what Brooks is thinking. “I feel closer to that than I ever have,” he tells mom. “It’s been a very surreal moment to kind of realize the walls that I’ve put up around my heart.” And then Brooks utters the single most endearing thing he’s said all season: “Mom, you’re my most favorite person in the entire world, and I love you and respect you so much.” Even better is when Janice replies, “You’re my favorite.” At least she’s honest about it!

At long last, we’re back in Los Angeles, where Des will give hand out three roses — but only after she talks to her jackass brother, Nate. “I haven’t seen my brother since last season when Sean came to my hometown to meet my family,” admits Des. “He pretty much ruined it for me.” The purpose of this visit is so the Bachelorette can lay down some ground rules before her family meets the final three next week: “I don’t want my brother to be there if he’s going to be as negative and hostile as last time.” Nate listens patiently as his sister rattles off all of the “amazing” “qualities” the final four guys have, and then makes a tentative effort to support her: “I’m happy that you’re in charge of this moment and situation.” But he’s still harboring doubts as he pretends to leave the hotel. “My sister might get her heart broken again,” he insists.

Des doesn’t give any hints about who’s going home during her pre-rose ceremony chat with Harrison. Yes, she still loves Brooks. No, he still hasn’t said it. Yes, Chris, Drew and Zak have uttered the l-word. No, Desiree is not just chasing after Brooks simply because he’s playing hard to get. Yes, she wants to marry Brooks. No, there’s seriously no reason Team Bachelorette shouldn’t go directly to the finale — Ms. Hartsock has made her choice.

And yet, we go through the motions. Chris, Drew, Zak and Brooks arrive at the Beverly Hilton, where they remain blissfully unaware that Des’ creepy brother Nate is lurking behind a column in the lobby like the world’s most shabbily-dressed assassin. The rose roll call comes down to Brooks, Chris, and Drew, which means Zak with no c must take the long walk to the Pity Bench. “You of all people in this whole world — whole wide world — you deserve the absolute most,” Des tells Zak tearfully, before giving him back the promise ring. Zak tries to process the night’s events in the Reject Limo, but he’s in shock. “Tomorrow I might be heartbroken. Right now I’m still trying to figure out what the hell just happened,” he says. “I really thought this would work out for me.” Hang in there, sir — somewhere out there is a nice “lady” who will accept those abs. And ask a PA to search the roadside for the ring you tossed — store credit is nothing to sneeze at.

We’re so very close to the end, rose lovers! Can anyone beat Brooks? Is anyone interested in having Zak be the next Bachelor? And most importantly, pancakes or waffles? Post your thoughts now! Then be sure to check out Chris Harrison’s Bachelorette blog over on PopWatch. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to go shove a balloon up my nose.

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