Okay, I’m going to come clean: When I saw the preview of this week’s Bachelorette hometown dates episode and Dean’s dad popped up, I was fully expecting a comical edit of Dean and Rachel’s visit with his family. I’ve seen enough of The Bachelorette to know that the producers love to play up a family’s eccentricities (remember the taxidermist dad?). Those fleeting shots of Dean and Rachel meditating with his family totally seemed like a gold mine of footage. Dean clarifying that he wasn’t disregarding his father’s Sikh faith prior to their visit also made it appear that, no matter how odd that preview may have looked, viewers could still expect a weird but heartwarming visit.
However, after seeing Dean uncomfortably rush through his explanation of his dad’s name and visibly clench as he and Rachel approached his house, it became clear that this was far from a kooky hometown visit. Even before his family appeared on-screen, Dean’s body language alone told me that this was not a situation he was okay with. What was even more uncomfortable was the fact that, as a viewer, I felt almost as uncertain as he did. Bachelor Nation has a tendency to overly romanticize marriage and family life, so it’s easy to see these contestants solely as entertainment and forget how real their lives are, even when they visit their hometowns.
Whether or not it was intentional on the producers’ part, seeing Dean’s hometown date was a blunt reminder that people on The Bachelorette aren’t untouchable. They aren’t just rolled out for a stint in the Bachelor mansion and then kept in limbo until they’re deemed suitable for Paradise. They have brutally real lives like the rest of us do, and just like in real life, some contestants have difficult family situations. I don’t know how the Bachelorette team avoided a hometown date with such intense family circumstances for this long, but Dean’s experience was a perfect example of when reality TV takes things a step too far.
Dean’s one-on-one talk with his father was vulnerable, painful and unsettling. The two were together for the first time in two years, and Dean, his siblings and dad hadn't all been under the same roof in eight years. Not only was Dean’s dad clearly uncomfortable with cameras there, but Dean also seemed torn between releasing his true feelings and remaining hyper-aware that America was watching. As Twitter pointed out, his confrontation of his father's faults was one of the most realistic things we've ever seen in this franchise—so much so that it felt wrong watching this intimate moment.
this isn't Rachel meeting Dean's family. this is abc taking advantage of Dean's toxic family situation #TheBachelorette
— The Bachelor Diaries (@thebachdiaries) July 18, 2017
This is the most real and heartbreaking segment of the #TheBachelorette and it feels inappropriate to air/watch.
— Brianna Linden (@bnlinden) July 18, 2017
This isn't entertainment, it's Dean's life, and I don't find any of it funny. Cruel to make him do this for ratings. #TheBachelorette
— Emily (@ejweeks) July 18, 2017
Given that the show promoted Dean's hometown date as odd and dramatic rather than heartbreaking, it's safe to say that fans' suspicions of ABC using his situation for ratings is pretty true. I'm also willing to bet that reality TV producers are so accustomed to getting away with showing such extreme situations that the Bachelorette staff may not have even seen this footage as being vastly different.
Although broadcasting Dean's situation so unabashedly showed a more sensitive side of Rachel and made me admire Dean even more, this hometown date makes me nervous about how the Bachelor in Paradise controversy will be presented. If a production team splashes a family's fraught relationship on TV so easily, how can we expect them to treat what almost became a franchise-ruining matter?
If anything, Dean's hometown date taught Bachelor Nation that, as painful as it can be, it's okay not to have a traditional, happy family. Seeing what a kind, positive person Dean is regardless of his family experience is proof that you can move beyond this kind of situation. More unsettlingly, it was also an intense lesson in what we have allowed reality TV to deem "okay."