Since we last saw her weeping in bed like an unstable teenage girl, Ashley tells us she has been in a “dark place.” Guardian angel Chris Harrison agrees she needs a “fresh start,” so we land in Thailand where Ashley and her glorious dozen can fawn over the landscape and colonize as many locals as possible (don’t worry; they’ve all played SimCity). With frequent references to the He-Who-Should-Not-Be-Named, Bentley, Ashley begrudgingly plans dates for those other poor saps who have been, you know, hanging around and trying to get to know / date / marry / fuck her. You don’t need to watch the show to experience this; just reflect upon the Jennifer Love Hewitt character / Mike Dexter formula from Can’t Hardly Wait.
Pretty girl + unrepentant douchebag = true love
A change of scenery is an invitation for contestants to wow Ashley with their cultural sensitivity and, more importantly, new metaphors for love. Philosopher Ames remarks that “Navigating these beautiful caves is like navigating a relationship. Around every corner, you really don’t know what to expect, but often there’s something beautiful.”
Constantine’s solo date plans change quickly when dangerous waves means they can’t boat to a private island. The pair head to a local village for frolicking around in the rain and giggling. There doesn’t seem to be a lot of chemistry there, but Ashley loves his positivity. When Constantine extols the virtues of asking the “locals” for information, we assumed he meant questioning them like a primitive form of Yelp. Uhhh, not so much. He mistakes a friendly but dazed Thai shopkeeper for Mr. Miyagi. After shouting at the man, he realizes that the guy doesn’t speak English (gasp!), but a bubbly young Thai woman appears to translate their clumsy inquiries for relationship advice. The shopkeeper tells Constantine, “Don’t try to win,” which Ashley mistakes for a prophecy and earns him a rose, and we all narrowly avoid an encounter with a Thai person that doesn’t somehow reflect on Ashley’s lovelife.
Our group date takes us to a local orphanage for children who have lost their families in the 2004 tsunami for a day of painting, landscaping and white people learning life lessons from those less fortunate than them. Basically it’s like the community service we all did to get into college, except everyone is trying to get into Ashley’s pants, not Columbia. It’s all kind of sweet, if predictable, especially when winemaker Ben wows Ashley by painting a janky elephant mural. This gesture earns him the group date rose, and the date ends with a shot of shirtless contestants playing soccer with a bunch of really cute, really excited Thai orphans. Wow, ABC, just wow.
Several Smurfs grumble about Ryan P., a “solar energy executive” and an early favorite. His over-the-top enthusiasm and crazy Joker grin rub people the wrong way; the editors provide color commentary through clips of Ryan P. nagging the others about the painting. Yes, how dare he care about the aesthetic appearance of Bumblefuck Orphanage. Outrageous! He persists his relentless campaign of being “a goober” and contextualizing his situation through comparison to being in Afghanistan (… wtf?) As Blake later phrases it, “That kind of zest for life is fine, every now and again. But … when you deal with it every day, it becomes completely infuriating somehow.” Oh, Blake, why did you pursue dentistry instead of motivational speaking? You’ve robbed the world of one more whiny WASP voice.
On his solo date, shmooshy but sweet New York portfolio manager Ames surprises Ashley with his sense of humor–a revelation that is a surprise to Ames himself (his talking head notes, “I never even knew it existed!”). His whole schtick seems as genuine as this show gets, but makes clear that Ashley’s method of identifying key character traits is to take everything a person says about themselves at face value and then regurgitate it. This lack of discernment might cause trouble for someone who is, say, trying to find love on a reality TV show. Just as a hypothetical. Anyway, the “spontaneous,” “sweet,” and “nerdy” Ames gets a rose.
Ashley uses the cocktail party preceding the rose ceremony to tactlessly drill the guys for information. Lucas “likes to do fun stuff” and other astounding feats of masculinity that Ashley slurps up despite a paper-thin explanation of his divorce. Widower West makes a convincing case that he’s ready to move on though Ashley willfully disbelieves him. And the contestants once again display more interest in competing amongst themselves than learning about Ashley. After being confronted by the otherwise unknown Blake, Ryan P. defends his right to be a cheerful little Smurf 24/7: “What, you can’t hang with the fact that I’m happy? I’m sorry. I’m sorry I’m not grumpy! My bad.” Someone please make this a ringtone.
Chris Harrison puts on his relationship counselor hat long enough to encourage rhapsodizing about He-Who-Should-Not-Be-Named. Ashley asks to only send one person home, not the planned two, to avoid a overly hasty decision. Try not to think too hard when Chris Harrison agrees and quips that “We’re not breaking the rules—there are no rules!” or you might find yourself projected into an alternate dimension.
And so, saddened but gracious, West the widower is booted. He leaves the show with what doubtlessly is the last intelligent and syntactically correct piece of dialogue we’ll hear this season:
“You can’t replace someone that you really loved and was taken from you. That’s not what I’m trying to do. I’m trying to move on. Life is love. If you don’t have it, you can be happy on so many levels, but it’s so much more satisfying and deeper if you have someone to share it with, and hopefully someday I’ll find it.”
Cut from this moment of honest reflection back to Ashley + 11 raising a glass to their next destination, Chiang Mai.