It’s the single day in history that will never be repeated in our lifetimes. February 29th, Leap Day in the year of our Lord 2016, is also Season 20’s Fantasy Suite episode, when boy-bachelor and Christian centerfold Ben precedes his evidently chaste visits to the rose petal-strewn boudoir by telling two of the girls he loves them. He’s either genuinely confused about his feelings, or the scriptwriter was deeply moved after listening to Torn Between Two Lovers. Meanwhile, bachelorette number three is left out in the cold, most likely having to spend the night sleeping on the balcony wrapped in a Snuggie.
The gaggle of prospective Neil Lane ring receivers will be with Ben in Jamaica, where trusted media outlets with “Hollywood” in their titles report that JoJo, Lauren B., and Caila will each tell the doodled stick figure that they love him. Agonizing drama ensues, mostly in the numerous commercials for diabetes medications.
What’s more, that paragon of discreet Edwardian conduct, Chris Harrison, believes Ben wasn’t “gentlemanly enough” during the Fantasy Suite encounters. We’ll find out exactly what he means by that later in the episode. Does Ben manfully stride forward and tear JoJo’s negligee from her ivory shoulders, like a darkly brooding English duke in a novel with Fabio pictured on the paperback edition? Will he ask Caila to play Naked Twister? Does his sex-maddened drooling cause Lauren to consider a lawsuit against ABC?
For the answers to these and other important questions, such as why it’s called Super Tuesday when it really kind of sucks, and how my dog manages to shed so much fur and not have massive bald patches, fill a plate with Little Debbies and tune in with me at 8/7 central.
“You never know what’s going to happen,” Ben marvels in the show’s opening clips, indicating that he hasn’t seen the previous 19 seasons of the show. He doesn’t know what he’s going to do, and fears making a mistake, as if a televised engagement is as sacred and unbreakable a pact as the Second Amendment is to the NRA. Nevertheless, he excitedly anticipates doing romantic things in the most romantic place in the world with the most romantic boom mics hanging overhead.
First he discusses Caila, one of the most beautiful women he has ever seen outside of a spread in Penthouse magazine. But the problem with Caila is that she’s afraid she can’t love somebody, and also of spiders.
Then there’s Lauren, who is the closest thing he’s ever experienced to love at first sight, unless you count Pamela Anderson in the opening credits of Baywatch. But questions remain about her, such as who on earth would willingly choose that shade of blond. Mostly Ben wants to know why no other dude has snatched her up. Apparently it’s a red flag that someone in their early 20’s to hasn’t been married long enough to receive gifts made of crystal on their next anniversary.
Finally, there is JoJo, the girl who was wearing a rubber horse head when they first met. Being around her makes him feel more confident than ever, especially about his boyhood attraction to Flicka. However, her brutish brothers are a plot point that needs to be addressed.
Still, Ben is excited to see all of them in bikinis in Jamaica. For Caila’s part, she hopes she can stop holding back, since being in the Fantasy Suite means putting out. JoJo is also worried about her brothers being such intrusive, controlling troglodytes, although that seems less of an issue for her than for the EEO officers at their workplaces. Meanwhile, I have two brothers, and neither of them would give a damn if I brought Ted Bundy home for dinner.
In Jamaica, amid the dew-dazzled leaves and soaring ocean vistas that the tourism board provided free footage of, Ben meets Caila first. Since it might end up being an overnight date, Ben reflects, it will be big for them, especially if he brings the ExtenZe. They ride a log raft along a gently flowing river as a Rustic Water Vehicle Cam documents the trip, which resembles a kiddie ride at Six Flags Over New Jersey.
Caila can’t stop worrying about her two rivals, who may wisely choose to wear briefer bathing suits than she did. Ben notices that she is unusually quiet and not herself. Is she nervous? Does she have regrets? Or is she just not fond of jerk chicken? “I don’t want you stressing out,” he soothes, applying the psychological techniques he learned from the radio show call-in segments on Frasier. Meanwhile, Caila tells the camera guy that she doesn’t want to ruin the day with her preoccupations. At least she can open up to someone.
Disappointed by her emotional distance, Ben worries about the evening’s prospects for sex that’s more fulfilling than he experiences watching YouPorn. They sit before a raging fire pit, where he questions her about why today she wasn’t the joyful, bubbly girl he’s known for half-hour periods over the course of a few weeks. “I was off today,” she acknowledges, explaining that until the last Rose Ceremony, she didn’t think about all the other girls whose bios are on the ABC site with hers. It doesn’t help that she’s had doubts in all her other relationships, even when only three or four other girls were dating the guy.
Finally, she’s able to reveal to Ben that she loves him. Soaring romantic music plays as they kiss, before she joyously reveals to the camera that no other man has ever made her feel this way. She feels “in his breath” that he feels the same, and also that he likes wintergreen Tic Tacs. “Everything just feels right,” Ben enthuses after he manages to get his hand under her dress. Together they read the Fantasy Suite invite from Chris, which is a really tacky way to suggest someone boff you. Caila thinks they should “take advantage” of the offer. Was there anything preventing them from having done it this afternoon? They head into the surf, embracing as fireworks explode overhead. Nice way to set them up for serious disappointment later.
Next morning, the two greet each other with satisfied glee. “Last night was amazing,” Caila sighs. She can see herself waking up next to Ben for the rest of her life, or at least until he develops sleep apnea. “It will keep blooming, even after that final rose,” she reports confidently of their relationship. Only if they didn’t buy the roses at the deli around the corner from me.
Now it’s Lauren’s turn to anticipate her night with Ben while simultaneously expressing her fears of telling him she loves him. She wears short shorts to increase the chances he’ll want to go to the Fantasy Suite. Ben notes that it’s weird to spend a romantic day with Lauren after he shtupped Caila not 24 hours ago. He quickly dismisses that concern, however, since surely the housekeeping service will have changed the sheets.
“Lauren has an authenticity about her,” he explains, as do all the actors on a reality show. For their date, they’re going to release baby sea turtles into the sea. It’s one of Lauren’s dreams to be part of this experience, along with expanding her hamster’s Habitrail and teaching a parrot to curse. She hopes her relationship with Ben lasts as long as a turtle’s life. I hope not the turtles I had as a child. They always died after about three months. They tip over the bucket of tiny squirmy creatures, and watch delightedly as they flee frenetically from the couple to plunge into the waves, as much of the viewing audience would like to do.
Recalling her sister’s suspicions about his motives, Ben tells Lauren he thinks she may be too good for him. But Lauren has the same fear of being unworthy of Ben. They also both resent her sister. Despite this progress in their understanding of each other’s pathetic emotional limitations, which seem based on okcupid.com algorithms, Lauren remains anxious about telling Ben she loves him. Once again, the spectre of the two other girls gives her pause, much as the presence of mold makes me hesitate before eating leftover General Tso’s.
That night Ben and Lauren remind each other how much fun they had, in case they don’t get a chance to see the footage edited to suggest that. “I’m, like, very invested in you,” Lauren confesses. “But I don’t know where you stand with the other people.” He may have lain down with one already.
Together, they read the card that offers them the chance to forgo their individual suites, which is the most formal language ever used to propose a one-night stand. He eagerly agrees to this opportunity to have alone-time with Lauren, and break in her new Rotating Rabbit. “It’s all or nothing for me,” Lauren reveals, which really puts the pressure on Ben to successfully locate her G-spot.
Finally, she tells him she loves him. He does not respond immediately, seeming uncertain exactly how to reply, or maybe just appalled at her vocal fry. Then he tells her he’s known he’s been in love with her for awhile, ever since the producers first showed him her 8″ x 10″ glossy. They’ll just have to avoid her sister at family reunions. He closes the curtains and the lights go off as Lauren giggles inside the bedroom. Maybe she found his blankie.
Next morning, Lauren feels it’s like a dream waking up next to him. “Sometimes things just feel right,” Ben announces, probably referring to her thighs. She hopes that in a few days, she’ll be waking up next to her fiance, and more importantly, with a $25,000 rock on her finger.
All this mutual satisfaction only complicates things, since now Ben must go on his date with JoJo, about whom he also has strong feelings. But he knows that if he doesn’t think he loves her today, or more likely if she’s too loud in the Fantasy Suite, he must send her home. One issue is that she’s so short, he’ll get a crick in his neck kissing her for any length of time.
They fly off in a helicopter. JoJo loves Ben and sees a future with Ben, especially after she called the psychic hotline. But she doesn’t know if his feelings are as strong as hers. Can’t they come up with a single variation on the stated problem for one of these girls? Like she’s got a colostomy, or gambling debts, or is considering selling Amway? To explore their relationship more deeply, the two strip to their swimsuits. They leap into a pool under a waterfall, then wrap themselves around each other on a rock, similar to how a pair of bearded dragons might spend their day.
At this point, JoJo gets to repeat the dialogue about how hard it is for her to reveal her feelings, that she’s scared, and how big last week was for her. But she, too, admits she loves him. He smiles patiently at her before saying, “JoJo, I love you, too” in the same way one might comment, “JoJo, I love Nutella, too.” She is rhapsodic with joy. It all makes sense to him now. “I don’t know how you can be in love with two women, but I am,” he muses. Henry VIII managed to do it with six women.
That evening, they meet up again. “It’s really incredible that I get to spend the night with the woman I love,” he says,which shouldn’t seem so impressive since he did it last night, too. But he’s not going to think about that conflict right now, and especially not how his eventual fiance will feel after seeing tonight’s show. Meanwhile, JoJo has “zero doubts” that Ben will be her husband one day. And well he might, if Lauren runs off with the cable guy while Ben’s on a business trip.
However, Ben is still worried about those meddling brothers. JoJo asks him to tell her more about what happened with them. “It was a weird day,” Ben explains with his usual nuanced insight. She assures him that her brothers are merely protective of her, and also about the director’s insistence on them creating dramatic dissension in that scene. Ben is pleased that they’ve sorted it all out, but still plans to get a security system installed in his apartment.
JoJo wants nothing more than to spend the night with Ben, the ideal conclusion to a day that was her “most incredible life moment.” Other people catch those on video and send them into AFV. She feels safe enough to give her heart to someone again, an event which calls for donning another bikini, getting into the hot tub and making out.
In the morning, JoJo feels a hundred times more confident about their relationship, especially since he brought the ribbed-for-her-pleasure brand. There’s no doubt in her mind, as there was none in Lauren’s and Caila’s, that Ben will be hers forever.
Indeed, Ben loves Lauren, too, but Caila has become that pair of underpants that are comfortable and still hold their shape, but the waistband is unraveling and you’re tired of cutting off all those loose threads. He walks pensively among the lush foliage and sparkling pools that are prominent in the resort brochure, preparing himself to tell Caila that he doesn’t feel the same about her. He does not look forward to saying goodbye to her, although he plans to keep her number in case she wants to get drunk and hook up sometime. Meanwhile, the poor creature is giddy, prattling about being in love with Ben and knowing he feels the same. They can’t possibly pay these women enough to alleviate the public humiliation.
Naturally, Caila “decides” to go and see him. His baggy shorts would be enough for me to kick him to the curb. As he sits brooding in an Adirondack chair, she sneaks up on him, getting it right after four takes, and plants a happy kiss on his forehead. Then we fade to black, like the last scene in Schindler’s List, only this time Ben won’t say he could’ve saved more.
When we return, following an ad for bran flakes that look more exciting than being married to Ben, he seems surprised to see Caila. They must have rehearsed it that he would go visit her. He acts as shocked as Fox Mulder would be if his alien-abducted sister knocked on the door. They sit to talk. “This has been a crazy week,” Ben begins. He realizes how real this all is, how crazy-great, and how they can gain so much from it, like mentions in The Inquisitr and spokesperson bookings. But he can’t tell her he loves her, even though her cover letter convinced him that her skills and experience are well-suited to the job of Mrs. Higgins. Somber music plays as he escorts her to the limo, which still has its motor running.
Caila sobs into his arms before getting into the car. A moment passes before she gets out again. “Did you know this week?” she pleads. Probably not until they rewrote the scene last night. “Nobody shared feelings like you did this week,” Ben says, like it’s a performance evaluation for a management position. That makes her feel better. As a result, she’ll share her feelings freely in the future with strangers on TV. Also, the merit increase will help pay off her MasterCard.
Caila remembers to belt in before the limo rides away, since she’s a role model for all heartbroken women who just got rejected on national TV. “I was ready to be his wife. I was ready for our future,” she sobs. She even had her china pattern selected and got bids from caterers.
Now Ben must address the issue of which of his two true loves he will marry, if converting to Mormonism is not an option. Meanwhile, in advance of the Rose Ceremony, JoJo updates Chris on the situation, after which Lauren tells basically the same story, only without a push-up bra. The two stand there waiting for Ben before acknowledging there are only two roses, but not three woman present. Maybe they think Caila had to run out for Tampax.
Ben arrives, and helpfully points out that Caila is not present. Despite their having “a good thing,” he explains, he had to downsize her after he had a chance to explore his feelings and review the videos from the Fantasy Suite on his laptop. He lifts the first of the two roses. The suspense is less than that on an average episode of The Gumby Show. He gives it to JoJo, and of course, the other one to Lauren.
The two girls both feel confident, but still concerned that he may have whispered the same sweet nothings to the other. I’m more concerned about having to sit through the reunion show next week.