I’m not saying The Bachelorette is fake and totally manipulated by the producers ... but if it was fake and totally manipulated by producers, they couldn't have scripted a better finale.

On this week’s episode, Bachelorette Kaitlyn had to whittle three contenders down to two finalists. There was Shawn, the hunky, insecure Ryan Gosling-adjace personal trainer; Nick, the moody, insecure software sales executive; and Ben, the mellow, confident software salesman. Shawn and Nick despise each other; whenever one is with Kaitlyn, they spend a hefty portion of their time badmouthing the other. No one hates Ben, who mostly spends his time with Kaitlyn being nice and kind and sincere and humble and charming and fun.

Guess which guy she got rid of!

Again, this couldn’t work out better for The Bachelorette franchise if they staged and scripted the entire thing. It leaves this season with a final two that’s a true competition full of authentic bitterness and jealousy. It ensures plenty of drama and discomfort for the finale and the After the Final Rose wrap-up special, regardless of who Kaitlyn picks. And it leaves Ben available to become the star of the next season of The Bachelor. Neither Nick nor Shawn were viable candidates for that show; both have spent too much time yelling at one another and playing the role of controlling, anxiety-ridden villain. The series needs “crazies” like Nick and Shawn to make things interesting, but it needs “nice guys” like Ben to anchor the “journey” to “find love” (by dating 25 women simultaneously in a televised polygamy competition).

After two fairly uneventful Fantasy Suite dates with Ben (romantic horseback ride through the Irish countryside, slightly-less-romantic escape from angry donkeys who got pissed when they stopped giving them food) and Shawn (romantic golf game in the Irish countryside, slightly-less-romantic putting completely in the nude followed by streaking through the golf course), it was time for the Rose Ceremony. Kaitlyn considered her options and chose the craziest one (although she did seem genuinely upset about it, and even walked out of the Rose Ceremony at one point to regain her composure).

Once Kaitlyn sent poor Ben packing (and into the waiting arms of The Bachelor’s groomers and media trainers), it was time for the “Hometown Dates” only this time they both took place in Salt Lake City, Utah for some reason. Typically these dates involve plenty of fireworks, because the primary Bachelor or Bachelorette seeks the blessings of four different sets of parents for a marriage proposal. And really, what mother or father wouldn’t be skeptical of a someone who asked for their child’s hand in matrimony while also dating three other people? On a show full of absurd notions about relationships, this might be the kookiest. (“Hey Martha! Your son is great. Just great! We’ve spent a grand total of, like, 60 hours together, and so far there are almost no red flags whatsoever! If the other three guys I’m currently seeing turn out to be possessive jerks, you cool with us getting hitched? I’m guessing there’s like a 25 percent chance.”)

This season, the (Not) Hometown Dates took place several weeks later than normal, with just the final two contestants. And one of those finalists, Nick, has already been through this crazy process once. Those factors combined to drain most of the tension out of the scenario. Both families were generally polite and positive (and surprised to find their son was one of just two men left vying for Kaitlyn’s heart). There were no deeply (and rightfully) suspicious family members, like former Bachelorette Desiree Hartsock’s brother Nate, who never missed an opportunity to side-eye a man who was interested in his sister:

Nothing remotely that entertaining happened on tonight’s (Not) Hometown Dates. The show teased a potential dust-up between Shawn and his father; going to commercial break right as his dad said he was “worried” about his son because he’s “in deep,” but after a few well placed advertisements for soap and Marvel movies, Shawn and his dad came to an understanding about falling in love and the importance of expressing one’s feelings. Shortly thereafter, Shawn told Kaitlyn he was in love with her.

If I had to guess though, I would say Kaitlyn doesn’t feel quite the same way back. After her “Hometown” Date with Nick, Kaitlyn said in a confessional interview that she felt “in love with Nick” and his family; after her Hometown(ish) Date with Shawn, she mostly cried and said her emotions were “so intense” and that she cares “so much” about both of them. So it sure seems like she wants to pick Nick and feels guilty about not wanting to pick Shawn.

But lest we forget: This is The Bachelorette, where every moment is carefully selected and sculpted for maximum impact. Kaitlyn’s open declaration of love for Nick and her cagier confessionals about Shawn could all be designed to set up a swerve; to make it look like she’s definitely going to choose the former, before winding up with the latter. How else is The Bachelorette going to make good on its eternal promise to deliver “the most shocking finale ever”?

After all, what would be more dramatic than Kaitlyn picking Shawn, leaving Nick the jilted, emotionally devastated runner-up two seasons in a row? Last year when he was rejected at the altar, he called out a woman on national television for sleeping with him and then dumping him. If it happens a second time, what does he do? Does he have a full-on mental breakdown? I’m not saying The Bachelorette is fake and totally manipulated by the producers ... but if it was fake and totally manipulated by producers, this is exactly what would happen.

Additional Thoughts:

-Before we see who Kaitlyn chooses, we’ve got one more episode to go, and it’s a good one: The Men Tell All, where all the dumped men return to pepper Kaitlyn with questions (and, in some cases, for her to pepper them). It’s typically an hour with a lot of yelling, awkward silences, and people using their moment in the spotlight to audition for The Bachelor. In other words, after weeks of middling episodes, this one should deliver.

-Nick’s mother made the first reference this season (at least that I’ve caught) of another Bachelorette cliché: The phrase “cloud 9” (as in someone saying “I’m on cloud 9!” to denote their overwhelming joy at finding love on The Bachelorette). If you want to make your Bachelorette finale drinking game as dangerous to your health as possible, drain your glass anytime someone says they’re on “cloud 9.” Just make sure you have a designated driver. And possibly a health care professional standing by.

-Line of the Night: “Not to get too confident, but I do think she loves me. Like 99% sure.” That was Nick talking about Kaitlyn, and potentially setting himself up for yet another devastating kiss-off. Seriously, the greatest screenwriter in Hollywood couldn’t have scripted this any better!

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