Ben Higgins‘ quest to be loved enters its second set of dates with a few of the women emerging as contenders or pretenders, while the rest blend together like a casting call for Sweet Valley High. Seriously, there’s more blonde hair in this Bachelor field than a Hitler Youth poster.

Ben has narrowed his field of potential wifemates to 17, but his confidence had to take a hit with the voluntary departure of fourth-Lauren LB, aka “Pound.” Sure, she told him the process was overwhelming her, but in reality, he has to wonder if she was just the latest to come down with a wicked case of unlovabenitis.

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Nice Guys Finish Last

The big question now is whether or not that trend will continue. The competitive nature of the game and the draw of “winning” will keep the dogs’ attention focused on the fox, but the often tossed-around “right reasons” expression gains new importance to an extent we haven’t seen in previous seasons.

It’s a well-known tenet that girls don’t go for the nice guy, which Ben overwhelmingly is, almost to a fault. And as such, those in it for the conquest will have to be weeded out if there are to be wedding bells in our collective futures.

Ben appreciates and thanks everyone so frequently that it’s difficult to tell who he is actually interested in, and as he appears to be perpetually settled down — so much so that his girlfriends get antsy — it’s clear that a relationship with anyone who is not ready to be a boring married couple is destined for failure.

Side note: It’s important for me to mention, as a newlywed whose wife reads these recaps, that “boring married couple” is not meant to be detrimental. Rather, those are the best kinds of relationships, as volatility leads to instability no matter what effect it has on passion. 

The Dilemma of the Disinterested

Unfortunately for Ben, show producers must counteract his amiability with a special kind of woman, namely those who are so crazy that they constantly talk about not being crazy. It is a TV show after all. But after Lace’s time comes to its inevitable conclusion, who are we left with?

Olivia and her gaping black hole of a mouth have emerged as a villain, but the first-impression rose recipient will surely have a Britt-like unraveling after she’s actually forced to go through a rose ceremony.

Then there’s Caila, who combines a touch of the cray with a hearty serving of open-mouthed smiling and whose odd name spelling always makes me think of Cialis (for daily use!). But she just might be a sweet girl hell-bent on fairy tale love.

Jubliee is arguably the most intriguing potential match, but she has her own insecurities that might not mesh with Ben’s or mesh too well to be productive. Super single flight attendant Lauren B., along with Olivia, was my pre-season pick, but there’s hardly anything controversial going on there.

And the quest for drama doesn’t even reach still-a-virgin frontrunner Becca and her infinite virgin hotness, as watching their budding relationship is a lot like waiting for the kettle to boil, only without any heat. They might be perfectly suited for each other and have the best looking babies this side of Brangelina, but I don’t know if I can sit through 20-plus more hours of it.

They wouldn’t even need to have sex because, well, I can’t be sure either is any good at it anyway. Missionary, anyone? And can you imagine them at the prom? They’re definitely leaving room for the Holy Spirit.

Now on to the one-on-ones and group numbers, and I’m hoping Kevin Hart doesn’t start showing up in every episode simply because he has nothing better to do and needs the attention. Though, after Lace and Olivia are gone, he’d be the perfect remora in a symbiotic relationship.

On the Wings of Love

The arrival of the date card — Lauren B., the sky’s the limit — interrupts a “bash Olivia” sesh (“Can you believe she spent $40,000 on clothes?”), and Ben rolls up in a vintage convertible to start the one-on-one date with flair. He’s had his eye on this particular Lauren since the beginning, and it’s time to get to know her a little better. 

It’s off to an airfield, where they hop in a biplane like Snoopy and the Red Baron used to fly during WWII, and the cockpit seems like an ideal location for their first kiss, even if it is a grade school peck that she immediately recoils from. Probably the wind. They also buzz the mansion tower, Top Gun-style, which sends the other ladies — dressed mostly in yoga gear (see, there’s stuff for the guys too!) — into wild fits of jealousy.

The pilot tries some maneuvers to make their stomachs drop (is it zero gravity? Or looooove?) before they land near a private hillside where a hot tub is conveniently nestled as if they grow in the wild. Where did the water come from? Such questions are drowned out by intertwined lips and tongues after Lauren changes into the same bikini she wore in her beach bunny introduction vignette, which also eliminates the need for any meaningful conversation.

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Life’s Simple Pleasures

At night, they share a quiet dinner and discuss the little things in life, such as Lauren’s dad’s love of his yard and the positives of a tight-knit family and a solid work ethic. He wonders how she hasn’t been snatched up yet, and she replies that she’s picky because of her father.

He opens up about Mr. Higgins’ heart problems and how a simple stent procedure turned into a triple bypass. His mom was devastated, and her pain made him realize the depth of the parents’ love. And that’s what he wants. 

The rose legitimizes this whole experience for her, and after they kiss, he boops her nose like she’s 6 years old before a private performance by Lucy Angel. The country music is probably a far cry from what Lauren usually listens to in Southern California, but she doesn’t seem to mind.

The Cup of Life

Balls. Ben has ’em, and the girls want them. It’s been a running theme in every episode thus far, from Leah’s football to high school foul shots to this new group date at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, home of the USC Trojans (and temporarily the prodigal son Los Angeles Rams). 

Present are divorced single mom Amanda, Stepford Swifts Haley and Emily, Jen-and-Ben Jennifer, Russian-speaking Shushanna, football-hiking Leah, still-a-teddy-bear bartender Amber, kindergarten teacher Lauren H., Olivia, Canadian Kaitlyn-acquaintance Jami, unemployed Rachel on a hoverboard and Lace, and they are joined by USWNT World Cup champions Alex Morgan and Kelley O’Hara for Soccer 101.

Not a single one of them has played the game before, though, and the lesson involves a lot of hand use and resembles the skill level of your average 5-year-old girl. It culminates in a six-on-six Stars (Emily, Rachel, Amanda, Jennifer, Shushanna, Lauren H.) vs. Stripes (Amber, Haley, Jami, Olivia, Leah, Lace) match on the pitch, with the winning team continuing on the date while the losers head home. 

Lace is playing keeper and doesn’t realize she can actually use her hands, and so the Stars jump out to an early lead. It’s a back-and-forth game, with Stepford Swift Emily the star in goal for the Stripes. But in the end, after Rachel acts like a total pro in falling to the ground and clutching her shin (no more hoverboarding for her), Amber scores in sudden death to give her team the win. 

And so the date continues for Amber, Haley, Jami, Olivia, Leah and Lace on the hotel rooftop that is clearly the hangout spot of season 20.

Welcome Back to High School

Amber, who is only around because Pound withdrew from the competition, is determined to get some time in this episode. But since her MO is sitting around and bitching while other people step up, she lets Olivia slither in and grab him first. The Mouth further alienates the group by taking Ben up to a balcony where she can literally look down on everyone else, but sensing the animosity, she gets proactive and confides in Ben that all the other girls are intimidated by her. 

Amber and Lace respond by retreating to sixth grade, making fun of Olivia’s janky toes and apparent bad breath. Jami doesn’t appreciate that and relays the gossip to Olivia, who admits that she hates her toes but adds that “perfection is lame.”

Jami, Leah and Lace all get some one-on-one time while Amber continues lounging on her ass, pining for an opportunity. Just make it happen, girl! 

Ben eventually stumbles upon Amber, who claims that she has grown so much in the past year and finally knows what she wants, and she appreciates how he handles things. She goes in for the kiss and ends up on cloud nine and with a rose, which is exciting because she’s never won one before. 

Olivia is upset, but Ben touches her leg while getting off the couch, which is apparently all part of their secret sign language for him to indicate that she’s safe — though it is unclear if Ben is aware of these signs (it is actually completely clear that he is not).

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The Alienation Begins

The final one-on-one date card — Love is in the air (is that the most overused date card in Bachelor history?) — arrives for Jubliee, who had completely talked herself out of any chance of receiving it. She thinks Ben has a type, namely princesses and good, uncomplicated girls, which she is not. 

It also means that Becca, Caila and JoJo are the dateless wonders this time. 

Jubilee recognizes that she can be socially awkward when she cares about someone, especially when she doesn’t know him or her that well, and she proves that by making a crack about Ben being 20 minutes late and then telling him she’s not excited for the date. 

It does not sit well among the women, who also take offense to Jubilee asking if anyone else wants to go on the date since she’s scared of the heights that accompany a helicopter ride. She’s just nervous, but the kitty cats view it as her being ungrateful for the opportunity. Thankfully, Ben gets it and calms her with a hand on her leg, which is a signal he does intend to send.

Diving into Jubilee

They land at Cal-a-Vie Health Spa, where Jubilee tries and violently dislikes caviar for the first time before admitting that she is not adventurous with food and prefers hot dogs. She’s determined to throw all her many sides at Ben, some of which are red and wave in the wind, but he is set on overcoming the awkwardness. 

After a game of shuffleboard with a kiss on the line, she drops an “I’m not playing, white boy” and is grateful that he laughs because it means he “gets” her. She then tries to win him over by thanking him for laughing at the white boy line, telling him he doesn’t laugh very often and that he needs to relax and stop being so stressed all the time. He wasn’t aware that he had a laughing problem or that he’s super duper white, which aren’t great things to hear about yourself, but damn, she looks good in that bikini.

Still, they have a growing openness and a brewing chemistry, which allows them to open up their hearts and their mouths. She can see what it would be like with him on a normal day, spent drinking wine and kissing in an infinity pool overlooking the countryside. You know, every day stuff.

Dinner and Entirely Dead Families

Jubilee is finally starting to feel comfortable as they sit down for dinner, but she still needs a little bit of prodding to fully expose herself. She’s never had such a good time on a first date because of the level of discomfort she usually creates, and even though these waters should be tested before you get in a relationship, Ben seems focused on learning more about the woman who intrigues him like none other.

She discusses her many layers and her love-hate relationship with her past, and at Ben’s urging, she tearfully discusses how she won’t go back to Haiti alone, in part because of the guilt she feels over being the only member of her family to survive some event that killed her immediate family. 

She has the same insecurities as Ben, and her emotions are raw and real. You can’t fake that kind of heartache, and it’s evident why her walls are as high as they are. He praises her strength and depth, gives her a rose and admits that he could possibly fall in love with her.

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A Chaotic Cocktail Hour

The following morning, everyone is shocked that Jubilee is back with a rose after the comments she made. She’s further separated from the group now, and Olivia in particular is freaked-out that Ben could see a potential future with her.

Ben arrives at the cocktail hour and discloses that he got a call from his family this morning informing him that two people close to them died in a plane crash. So he’s a little down, but he’s hopeful that the person who can comfort him in a time of need is in the room. 

Or maybe not.

In typical fashion, Olivia pulls him aside first. But instead of kind words, she opens up about her disgust over her legs and toes. And while she’s “trying to be strong,” she can’t avoid breaking down in tears. Ooooookay. He wants someone to take time to comfort him, and cankles aren’t really what he had in mind.

Amanda, though, knows he’s having a hard day and is willing to listen if he wants to talk about it. Jubliee sits alone with a scowl over being ostracized, trying to think about how to make him feel better. She has clammed up, and the fact that the other women don’t like her could be a problem. 

Jubilee Becomes a Hero … and a Target

Jubilee knows Ben loves massages, so she sets up a table and rubs him down. And that relaxation is exactly what he needs on a night where he is this stressed out. But, of course, that draws the ire of the others, especially since she already has a rose. And the best way for Amber to deal with that is — you guessed it — to sit around and complain.

Jami eventually interrupts the massage, and Amber decides it’s time for a confrontation to deal with Jubilee’s rude, aggressive and disrespectful actions. Because it’s much easier than focusing on Ben. Go home already, Amber. I don’t care if you have a rose.

Jubes has no interest in a girl chat, though, so she heads upstairs and locks herself in the bathroom. Ben pursues her and offers the same comfort she gave to him, but Amber continues the attack and prompts Ben to explain the other side of Jubliee that only he sees. I bet he’s wishing he gave that group date rose to someone else because both Amber and Olivia have let him down.

The Virus Spreads

Ben decides it’s time to end the drama between these women when Lace steals him, because she is apparently reaching the end of her dynamite stick.

She takes him outside, where she tearfully confesses that she’s ashamed about how she’s acted thus far. She has a lot of work to do in order to better herself, and she can’t love someone else until she truly loves Lace. It appears unlovabenitis is spreading, and another one bites the dust.

Who Stays and Who Goes?

With Lace gone (a sniffle and a tear) and Amber, Jubilee and Lauren B. safe, it’s time to hand out some flowers. Roses go to:

Kindergarten teacher Lauren H.

Divorced single mom Amanda

Still-a-virgin Becca

Stepford Swift Haley

Stepford Swift Emily

Unemployed Rachel no longer on a hoverboard

Possibly crazy Caila

Ben’s personal unicorn JoJo

TD&H Ben-and-Jen Jennifer

Football-hiking Leah

Olivia’s giant mouth and busted toes

He saved her for last because the conversation was such a turn-off, and she is lucky to have survived. But it’s the end of the line for Russian-speaking Shushanna and Canadian Kaitlyn acquaintance Jami, who are both blindsided. Shushanna is sad, while Jami is bitter and ready to give up on boys and humans in general. 

Olivia was nervous for a bit, but she is now reassured because Ben squeezed her waist when he gave her the rose. It’s just another little sign of their unspoken communication that proves they’re on the same wavelength because Ben is her man and she remains supremely confident of everything. Except her toes.

The Bachelor season 20 airs Mondays at 8pm on ABC.

(Image courtesy of ABC)

Bill King

Contributing Writer, BuddyTV

Emmy-winning news producer & former BuddyTV blogger. Lover of Philly sports, Ned, Zoe, Liam and Delaine…not in that order