Traditionally, Bachelor Nation fans are giddy with excitement over the hometown dates.
But as The Bachelor franchise continues to be in the middle of controversy, Monday night's hometown episode felt far less rosy than before. As Matt James explained of the ABC franchise's backlash, "The reality is that I'm learning about these situations in real-time, and it has been devastating and heartbreaking to put it bluntly."
In tonight's episode, filmed months prior to the scandal erupting, we see Matt get one step closer to finding his special someone. After all, introducing their families to Matt is a make-or-break moment for the remaining contestants: Bri Springs, Serena Pitt, Michelle Young and Rachael Kirkconnell.
And unlike past seasons, the ladies' loved ones were brought into the Nemacolin Resort so they could be quarantined amid the coronavirus pandemic. Unsurprisingly, the contestants had a few people in their inner circle point out their concerns over this process, including Rachael's dad.
However, during Serena's hometown date, she realized Matt wasn't her Mr. Right and sent herself home.
She told him, "I think when I first became aware of those feelings was when I talked to my mom. I was able to sit there and say, 'Matt has everything I would want in a husband, and he makes me feel so special and valued,' ... but when it came to being able to share my feelings for you, I really struggled."
"I think if I'm being honest with myself, it's more than that," she continued. "And I think it just comes down to the fact that I don't think that you're my person."
Matt looked shaken up by the news and replied, "It sucks to hear that, but I felt it after I left that conversation with your family. There was something off with you. It sucks to hear that because I just want what's best for you, and if that's not going to be me... that stinks."
Despite Serena self-eliminating, Matt's connection with Rachael seemed stronger than over. Before meeting her family, the two went skydiving. But when Rachael landed, she slammed into the ground. "The idea of her being injured or banged up," Matt told the cameras, "puts everything into perspective."
He later explained how he felt to Rachael, saying, "My heart hurt when I was watching you. You don't know how much you care until there is a chance that you could be gone, you know?"
She was comforted by his reaction and admitted it "made me fall even more in love with him."
"He was there for me," she shared, "and that's what I want out of a partner, and I think that's what a marriage is all about, and I can't even think about going through life without Matt at this point."
When speaking to her mom, Rachael couldn't help but gush over Matt.
"I've definitely been falling in love with him so easily," she explained, "and I would never want you guys to come all the way up here just to meet this man if it wasn't something serious and if it wasn't a person I really could see myself spending my life with and seeing a future with."
Matt echoed the same sentiments when speaking to Rachael's dad, saying their "relationship has been built on honesty, communication, and being up front with one another."
He added, "I told her that I'm falling in love with her."
Rachael was hopeful that Matt would ask her dad for his blessing to propose, but as he told her, it "didn't feel right asking for it just to check a box."
"It's so scary to think that I could still potentially lose him," Rachael said in her confessional. "After seeing him with my family, it's hard to accept the fact that there are still three other women involved and that it's not just Matt and I yet. I will be completely crushed if I don't end up with Matt."
In the end, no one was sent home because Serena self-eliminated herself.
Hours before Monday's episode aired, Matt broke his silence in light of The Bachelor franchise's backlash.
"The past few weeks have been some of the most challenging of my life, and while there are several episodes left of the season, it is important that I take the time to address the troubling information that has come to light since we wrapped filming, including the incredibly disappointing photos of Rachael Kirkconnell and the interview between Rachel Lindsay and Chris Harrison," he wrote on Feb. 22.
"Chris' failure to receive and understand the emotional labor that my friend Rachel Lindsay was taking on by graciously and patiently explaining the racist history of the Antebellum South, a painful history that every American should understand intimately, was troubling and painful to watch," Matt continued. "As Black people and allies immediately knew and understood, it was a clear reflection of a much larger issue that The Bachelor franchise has fallen short on addressing adequately for years."
Matt's statement comes a little over a week after the host announced he was temporarily "stepping aside" from the show. Following his comments on the controversy surrounding Rachael's past, Chris came under fire.
Additionally, Rachael apologized for her past actions, writing, "At one point, I didn't recognize how offensive and racist my actions were, but that doesn't excuse them. My age or when it happened does not excuse anything. They are not acceptable or okay in any sense. I was ignorant, but my ignorance was racist."
Bachelor Nation stars have banded together to call for change within the franchise. "We are deeply disappointed and want to make it clear that we denounce any defense of racism," several former and current contestants shared on social media earlier this month. "Any defense of racist behavior denies the lived and continued experiences of BIPOC individuals. These experiences are not to be exploited or tokenized."
You can read their statements here.