We’re back! I missed last week, alas, and we’re down to only 13 hopeful bachelors…”the 13 people who Des thinks she could spend her life with.” When did this show turn into a reverse Sister Wives?

As we open the show, the Boys learn that they’re being whisked off to Atlantic City to begin the traveling dates. (AC? Is this the best we can do, ABC? What happened to the years of Belize/Bali/Thailand?) Also, this was obviously filmed in winter, because poor Des is walking the boardwalk in a pea coat.

The Bach Pack arrives at a glamorous looking hotel (the Revel, as Michael G. graciously plugs) that has the look of an MTV Real World set. Without further ado, Brad gets the first one-on-one invitation, “Let our love shine through…”. I wish they would try a little harder with the “mystery” date clues. Shirtless Zak reminds viewers that dating a dad is serious, and Desiree “seems responsible,” so probably wouldn’t keep Brad around if she wasn’t serious. Mikey T., however, thinks Brad is wrong for Des. (This coming from a grown man who still goes by Mikey.)

Brad and Des are out having fun on the boardwalk (which is practically deserted)—did they close off the midway, or is it just that no one wants to go to the beach in the middle of winter? (They’re ignoring the Hurricane Sandy devastation thus far, but I fear it’s coming.)

Next they’re off to a chocolate factory where they sample candy, play on the not-moving conveyor belts, and generally demonstrate to the viewers that Brad. Can. Have. Fun. (Apparently last week I missed his confession about having a kid, and now he’s been liberated because he has no secrets from Des. But they miss the opportunity for an I Love Lucy homage.) Meanwhile, the other guys are all watching them from the hotel window, which seems weird and lame. And also cheap, in that I think all the dates should take place OUT OF EYESHOT of the rest of the crew.

After all the enforced F-U-N, it’s time for dinner, and as Des puts it: “Dinner was good. Dinner conversation? A little rocky.” Basically, Brad is terrible at small talk, and they sit in painful silence. Despite this, Des maintains that she’s liking Brad more and more. I begin to question her criteria.

Back at the Product-Placed Fancy Hotel, it’s time to hear about the group date! Going on this date will be: Brooks, Bryden, Zak K., Hashtag Kasey, Drew, Juan Pablo, Shirtless Zak, Mikey, Ben, Michael and Chris. (James, the odd man out, will get the other solo date. Who’s James?)

Now we return to Painful Dinner Date, where silence still reigns, leaving Des “conflicted.” Basically, she loves him on paper because he’s handsome, stable, and a family man…but she’s bored senseless. They bail on dinner and climb the lighthouse (in which they’re dining), which is enough to get them both winded. Des wastes no time in telling Brad it ain’t happening. He takes it graciously, but I bet is annoyed that she made him shlep all the way up the steps before cutting him. Des tells us that she’s “looking for a love to light the darkness,” and Brad wasn’t it. Sorry, bro. She does give him a lovely recommendation as he leaves, so ladies, look sharp!

The next day, Des meets the group daters at Boardwalk Hall (seriously, have they traveled more than two blocks away from the hotel yet?) to reveal “something fun” for them all. When they arrive, they meet Chris and a blond lady in a sparkly tiara—it’s Miss America! Turns out Boardwalk Hall was the original location of the Miss America pageant…the bachelors are all grinning awkwardly, probably because they suspect this date is not going to be as much about boobs as they might hope. Sure enough, the only boobs onstage will be our gentlemen.

They have to survive an interview and talent portion as well as (of course) the swimsuit competition, and to help them they have an official pageant coach, Christopher Dean. Their first step is to select a talent prop from a table—there are roller skates, high heels, a guitar, dancing ribbon on a stick…basically, calibrated to be a trainwreck. Hashtag Kasey is tap dancing, betting on the fact that Des wants to see “who can look goofy”—if that’s the case, he’s already got a head start. Sorry, a hashtag headstart.

Meanwhile, Miss America is helping the guys with the interview portion of the show. This seems perfectly timely after the most recent pageant flameout making the internet rounds—have you all seen Miss Utah? The guys fare no better when faced with questions like, “What is the biggest problem in America today?” “What three things would you like to pass down to your children?” Amazingly, the producers refrain from adding in cricket noises.

Swimsuit time! They’ve been preassigned, and while some guys get floral boxer-style suits, some get Speedos. Of course, Mikey T. is disappointed that his assigned suit “is larger than the one I brought.” Oy. Just as they’re all making their peace with this whole thing, Chris Harrison comes back in to tell them that of course, the whole thing is in front of a live audience. He does not go on to say “…of freezing tourists who came to the boardwalk in winter.”

After commercial, it’s showtime! Men are dressing, men are roller skating, men are oiling each other up. So, pretty much just like Miss America. I think this whole thing might just be Chris Harrison’s audition tape—oops, I stand corrected, he ALREADY hosts this pageant. Wow, synergy!

We start with the interview portion, and Hashtag Kasey’s our first victim. Miss America asks if he’s a giver or a taker in a relationship, and he says, naturally, that he’s a giver. (He actually acquits himself decently, and he does not utter the word “hashtag” once! Good job, Kasey—I’m removing your sobriquet as long as you stay on the straight and narrow.) Unsurprisingly, all the rest of the questions are relationship-related…no one cares what the bachelors feel about the economy. All the guys actually do quite well. Mikey gets snickers from the rest when he gives a “guys are more than meat, we like walks on the beach” answer, but I think Des is tickled.

And now: the “talent” portion. Kasey opens up with his tap dancing, and stomps cheerfully about in comic fashion. Mikey is stripping, and then does some upside-down push ups. Brooks sings a song with a ukulele, but he worked a joke in there. And then he smashes the uke, Jimi Hendrix-style. Chris is spinning hula hoops in high heels, Drew delivers a Shakespeare monologue, and Bryden also strips (but further down than Mikey!). Zak W. blows the curve by playing guitar and singing, which he can actually do! No fair, bro.

Swimsuits are as you’d expect, and the crowd good-naturedly cheers throughout. Who’s going to win? The judges are “tallying the scores,” and our 2nd runner up is…Brooks! The first runner up is…Shirtless Zak! And the winner is…Kasey, formerly known as Hashtag Kasey!

After all that friendly togetherness, I’m reassured to see the bumper to commercial include the classic “I’m not here to make friends” line. Whew! It’s still reality TV.

At the afterparty, Des toasts them all and is quickly whisked off to the pool by Chris (who danced in high heels, you’ll recall). He wants to show Des his more serious side, so he slips into the water with her and tells her he writes poetry. We’re spared a long recitation, perhaps because the sound quality in this indoor pool is atrocious. Kind of kills the intimate vibe. Let’s go listen to the guys snipe at each other instead!

It’s time to hate Ben some more, and we start with Bryden. He doesn’t like him. Ben walks Des over to the pool for a chat…while all the other bachelors stare at them from 10 feet away. I feel like I’m watching Mutual of Omaha, and the lions are about to pounce on a pair of gazelles.

Somehow the guys are upset that Ben dared to talk to Des in front of them? I’m a bit confused about that part. They’d rather he take her somewhere else? But then they’d complain about him taking her away, no? These men are loco.

Back at the ranch, James is hanging out in a robe, nibbling on snacks, maybe having a pedicure? His card is “Can our love weather the storm?” Oh, yuck. This is the “Bachelorette Cares About Sandy” portion.

But first, it’s back to group date. Zak W. busts out the guitar again to finish the song he started in the pageant, and he sounds pretty good, actually. Not quit-your-day-job good, but sing-your-kids-to-sleep good, sure. He thinks it’s enough to cement the group date rose for himself…but does Des agree? She awards the rose to someone who “constantly makes her feel special”—and indeed, it’s Zak W.! Chris looks at her mournfully. Ben looks at her like he’s Dexter.

And here it is…James and Des’s date is a helicopter ride courtesy of the American Red Cross to survey the Hurricane Sandy damage. I hope they got a HUGE frickin’ donation for this. It is brutal to see how much damage still remains almost nine months later. They pass the roller coaster that’s still sitting in the ocean at the time of filming—you’ve probably seen the pictures. (Donate here or here or here for Hurricane Sandy relief, y’all.)

Then the helicopter lands and they walk through Seaside Heights, where they speak to an older couple who lived through the hurricane. Their house appears to be standing, but the water basically flooded the whole downstairs. It’s all ripped out now, down to the beams. The wife of the couple is clearly affected anew, looking at the interior. They spent their 38th anniversary in a Red Cross shelter.

Des and James step outside where Des “spontaneously” suggests to James that they give the rest of their date to the couple. I feel churlish for eye-rolling, but the theatre of “I have an idea!” is beyond the acting capabilities of anyone onscreen right now. They pack the Jersey couple off to a romantic evening in Atlantic City in the Bachelorette limo, and Des & James head off to eat fast food. (Are they walking back?)

After the break, we cut to Manny and Jan stepping out of the limo and heading to their private dinner in some mystery grotto, and then to Des and James eating at a pizza joint. Des starts talking about how she doesn’t need material things to be happy (but it helps, amirite, ladies?) and James plants a smooch on her that is awkward but jovial. Then it’s his turn to talk about something he did that hurt people…turns out he cheated on his girlfriend of five years—when he was a freshman in college. OK, I can’t stand cheating, but when you’ve been in a relationship for five years and you’re only 18? You probably got serious too young. Back to Manny and Jan, who are presented with a scrapbook–it’s their wedding album! It comes from the Red Cross, which retrieved their wedding album and restored it as best they could. It’s very lovely…but how did the Red Cross know to send the album to the House of Blues? It’s a mystery.

OK, at the risk of revealing that I’m a horrible person, I’m tired of Manny and Jan. Can we get to roses and recriminations now? Nope, first Des and James come and meet up with Manny and Jan before leading them to their private concert with…Darius Rucker. What, Des and James couldn’t stick around and make that feel a little less weird? Wonder if Rucker’s all, “Wow, that Bachelorette’s a little older than usual…” Back at the dinner table, Des gives James his hard-earned rose, and then they come out to hear the music too. Ah, generational love! Brought to you by ABC.

Finally we’re back to the house! Bryden tells us that he’s been having “issues,” and isn’t sure that he’ll accept a rose if it’s offered. (We learned from Courtney on Ben’s season that this is the surest way to coax a skittish Bachelor/ette.) But first, Michael wants to “present a gesture” to Desiree. What he means by that is that that he’s going to spell her name on pieces of paper while listing her good qualities. He does cleverly add the “G” of his last name at the end and say, “Wouldn’t it be Great if we wound up together?” (Or is it G for “Guess she’s taking his name”?)

A brief sulky-Bryden interstitial, and then we’re back to Des, now with Chris. (I think it’s Chris.) They talk about family, and how Des loves her family but is independent and has a lot of guy friends. Chris takes a bad conversational turn and almost friendzones himself, but Des lets him off the hook with a kiss. Still, I don’t see much more Chris in our future. He’ll probably make it through tonight, but I suspect he’ll go out around top 6 or 7, max.

We end with another glimpse of Bryden, who finally tells Des he’s having doubts about the process. Des encourages him to stay, which of course makes him feel a bit better. However, he’s not laying his cards on the table just yet.

Finally, it’s the rose ceremony! This seems like the longest episode in history. As you’ll recall, Zak W. and James have roses already. The rest look at the dwindling plate of roses (8 or 9) and start sweating. In order, our selected bachelors are Chris, Brooks, Juan Pablo, Drew, Michael, Ben, Kasey (still sans hashtag), and Bryden, with one rose still on the plate. Bryden pauses before stepping down to get his rose, but he does indeed accept.

The final rose is left to go to either Mikey T. or a guy I genuinely can’t identify, who looks like he’s going to puke. Fortunately, I won’t have to identify him, because she gives the rose to Mikey. Oh! It’s Shirtless Zak! I am shocked. (Also didn’t recognize him without all the hair gel.) SZ is also shocked, and not ready to go home. And it’s a double blow, since this is Zack K., the “book publisher” from Newport Beach. (Why didn’t anyone tell me there was publishing in Newport Beach? Why am I still living through NYC winters?) Guess he lost his powers when he put his shirt on.

Des doesn’t offer to escort Zak out, so he puts himself in the limo of despair. She stays back in the suite to tell the surviving bachelors of their next exciting destination…Munich! (What is going on with the beach-avoidance here? The entire economy of this show is abs…why on earth are we going to cold places?) The montage of previews involve sledding, kissing, ice hotels, kissing, snowy roses, angry dudes in parkas, and more talk about Ben.

So were you excited? Did the right guys stay? And who should have won Mr. America?