Meeting and impressing prospective in-laws is a fairly nerve-wracking experience even under ideal circumstances. So it's difficult to imagine having to do it after seven dates, while you're also seeing three other guys whose families you have to meet that same week. But that's exactly what Desiree Hartsock did on the Monday, July 15, episode of The Bachelorette -- and with remarkable pep and confidence, no less. Let's review!
The episode opens in Dallas, Texas, where Zak and his close-knit clan await Des' arrival. "I hope they don't scare her. If people think I'm crazy, just wait until you see my crazy family," Zak says with a glint in his eye. Fittingly, he greets Des with a hug, a kiss, and a story about some strange dream he had involving them melting in the sand, catching ice crystals, and then being suddenly surrounded by hundreds of kids. Des is understandably confused, but things start to make a little more sense -- only a little, though -- when he disappears briefly and returns with his family's snow-cone truck.
It turns out that Zak's "dream" wasn't a dream at all but his funny way of introducing their date for the day: working the snow-cone truck at Treetops Elementary School. Des is a pro -- she looks like she's been selling sno-cones her whole life -- and Zak practically falls in love with her on the spot. "Watching Des with all these kids, you can see how great she is with children," he says, seconds before emerging in a giant penguin suit.
Later, after the sugar-rush rush has dissipated, Zak changes back into his normal clothes and takes Des to meet his mom, dad, brother, and sister. All four of them squeal excitedly upon seeing Des and welcome her with "open arms and open hearts." They're incredibly warm and bubbly, just like Des, and she bonds with them immediately. "Walking in with Zak was the greatest feeling I could have ever felt, because his family just got up off their seats," she gushes. "Their energy was amazing."
The admiration, it seems, is mutual. "Desiree is amazing," Zak's mom says in a confessional. "When those two walked in, I went, 'Are you kidding me? They are amazing together.' I've never said that before. There's something really special there. I hope it's real."
She's not the only one. Zak's sister Carly likes Des but worries her brother is going to end up hurt. "I'm a little scared," she admits after chatting with the Bachelorette. Meanwhile, Zak is off having a heart-to-heart with his mom about how he'd given up on love until he met Des. "I know," she replies. "I was worried about you." (Uh oh. Anyone else feeling like this might come back to haunt him in the very near future?)
In the end, Des wins over the entire family, and they thank her with a special performance of the song Zak wrote for the Mr. America pageant in Atlantic City. "You light the fire inside his eyes / You've given hope that love survives," Carly sings. "Oh, Desiree, now we can see / Your place among our family."
"It was such a special moment to hear Zak's sister and brother sing a song Zak wrote for me. It's a moment I'll never forget," Des says, tears in her eyes. "Those words, like, hit my heart."
She better brace for more, because Zak's not done yet. Before Des leaves, he pulls her aside to give her something he bought in Atlantic City, when he first realized he was falling for her. It's a ring -- and not the kind you can get for a quarter in those little kiddie vending machines at arcades. Des is clearly touched, but it's difficult to gauge what else she's feeling in the moment. Zak, on the other hand, is an open book.
"I mean, let's say that five years down the road, Des and I are together," he says in a voiceover. "I'll look back on today as a perfect day -- the first day I told her I love her, the first day I gave her this ring that she's still wearing on her hand, the first day that she fell in love with my family and my family fell in love with her...It's gonna be the most beautiful day of our lives."
On to the next guy! Des' second hometown date is with Drew in Scottsdale, Ariz. There, after chatting briefly about what she should expect when she meets his family that afternoon, the two head out to pick up Drew's sister Melissa, whom he describes as "severely mentally handicapped." He's a little nervous about how it's all going to go down, but it turns out to be fine. More than fine, in fact.
Melissa is thrilled to see her brother. Led out into the yard by a caretaker, she grabs Drew's hand and squeezes it repeatedly, smiling and rocking with joy. Drew is equally excited to see her, and he beams and squeezes her hand back. It's one of the most genuinely sweet moments all season.
From there, Drew, Des, and Melissa head to Drew's mom's house to meet the rest of the family, who give Drew their blessing on his relationship with Des. "Can you see yourself getting down on one knee for this girl?" his mom asks. When he says that he can, she replies, "I can, too." Later, Drew's dad offers his approval as well. "If you want to marry this girl," he says, "I'll throw a party."
You might want to hold off on those invitations, sir. Chris' hometown date is up next, and it's a fun one. Chris greets Des with a little bouquet of handpicked wildflowers and then takes her to a baseball diamond, where there are matching baseball tees and a bucket of balls waiting for them. They spend the afternoon playing catch and taking batting practice, during which Des delights Chris with her athletic abilities. "She didn't tell me she can hit!" he says. "This is perfect."
But will Chris' family feel the same? His mom and sister are a tough crowd, and they're not shy about telling him -- or Des -- that they weren't fans of his last serious girlfriend. "I know, you liked her but felt something wasn't right," he says, to which his sister replies flatly, "No."
During dinner that night, Chris' dad, a chiropractor, offers to give Des an adjustment, which she accepts somewhat reluctantly. "Lying down face first with my butt in the air, with Chris' dad, who I just met, massaging my back -- it's not weird at all," Des quips. "Not weird at all."
Eventually, the two get to talking -- but it's not Chris' dad she needs to worry about. Chris' mom is skeptical of the romance, and she tells Des that. "For Chris to be staying in this situation with you, he must really be so completely smitten by you," his mom says. "But the thing is, the last one really hurt him bad, and I don't want to see that happen again."
Des spouts off a bunch of stuff about how much she cares for Chris, and how he has all the qualities that she wants in a husband and a father for her kids, but mom still seems unconvinced. Later, though, she tells Chris she'll support the relationship if it's what he wants. "I like her a lot," she says, a little tearfully. "You have our blessing."
That just leaves Brooks, the man Des said she loved last week -- and the only one who hasn't said he loves her back. "When I'm with Desiree, everything is so amazing," he explains. "But then the time apart is difficult, and I kind of forget...I don't know entirely how I feel about Desiree. I'm still trying to figure that out."
Des senses that Brooks is "holding back" a little, so she gives him something to try to open him up -- a list of all the special moments they've had together, from their first date at the Hollywood sign to their last date amid the clouds in Madeira. It seems to do the trick, as Brooks relaxes a little and says he feels more confident about taking Des to meet his family. Before they do that, though, he takes her out on a canoe in the middle of a lake, which calls to mind every Nicholas Sparks movie ever made. True love!
Later, Des meets Brooks' huge family, who grill him on the romance. Des, in turn, asks Brooks' mom if she thinks he's ready to make a commitment. She's a little surprised by the question, but she says he'd settle down if he met the right girl.
So is Des the right girl? "I feel closer to that than I ever have," he tells his mom when she mentions her conversation with Des. "It's been very surreal to kind of realize the walls that I've put up around my heart."
Des hopes to bring those walls down, but first, she needs to sit down with her brother, who blew it for her on Sean Lowe's season of The Bachelor when he mocked and insulted Sean during Des' hometown date. "I haven't seen my brother since last season when Sean came to my hometown to meet my family," Des says, somewhat nervously. "He pretty much ruined it for me."
Des and her brother discuss his behavior, and he says he'll try to support her. But he has reservations. "My sister might get her heart broken again," he says. "This could turn out bad for her, just like last time."
The difference is that Des is in control now -- and she knows what she wants. During her chat with Chris Harrison, she admits that Brooks still hasn't said he loves her. But she's not giving up on him. "I'm hopeful there will be a proposal at the end," she says. "With Brooks."
It seems kind of unnecessary to carry on with the rose ceremony after that, but Des does it anyway. Brooks obviously gets a rose, as do Chris and Drew -- meaning Zak is going home. Heartbroken, he bids Des goodbye and heads to the airport, stopping on the side of the road to throw the ring he gave Des out the window.
"I've been alone for so many years," he says. "I just want to share my life with somebody."