Bachelor in Paradise has never claimed to be a shining example of television excellence. In fact, the show seemed to pride itself on being Bachelor Nation’s free pass to get wet, wild and even a tad bit wry with their satirical intros and over-the-top dramz that somehow kept us hooked for literally hours on end. For audiences and Bachelor Nation’s Z-list celebs, it was a chance to let off some steam. But this year, the season four premiere of BiP went way too far.
ICYMI, and I don’t know how you would since it’s become BiP‘s biggest promo point, this season of debauchery on the beach almost didn’t happen—and after seeing the premiere, I almost wish it hadn’t. Viewers went in knowing that within the first two days of filming, an incident took place between Corinne Olympios and DeMario Jackson that prompted a producer to file a misconduct complaint. Amy Kaufman, the Los Angeles Times writer who first broke the story on Twitter, alleged that Olympios and Jackson got “raunchy” in a hot tub—but Olympios was too intoxicated to give consent. Warner Bros. investigated the incident and after concluding that the footage did not support the sexual misconduct claims nor that “the safety of any cast member was ever in jeopardy,” the show resumed filming sans Olympios and Jackson.
Like Dean Unglert’s dysfunctional family reunion on Rachel Lindsay’s season, this controversy was crassly used as a plot point. The premiere began with a voiceover reading the headlines that followed the controversy, but the tone set by that news did not match the gravity of the subject matter. As host Chris Harrison walked along the beach during the introduction, he stated that their intention was just a summer of fun to help people find love, and that this season of BiP would be the most shocking and, yes, most dramatic season yet.
But here’s the thing, this isn’t Law and Order: SVU. Using a real-life alleged sexual misconduct as a way to draw in viewers is seriously damaging, not only to those involved but to the viewers as well.
“It’s unfortunate that ABC and The Bachelor franchise chose to use their platform to present this as a salacious storyline instead of using it as an education opportunity to discuss sexual violence,” says Farrah Khan, coordinator of sexual violence education and support at Ryerson University. “Sometimes our search for love also includes people harming us. That shouldn’t be the case, but that is the reality for a lot of women I know and work with, so why couldn’t [Bachelor in Paradise] use this as an opportunity to have that conversation?”
[Update: BiP did have a sit-down conversation with the cast about consent in its second episode, which aired on Aug 15. By the time the incident was addressed directly on-screen, three hours of BiP had aired]
Instead, BiP chose to air a premiere akin to the beginning of a horror movie, a bunch of co-eds partying on a beach with just enough ominous undertones to keep the audience on edge.
Reading about an alleged sexual misconduct incident where a woman was too intoxicated to give consent feels far too familiar these days, but watching the events leading up to it play out on screen is almost too much to stomach. It becomes particularly nauseating when you remember that the producers are actively crafting what you see and how you feel about each and every cast member. So when Jackson shows up and tells Harrison that “once people are able to see me and know me for who I am, I think they’ll be like ‘He’s a pretty good guy, like he’s here for the right reasons,'” I nearly tossed my rosé.
Everything in the first episode felt like it carried a double meaning because of the controversy. The other cast members, such as Raven Gates, called Jackson a liar—at the time referencing his walk of shame off of Rachel Lindsay’s season of The Bachelorette, after producers brought on a woman who claimed to be his girlfriend. However, with the allegations top of mind, that characterization takes on new meaning, and left me wondering what the producers were trying to say by leaving those clips in.
Similarly, when Olympios arrives in “paradise,” she tells Harrison that she’s excited to meet the men. “If you want to have this, you’ve got to work real hard,” she tells the host—once again, making my skin crawl because of what we know is about to unfold.
The show continues its innuendos and foreshadowing, showing Olympios and Jackson getting closer interspersed with narration from Harrison saying that viewers are in for “something that has never happened in paradise before.” Khan says she doesn’t buy that.
“The idea that it’s never happened before in Bachelor Nation—be it sexual harassment or assault—seems ridiculous to me, and it’s actually disingenuous of the realities that women face in dating relationships,” she says.
Knowing the producers were patching the footage together into the story they wanted to tell, I sat there wondering: Are they showing Olympios drinking because they’re trying to use that as an excuse? Jasmine Goode (Nick Viall’s season) sent Nick Benvenutti (JoJo’s season) away because he was too drunk when he was hitting on her—was that the producers throwing not-so-subtle shade at the events about to transpire?
As Khan notes, The Bachelor crew could have used this as an opportunity to educate and inform viewers about consent. There was no need to show what happened on those first two days. Instead, in the same way that they had planted Lee—someone who had publicly tweeted racist statements—on the first Black Bachelorette season ever, they opted for drama over doing the right thing.
In the many shows that make up Bachelor Nation, Khan points out that we’ve seen misogynists and had discussions about racism and slut-shaming, so why not sexual violence and consent? “If it’s a show that’s going to talk about so many things, then talk about it, don’t shy away from it,” she says.
Throughout the premiere, different cast members kept saying “remember why we’re here”—but as a viewer, I realized, I couldn’t remember why I was watching anymore.
Khan echoed these feelings. She’s watched The Bachelor since day one, and over the years, she says that “there’s so many things I’ve excused on that show,” but this was too much. After watching the premiere, her reaction? “This is wrong.”
No one except the BiP cast and crew truly know what happened on that beach, but as a viewer, I am certain of one thing: this could, and should have been handled better.