“A Free-for-All for Producer Puppet Strings:” Sharleen Joynt on Bachelor in Paradise!

Sharleen Joynt—FLARE columnist and former Bachelor contestant—shares her insider POV on the Bachelor in Paradise premiere

Is it just me or did last night’s Bachelor in Paradise premiere look like an after-school special compared to last year’s? Predictably, there was less of a focus on alcohol and drunken antics, but even the people themselves… they seem so much more wholesome. When one guy’s supposed selling point over another guy is the fact that he’s not a virgin… well, let’s just say it’s a very different vibe from last year. I can’t say this is unwelcome. Season 4 left me feeling so icky, it’s not possible for me to be more on board with wholesome.

Last night’s premiere hit all the right notes; the show was always quick to reference itself, make fun of itself, and encourage and highlight contestants making fun of themselves. (After all, on The Bachelor/Bachelorette, it’s very possible they do, but that footage tends to end up on the editing-room floor.) But best of all, everything about last night’s premiere felt like a product of the franchise’s fandom, and therein lies the magic. It feels like the audience is the casting department for Paradise, and subsequently the viewing experience feels more interactive. When Wills referenced himself on Becca’s season as always looking, um, a bit stoned, it was a direct response to the audience having made fun of him for it for weeks. It got even more literal: Joe arrived and explained his presence with, “Twitter blew up,” bringing new meaning to the term “fan favourite.” Not only can a guy win over fans over the course of a few weeks despite being a “Group Date guy” and receiving minimal airtime (Juan Pablo), he can now show up on Night One, do little more than flash a winning smile, land a hot-seat spot of his season’s Men Tell All, and potentially become the next Paradise Casanova. There’s real power in what the fans respond to and want.

That’s not to say it’s all piña coladas (no more than two per hour!) and fun in the sun for our cast. They’re not just a cast of beautiful people, they’re a cast of lab rats. (Beautiful lab rats!) Never has this felt more true than with Tia and her saga last night. Tia saying, “Getting the Date Card would be the worst possible scenario,” naturally can only be followed with her receiving that very Date Card. And how terribly inconvenient that Colton should arrive late! What an unfortunate coincidence! Let’s be real: we’ve all heard whisperings before that Paradise contestants are kept captive in their respective hotel rooms until they’re set free to teeter down those (terrifying) steps towards the beach. The odds that Colton was not already onsite, not already in likely the very same hotel room Tia was in, are slim to none. By setting Colton loose only one day late and forcing Tia to make out contemplate a romance with someone else, it put in motion a whole series of events that provided cliffhanger-worthy drama. I’m not saying I have a problem with any of this, by the way. Paradise has long been a known lab-rat zone, a free-for-all for producer puppet strings. Those Instagram followers ain’t free!

I have a couple of early stand-outs. Astrid is someone I always wanted to see more of on Nick’s season (Nick himself only told me great things about her); she’s smart, dry and observant. I like that she’s above the drama but not above watching it unfold with a bag of popcorn. Jordan continues to be downright hilarious. I legitimately laughed out loud when he bet a whole 50 cents that Colton wouldn’t ask Tia on his date, or when he compared Chris to Colton in terms of their hair products. Another favourite is Chelsea, who, like Astrid, casually drops #truth bombs all over the place. Her response to (a drunken?) Nick’s advances was another laugh-out-loud moment for me. Joe has not let me down in his generally awkward, what-am-I-doing-here demeanor and his constant Direct-Looks-Into-Camera. Finally, Venmo John’s intro clip, counting a wad of cash in what felt like a wink at all the articles written about his net worth, had me stitches.

Year after year I point out what Paradise has the potential to really be about. No, I’m not talking about love. I’m talking about redemption! There are several people who seem eager to go from misunderstood to making serious bank on social media, and it’s become so synonymous with this show that not only do we expect it, Chris Harrison even referenced it! This is a bigger deal than it seems. For four years straight, we’ve been force-fed the premise that Paradise is about love and only love. Love, love, and more love! Bachelor Pad (RIP) was great, but it wasn’t enough about LOVE. All that drama? But a necessary evil on the road to LOVE. Never mind that the “success” rate of couples is atrocious. TWO WHOLE COUPLES have gotten married from this show and you better believe we will be shown footage of them over and over again! Let’s see their babies too, while we’re at it! Paradise is the Holy Land of LOVE. It’s not the Holy Land of behaving better, getting the airtime you didn’t get on your season, trusting the very producers who had a hand in your bad edit to give you a better one, mending the reputation that lost you your job, and overall changing the public’s perception of you!

For Chris Harrison, the show’s own host, to say “This is the home for second chances. A second chance at love, also maybe a second chance for redemption, if that’s what you’re here for”—cue shots of Chris and Krystal, of course—it’s referencing the real-life benefits to be had from appearing on this (or any) TV show. They go beyond the show’s premise, beyond what the show would normally never address in the interest of preserving their “LOVE ONLY” veneer. After all, that redemption Chris and Krystal would be seeking wouldn’t be for the handful of other former Bachelor/ette contestants, most of whom they’ve never met. (It’s not like Krystal cares about redemption with Bibiana or Tia, after all.) It’s for us. The audience, the millions of viewers, the potential Instagram followers. This shows perhaps the biggest difference of all between Paradise and the behemoth franchise it has spun from: It’s a world where #wrongreasons don’t exist.

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