TV & Movies

Anne T. Donahue on Disaster in Paradise

After sexual assault allegations shut down the Bachelor in Paradise set, the future of this season—and the entire show—is at stake. One thing is certain: all parties involved need to acknowledge that “paradise” isn’t code for “take what you want”

Trouble in Paradise: Bachelor in Paradise season 4 is likely not happening

(Photo: iStock)

This week, Bachelor In Paradise shut down season 4 filming when two contestants engaged in what a third party described as “misconduct.” Specifically, contestant DeMario Jackson allegedly had oral sex with Corinne Olympios, despite her being too drunk to consent—and also, quite possibly, completely unconscious.

Currently, Jackson is asking for producers to release the tapes which he says will acquit him, and host Chris Harrison has stated that Warner Bros. is proceeding with an investigation. Sources have claimed that as a result of the situation, the season is over; indeed, the entire future of Bachelor in Paradise seems up in the air.

In short: this is an absolute disaster. Especially since it will inevitably lead to more than a few armchair experts debating the meaning of consent. So to start, we’ll make it easy: if you’re too drunk to stay conscious or to willingly participate in sexual activity, you cannot consent to it. And if witnesses were correct in their description of what happened, there was absolutely no way that Corinne had consented to any type of sex with DeMario—especially since Corinne herself says she doesn’t remember anything (which in itself is a testament to how unable to consent she was).

So that’s the first issue. The second? Why did this proceed as far as it did in the first place? Why was it taped and witnessed without anybody intervening? At what point would this “misconduct” have stopped being “good summer TV” and been anointed with its rightful description: sexual assault? And what responsibility do producers and fellow contestants and viewers have to draw concrete lines?

In the wake of the incident, the premise of Bachelor in Paradise is—rightfully—being questioned. Where The Bachelor and The Bachelorette abide by a more serious formula (read: marriage-as-end-game), the format of BIP is basically, “get drunk and go for it” (though at least two legit unions have risen from the series). Which, provided everybody involved understands how consensual sex works, is fine. Contestants are adults, and if they’re into the sexual or romantic narratives that producers are hoping to push, good luck and godspeed. But at what point does a dumb and fun TV-centric escape morph into a recipe for disaster? Easy: When dangerous behaviour is promoted (even scripted?) and viewed through an entertainment lens, everybody involved is responsible for the inevitable implosion.

To start, maybe we were wrong to assume that disaster wasn’t always imminent in Paradise. Maybe it was our mistake to think that a TV show would take the proper precautions to ensure that if a contestant was too drunk to consent to sex, that someone—like those producing the show, or documenting it—would intervene as an assault was happening. (Maybe it’s also our mistake to assume that this was the first time something like this went down during filming.) Maybe it was our mistake to assume that the notion of consent was understood by a network and its flagship franchise; that lawyers and producers and suits would be eager to make sure proper precautions were being taken to ensure that should sex happen, everyone involved would be enthusiastic about participating. Maybe our mistake lies in the naivety that rape culture wouldn’t permeate reality television, since so many persons are involved in making it. Maybe our mistake was letting our guard down instead of asking for proof that all contestants were safe.

Because as viewers—passionate viewers at that—we’ve learned through this incident that no one has been making sure. It took a third party getting up, leaving, and reporting said assault for production to cease and an investigation to commence—raising the question that had someone not said something, would the footage have been banked, since production apparently wasn’t halted for another 24 hours? Not to mention the question of  how the franchise has, up until now, treated the question of consent when it comes to drunk women and drunk women being encouraged to act out for the sake of shock and awe and a Neil Lane cushion-cut. 

Which means that in the wake of this situation, Bachelor In Paradise needs to change. It needs to ensure that contestants understand what consent means, what rape and sexual assault look like, and what pop culture contributes to these crises which permeate almost every avenue of being a woman. It needs to acknowledge that “paradise” isn’t code for “take what you want” and that being drunk isn’t permission to violate somebody’s body. And then it needs to convey to us that it knows these things, and that the cast and contestants know these things, and that there will be no tolerance for grey areas or ignorance.

Because it’s nice to think that we can escape to Paradise—that there is a world in which the garbage fire of our regular world isn’t burning so brightly. But that’s not reality, nor is it reality television. Paradise, now more than ever, remains a myth.

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