Since the show debuted in 2014, the premise of Bachelor in Paradise has been simple: resurrect Bachelor universe favorites and villains of seasons past, take them to Mexico, drench them in tequila, and turn the cameras on. Sure, Chris Harrison is obligated to pop in every once in awhile and say words like “marriage,” “forever love,” and “cushion-cut Neil Lane 3-carat diamond ring,” but let’s not kid ourselves: This show, like most reality TV, is and always has been about watching beautiful people drunkenly hook up. Its production value and structure are more tasteful than, say, Jersey Shore, but only by the grace of its stars and a more stringent structure. And I say this as someone who is an avid fan of the show.
But the thing about bringing people together in a romantic temple of floaty toys and booze is that it amplifies the possibility of nonconsensual interactions. You need look no further than your local college campus to know that environments like that encourage a disregard for others’ boundaries and create a breeding ground for interpersonal violations like sexual assault and rape. And even if the Bachelor universe’s hardworking set, makeup, and production crews would like you to believe that its franchise exists on some magical plane where meals go uneaten and people behave according to the law, it doesn’t. The same uncomfortable issues that plague drunk men and women of the real world also plague drunk men and women of the Bachelor’s less sober cousin.
That much was evident in June, when filming for this season of Paradise was abruptly suspended to investigate “allegations of misconduct,” as the show’s studio, Warner Bros., put it. The incident involved Corinne Olympios—a contestant from Nick Viall’s season who is famous for her love of naps, cheese pasta, and champagne—and DeMario Jackson, a contestant from Rachel Lindsay’s season who was booted after the reveal of a girlfriend on the side. According to subsequent TMZ reports, Corinne and DeMario were filmed engaging in a handful of sexual acts that she said she was too drunk to consent to. Because so many sources had conflicting accounts, it’s hard to understand what exactly happened. The most detailed account, from sources who spoke with DeMario, says that Corinne suggested the two go to the pool, where they subsequently got naked and engaged in touching, rubbing, and oral sex. Corinne hired an attorney and issued a statement that said she had “little memory of that night” and “as a woman, this is my worst nightmare and it has now become my reality.” DeMario, also amid legal counsel, offered no public account, but said “my character and family name has been assassinated this past week with false claims and malicious allegations.” Meanwhile, The Bachelor’s parent company, Warner Bros., hired a law firm to investigate the incident. The investigation lasted 10 days, and concluded that footage from that encounter didn’t support any charges of misconduct, and that no cast member’s safety was ever in jeopardy. The show resumed filming quickly enough that it felt eerily glib, considering the seriousness with which the incident was first reported.
A few weeks later, the Bachelor crew began taking full advantage of the public interest in the incident. In the final episode of The Bachelorette, Harrison teased “a first look at the actual moment the show was shut down” with a big smile on his face—a clear exploitation of a traumatic incident. The trailer itself shamelessly depicted both the events leading up to the disturbing shutdown of the show and its unceremonious relaunch within the span of a couple of minutes. “That was just a small, small taste of what you’re going to see,” Harrison said as it concluded. “It’s going to be a wild, wild summer.”
Which brings us to Tuesday night’s episode, the second half of Bachelor in Paradise’s two-part premiere. After officiating the wedding of Paradise alums Carly Waddell and Evan Bass, Harrison gathered this season’s remaining cast members (minus Corinne and DeMario) to have, as he put it, “a serious talk about what happened, what didn’t happen, and what we all need to do to start this show together.” He said the charges of misconduct were cleared by that aforementioned firm, and immediately began a group conversation exploring the incident, alternating between the tone of a lawyer leadingly questioning his own client on the stand, and someone who’d also gone through intense hardship—all the while dancing around what had actually happened.
“It was brutal, it was really rough, in the 16 years that I’ve been doing this, easily the most emotional time we’ve been through as a show,” he said, as others chimed in to agree. Then, after a few cast members alluded to the unreliability of the media, he proceeded to steer the (edited for television, mind you) conversation through basically every point of criticism that could be damaging to the Bachelor brand. “You guys aren’t mindless robots?” he jokingly asked, in reference to the multiple reports that say Bachelor producers attempt to influence the behavior of cast members on the show, either by matchmaking or alcohol. (Cast: “No.”) “Do you think that race played a part in this?” (Cast: [vague nodding]). “In Corinne’s statement, she referred to herself as a victim, why do you think she did that?” (Cast: “Maybe she wanted to save face, is kind of what I took from it,” and other similar unfounded theories trivializing Corinne’s experience.) Other topics included: the perils of slut-shaming, the definition of consent, and the purpose of Paradise: “falling in love.”
Even if investigations by Warner Bros.’ firm and Corinne's lawyers resulted in no criminal charges, the format of this segment was troubling. Asking cast members what they thought about an incident they were not a part of with the forgone conclusion that nothing bad happened is a sneaky way to discount a victim’s experience. Harrison is not a lawyer or a journalist, but a man who owes his insanely good salary to the public reputation of this franchise. The company that paid the law firm to investigate the matter has a huge financial stake in the show’s success. The cast members, too, have a selfish interest in getting an all-expenses-paid vacation to Mexico and fueling their own lucrative social media brands. One of them, Taylor, had a well-documented rivalry with Corinne the last time the two of them were on TV. It’s no surprise, then, that she piped up to say an insulting thing like: “We’re all adults here, we’re not here to be babysat by production.”
The only thing that matters here is Corinne’s experience—a topic that was neither explicitly described nor depicted in the footage the show was sitting on. (“That was never going to see the light of day," Harrison told The Hollywood Reporter in an interview last week.) Throughout this sit-down, the cast made allusions to the events that took place that day, and how they helped offer context to the incident in question, but they never explicitly described what happened between Corinne and DeMario. It’s good that the show went out of its way to say slut-shaming is bad and consent is important, but if Bachelor in Paradise wanted to absolve itself of wrongdoing, it needed to give us proof that nothing happened in the first place. Instead, all we got was a performative, Harrison-led conversation that left more questions than answers, and was promptly followed by a group round of shots.
In its decision to resume filming and ultimately air this season, Bachelor in Paradise inherited the enormous responsibility of confronting the delicate topic of alcohol-fueled sexual assault. But all the show did was cloud the narrative even further. If there’s one sure thing you can take away from Tuesday night’s episode, it’s that the Bachelor franchise was never really interested in exemplifying the emotional maturity required to handle heavy, real-life relationship issues like this in the first place.