On June 10th, I would’ve described myself as a “recent but rabid” addition to Bachelor Nation. But on June 11th, news broke that production was suspended on Bachelor in Paradise because of allegations of sexual misconduct. June 20th, ABC announced that the show would go on — but after more than a week of theorizing, discussing, and reflecting on the series, everything wasn’t coming up roses for me. Bachelor in Paradise may be coming back — but I don’t think that I will.
The first season of BiP that I watched was last summer’s. After years of ignoring the franchise — and catching less than half of JoJo Fletcher’s season of The Bachelorette — I had heard enough about the craziness of the summer show and was ready to jump in. Paradise was everything everyone promised it would be — dramatic, messy, sexy — and I was instantly hooked. I followed it up by watching Nick Viall as The Bachelor in January, and after Rachel Lindsay was announced as the Bachelorette, I was counting down the days until her season’s premiere in May.
But only a few episodes of Rachel’s season had aired when the news about the Bachelor in Paradise scandal broke. Rumors flew back and forth about sexual misconduct between Corinne Olympios and DeMario Jackson, allegations of assault, contestants too drunk to consent, and producers idly standing by at best and, at worst, actively choosing to continue filming despite concerns and complaints from staff and cast members. ABC and Warner Bros. set out to silence all those rumors by announcing that their internal investigation had found, per their statement, that “the [footage they’d filmed] does not support any charge of misconduct by a castmember [sic]. Nor does the tape show, contrary to many press reports, that the safety of any castmember [sic] was ever in jeopardy.”
I’m not sure if that statement is purposefully vague, but it’s hard to interpret the first sentence. The footage does not support any charge of misconduct by a cast member. Is that to say there’s no evidence for claims made by a cast member, or there’s no evidence a cast member did anything wrong? It’s kind of a murky subject, but either way it’s not a surprise that Warner Bros.’ internal investigation found that Warner Bros. had done nothing wrong. And I don’t just mean that in the “of course they exonerated themselves” sense.
This show and its parent shows have been going on for over 15 years. It’s likely that the producers and crew members they have on set are experienced, that they would not have shot the footage in the first place if they thought that they were doing something wrong. But working with an outside law firm isn’t the same as working with law enforcement, and determining that they’re not legally liable is not the same as determining that nothing happened.
As The Ringer editor Juliet Litman pointed out in her essay, “Will You Accept This Moral Quagmire?” alcohol plays a huge part in the show. When we saw Corinne on The Bachelor, more often than not she had a drink in her hand — and, more often than not, she seemed way more drunk than any of the other girls (except maybe Alexis Waters on night one, who was clearly trashed inside of that shark suit). On The Bachelor, that’s probably pretty safe. After all, each contestant can only get so much time with the Bachelor, and whatever collective hours they do have together are spread out in ten, fifteen minute increments over the course of several weeks. Beyond the Fantasy Suite, there really just aren’t that many chances to engage in sexual activity of any kind (though determined contestants will certainly try to find a way).
On Paradise, the dynamic is different. With roughly a one-to-one ratio of guys and girls, there are a lot more opportunities for things to get messy. And, with little else to do on the beach besides drink and hook up, it seems almost impossible that lines would never be accidentally crossed. Conversations about consent have become a lot more common in our society, but if they’re happening on any of the Bachelor shows, they’re not happening on screen. I find it hard to believe that contestants are consistently engaging in active consent, checking in with their partners to make sure that everyone is still on the same page, still enjoying themselves, and still interested in continuing — especially while both contestants are under the influence. And let’s not forget that, with some contestants paid a daily rate to appear on the show, there’s a financial incentive to engage in behavior you might not be comfortable with so that you can “earn” a rose… and a larger paycheck.
Worse, those aren’t the only things influencing them. It’s no secret that the entire Bachelor franchise thrives on drama — and it shouldn’t come as a surprise the Bachelor producers are responsible for making that happen. When any on-camera drama goes down, there’s a whole crew of people documenting it — a crew of aware, sober adults who are responsible for the safety of their on-camera guests. When two adults get drunk and engage in sexual activity that they are legally unable to consent to, or wouldn’t have consented to without being under the influence of alcohol, they’re not the only two people in the room. There is at least a small handful of cameramen and boom mic operators and producers just a few feet away. It’s not a leap to imagine that contestants on either side of any alleged or potential misconduct might think that, if anything starts to go too far, the producers will step in.
More often than not, crew members and producers aren’t just innocent bystanders as the season unfolds. Over the years, we’ve all learned more about the behind-the-scenes details in the Bachelor mansion: Contestants can’t actually eat on dates; they’re kept up all night filming the rose ceremonies; they’re deprived of television, phones, and even books — and that’s just what is specifically necessitated by the format and structure of the show. Former Bachelor producer, and current UnREAL co-creator, Sarah Gertrude Shapiro, has also alleged that there are crying producers (i.e. producers whose specific talents on set include getting the waterworks flowing for contestants who aren’t reacting emotionally enough on camera) and that, while working on the show, she would tell contestants about to be sent home that the Bachelor was going to choose them — just so the cameras could capture their inevitable breakdown when they lost the pseudo-boyfriend they’d already started to think of as their fiancé.
If you’ve watched an episode of UnREAL, you likely know it’s hard to go back to The Bachelor and not to see producer manipulation evident in every scene. Watching the racial tension unfold on Rachel’s season, it feels more present than ever. Not long after Lee Garrett’s inflammatory tweets started making the rounds, Lee shared that he hadn’t applied to be on the show, he’d been scouted — through social media. A producer had reached out to him on Facebook to ask if he’d be interested in applying for The Bachelorette.
Though Chris Harrison denied that the production team knew about Lee’s tweets ahead of time, it’s hard to imagine he was scouted on social media but no one checked out his larger social media presence. His username in those screenshots isn’t something completely out of the blue — it’s literally just his name, @Leegarrett_, with his display name as “Lee Garrett.” The show does rigorous background checks and psychological evaluations of their contestants to try and screen out anyone who wouldn’t be able to handle the stresses associated with being a part of this competition — but they don’t do a simple Google search of the contestants at any stage in the process?
— Erika (@emesola) May 31, 2017
Yes, as an UnREAL viewer, it’s hard to not make the comparison between Lee’s casting on The Bachelorette to the casting of a confederate-flag-bikini wearing contestant for the fictional TV show’s first black suitor. But even fictionalized drama aside, I have trouble believing that Lee, while speaking in his confessionals about how he loves to antagonize everyone, is facing a completely neutral audience. That there’s not a producer goading him on, prompting him to continue, when he says, “I don’t like Kenny at all. I’m going to find joy in smiling and crumbling his miserable world.” Every year, the “villain” and their main antagonist face-off for the Bachelor(ette)’s heart on a two-on-one date — Chad vs. Alex, Corinne vs. Taylor, Lee vs. Kenny. Is it just a coincidence that this happens every season? That each Bachelor and Bachelorette makes the same completely independent decision that the only way to get to the bottom of the conflict is to trap the three of them together and let only one contestant keep their spot? When the drama erupts, the producers seem to step back and let it play out as if they’re simple documentarians — but it’s drama they had no small hand in creating.
Let me be clear: Nobody is feeding Lee lines or forcing him to say anything not of his own accord — but the producers are the ones that invited him into this world and put him and, more damningly, Rachel into this situation. Either they’re encouraging Lee to push the envelope and feeding into the racial tension that must be harmful not only to Rachel but also the other black contestants, or they knowingly cast someone whose only role in the competition seems to be attacking the other men with very little demonstrated interest in Rachel herself.
If you think back just one year, you’ll see that same producer manipulation evident in everything that happened with Chad Johnson. On JoJo’s season, Chad butted heads with plenty of the other men — and things escalated to the point where he was threatening contestants and their families. Chris Harrison pulled him aside and spoke to him, but no further action was taken. Chad remained on the show until JoJo sent him home as a natural part of The Bachelorette process.
After that, producers invited him to participate in Bachelor in Paradise. He’d already made verbal threats on The Bachelorette, but on the spin-off series, his behavior escalated when he became increasingly drunk, again threatened contestants and their families, and finally tried to get physical with Daniel Maguire. His behavior was so serious that Chris Harrison kicked him off the show. But even after Paradise, Chad was back in the Bachelor franchise on an episode of Ben & Lauren: Happily Ever After? Twice Chad demonstrated how volatile he could be — and twice his entertainment capital was valued over the potential safety risks he posed.
Again, this doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Nobody forced Chad into any bad behavior, but producers certainly facilitated it by giving him abundant access to alcohol and a platform. We can’t pretend the show’s crew members are there only to record the drama and not to encourage it when we see stunts like Corinne playing in her own personal bouncy house at a pool party — one she had no ability to independently order, organize, or set up without access to a phone.
For me, as a viewer, therein lies the problem: We know the producers intervene in order to create drama. Are we expected to believe that they would also intervene when it means inhibiting drama?
I’m not pretending to know what happened during filming for season four of Bachelor in Paradise. It’s fully possible that both Corinne and DeMario seemed fully aware and engaged in their encounter. But when has this franchise ever shown oral sex — or any kind of sex act — graphically depicted and not just carefully suggested? I find it strange that producers would have filmed this encounter at all, consent issues aside. And I find it disturbing that Corinne’s account — that she has “little memory of that night,” that she feels like “a victim” and is still “trying to make sense of what happened,” that her “worst nightmare” has now “become [her] reality” — is so easily dismissed because she allegedly seems coherent on tape.
I don’t know that, legally or morally speaking, anyone is at fault in this particular instance. If Corinne did in fact seem fine, DeMario and the producers couldn’t be expected to intuit that that wasn’t actually the case. I don’t know that we can or should point the finger at any one person as the perpetrator of an assault. But the reality seems to be that someone suffered trauma on the set of this show, and the format of the show facilitated whatever harm took place. ABC and Warner Bros. certainly would have a lot to lose by cancelling Bachelor in Paradise — and they have promised to “implement certain changes to the show’s policies and procedures to enhance and further ensure the safety and security of all participants” — but it seems insensitive and dismissive to that fact to continue airing this season.
By choosing to continue filming as scheduled, instead of implementing the new safety procedures and policies while filming next summer’s season, ABC and Warner Bros. seem to be once again prioritizing entertainment value, and therefore their bottom line, over the wellbeing of someone in their care. By watching this show while being passively aware of all that goes on behind the scenes, I’ve been a part of that problem. But now that I’ve really reflected on how my entertainment choices are impacting people’s real lives, their emotional and physical well-being, I simply no longer feel comfortable supporting this franchise.
I’m not alone. Long-time viewer Hannah LoPatin also wrote about grappling with her political conscience in “The Bachelor In Paradise Scandal Has Permanently Ruined All Bachelor Shows” for Refinery29. This show has always been problematic — and, somehow, we’ve all managed to look the other way since 2001.
Now that the curtain has pulled back, I can’t keep pretending that the Bachelor franchise is just cheesy (and occasionally trashy) fun. There have always been villains on the show — and this Bachelor in Paradise scandal certainly revealed some bad behavior from the remaining cast members. But the problem has never been with the contestants themselves. The problem is with the show that gives them a spotlight. It turns out that the Bachelor franchise was the real villain all along — and I’m done rooting for the villain.