TV/Critic's Notes (Broadcast)
No Matter What Happens, the Only Move for Bachelor in Paradise Is Cancellation
By Jada Yuan, Vulture.com
(New York Magazine) - Jun. 16, 2017
The past few days have been heartrending and sickening for any fan of ABC’s Bachelor in Paradise and its franchise-adjacent series, The Bachelor and The Bachelorette — though, it cannot be overstated that things are much, much worse for anyone involved in, or familiar with the people involved in, the alleged sexual assault that took place on June 4, the first day of filming for season four.
Word first broke Sunday afternoon that production had been halted due to “allegations of misconduct” on the reality series, in which Bachelor/ette also-rans gather for three weeks on a beach in Mexico in a margarita-fueled haze to find love (a.k.a. hook up), or get booted off the island. Since then, each breaking-news item has been more awful than the last. What we know is that at least one of the show’s producers filed a third-party complaint about filmed sexual activity between two very drunk cast members, one of whom may have been too drunk to consent. Warner Bros. and ABC have sent everyone home and are “conducting a thorough investigation.” Both contestants involved, DeMario Jackson, 30, and Corrine Olympios, 24, have leaked their versions of events through anonymous sources to TMZ, and both released explosive personal statements on Wednesday. Olympios’s began, “I am a victim,” though notably she did not mention Jackson. Jackson has vowed to clear his name. Host Chris Harrison has urged patience, while one of the show’s producers gave a horrifying and graphic account to the Daily Mail. Was it just a night of nudity and cunnilingus, as Jackson’s confidantes told TMZ? Or was it a case of producers egging on contestants to get drunk and hook up, then not stepping in when Olympios blacked out — on a show where producers are known for plying participants with an endless flow of alcohol?
Unlike the vast majority of sexual-assault cases, this one was filmed. There will be answers. But no matter what those answers are, it’s clear the only possible road forward from this horrible mess is cancellation not just of the season, but the entire series. This isn’t just what some, like Reality Steve, Bachelor Nation’s most deeply sourced blogger, have predicted will happen. This is what should happen, from a moral standpoint. And I am saying this as someone who ****ing loves Bachelor in Paradise.
I have gone to bat for BiP since its first season in 2014, when I wrote an ode calling it “summer’s greatest gift to television.” It had everything you wanted in candy TV: tons of sex, a campy acknowledgment by everyone involved that it was a parody of itself, and a running gag involving a questionably sane contestant and the raccoon she confided in. It even had an amazing sequence where a contestant named Michelle K. got caught hooking up with a sound guy, he jumped out a second-story window, broke both his legs, and host Chris Harrison reenacted the whole thing like an America’s Most Wanted–style sequence.
The show, Harrison told me in an interview back then, was inspired by the booze-and-hookup-filled reunions Bachelor/ette contestants had already been having on their own. “I’d come back and talk to Mike Fleiss and Rob Mills over at ABC and go, ‘Guys, this is the show. They just went to Vegas and one guy slept with three women in two days,’” he said. “‘That’s incredible. And for some reason it’s considered okay and everybody likes this guy. Let’s show this!’” BiP was made even trashier and more delightful to scoff-watch because the cast was filled with villains, wackadoos, and barely memorables who’d blown it on their original series and then volunteered for humiliation all over again. My friends and I posited that the Bachelor producers had conceived of the show while drunk, and host Chris Harrison basically agreed: “It’s a little bit a mix of a piña colada and a margarita after work,” he told me.
Sure, it was more than a little gross that the way to stay in the game was to win over a member of the opposite sex who then held your fate in his or her hands. (Each week, there would be an unequal number of ladies and gents, and members of the sex with the lower number would choose which members of the opposite gender to give roses to, sending the rest home.) The parade of horrible, desperate make-out sessions I’ve seen in the show’s three completed seasons make Screech from Saved by the Bell look like a smooth operator. They’re also everything I, and every other die-hard BiP fan, live for.
The intrigue! The machinations! The double-crosses! It’s a spectacle I’ve gleefully dissected on podcasts, but also praised as the more natural cousin to its formality-soaked feeder series. BiP was more capable of engendering lasting romantic connections because it better imitated how normal humans get to know one another (hanging out on a beach and drinking versus mud-wrestling group dates with ten guys to one woman). To date, it has produced one real marriage (Jade and Tanner Tolbert, who met in season two and will soon be having a baby), one fake marriage (Lacy Faddoul and Marcus Grodd, season one’s golden couple who never married despite walking down the aisle in season two, and are now broken up), and three engagements last season alone. One of those engagements is turning into a real marriage, too: Evan Bass and Carly Waddell’s ceremony was scheduled to be filmed for this season of BiP, and it’s apparently still going forward.
This means that in three seasons, Bachelor in Paradise will have produced more marriages than 21 seasons of The Bachelor, the show about a guy trying to find a wife.
What made BiP the greatest bad show of all the summers in all the land is that everyone was in on the joke: the producers, the contestants, and the viewers. Remember when Ashley Iaconetti’s sister, Lauren, pout-dragged her roller suitcase down the beach when she quit the show in season two? Or when season three’s Leah seemed to spend a full day blowing up a giant swan floatie to drown her sadness and then tried to surf with it? Provide enough material for all of us to laugh at together and you’d be set for life with Instagram endorsements.
Last season, BiP took the camp to incredible new heights, introducing a Love Boat–inspired opening credits sequence with a perfectly cheesy theme song, where each contestant made a self-referential visual joke. Daniel, whose occupation was always listed as “Canadian,” doused his bare chest in maple syrup; Lace, known for her very drunken antics, fell over while keeping her margarita glass aloft. Over two hour-long episodes twice a week for six weeks, the show gave enough redemptive airtime for two-time Bachelorette runner-up Nick Viall to charm his way back into America’s good graces and become the surprise pick for the next Bachelor. We also got the treat of watching the cute, weird romance between an erectile-dysfunction specialist Evan and cruise-ship singer Carly, an off-brand couple for this franchise who never would have fallen in love were it not for the BiP’s immersive format of multiple chances. (Evan tried to convince another woman to pick him, and Carly kept him around because he was mildly amusing and she wasn’t feeling it with anyone else. Their best date came when he faked an illness and she accompanied him to the hospital.)
But the show’s core identity is summer fun, and summer fun such as this cannot survive allegations of sexual assault, no matter how those allegations play out.
Nor should we want it to. The tapes, the investigation, and the lawyers whom both Jackson and Olympios are said to have retained will determine responsibility. Some of it will likely land on the production, which supplies alcohol to contestants to increase drama and may or may not have put a contestant in danger because they wanted to capture that danger on film. And let’s not forget much of the reason why contestants feel compelled to get drunk and act out, and why production feels compelled to enable them, is because we viewers keep tuning in for it.
The signs of this show going off the rails have increased every season. Season three of BiP opened with a scary arc involving Chad Johnson, the over-muscled villain of JoJo’s season of The Bachelorette, engaging in a heavy make-out session with Lace (a villain from Ben Higgins’s season) that grew rougher and rougher throughout the evening, until she rejected him and he rampaged through the bungalow threatening to kill people. He also made nasty remarks about Sarah Herron, who was born with one arm, before getting dramatically kicked off the show the next morning. Both on JoJo’s season and on BiP, the production seemed willing to allow Chad to go right up to the line of violent outbursts, including shoving contests, all for the sake of good television. For almost its entire run, that season also featured Josh Murray, whose ex, former Bachelorette Andi Dorfman, had accused him of emotional abuse in her tell-all book.
On its surface, BiP may look like the horny stepchild of The Bachelor/ette, but it didn’t spring up from a vacuum. The entire franchise’s treatment of sex has also become more overt over the past few years — a remarkable evolution for a dating show on a Disney-owned company that for over a decade only referred to coitus in euphemism. In the flagship series, there’s a designated “Fantasy Suites” episode — which happens after meeting the parents but before getting engaged to someone you’ve known for six weeks — when the lead would present his or her final three suitors with a stiffly worded invitation to “forgo your individual rooms and use this key to stay as a couple in the Fantasy Suite,” upon which there might be some making out in a hot tub before the cameras exit. Then there’d usually be a suggestive shot of two shadows entwined as filmed through closed curtains in the window, followed by glowing morning-after interviews about how much the two of them needed that alone time.
In the rare cases where there was sexual activity before the Fantasy Suites, it was always a major scandal, and again, never referred to by name. Who can forget when the greatest villain of all time, Courtney Robinson, went “skinny dipping” in the ocean with Bachelor No. 16, Ben Flajnik, who became her fiance? Or Clare Crawley, who spent much of Bachelor season 18 getting slut-shamed and having to defend her choice to go “swimming in the ocean” with Juan Pablo Galavis?
This is not an accomplishment I am particularly proud of, but I have watched nearly every season of every series of this franchise (including BiP’s predecessor, the games-and-hookups competition show Bachelor Pad, which also only lasted three seasons). The first time I remember anyone actually acknowledging what goes on in the Fantasy Suite was when runner-up Nick Viall confronted Bachelorette Andi Dorfman in a postmortem and asked, “Why did you make love to me if you weren’t in love with me?” That may seem like nothing for anyone who’s ever seen Big Brother or The Real World or Jersey Shore, but in the Bachelor/ette world, that **** was crazy!
It also opened the franchise up to finally talking about sex, and perhaps to its detriment, realizing viewers had an appetite for it. The first BiP season aired the summer after Andi’s Bachelorette run, and the final episode featured one female contestant bragging about how pleasantly surprised she’d been when she saw her chosen partner’s penis. The next Bachelorette, wonderful, horny rebel Kaitlyn Bristowe, became possibly the first person in franchise history to say the word “sex” after taking Andi Dorfman’s ex, Nick Viall, back to her hotel room on a date way, way before Fantasy Suites.
It was an enormous scandal that resulted in the show getting disinvited from a planned trip to Patagonia. But not only did producers hold a mic up to the closed door of Kaitlyn and Nick’s hotel room to record their sex sounds, they also filmed them lounging around in bathrobes the morning after their second rendezvous — this time during Fantasy Suites. Every subsequent season of the flagship series (Ben Higgins, JoJo Fletcher, Nick Viall) has filmed couples in their postcoital bathrobes the morning after their Fantasy Suite nights. BiP, meanwhile, does the bathrobe thing, plus more explicitly features night-vision scenes of contestants gyrating under sheets, and doing things involving hands and genitals in the pool.
Hookups in general seem to sell, but the right people hooking up will sell even more. There’s reason to believe reports that producers encouraged Olympios and Jackson to get together. Olympios was by far the most entertaining person on Nick’s season of The Bachelor: She was praised for creating great TV moments, like spraying whipped cream on her breasts and having Nick lick it off, and she knew her worth. When she was asked if she’d do BiP, she demurred, stating not unfairly that she deserved her own show.
Jackson had less airtime, since Rachel Lindsay gave him the boot at the beginning of the third episode of this Bachelorette season, but he’d already proven himself charming, funny, an enormous showboat, and a total scumbag. Highlights included comparing himself to Michael Jordan and Tom Brady during a game of amateur basketball (that his team didn’t win); slam-dunking on Rachel, the woman he was trying to impress; and doing a real-life “who dis?” to his ex-girlfriend who’d come on the show to confront him, then lying about it to Rachel before the ex brought out text message receipts. When Rachel told him, “You need to get the **** out,” he came back to plead his case, poorly, only to get another you-go-girl beatdown from Rachel. With the help of producers, Jackson and Olympios perhaps found their way to one another for a reason: It was ratings gold.
Even if the events of June 4 turn out to be overblown, if the investigation proves it was just the kind of drunken hookup the contestants signed on for, there’s no way to turn back the dial. All those other border-brushing incidents were allowed into the show — and allowed to escalate — because no one got hurt. But the kind of hurt that arises from even just the possibility that a sexual assault could happen, and be filmed, is an injury too far. I will miss Bachelor in Paradise as much as anyone. I am sad for the contestants who will not get a chance to find love or at least further their Instagram brands, and for the jobs of crew members who had nothing to do with what transpired. I feel, in many ways, responsible as a fan and an advocate, for encouraging the escalating outrageous behavior that made such an incident possible. I hope everyone involved receives justice. But I do not for a second wish to see another episode of Bachelor in Paradise. A reality show that gets this real is no longer entertainment; it’s a tragedy.