When reports broke earlier this summer that allegations of sexual misconduct had led to a full production shutdown on Bachelor in Paradise, fans were left wondering if they would see their favorite show return. After an investigation into the allegations concluded that there was legally no foul play, the show announced it would be returning. Big questions still remained, though, like how would they address the scandal? What actually happened? How would this affect the show going forward?
Last week when the show returned we learned answers to a few of those questions – and not gonna lie, they weren’t good. Whatever happened between Corinne Olympios and DeMario Jackson became entertainment fodder the minute it was declared there was no wrongdoing. The two refused to return to the show, smartly, but that didn’t mean their story would be exempt from airing.
From the moment host Chris Harrison appeared in the season premiere, you could just tell this whole thing wasn’t going to be tactful. Although he puts on his serious, after-school-special voice, the implication is clear – this is all going to make for some great ratings. Since the incident was deemed *nothing to be concerned about,* the show was free to use this as a dramatic wedge to propel the first few episodes and hook viewers. It definitely worked – people I know that have never even watched an episode of The Bachelor or The Bachelorette are tuning in to see what they say about the scandal.
Instead of using this opportunity to take a serious look at sexual assault and consent — particularly when it comes to drinking — the show takes a sharp, tone-deaf, left turn. Whether or not everyone was cleared of wrongdoing is not the important part of this story. The most important part was the idea that this could have actually happened and the uncertainty present in the entire scandal. The show had an opportunity here to use its platform to talk about consent and sexual responsibility and it failed. Corinne and DeMario’s exit from the show is a “cliffhanger” into the next episode instead of a thoughtful discussion starter. The show is indirectly saying, “Tune in next time for what you really came here for.”
One of the main issues here is the editing of the first two episodes. By showing Corinne drinking too much, flirting, and leading DeMario by the hand before the alleged assault guilt is put on her. When the cast had a sit-down about the incident in the second episode they didn’t seem sympathetic to Corinne in the least. The message being sent is if you drink too much or get a little flirty then you are to blame for whatever happens. By sitting the cast down, none of whom were involved, and asking them if sexual misconduct occurred, the show is trying to say, “see, nothing happened!” What they are really doing, though, is deterring assault victims. It doesn’t matter what Corinne says, apparently, since the entire cast says it was all okay. How is an audience supposed to perceive that other than victims’ voices don’t matter as much as the observers do?
Furthermore, Corinne’s rival on The Bachelor, Taylor Nolan suggests that because she doesn’t drink and has never been pressured to while filming the show, then anyone who does choose to drink and accidentally over does it is culpable for whatever happens to them. Diggy Moreland ultimately says that everyone makes mistakes when drunk, but that you CAN give consent when you’re drunk — which legally isn’t true in several U.S. States. The fact that Corinne claims she was blackout drunk doesn’t seem to come into play here at all.
By airing this season, and keeping Bachelor in Paradise on the air in general, ABC is attempting to assure viewers nothing bad could have possibly happened. How could we be sensationalizing this if it wasn’t more than juicy drama? It’s a disgusting attempt at normalizing sexual assault and turning it into shocking TV. Nevermind that there was a girl who had no idea what happened to her in the aftermath. Nevermind that you have viewers who may see themselves in this abhorrent event. Everyone was cleared of wrongdoing, so it’s all good right?! Wrong.
The biggest problem with all this is that whether or not there was actual wrongdoing this brought up several issues of consent – more specifically in relation to reality TV shows. It’s not a big surprise that these shows are usually booze-soaked sex romps. Everybody is hooking up. And that’s fine – it makes for good television. But this summer brought to the forefront a painful truth – it is not possible to consent when black out drunk. It’s just not.
Bachelor in Paradise attempted to make some much-needed changes in the wake of this scandal. They’ve tightened their drug policy and now any and all prescription drugs will be confiscated upon arrival. The show nurse will dispense prescriptions to the cast members throughout their stay. The show has also implemented a 2-drink maximum per hour. And most importantly, before anyone can get it on they must let producers know they consent. It’s a noble effort to attempt to curb the blurry consent lines of drunken hookups, but it feels forced. Of course they had to do something after the scandal but it appears they’re doing the bare minimum. Honestly, these are all things the show should have already been doing.
I will say that the cast, crew and producers did make a genuine effort to explore how race played a part in this particular sex scandal — which was definitely true in the media and fans’ depictions of what had happened in Mexico right before production halted. They discussed the stigma that exists when it comes to interracial hookups and how black men are often accused of crimes they didn’t commit. This is obviously an important piece of the puzzle when it comes to the Bachelor in Paradise scandal and the show did approach it in a thoughtful manner. That doesn’t excuse, however, their victim-blaming tactics when it came to approaching Corinne’s side of the story and that’s where the problem lies.
From the promos for future weeks, Bachelor in Paradise looks to be ready to become its old self sooner rather than later. Goofy hijinks and ~ true love ~ will be back to the forefront soon. And left behind will be the scandal that the show hopes will merely be remembered as a dramatic storyline. Let’s not let this moment in TV history turn into a ratings tool. Sexual assault is serious and needs to be treated as such. If Bachelor in Paradise won’t treat it seriously the rest of us can.