Farewell, Bachelor in Paradise, Greatest Gift of Summertime TV

Photo: Francisco Roman/ABC

Can we please talk about Bachelor in Paradise, a.k.a this summer’s greatest gift to television? Imagine ABC’s The Bachelor or The Bachelorette edited by pranksters, with all the talk of falling in love on a three-week reality show exposed for the fairy-tale delusion that it is, and no curtains on the fact that when you isolate a whole bunch of good-looking people with assorted psychological disorders on a beach in Tulum, they’re going to have sex. A lot of sex.

The winning formula starts with an “all-star” cast of Bachelor/ette rejects — people you barely remember, plus wackadoos you know and hate or pity — then lets them hook up at will. The brilliance, though, is in the editing, which seems to poke fun at the participants at every turn. There is no prize, except love. The goal is to make enough of a connection with someone to get a rose at the end of the week. Boys eliminate girls, then the roles are reversed, with new recruits coming each week to stir things up. It’s the show you’d imagine The Bachelor producers dreaming up seven tequilas deep after a long day of work. And it all ends tonight, with a dramatic twist that will of course change everything.

In preparation for the show’s finale, the Cut spoke with host and executive producer Chris Harrison about how this amazing sex, sunshine, and, sand sausage got made.

My friends have a theory that you guys conceived of this show while drunk.
Yeah, it’s a little bit of a mix between a piña colada and a margarita after work. [Laughs.] But it really is kind of the stepchild and realization of what Bachelor Pad was supposed to be and should have been. We wanted to do an all-star edition of our show because we’ve created these characters and these stories, and everybody wants to keep up with these people. But when we got into Bachelor Pad, we realized there was something inherently wrong with it, and it was a bit of a game, and that all that stood out to us was the relationships and the hookups and the couples that were coming out of Bachelor Pad. And it was really successful. We had a lot of couples and even some marriages come out of it. So we took it off the air and we spent a year kind of retooling, and the first thing was, “Get rid of the game-show element all together and just do what we do best.” Make it The Bachelor and Bachelorette on steroids. Bring back not only the fan favorites but our favorites, some of the people that [the producers] feel fell through the cracks. Maybe they were favorites of casting and we really loved them and they left too early. Lacy is a good example of that, and Christy and Jackie, Cody from this season. People who for some reason The Bachelor or Bachelorette didn’t like them, but we felt like they deserved a second chance at love.

And then you just stuck them on a beach in Tulum.
We knew we wanted to put them in a secluded place and do what The Bachelor and Bachelorette do, which is take away all devices and distractions and let everybody concentrate on one thing, and that is love, relationships, and dating.

Were you trying to drive people off the rails?
You don’t need to. That’s the beauty of life and people. You can’t save people from themselves. It’s just pure numbers and the percentages work. It kind of reminds me of Moneyball and baseball. Do the math: If you have that many good-looking Type A personalities in one house and the idea and the goal is to hook up and find love, and there is a rose and survival is kind of on the line, there’s going to be drama. There’s going to be love triangles, love quadrangles and pentagons.

You are having fun with the editing, though, right? Clare’s raccoon is classic. (For non-viewers: Clare’s emotional rant about her love life was edited so that she appeared to be speaking to a raccoon.)
Well, The Bachelor and Bachelorette, that’s our baby. That’s the tentpole that holds everything up and that won’t change, so we have jokes in there but it’s more serious. This is late, late summer TV. I mean, we aired on Labor Day! This is don’t-think-too-hard, don’t-choose-too-good-of-a-box-of-wine, sit-down-with-a-pint-of-your-favorite-ice-cream, just-have-a-good-laugh-and-relax TV. We didn’t know how far we would take it until we got into post-production and then we took it to the next level of adding funny music and drawing moments out, whether it was Elise coming down the stairs in wedges, or the reenactment of the Michelle case.

Which was AMAZING. (Michelle hooked up with a crew member, who jumped off a third-story balcony to avoid getting caught with her. This earned a America’s Most Wanted–style reenactment.)
We were on the scene! I’m a co-executive producer in the show, and I was very much in that conversation — “Guys, let me write this. Let me go back to my news days of what I used to do back when I started in this business. Let me do a really over-the-top nightly news deal on this, kind of a walk and talk, old-school ‘80s reenactment.”

Where did the raccoon come from?
The raccoon was real and the raccoon was there. Obviously, the raccoon was not sitting below Clare looking at her as she spoke to it. But the raccoon happened to be walking around as she was venting. So we made it look a little bit more like she was having a download with the raccoon.

Is it a relief to do a show where you can explicitly talk about sex? There was so much controversy when it came out that your last Bachelorette, Andi Dorfman, had slept with both of her final two guys, like it broke the illusion that these are all chaste searches for love.
The thing about The Bachelor and Bachelorette is that the first night you’re really alone is the Fantasy Suite, and that’s the second to last week. And it’s one person dating these people, so you may have an opportunity with one or two people. Whereas Bachelor in Paradise, you have six different relationships possibly going, and you just have that many more opportunities. And you’re living in a fantasy suite! So again, I think it’s just the percentages and the opportunity, more so than what we are willing to show. For The Bachelor, we allude to what goes on, but then it’s up to you to make up your own mind. I think we were a little more graphic with Bachelor in Paradise, only when they crawl into each other’s beds in the middle of the night.

Did they know there were cameras in the bedrooms?
Yes! There’s no hidden cameras. We did this with Bachelor Pad, too. With Bachelor and Bacheloette, there’s no cameras hidden in the ceilings. That’s just not the content that we use and get for that show. With this one, it honestly has more to do with manpower. We can have one guy in the control room controlling four cameras, because we just don’t have enough people to cover six to seven different conversations and relationships at one time. We tell them right when they move in, “This is where the cameras are. There’s none in the bathrooms. There’s a changing room where if you stand here you won’t be seen naked.” It’s very clearly explained.

What can we expect in the finale?
The main question is, “How does this show end?” Because people have realized there’s not a catch and there’s not a game element. So it’s a bit of a Hunger Games ending where people start killing each other off, one by one. There’s one ax and one sword and we just tell them to have at it. [Laughs.] No, there’s not a huge twist at the end. I can say that the relationships that are left at the end of this get put to the test like never before. And the way we do it, and this is what I love most about the show, is that it’s really in their hands. We really made them ask and answer their own tough questions. It’s a little open-ended and worrisome for a producer, but it’s the way that our show usually goes. That’s what I love about The Bachelor and Bachelorette. At the end of the day, you don’t know what Andi and Josh are going to do. You hope they get engaged, but we have to go with what these two people choose.

Is it way, way cheaper to make than The Bachelor or Bachelorette? All of the dates are in these, like, bat caves or the same two Mayan ruins, or you just send someone to hang out in the plaza of a Mexican city.
[Laughs.] Oh definitely. The Bachelor is the Rolls-Royce. This is the minivan or an old convertible. And The Bachelor is in prime time, winter, short days, cold nights. That’s when people are watching TV. There’s not a lot of eyeballs on TV for Labor Day. These are the dog days of summer. Nobody tries to launch a show this time of year.

The other thing I find interesting is that it doesn’t hide that all of these people already know each other and are already on this weird reality-TV-show castoff dating circuit.
That’s really where Bachelor in Paradise and Bachelor Pad stem from. There were these reunions where all these people were dating and these relationships were going on, and everybody had an appetite for them. We were like, “Why don’t we take advantage of this? We created all these people and these characters and these pseudo-celebrities, or whatever they are. Why don’t we do something with it and give them a place to go.” That was Bachelor Pad, but it was a little bit flawed, whereas Bachelor in Paradise is what really goes on at all of these reunions, when they go to Las Vegas or go on cruises. I would hear these stories and go, “Oh my God, that is a great show.” 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. That’s incredible. And for some reason it’s considered okay and everybody likes this guy. Let’s show this!”

Is it coming back?
I think from the network to the studio to everybody else, I think everybody’s onboard. The ratings have been good. I can’t imagine why it won’t come back.

Bachelor in Paradise: Greatest Gift of Summer TV