Will You Watch Bachelor in Paradise This Season?

Nick Viall and Jennifer Saviano. Photo: Rick Rowell/ABC via Getty Images

Now that it’s confirmed Bachelor in Paradise will resume filming its fourth season, a panel of Vulture and Cut writers discuss whether they’ll be tuning in.

Jada Yuan: How did you react to the announcement that Bachelor in Paradise would resume production? For me, it was a gut punch wrapped in relief wrapped in disgust. ABC and production company Warner Bros. had sent the entire cast home when a producer filed a complaint about a potentially nonconsensual sexual encounter between two contestants, DeMario Jackson and Corinne Olympios. The behavior and reputations of both contestants have been drawn and quartered in the media and on Twitter; other contestants have taken sides; both Jackson and Olympios lawyered up and released contradicting statements. And then there’s the whole question of the show’s liability, given its reputation of liberally supplying alcohol to keep the drama high, and the possibility that producers might have stood by while a dangerous situation took place because it made for good footage.

And now we’re supposed to forget all that happened and get ready for more fun in the sun! Really? The good news is that Warner Bros.’s statement said their internal review of the tapes “does not support any charge of misconduct by a cast member.” Of course we all hoped that no wrong had been done. The gut punch is because, as a woman, I know what it’s like to feel less than okay with a sexual encounter, but not be able to articulate why it wasn’t okay, and to know you’d be dismissed if you tried.

I LOVE Bachelor in Paradise and have watched every episode of it, plus every season of The Bachelor and The Bachelorette (and BIP’s predecessor, Bachelor Pad). And yet when I heard that sexual assault had possibly entered the equation, I was both unsurprised and certain that the only move was cancellation. How can you make a show whose DNA is summer fun when even the idea of something that horrific is in the air? How can the show possibly recover from this? How can we as viewers and fans feel okay tuning in when all Warner Bros. said was “we plan to implement certain changes to the show’s policies and procedures to enhance and further ensure the safety and security of all participants?” What does that mean? Why do I care so much? Is Corinne okay? Is DeMario? So many feels!

Kathryn VanArendonk: I so, so resonate with the ambiguity you’ve laid out here. I’ve been looking forward to the new Bachelor in Paradise season, especially since the series has started leaning into the wackier elements of its DNA (the ’80s-style opening credits! Jorge the bartender!). And yet, yes — I was utterly and wholly unsurprised by the allegations. Worse, I read Warner Bros.’ statement about that review with a huge amount of skepticism. Oh, really, no misconduct? Okay. I’m sure Warner Bros. is absolutely invested in everyone’s emotional and physical well-being, certainly more so than in their bottom line. Mm-hmm.

It’s going to be really hard to watch anything that’s about to air, particularly anything that may involve Corinne and DeMario, without constantly reading between the lines every time someone laughingly orders a drink or talks about finding someone else attractive. And it feels like it poisons the whole shebang. It’s very hard to imagine enjoying some weird edit where a cast member is in love with birds when the allegations hang over everything. My preference, frankly, would be to scuttle this entire season and maybe try again next summer with an entirely new cast. Surely ABC has some Grey’s Anatomy reruns they could slot into the schedule.

Here’s my deep, dark secret about the announcement that it’ll still be on, though. I feel gross enough about it that I don’t really want to watch. And yet … knowing how important it’s been for the entire Bachelor franchise to walk the line between big drama and respectability, I’m fascinated to see how they’re going to edit this fiasco. Surely they can’t just skip it entirely. How will they explain it? Some vaguely respectful hotlines to call about sexual assault? An aftershow where they make Corinne and DeMario sit next to one another on a sofa? A very special “Chris Harrison Talks About Alcohol and Sex” episode? None of it sounds okay.

Allie Jones: Sadly, I think this situation is one more example of how uncomfortable so many people are discussing sexual assault and consent. Warner Bros. hustled through the investigation, while cast members and fans begged ABC to put Paradise back on the air. Now we will probably never know exactly what happened between Corinne and DeMario, unless Corinne or one of the producers files suit. (That could still happen; Corinne’s attorney Marty Singer has promised to continue to investigate the incident.) It is, of course, easier for Warner Bros. and most everyone involved in the franchise to sweep the allegations aside and move on with the show as planned.

The Warner Bros. statement about concluding the investigation, however, brings up more questions than it answers. The studio says that the footage of the incident “does not support any charge of misconduct by a cast member” and that it does not demonstrate “that the safety of any cast member was ever in jeopardy.” But did the studio consult any other evidence besides the tape? Echoing Jada, I would really like to know how Corinne feels about the conclusion of the investigation, and whether or not her version of events was considered when Warner Bros. made the determination to resume filming.

I have watched the Bachelor franchise shows for many years, but I do not plan to watch this new iteration of Paradise. I can’t imagine how they could respectfully deal with Corinne’s story on air, and I have no interest in watching fame-hungry contestants drink and hook up with each other while this issue (in my opinion, anyway) goes unresolved. It will be telling, at least, to see how ABC promotes the season.

Ali Barthwell: Like so many fans, Bachelor in Paradise is my favorite part of the franchise. It feels like the artifice is stripped off — it isn’t something pretending to be a fairy tale, but closer to how people meet and hook up in real life. The show is also the only part of the Bachelor franchise that had a sense of humor about itself. There appeared to be a few surprises ready to be unleashed this season that I was looking forward to. (Something about Jorge the bartender! Was he going to get a date card?) The only reasonably productive conversation that could come out of this season would be about alcohol and consent. Alcohol is seen as an inherent part of so many of our dating rituals and sex. In speaking to many of my girlfriends about the show, we could all identify with being one part of the sex-plus-alcohol equation — either waking up the next morning with no memory of what happened, or having some memory of the night before and realizing the other person doesn’t. The reaction from my friends seemed to be a rather complicated shrug: knowing it was dangerous or wrong, feeling relieved that nothing harmful ever happened to us, and doing it a couple more times before learning how to make better decisions. Every drink that gets handed to a contestant over that bar will remind the audience now of what happened between Corinne and DeMario.

Seeing couples like Carly and Evan begin their romance with a series of lies (remember his ambulance ride for an illness he faked?), or Grant and Lace getting drunk and pressuring each other into getting tattoos without a disclaimer — all of it is dangerous. ABC gave these couples rose petals and engagement rings. Romance that is packaged as lying to get a woman, or drinking enough to do something you wouldn’t do sober, is a problem.

What is ABC or Warner Bros. doing to make sure something like this doesn’t happen again, or is the premise of this show so broken that it has to include drinking in excess and potentially unearned consent?

Jada Yuan: Allie, I wish I had your willpower, but I’m with Kathryn, I can’t look away. This feels so gross. but as sure as I was that I didn’t want to see another episode, I have to see how the show is going to deal with this garbage fire — you know, through the palm that will likely be slapping my forehead. Ali, I’ll be curious where you land on this, given that watching the show is your job. Thank you for your recaps, by the way. You are a national treasure.

What I want is for BIP to break the fourth wall and show the discussions among producers and cast members about what happened and what kind of procedures and training they’re going to implement to ensure a safe environment. I want a discussion between the men and women of the cast on how to recognize consent, and how alcohol plays into it. I want the women to tell their stories of complicated nights of alcohol and sex, because we all have them. Those discussions could possibly soften, if not exactly justify, this vile move to return to air. (DeMario announced he won’t be returning to the show; it sounds like Corrine won’t be invited back, but I’d hope she’d stay away — the decision to resume is a blow against her and a message that they do not have her back.)

This is a lot to ask of a show whose highlights include a contestant confiding in a raccoon. But it’s what’s needed for it to have any kind of future.

Given how the franchise is handling the discussion of race over on The Bachelorette, though, I don’t have much hope that a discussion of consent is going to be any less grotesque. Next week, we’ve been promised a two-episode fight between known racist Lee (no way the show didn’t know about his racist tweets before they cast him) and Kenny, a black man he’s accused of being “aggressive” at a time in this country when black men are getting killed without recompense for that bias. Two episodes of airtime for a racist when we’re supposed to be celebrating Rachel’s search for love is not a sign of a franchise that has any idea how to handle the social issues it’s raising.

What’s the best we can hope for, now that the show is moving forward? What’s the worst we can expect? Also, Ali, I have to disagree with Evan and Carly being thrown into the nonconsensual pile. Yes, he faked his impending death to get her to give him a second chance, but I think she was bored and went with it to see what would happen, and then realized he was her kind of weird. No forcing, just mutually compatible insanity.

Kathryn VanArendonk: Evan and Carly have always been a mystery to me, probably because I still remember Evan from his initial edit on The Bachelorette as “wacky penis-expert guy.” And that edit, and the franchise’s ability to reduce any person to some wacky or villainous or heroic character, is really the broader problem with this whole Bachelor in Paradise situation. The things you’re all talking about — nuanced discussions of the role alcohol has in sexual relationships, a thoughtful probe of producers’ responsibility — are exactly the opposite of how these series work.

I absolutely agree that these are the kinds of discussions I’d want to see in order to feel like BIP is taking this seriously, especially Ali’s suggestions about thinking about sex and alcohol outside of the show. But BIP and the other Bachelor series, and really most reality shows, operate by taking complexity and reducing it to two-dimensionality. Evan’s not a person; he’s a wacky penis expert. Even if you escape the utter flatness of being the “whaboom” guy, your portrait is almost always going to be some incredibly simplistic image of a person. (And, yeah, Jada, the current Bachelorette season is really suggestive of how happy the franchise is to put drama first, even when the object of attention is loathsome.) So, yes, how can anyone have any faith that BIP will take on something so fraught and treat the issue with decency?

That’s one takeaway for me — our collective lack of surprise that this happened, and similar lack of faith that the show can address any of it adequately. The other is whether this will have any blowback for reality shows more broadly. I’m sure it’s too much to hope that the whole reality industry is going to sit down and really consider the ethics of pouring alcohol into people’s mouths and then filming them. But I can dream!

Ali Barthwell: I guess we’ll just have to agree to disagree about Evan and Carly! I think of her like a friend dating a guy I’m not too crazy about, but she seems happy, so I keep my mouth shut.

Which is weirdly how my family looks at my affection for this show.

Bachelor in Paradise: Will You Watch This Season?