Last night, ABC premiered the fourth season of Bachelor in Paradise, a fun, vacation-themed Bachelor spinoff that briefly shut down production earlier this summer due to allegations of sexual assault. Over a few tumultuous days in June, news of the allegations bled out through TMZ and People, and Bachelor fans learned that sometime in the first two days of production, producers filmed a sexual encounter between contestants Demario Jackson and Corinne Olympios. The encounter, reports said, happened in a hot tub after a long day of drinking, and Olympios may not have been able to consent. One unnamed crew member told the Daily Mail that Olympios “seemed to go limp” during the exchange, and another producer filed a complaint, which triggered the production shutdown. Jackson immediately denied any wrongdoing. Olympios, however, released an unequivocal statement about her experience, claiming, “I am a victim.”
The show was over, right? How could Warner Bros. resume production after potentially failing to intervene during a serious crime? How could ABC — even staring down the barrel of lost ad revenue — air a show in which one of its principal cast members felt harmed?
As it turns out, it was easy for the studio and the network to move forward. Warner Bros. conducted an internal investigation and concluded that no misconduct occurred, and a few days later, Olympios’s lawyer released a statement saying he had completed his own investigation to Olympios’s satisfaction. Production resumed. Cast members who were depending on Paradise to land more Instagram-ad deals rejoiced, and fans — including celebrities like Ashton Kutcher — praised ABC for bringing the show back. Yesterday, Paradise’s executive producer Martin Hilton told Entertainment Weekly he knew “pretty much immediately” that the alleged sexual assault would not threaten the future of the show.
Hilton watched the footage of the encounter, he said. Here’s what he saw:
Just from watching it, it seemed to me that there was nothing really out of the ordinary. It seemed like summer fun that we would normally have in Paradise.
An alleged sexual assault? To one powerful male producer, it just looked like normal, summer fun. And that is exactly how the show framed the encounter during the premiere. As my colleague Kathryn VanArendonk wrote this morning at Vulture, the episode treated the sexual assault allegations as just another spicy, dramatic element of Paradise. ABC showed Olympios and Jackson arriving at the resort in Sayulita, Mexico, ready to mingle and take shots and jump in the pool. They smiled at each other; Jackson called Olympios “the cream of the crop”; after a few drinks, they started making out. In between these and other typically insipid scenes featuring cast members frolicking on the beach and showing off their wacky bathing-suit collections, ABC called attention to the gross, underlying tension with promos showing the moment production shut down. The episode ended on a cliffhanger, with producers calling Olympios and Jackson into a serious meeting. To find out what really happened when the cameras stopped rolling, you have to tune into the second episode, which airs tonight.
Except, of course, you don’t. There’s no reason to sit through another two hours of tequila shots and tears to find out how far ABC will go to contort an alleged sexual assault into sexy, suspenseful entertainment. Network executives and producers have made it abundantly clear that they do not want or need to seriously engage with a sensitive issue. Instead, they are giving viewers “summer fun” in paradise, at the expense of a young woman. Why watch?