The human appetite for wanton behavior and reckless destruction is historically well-documented. In ancient Rome, citizens let off steam during the Bacchanalia, a drunken, sexy celebration of the Greco-Roman god of wine and ecstasy. This intoxicated orgy blueprint has been adapted over the years, giving us drug-fueled raves, swinger parties, and hipster Ayahuasca retreats. But perhaps no modern-day ritual comes as close to realizing Bacchus’ vision as ABC’s reality-TV hit, Bachelor in Paradise.
Bachelor in Paradise, otherwise known as The Bachelor’s drunk cousin, is the popular ABC franchise’s raw id. On The Bachelor and The Bachelorette, contestants make flowery speeches, open up about their commitment issues at candlelit dinners, and reserve their “love making” for the Fantasy Suite. Meanwhile, 10 daiquiris and a world away in “paradise,” franchise stalwarts curse, fuck, and shit their pants on the untouched beaches of Tulum. Anyone who’s ever been to summer camp knows that spending 12 hours a day in wet bikini bottoms is a recipe for a down-there calamity—as is limiting your dating pool to a group of would-be C-listers who were too damaged to get engaged during their first reality-TV go-around. Bachelor in Paradise rips off The Bachelor’s veneer of sexual propriety like a bad bikini wax. Unsurprisingly, much like drinking 10 vodka Red Bulls before noon in a dehydrating tropical climate, BIP sets its contestants up for disaster.
ABC’s “Lord of the Flies but with sex and bikinis and stuff” ratings gambit had its inevitable reckoning this weekend, when news broke that filming had been suspended indefinitely due to unsavory allegations. The all-knowing TV writer Reality Steve posted a photo of the cast at the airport, proving that Paradise really had been evacuated. On Sunday, Warner Bros. released a statement addressing the rumors: “We have become aware of allegations of misconduct on the set of Bachelor in Paradise in Mexico… We have suspended production and we are conducting a thorough investigation of these allegations. Once the investigation is complete, we will take appropriate responsive action.”
The most conclusive early report came from Amy Kaufman, the Los Angeles Times reporter and Bachelor expert. According to Kaufman’s source, “On the first day of production, Sunday, DeMario and Corinne got extremely drunk… Corinne came up to DeMario at the bar and kissed him. They proceeded to the pool, where they got naked. From this point forward, things turned into ‘soft core porn.’ They did not have sex. But it was very raunchy. The following day, Monday, a producer who witnessed this hook-up did not show up to work.” Allegedly, said producer proceeded to sue the production for “misconduct” over the sexual scene that they witnessed. For the Bachelor illiterate, it’s important to know that Corinne Olympios (of Nick Viall’s season) and DeMario Jackson (from Rachel Lindsay’s current season) are both franchise villains. Olympios is famous for her self-described “platinum vagine,” as well as her tendency to nap through rose ceremonies. She’s also a 24-year-old with a nanny. Meanwhile, Jackson was last seen getting cursed out by Bachelorette Rachel when a woman showed up on set claiming to be his girlfriend.
Sources “connected to Jackson” quickly came out with his version of events. According to TMZ, “people with whom [Jackson] spoke” allege that “Last Sunday—the first day of production at a Mexican resort—DeMario Jackson and Corinne Olympios were told by producers one of the story lines would be the 2 of them hooking up... especially entertaining because both are considered villains from previous shows.” The account continues, “The 2 met at the bar and the alcohol was flowing. DeMario says Corinne jumped in his lap and started making out with him… There was lots of ‘intense rubbing.’ DeMario says Corinne then suggested they retreat to the pool, with the cameras rolling. They took off their clothes, started making out and ‘rubbing, touching and fingering.’ He says she put her genitals in his face and he began licking, but [TMZ is told that] this allegation is a big point of contention and others disagree with his account. He says he was not able to engage in intercourse because of the alcohol. DeMario says the next day everything was fine and he and Corinne were actually getting along well, but on Tuesday they were called in by the executive producer and told one of the show producers had seen the film and was ‘uncomfortable’ with what was shot.”
The fact that Jackson’s camp felt the need to get ahead of this story immediately raises red flags. Unfortunately, it was only a matter of time until questions of consent and sexual assault began to surface. In a subsequent TMZ story published Monday, the outlet reported that the producer’s complaint was in regard to Olympios’ level of intoxication—that the contestant “seemed so drunk the first day of filming she had no ability to consent to DeMario Jackson’s sexual moves in a swimming pool, and nonetheless let it play out on film.” The article continues, “Our sources say the field producer in question was assigned to shadow Corinne, and began hearing stories from people on the set that Corinne was so drunk she had no idea what was going on in the pool.”
Monday afternoon, Olympios unleashed her own sources, who claimed she was “in a blackout state” during the sexual encounter, and “blames producers for not pulling the plug and protecting her.” Sources close to Corinne told TMZ that, unlike DeMario, she “remembers nothing,” and had been drinking all day. TMZ reports, “The day after the swimming pool incident [Olympios] claims fellow cast members began telling her stories of what went down with DeMario. She says several cast members told her they had voiced concern to people on the production crew that she was in no position to consent to sexual activity, but the crew did not heed their warnings.” The article adds, “Corinne has told her friends she has a boyfriend and wouldn't have done what she did—especially with cameras rolling—to jeopardize that relationship.” Additionally, TMZ is claiming—per Corinne’s sources—that Olympios blames Bachelor in Paradise producers for the incident, not Jackson, and that she’s reportedly “lawyered up.”
While this story is clearly still evolving, the fact that these allegations are so unsurprising should be a serious wake-up call for ABC. It’s reassuring that the network will—when threatened with legal action—draw the line at sexual assault. But there’s still the question of the show’s complicity in creating an undeniably icky environment. After all, that’s a hard line to toe when everyone on your show is 10 mimosas deep. Let’s be clear: Bachelor in Paradise contestants want to get a lot of air time. And they know that the best way to do that is through coupling up with other contestants, having steamy makeout sessions, and/or starting drama. The very nature of the show—predicated on the stars’ relative isolation and inebriation—limits the list of possible activities to drinking, tanning, fighting, and f**king. More specifically, if TMZ’s sources are to be believed, Olympios and Jackson were encouraged to become an item, presumably because two infamous villains making out would make for good TV. Unless you’re a consenting porn actor, your sex life should not be storyboarded. And while suggesting two people get involved with one another isn’t the same as encouraging sexual assault, it’s easy to see how consent issues could arise—and hard to believe that this was the first-ever questionable interaction on set. Have there been other, potentially unwanted sexual scenarios that weren’t flagged by a producer? And if the instigating producer on set this season hadn’t complained, would shooting have been impacted at all, let alone indefinitely suspended?
When producers leave their moral compasses at the mansion door, reality-TV show contestants suffer. In terms of sexual misconduct, the biggest precedent comes from The Real World, which has faced multiple assault accusations during its decades-long run. In 2011, Real World franchise vet Tonya Cooley filed a complaint alleging that she was raped on Real World/Road Rules Challenge: The Ruins while producers not only watched, but kept filming. While Cooley insisted that producers were aware of an incident, she further claimed that they failed to inform her about the alleged assault, which she later learned about from fellow cast mates. (Viacom went on the record disputing the claims and the case was settled under undisclosed terms.) The complaint states that production used tactics like limiting food and providing huge quantities of alcohol—tactics that The Bachelor franchise has also been accused of—to get “participants to engage in scandalous behavior that would increase viewer ratings.” In 2011, The Village Voice published a copy of the standard Real World contract. Some of the most concerning language makes contestants aware of the fact that they may be subjected to “non-consensual physical contact, of which MTV is not responsible.” In other words, don’t blame MTV for your on-air assault.
While we don’t know exactly which rights Bachelor in Paradise stars like Olympios conceded while en route to Tulum, reality-show contracts don’t usually have the welfare of their contestants in mind. “I’ve never seen one contract that didn’t include more than the producer ever needed—and it’s next to impossible to push back, since they can always put someone else on the show,” Rob Rader, an attorney who has represented several reality-show producers, told TheWrap in 2009. “These people in essence sign everything away,” added Kent Weed, president of A. Smith & Co., the production company behind Hell’s Kitchen, American Ninja Warrior, and Spartan: Ultimate Team Challenge.
Their legal ability to do so aside, The Bachelor franchise has disregarded the mental health and safety of its own contestants. Nowhere is this more apparent than on Bachelor in Paradise, a show which not only gave a possibly unhinged, violent, alcoholic misogynist a platform for his slurs and intimidation tactics, but even brought him back for more. We speak, of course, of Chad Johnson, The Bachelorette villain who showed up in Tulum, got together with fellow contestant Lace Morris, and then promptly informed her that he was going to “throw you under a truck and hold you down until you smell like peppermint.” (He also called her a “cunt” and a “fucking bitch.”) In addition to being a threat to others—not to mention also being the asshole who told a resort staffer to “suck a dick”—Chad was a threat to himself. After being kicked out of Paradise, Chad raged, “I’ve got nothing. I have nothing. I have nothing in my life.” At this point, it should have been abundantly clear to everyone involved that Chad was in no psychological place to be appearing on a reality-TV show. And yet, the show not only aired Chad physically intimidating and threatening his fellow contestants on The Bachelorette and Bachelor in Paradise—it invited him back for The Bachelorette’s “Men Tell All” episode, which filmed after Chad’s BIP meltdown. In other words, a contestant’s mental health and general welfare was disregarded and other contestants put at risk, all for ratings.
Amidst accusations that Rachel’s Bachelorette season has been cast to incite a race war, it feels like we’re reaching a turning point here—the moment where The Bachelor franchise’s apparent manipulation and lack of humanity outweighs its entertainment value. After all, there’s a difference between a frothy guilty pleasure show and a reality franchise that makes its viewers feel guilty. If Bachelor in Paradise can’t right its wrongs and readjust its moral compass, paradise could be lost for good.