It is the most wonderful time of the year in Bachelor Nation—that time when tequila flows freely and Chris Harrison swaps his suit and tie for some variation of laid-back-dad button-down. Real fans know that Bachelor spin-off Bachelor in Paradise, which aired its sixth season premiere on Monday night, is the best series in the ABC franchise.
Bachelor in Paradise is the sexier, sloppier counterpart to the original series. It’s The Bachelor on senior year spring break, down to the Mexican beach resort and cocktails served in colorful plastic cups. In Paradise, unlike at the stuffy Bachelor mansion, it’s not headline news for consenting adults on a dating show to talk about having sex. Paradise is entertaining because it doesn’t take itself too seriously, yet somehow seemingly manages to produce more successful couples than any other show in the franchise. (Paradise alums Jade Roper and Tanner Tolber just welcomed their second son last week when Roper unexpectedly gave birth in their closet.)
Each season, the lighter tone of the show is set within the first few minutes with a montage of the contestants running Baywatch-style along the shore to the soundtrack of the Footloose theme, “Almost Paradise.” Yes, OK, it’s still trash, but what do you expect?
Deep in the dog days of summer, the nearly 30 Bachelor and Bachelorette veterans making the trip to Mexico this year are ready to flirt, fight, build their Instagram followings, and, allegedly, find lasting love. The format of the show is straightforward—instead of a group entirely made up of men or women vying for the attention of one bachelor or bachelorette, Paradise brings together a mix of contestants from recent seasons and several couples develop at once. The men and women alternate giving out roses each week, and the person left without a rose is sent packing. For the first week, the men get to choose who stays and who goes.
Adding to the drama is the fact that contestants often stalk each other on social media before arriving in Paradise (reality TV stars, they’re just like us), with some even making a sort of “hit list” of people they want to go on dates with. This season, producers decided to riff on this tradition by shooting one woman’s introduction as a satire of a detective film. At the beginning of the episode, Katie Morton, from Colton Underwood’s season of The Bachelor, spies on a shirtless male contestant through binoculars from behind a tree and studies a bulletin board of headshots of the other men, connected by a web of red yarn. There is no way this creepy serial killer vibe was her idea, but good for her for committing to the role.
These cringe-inducing introductions of the contestants comprise the first 15 minutes of the premiere. Tayshia Adams, who made it to Underwood’s top three, is the first to receive the intro treatment. In her clip, Adams has to pinky promise her “protective” father, who requests that she only wear one-piece swimsuits, that no shenanigans will occur. That it is the 21st century and Tayshia is a 28-year-old woman seems to be irrelevant to everyone involved. Later in the episode, Tayshia will refer to herself as “Flirtayshia” and I will audibly groan at my laptop.
Also back for more are Blake Horstmann, the runner-up from Becca Kufrin’s season of The Bachelorette, beauty pageant queen Caelynn Miller-Keyes, a guy named Chris Bukowski, who proudly holds the record at six for most Bachelor franchise appearances ever, and a girl named Jane Averbukh who I have literally never seen before. She was apparently eliminated on the first night of Underwood’s season and her dominant personality trait is loving hot sauce.
Finally, contestants start to arrive at the Sayulita resort. As is always the case with these tropical dating competitions, the girls are all wearing full faces of immaculate makeup in the Mexico heat and I would like their waterproof mascara recommendations ASAP. Within minutes, it seems that a couple is already in the making.
While the other contestants continue to arrive, Hannah Godwin and Blake Horstmann interview each other on a chaise lounge and bond over how they both consider charcuterie boards their favorite food. It seems inevitable that Horstmann will ask Godwin out when he receives the first date card, but instead he chooses Tayshia and poor Hannah appears genuinely shocked that anyone would pass her over for a date. In a confessional, she tells the camera, “The fact that he had a date card and he didn’t want to spend time with me, like, that’s telling. I was just really blindsided.”
By far the most disappointing aspect of the premiere was the scarcity of Demi Burnett. Burnett is one of the most entertaining contestants to come out of The Bachelor and she was heavily teased as a crucial part of the new season of Paradise. When the first sneak peek of the season arrived last month, it featured what appeared to be footage of the (long overdue) first same-sex couple in franchise history. After the trailer dropped, Burnett took to Twitter to announce, “Spoiler alert: I’m a queer queen.”
In the episode, Burnett starts off her brief introduction by saying, “Hey guys, it’s Demi from Demi’s season of The Bachelor,” packing the confident sense of humor that made her a fan favorite during Underwood’s season. She goes on to explain that she is in love with a woman she has been dating, and even comes out on camera to pal Hannah Brown, before saying that the only way she can gain clarity on who and how she wants to love is to go to Paradise. After the intro, however, Burnett is rarely in the episode, except to straddle fellow contestant Derek. No word yet on how her girlfriend back home feels about the steamy swimming pool makeout.
After ABC earned props for putting so much emphasis on Demi’s relationship with another woman leading up to the premiere, it was confusing when she was barely in the episode (and even more confusing when she hooked up with someone else). It’s typical of The Bachelor to hold out on its juiciest moments until the climax of the season. But for a franchise severely lacking in representation over 17 years, it is not a good look to use its only queer relationship as a cliffhanger to keep viewers tuning in each week.
With five more weeks (and two episodes per week) left of Bachelor in Paradise, ABC has plenty of time to do Burnett justice. In a foreboding scene from the premiere, one contestant naively says, “I’m just hoping we don’t have any drama.” The others all exchange a laugh at his expense until someone finally replies, “Bro, do you know where you are?”