How Bachelor in Paradise, the Trashy Stepchild of The Bachelor, Reflects on Its Older Sibling

L-R: Bachelor in Paraise, The Bachelor Photo: ABC

If the rumors and reports prove true, there’s so much that’s sad and repellent and possibly criminal about the recent Bachelor in Paradise scandal, in which an alleged sexual assault took place during filming. Sex without consent is a crime, and it’s unbearably traumatic and tragic for the victim. Filming a nonconsensual sexual encounter (or telling a film crew to continue filming it) is disgusting and inhuman, at the very least. It seems to cross a line that BIP has never crossed before, at least as far as we know — while there’ve been plenty of sexual encounters, and more drunken blackouts than you can shake a stick at, there have never before been allegations of something nonconsensual. And for the franchise as a whole, this incident seems limited to one specific situation on BIP; it has no built-in blowback for the Bachelor and Bachelorette series.

There’s no immediate outrage that ties back to the broader Bachelor series, but that doesn’t mean there’s no connection between them. Like it or not, Bachelor in Paradise has always existed in concert with its big brother and sister series. Everything that has defined how Bachelor in Paradise works is tied up with the spoken and unspoken rules of The Bachelor. The Bachelor is about love, about meaningful, long-term relationships, about roses and helicopters and carefully timed fantasy suites. It’s about choreographed romantic rituals featuring thoughtful choices and a shiny, Neil Lane–provided engagement ring. Bachelor in Paradise is about laughing at all of that, getting incredibly drunk, and hooking up with whoever’s closest.

We watch The Bachelor because it stitches reality-TV entertainment into a story of potentially real love and imaginary fairy-tale tropes. We watch Bachelor in Paradise because it’s the trashy stepchild that thumbs its nose at all that nonsense and has a good time. On The Bachelor, love is “real”; on Bachelor in Paradise, stuff gets real — they are designed to be the inverse of each other. And although neither series needs the other one to exist, they both work better because the other one is around.

The most obvious example of this is sex, which The Bachelor and Bachelorette treat like a sacred and ritualized final hoop to jump through before committing to matrimony. The few examples where a Bachelor or Bachelorette have violated that careful order of operations have been major, intensely scrutinized events. (Courtney Robertson’s barely veiled hookup with Ben Flajnik pre–fantasy suite solidified her villain status; Kaitlyn Bristowe’s sex with Nick Viall before the fantasy suites caused a breakdown in the rhythm of the whole season.) Meanwhile, Bachelor in Paradise treats sex like a salacious and discussion-worthy form of narrative currency, encouraging it, orchestrating it, and generally depicting as much of it as possible.

Both of these versions of reality-TV sex have the potential to be entertaining in and of themselves. There’s romance and something vaguely, comfortingly conservative about the way it’s done on The Bachelor (as long as you ignore the part about how the Bachelor then has sex with three different contestants). And the entertainment value of the BIP version is pretty plain. But together, they’re even more exciting to watch. You get the safe, comforting, “real love” arc on the main franchise, and then you get to watch many of those exact same people let loose in Paradise. Bachelor is a small amount of permitted misbehavior inside the serious love arc; Bachelor in Paradise is misbehavior galore as long as it doesn’t go too far.

The two series form a mutually beneficial coalition of opposing forces. Feel safe inside the world of the Bachelor, but let your hair down with BIP. The Bachelor franchise makes sure everything stays under control, but the black sheep of the franchise knows how to keep things fun. Put it another way, if the year-round need to keep things buttoned up for endless Bachelor and Bachelorette seasons is normal everyday life inside Bachelor Nation, Bachelor in Paradise is the franchise’s version of Mardi Gras, or Carnival, or going to Vegas for a weekend. The rules go out the window and everyone has some fun.

Of course BIP has always been a little gross. It’s Vegas — stuff doesn’t stay clean. Until this point, though, it’s been a cheerful, messy, raunchy, lost-weekend sort of show. No harm no foul. But this scandal (again, assuming the facts as we currently know them prove true) punctures the already paper-thin boundaries of BIP’s apparent acceptability. Suddenly, the underlying motivation of the series becomes too nakedly visible — the scandal suggests that not only that did one contestant do something terrible, but also that someone involved in making this show decided that a filming a salacious train wreck was a higher priority than keeping the contestants safe. The scandal suggests that somewhere, BIP stopped being like a Vegas weekend and started to look more like a Bachelor-themed version of the Purge. “No rules” doesn’t just mean that everyone has fun. It may well mean that some terrible, unforgivable things happen.

So yes, this alleged scandal does cast Bachelor in Paradise in a new light. It looks less like goofy, sloppy fun and more like producers let choreographed drama escalate into something potentially criminal. And more broadly, the scandal makes it uncomfortably hard to forget how the same gross tactics and thirst for terrible behavior operate within the glossier corners of the Bachelor-verse.

The scandal inside Bachelor in Paradise highlights how much of this producer-created, morally suspect, definitely gross drama is also lurking inside the main Bachelor franchise. Unstable and aggressive people can populate BIP because they were already cast in a Bachelor series. Paradise is full of train wrecks because they were condoned within the apparently respectable main franchise. And the knowledge that producers possibly watched this event happen, and may in fact have orchestrated some of it, makes it hard to forget that situations are similarly staged on the parent franchises. Sex on The Bachelor might not cross the moral and ethical lines that this encounter may have, but the conditions — producers, alcohol, emotional manipulation — are likely the same.

Part of the allegations include this line, from a Bachelor in Paradise crew member: “Corinne and DeMario found out when they arrived in Mexico that the story line would involve the two of them hooking up.” This is nowhere near as shocking or horrifying as the allegation that producers would stand by and watch while a cast member had sex with a cast member too drunk to consent. The idea that producers set up story lines is widely accepted common knowledge. But it does come right smack up against the constant insistence, by Bachelor host Chris Harrison, current Bachelorette Rachel Lindsay, and many other former cast members, that things that happen on the franchise are “real.”

In this case, reports indicate that the event was all too real. Going forward, the question will be how much that realness will impact Bachelor in Paradise, and how much the gross stepchild of the franchise will reflect back on its popular, supposedly better behaved older sibling.

How Bachelor in Paradise Reflects on the Bachelor Franchise