The premiere episode of "Bachelor in Paradise" tried to traffic in debaucherous summer fun, but the controversy that halted the production in June hung over the set like a dark cloud.
Screenshot via ABC
In June, filming for Bachelor in Paradise—the Bachelor franchise's bacchanalian approach to matchmaking—was abruptly halted due to initially vague charges of "sexual misconduct" between two contestants, DeMario Jackson and Corinne Olympios. After the news broke, more details trickled in until a murky narrative was formed: On the first night, Corinne and DeMario drunkenly hooked up in the pool on the Paradise grounds, and a producer later flagged the footage as troubling.
Corinne later came out in the media and said that she had "little memory" of the pool encounter, and there was no way she could have consented. "As a woman, this is my worst nightmare and it has now become my reality," she said in a statement. According to reports, she didn't blame DeMario for what happened because he was also drunk; they both blamed the show for putting them in danger by not intervening.
As Chris Harrison glibly put it at the beginning of last night's premiere, "Yes, there was trouble in paradise." But as we soon see, Paradise is not eager to dwell on it. The episode's format takes us back and forth between a series of serious interludes by a lone Chris Harrison, filmed on the vacated set during the shut-down, and "two weeks earlier," during the early days of filming. By the end of the episode, it's clear that the Chris Harrison interludes were just an obligatory, disjointed gesture at best, and just another means of engorging the show with cynical "drama" at worst. While the teasers indicated that the show would serve up a sobering look at the reality of what happened on the first day of filming, the specter of sexual misconduct allegations is hardly confronted during the premiere.
Though the commercial breaks were buttressed by interstitials alluding the highly dramatic controversy, the actual controversy was presented in a way that made it appear extremely normal. When Corrine walked on set, with two champagne glasses in hand, she made the point of telling the camera that she wasn't going to jump at the first guy who showed her attention—but she meets DeMario, and they instantly start flirting. The camera then cuts to the storylines of several other Bachelor/ette castoffs, which don't look too different from Corrine and DeMario's.
We don't see the two again until after a break, as well as some more footage of the other goings-on around the resort. Then another contestant, Alex, discusses Corrine and DeMario's relationship, speaking directly to the camera. "They look like they have a connection," he says. Corrine and DeMario suddenly interrupt him, wandering into the shot boisterously. They drunkenly bound off to the pool, DeMario in a swimsuit and Corinne in all her clothes. Alex jokingly narrates the action (which isn't much) and the scene ends. The show cast Corrine and DeMario in the same light that it would any budding couple on the show, then moved on.
It wasn't until the episode ended on a cliffhanger—as the producers were frantically rounding up DeMario and Corinne, to presumably talk about what happened on the first day—that I realized this scene was the start of the alleged incident. Because it was presented so flippantly, with another contestant laughing while narrating the events, I assumed there would be another, subsequent scene with Corinne and DeMario in the pool, one that was handled with more gravity.
Based on how Paradise handled this, despite the dramatic ending, part two of the episode will probably just cut to Chris Harrison advising the remaining contestants of the new consent rules and two-drink limit, and bidding them on their horny way. The show wants to lure viewers in with a look behind the headlines without risking putting a real damper on the "summer fun." (Ratings were up by 11 percent compared to last season.) Bachelor Nation will never condemn itself, only attempt to mine its missteps for more content.
Though as much as Paradise wanted to sweep the controversy under the rug while pretending it wasn't doing just that, I found myself wanting to do the same. Paradise is supposed to be pure, escapist glee. Nearly everyone is there for the wrong reasons—to be on TV—and acts accordingly outrageous. Corrine, for example, had a boyfriend while filming. Amanda Stanton, who is in Paradise for the second time, revealed that she's back on the show because she got rejected from a celebrity dating app. I laughed when Demario walked into Paradise and promptly blew a whistle he had around his neck to distract from everyone's questions about his tenure on Rachel's season of The Bachelorette; it seemed like he was desperate to rebrand from "guy who secretly had a girlfriend" to "fun whistle guy." Then I remembered that he would never have that chance.