As long as reality shows have dominated our screens, the “cliffhanger” has been a trademark twist to keep viewers excited for each new episode. The cliffhanger in the Season 4 premiere of Bachelor in Paradise, however, crossed the line and turned a serious subject into a tawdry plot line.
In case you’re not a regular viewer of the hit ABC reality show, this article in the Washington Post should catch you up to speed. A commenter on the article asserts, “Oh ABC you dropped the ball on this one”, and they are absolutely right. As a major broadcast network, ABC has a responsibility to address the issue of consent in a careful, honest, and effective way.
Granted, they certainly didn’t hide from the controversy. Instead, they capitalized on it. Host, Chris Harrison, opens the premiere with this sensationalized line, “There was trouble in paradise as accusations and allegations ran wild.” And, as the article linked above points out, “throughout the episode, there were multiple teasers about drama. ‘Stay tuned for the moment … the cameras stopped rolling,’ a voice-over said mischievously.”
The self-characterization of Corinne Olympios, one of the two cast members involved in this story, changed dramatically--going from this...
“I am a victim and have spent the last week trying to make sense of what happened. … Although I have little memory of that night, something bad obviously took place. … As a woman, this is my worst nightmare and it has now become my reality.” -Corinne Olympios
“I was a victim of, you know, just being blown into the media and having people make these crazy assumptions and judgments about what happened that day. I was really a victim of the media,” Olympios replied. “It was just all of a sudden people became an expert on the situation and on what happened and it’s like, well, I’m still trying to figure out exactly what happened. And it was just horrible to deal with.” -Corinne Olympios
We’ll never know what exactly happened on day 1 of filming for season 4 of the hit Bachelor spin-off, but it is irrelevant at this point. It has been made clear that sexual activity occurred and that alcohol was involved. Factually, we know that when someone is intoxicated beyond capacity, consent is--by definition--absent. The “no big deal; everyone was drunk” trope is a dangerous one. Instead of teaching young men how to get consent from a potential partner, we’re teaching them how to live in a world where consent doesn’t even matter.
ABC had--and missed--an important opportunity to talk honestly about rape culture and its role in shaping the response and judgement of Olympios, an opportunity to encourage discussion on what consent should look like regardless of whether or not a seuxal assault actually occured. We applaud the bystander on the set identified as one of the show’s producers, for speaking up when they saw something concerning taking place. And just a half-clap for ABC for not sweeping the entire situation under the rug.
Referring to the interviews with Olympios and Jackson, separately, included in the season’s early episodes, a show exec said "It’s been a real ordeal for both of them, and they’ll talk about all of that. After that second week, I can’t imagine there will be any more questions." What the exec fails to realize, and what we work hard to remind people, is that consent is an ongoing conversation and there should always be more questions. We were certainly left with many that had us wondering how much damage ABC’s/Harrison’s response to this situation has done to perpetuate misconceptions about healthy consent.