Amid heightened awareness and questions surrounding sexual consent in the entertainment industry, Warner Bros. this week shut down production of Bachelor in Paradise, which was supposed to air on ABC later this summer, after allegations surfaced of sexual misconduct on the set of the reality show.
A spinoff of the popular reality franchises The Bachelor and The Bachelorette, Bachelor in Paradise showcases rejected contestants from those two shows in a tropical location—in this case, Mexico. The show has a reputation for being more risqué than the other two, and contestants are encouraged to drink alcohol and “hook up.”
A female contestant, whom some news outlets have identified as a former contestant from Nick Viall’s season of The Bachelor, was reportedly too intoxicated to consent to sexual activity with a male contestant, DeMario Jackson (who was recently eliminated from this season of The Bachelorette for lying to his ex-girlfriend about their relationship in order to appear on the show). The production crew allegedly allowed the sexual activity to continue, despite the woman being incapacitated.
A “third party” reportedly involved with the show filed a claim against the production company for not stepping in to stop the incident.
“People are pissed, and not just at DeMario,” a contestant on the show told People. “We’re pissed that this whole thing happened. They could have seen that she was drinking too much and that he was taking advantage. They could have stopped this before it got this far. But they decided to let it go and let it happen, and see what happened?”
In its only statement on the matter, Warner Bros. said: “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.”
Reality shows have long been manipulated by producers. On the set of Bachelor in Paradise, producers reportedly encouraged certain contestants to get together for the sake of good storylines.
Domenic Romano, managing attorney at Romano Law PLLC, said he understands that contestants sign away many of their rights in order to participate in these kinds of shows, but he noted that producers are also under contract.
“I’d be surprised if a contract provision didn’t allow for a producer to restrain contestants from illegal, sexual activity if someone was unconscious or not cognizant of their environment,” Romano told Adweek. “If a producer continued to encourage that behavior, knowing the recipient of the unwanted sexual acts was not fully aware or able to give consent, there would be serious repercussions for them.”
He continued, “By not intervening—if these reports are true—the producers have exposed their employer to be liable for this incident. You cannot waive your right to not be involved in a serious crime.”
Bob Thompson, a professor of TV and popular culture at Syracuse University, told Adweek the show “creates exactly the kind of environment for an incident like this to happen.”
“The whole principle of [Bachelor in Paradise] is to create situations where people are given the opportunity and the alcohol that can get themselves into a state where consent becomes questionable. … It’s a fundamental problem of the show,” said Thompson, noting that early reality TV had problems that have only gotten worse over the years.
“All networks jumped into reality TV [in the early 2000s], even with the potential of a shady outcome,” he said.
Romano called the Bachelor in Paradise fiasco “a wake up call … to the industry, to the networks, to the production companies and to the viewing public.”
“We’ve seen that a lot of what passes for unscripted or reality TV is fabricated and induced,” he said. “The responsibility of an incident like this, if it’s true, starts with the producers and the production company and how far they’ll go to get ratings. … The larger issue is why we’re fascinated with this type of display to begin with.”