First, the obvious: The tantalizing whiff of controversy drew media to a season premiere of “Bachelor in Paradise” that many outlets (including this one) would have otherwise ignored. Nobody expected a “60 Minutes”-type expose, but once ABC and Warner Bros. opted to forge ahead with the show, they had a certain duty not to whitewash what nearly derailed it, and to clarify what happened – or didn’t.
Those hoping for a few rays of transparency, however, were treated – in classic reality-TV fashion – to plenty of padding with little payoff. And while the contestants in question have lawyered up, viewers would be well within their rights to sue for the time squandered on a program that tediously played coy with the whole situation in what felt like an effort to exploit it, starting with host Chris Harrison’s intro saying, “Yes, there was trouble in ‘Paradise.’”
To recap, ABC suspended production in Mexico, citing possible misconduct pertaining to contestants Corinne Olympios and DeMario Jackson. Both left the show and retained attorneys, and filming resumed after an internal investigation cleared those involved.
Despite a lot of “coming up” teases hinting at the controversy, though, viewers saw just a few moments of Olympios and Jackson canoodling and then hopping clothed into the pool together. The show basically then went back to business as usual, presenting a slow-motion trip through the first few days, including the “I’ve got a puppy,” “Dean is really good looking” and “I think you’re very hot” stages of “Bachelor” courtship.
The hour closed, anticlimactically, with Olympios and Jackson being summoned to talk with producers and production shutting down, while the other participants expressed their confusion. But the absence of dirty laundry also dispensed with anything that might be confused with exonerating the contestants involved or, for that matter, the network and producers, who have been accused of plying their charges with alcohol to wring more drama out of the proceedings. (One contestant did get notably inebriated, a moment treated largely as a joke.)
“The Bachelor” and its assorted editions have a rather lengthy history of toying with audience expectations, and anyone prone to complain about that is really just a sucker for continuing to tune in. Still, the possibility that something occurred serious enough to halt production warranted a more straightforward and honest account than the usual bag of tricks.
Instead, gimmickry is precisely what “Bachelor in Paradise” served up in the premiere.
ABC’s “Good Morning America” added to the smoke and mirrors Tuesday morning with an interview of Harrison. The appearance was clearly more about promoting the series than clearing the air, with the host insisting the investigation was triggered by “someone who really wasn’t there and really didn’t see or hear anything,” without providing any detail, other than to say the situation was “kind of frustrating.”
The story continues with another two-hour episode Tuesday, part of what Harrison billed during the show as “the most shocking, and yes, the most dramatic season ever.”
It very well might turn out that way, but don’t bet on it. Because when it comes to credibility, ABC, “The Bachelor” creator Mike Fleiss, and his team haven’t come close to earning the benefit of the doubt.