Photo: ABC

Reality TV isn’t real in the same way professional wrestling isn’t real. Neither is what they claim to be, but both operate within the knowledge that reality is not what you’re expecting. You want a story, and a story is what you get. The means of telling that story, however, are very, very real. It’s why wrestlers sometimes suffer life-threatening injuries, and it’s why Bachelor In Paradise is in the mess it’s in now.

In case you’re unaware, production of the trashy, beach-themed Bachelor offshoot stopped last weekend after “allegations of misconduct,” which were soon revealed to be centered around nonconsensual sexual acts. Cast member Corinne Olympios then recruited a band of high-powered attorneys, claiming that she “is a victim.” Her alleged aggressor, DeMario Jackson, lawyered up as well, claiming his innocence in a statement that said he’s fallen victim to “false claims and malicious allegations.” Meanwhile, reports from people who were on the scene have differed wildly, with some saying Olympios was blacked out during the interaction and others saying she‘s simply playing a role.

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A new piece from Vulture offers no definitive answers about the situation, but it does shine a light on how producers manipulate sexual situations on reality shows behind the scenes. Written under the pseudonym “James Callenberger,” a producer on any number of popular reality shows, the piece details how relationships are often pre-planned and manipulated via alcohol and the urging of producers.

In relating the situation to the Bachelor In Paradise scandal, Callenberger writes:

In order to deliver the most interesting romantic relationships, story producers in preproduction play matchmaker. In initial interviews, producers ask cast members whom they’re attracted to, then base their soft-scripted story lines on mutual attractions. Once on set, they gently encourage paired cast members to drop their inhibitions and follow their instincts. This is pure speculation, but a producer might have told Olympios something like, “It would be great to see you and DeMario get to know one another,” while another producer might’ve told Jackson, “Corinne is into you, you should make a move.” Meanwhile, a third producer may have been overseeing the scene in the hot tub, and this producer, who knew nothing about previous conversations, was perhaps the one who blew the whistle on the alleged sexual misconduct.

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Many have asked why producers didn’t step in and stop Olympios and Jackson during their tryst if there may have been an assault occurring. Callenberger’s response to such a question is both revealing and chilling:

Reality producers very rarely interrupt good scenes. You’re much more likely to be dragged across the coals by an executive asking why you called cut than by one asking why you didn’t step in. Mistakes can be edited out, but drama can’t be recreated. That’s likely why, per reports, the producer who complained about Olympios and Jackson’s encounter didn’t step in and stop it while it was happening. During filming, producers are hyperfocused on two questions: Is this good TV, and how can I make it better? Only after the fact do they consider what happened from a moral and legal perspective.

Callenberger also says the show missed an opportunity for “contributing to the national debate about consent and sexual assault” by stopping production and not allowing this drama to play out on national TV. That’s a bold, controversial assertion. It probably won’t be the last, either, as the fallout of this scandal continues to ripple throughout the realitysphere.

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