'Bachelor' Stars Grade ABC on How They Handled 'Paradise' Controversy

How ABC was going to handle the controversy that nearly derailed its popular summer spinoff series Bachelor in Paradise was a swirling question heading into last week's two-night premiere.

As was previously announced, the actual footage between two contestants, DeMario Jackson and Corinne Olympios, that launched an on-set investigation was never going to be shown on-air. But ABC did air footage leading up to the production shutdown so viewers could form their own opinion about what happened. 

"That is the most important thing," host Chris Harrison told The Hollywood Reporter of ABC showing the interactions between the contestants before Warner Bros. Television halted filming. "You need to form an opinion on: What was the mood and the state of everybody? And what was the general feeling going on for everyone in Paradise at the time?" 

ABC followed up the pre-shutdown footage with a cast sit-down on Tuesday night, where Harrison spoke with the returning reality stars about swirling accusations surrounding the controversy, alcohol consumption on set and consent. The conversation preceded Paradise officially opening its doors and was received to mixed reviews in the media. Jackson shared his opinion on how ABC handled the shutdown and more in a candid conversation with THR. ABC will air an interview with Jackson on the events Tuesday, followed by a one-on-one sit-down with Harrison and Olympios that will air next week.  

As the controversy continues to play out on TV, THR turned to two Bachelor experts to discuss the scenario. Ben Higgins, who starred as The Bachelor in 2016, and Ashley Iaconetti, a Bachelor alum who has appeared on two seasons of Paradise, now talk all things Bachelor weekly on their Almost Famous podcast. Below, the co-hosts lend their insider opinions, sharing what they still hope to see and their biggest takeaways so far.

Now that you saw how ABC handled the controversy in the Bachelor in Paradise two-night premiere, were your expectations met?

Ben Higgins: They confronted it, they talked about it. They handled it fine. From a viewer's perspective, we knew the end result and where it was going. The case had been dropped. Then the show portrayed the same thing. I don’t know if there is a right way, or a good way, to handle it, but I thought they at least talked about it and that was all the viewers really wanted. I did find the group circle chat awkward.

Ashley Iaconetti: I thought it was important that they had the circle time — as cheesy and awkward as it may have been. There was a lot addressed in that, from consent to drinks being forced to racism and Corinne calling herself a “victim.” I thought it was good they brought up all those things on the show and addressed them for themselves. They got across to the viewers that the entire cast felt comfortable and safe being in Paradise and working with production. I personally was watching and thinking, “Yeah. Duh. Duh. Duh.” But I think it was something that the audience needed to see. I didn’t need to see that because I know how it goes.

What were you happily surprised to see them address?

Higgins: I was surprised and a little bit relieved that when production was shutdown, everything seemed to be functioning as normal. There wasn’t anybody being isolated or accused in that moment, including Corinne and DeMario. As a viewer, I was happy to see everyone move forward so quickly when they got back. I think there were tears, having nothing to do with the controversy, on the first day back. They didn’t waste any time jumping back into it and I think the cast did a good job of opening themselves back up to whatever Paradise was going to bring them.

Iaconetti: The way they caught people up on that week and a half when filming was stopped was well done. They recapped everything quickly. They had a girl chat and a boy chat, and just went around the circle. They talked about how their relationship either progressed or regressed in that week, because obviously the show has never had a situation like this before where people could explore the relationship off-camera during that early stage.

What were you disappointed you didn’t see more of? Some critics say there wasn't enough shown of Jackson and Olympios.

Higgins: I’m kind of relieved. They were respectful of the situation, I thought. They didn’t make anyone look terrible. They glanced and glazed over it, which is good because even when we were having our conversations as the events were going down, there’s just so much to unpack. To show that on TV would have been unfair to the people involved, no matter if there was or wasn’t consent or if people felt like the victim or not. There would have been too much. So they glanced over it and let the viewer assume what happened and then close it up by saying, “Hey, there was an issue. Now let’s move forward.” I thought that was a good way of handling it because if not, you can get right back in the weeds with some bad publicity.

Iaconetti: I did talk to DeMario and he told me that his and Corinne’s relationship really did end that night. It's interesting because the week all the drama was unfolding, I mentioned to you, Ben, that there was some dark, scary, ominous cloud around the franchise and I felt weary when I would think back on the actual location in Mexico, a place that means so much to me. Then I’m watching it back and thinking, “Oh, there isn’t anything scary about this. This isn’t dark. This is still the same place that I know.” And at the same time, I think the truth was told. There doesn’t seem to be anything missing aside from the actual footage. I actually think that they could almost get away with not having the upcoming sit-downs with Corinne and DeMario. I think the first week put it all to rest and they’re almost going to be bringing it back up again.

The reaction from the media, in a word, seems to be disappointment. USA Today called the episode "painful" and scripted, TV Guide said the show handled the situation with “tone-deafness and bad taste” and CNN said they played “coy.” Can you see where some of the criticism is coming from?

Iaconetti: As a part of the Bachelor family, I want my experience and all my friends to be protected. I wasn’t looking for something juicy and dramatic to unfold, but I guess if I was a regular viewer at home and I had been waiting for months to see this, then yeah, sure, I could be disappointed.

Higgins: When any situation affects so many people outside the show, you have to be careful of how you show it and if you’re even going to show it. That was the question at one point: Would anything be shown? There’s no way to do this well, or do it without hurting, offending or disappointing people. There just isn’t. If they showed more of the situation, then there would be a whole slew of media outlets upset that this is being shown on TV. If you don’t show anything, then the viewers are going to be confused and kind of at a loss. So they showed enough, I think, to at least say, “This is the behind-the-scenes and what happened, and let’s sum it up.” You’re going to disappoint people, I guess, in these situations and I think they did what they thought was appropriate.

Iaconetti: I thought Tuesday's episode was very tastefully done. I think that it was a nice little teaching moment, like an after school special with Chris Harrison. It was nice for a younger audience. Chris was like their sex-ed teacher, amongst other things.

Higgins: The weird part of that is that he closes it by saying, “Alright everybody, is everybody down here at Paradise to consent? Ok, go do you’re thing.” (Laughs.)

Iaconetti: Exactly! “Let’s go around the circle.” (Laughs.)

I did speak to Harrison and he promised they were not going to drag it out. Were you surprised at that, given how often this show teases drama and controversy?

Iaconetti: I just think it was a situation they never wanted to happen in the first place. Normally when something dramatic happens on the show, they think it’s great TV. In this case, it was not something they wanted to concentrate on so they did get rid of it.

Higgins: This was a situation that probably had more press than anything I can remember on the Bachelor franchise. From Time magazine to The Hollywood Reporter to the New York Times to Good Morning America — everybody was covering this. If the show just wanted ratings, this becomes a massive storyline and they draw and play it out. But what I think they did was shutdown the rumor that this was all a publicity stunt. They just said, “This was unfortunate. This isn’t good for us. We don’t want this to happen.” For all the things that the Bachelor is, one thing they are not are people who want to ruin lives and I will stand by that. That’s not good for them or their show. In all of this, I was impressed that they chose, for lack of a better term, to take the high road.

You both heard more than the average viewer as this was playing out, being on the inside Bachelor track. Given what you thought you knew, how do you feel about both Olympios and Jackson after seeing the footage?

Iaconetti: I don’t love the way the girls have treated Corinne. They all immediately unfollowed her on Instagram as soon as this scandal broke, when they were told to go home and they didn’t know if they were ever going to come back. I believe the girls were mad at Corinne for the sole reason that she may have stolen their time on Paradise, and that’s why they are bitter towards her. But then afterwards when they got to go back, it was like everything was great again. They seemed to be very Team DeMario on the episode. I completely understand how DeMario’s name will always be attached to this situation on Google and how detrimental that can be to his life, but I feel like there wasn’t a lot of sensitivity to her situation. The one thing I will say is that I didn't like her statement calling herself a “victim."

Higgins: I don’t know either person at all, so I’ve never talked to or met Corinne or DeMario so my opinion after seeing the footage hasn’t changed. When I hear their names now, I’m quickly associating them back to the situation which, as Ashley said, is unfortunate. But I’m ready to hear the interview with Chris and Corinne. I think that’s where I’d give the show the most props. This was a situation that could have definitely ruined the franchise and was a really hard situation for a lot of people, including the people involved, and the show is giving both those people a place to speak again. They could have thrown both of them under the bus and said the situation wasn’t what it sounded like it was. But they didn’t. It sounds like ABC and the producers are continuing to forgive and resolve all the conflict that is sitting out there.

Have you spoken to Olympios? What has she taken away from all of this?

Iaconetti: I have spoken to her and she is definitely being pickier about her friends after all of this. I know Corinne is still in very good spirits with a lot of the producers. And let me just clarify: I know it’s silly to bring up how the cast “unfollowed” her on social media, but it is a public demonstration of their opinions.

Higgins: I’ve been unfollowed recently by some people, and it hurts real deep, Ashley!

Iaconetti: It does say a lot. A group unfollowing is very rejecting.

Higgins: Because you know the side conversation that must be going on, and nobody deserves that.

Iaconetti: If I were a part of that cast, would I have been really upset that we may not have had a season? Totally. But I definitely would not have unfollowed her and not ever talked to her again.

What do you want to hear from both Jackson and Olympios when they do sit down with Harrison this week and next week?

Higgins: I’m just hoping both are able to share the truth as clearly and honestly as they can. I hope they both are given the opportunity to speak truthfully about the situation. I don’t know enough still to say how this clears up, if it gets cleared up at all or even if it should get cleared up. I just hope that after watching it, viewers are able to understand better about what happened and that both of them walk away feeling like they told the truth completely.

Iaconetti: I completely agree with Ben. I would also love to have Corinne publicly explain what the “victim” comment was all about. That seems to be what people are harping on and that seems to have been the biggest mismanagement of everything afterwards. Everyone was very sensitive to that phrase.

Robert Mills did say she will clarify her “victim” statement during her interview. Mills and Harrison also spoke about the new rules on the show, which included tabs on cast drinking and vocalizing consent. Do you think these rules needed to be put in place?

Higgins: I heard that before anyone hooked up or kissed anyone, they had to sit down in front of a camera and consent to it.

Iaconetti: That’s awkward...

Higgins: Life is like that. You’re at a bar and you meet someone and you say, “Hey, are you into this?” The other person says, “Yeah, I’m into this. Let’s go.” Making sure to consent to the camera before that happens is a pretty funny situation, but I’m surprised they set rules to drinking. I’m of the idea that these are adults. Yes, they’re on the show’s watch, but if someone is going to drink too much and make bad decisions, that’s unfortunate but it happens. Setting restrictions to that just seems odd. As is in most things in life, you have to ask yourself, “What’s the wise thing to do?” And I guess it’s always been pretty clear to me that when you have a lot of cameras around you, the wise thing to do is to probably not get drunk. People are going to and I’ve seen it happen, so then whatever happens past that is their responsibility. Maybe it will only last one season, but the restrictions on things seems like babysitting and it’s unfortunate that people who are 23, 24, 25 and all the way up to 37 still need to be babysat.

Iaconetti: That was perfectly put.

Taylor Nolan vocalized that during the cast chat, saying they each take responsibility for what they drink and who they kiss. Do you think that takes the fault off the producers?

Iaconetti: I’m all about the cast taking responsibility. The producers aren’t babysitters for you, in that sense. Many of us get so close to producers that we think of them as friends and guardians, but when the cameras are rolling, you have to think of them as doing their job. They’re producers and they’re not your friends in that moment.

Higgins: I view the producers as storytellers. Their job is to tell a story that exists in real life, and that’s it. I don’t know if producers are responsible to morally and ethically manage a group of people, because I know my morals and values are going to be different than some other people’s. I didn’t think of them as gatekeepers. I don’t think the producer’s job is to play God. I view them as storytellers and that’s where that ends. If something happens, if someone drinks too much, then the producers either tell that story or because of their own ethical dilemmas, they don’t tell it. I don’t want them managing my values.

Overall, what grade would you give ABC with how they handled it so far?

Iaconetti: If I was [Scandal fixer] Olivia Pope, I would think, “I’ve done a great job. I’ve definitely crisis-managed this in the best possible way.”

Higgins: I’ll give them a B-. I don’t think there’s a good way to do. No matter what, it was going to be difficult, had and confusing. The general public is going to react in both ways. They’re going to be disappointed they didn’t see more and they’re going to be upset if they saw so much. I think this was a lose-lose for the show, but as Ashley said, they had the crisis managed and at this point, it feels like the crisis isn’t a main storyline.

Will you have Olympios and Jackson on your podcast?

Iaconetti: Maybe Corinne. She hasn’t been as outspoken.

Do you think there is still a cloud over the show, or are you ready for it to get back to being Paradise?

Higgins: There was a wedding, what I would consider a pretty awkward sitdown and then tears from couples breaking up and getting back together all in Tuesday's episode. It feels to me that the show moved on. It’s not an issue in their lives anymore. I didn’t hear one castmember referencing back to the situation after the sitdown.

Iaconetti: I am so ready to never talk about the scandal ever again. Carly and Evan’s wedding was the best possible thing that could happen to the Bachelor franchise at that time, and the best possible episode to put the wedding in. Amid all of this controversy, you had a beautiful wedding with another successful couple and another Bachelor baby. It’s another time that this process has worked out for the best.

New episodes of The Ben and Ashley I Almost Famous Podcast release weekly on iHeartRadio.