7:00pm PT by Jackie Strause
Why 'Bachelor in Paradise' Broke Its Rules for First Same-Sex Romance
The long-running ABC franchise delivered its first-ever same-sex romance on Bachelor in Paradise.
Tuesday's episode of the summer spinoff series, currently in its sixth season, saw sexually fluid contestant Demi Burnett commit to Kristian Haggerty, a woman outside the Bachelor franchise who came to Paradise's set in Sayulita, Mexico, to explore a relationship with the reality TV contestant.
The sixth cycle of Paradise has been following Burnett's coming-out journey. The reality star, who was first introduced to Bachelor Nation during Colton Underwood's season of The Bachelor earlier this year, came out on social media ahead of the season when she identified as a "queer queen." As the season progressed, Burnett opened up to fellow contestants about being sexually fluid as she pursued a relationship with Derek Peth but felt conflicted about the relationship with Haggerty that she had left behind.
After Burnett spoke to host Chris Harrison about her dilemma, Paradise invited Haggerty to come onto the show. Upon her arrival, an emotional Burnett made her choice, telling Haggerty, "The second that I saw you, I knew exactly, it's you. And it's always been you. And I want to be with you." Burnett confessed her conflicted feelings to both Haggerty and Peth, ultimately choosing Haggerty, and the pair went off-site for an intimate one-on-one date.
When speaking to The Hollywood Reporter recently, Harrison explained that the decision by producers to break show "rules" and allow a franchise outsider onto the show displays a more "modern, evolved version" of the reality show. "I’m not exactly sure how we would have embraced Demi’s situation in year's past. But with the way we do the show now, we let it come to us," he said. "When this situation presented itself to us with somebody we really love and care about in Demi, I think our initial instinct was the right one: 'Let’s lean into it. Let’s go there. Let’s explore this.'"
Harrison continued, "We could have easily said that because Demi is in somewhat of a relationship back home that she won't find love here and we should send her home and go on our way. Instead, we all made the decision to break or bend the rules a little bit. And the good news is, there is no rulebook. I always say that to contestants and producers. We have no rules and can essentially do what we want with the show as long as we’re treating everybody fairly and with respect. It was a pretty easy but big decision to go down that path with Demi, especially since it’s with someone who is outside of our franchise and our family."
Before embarking on their date, Burnett introduced Haggerty to the cast and the outsider was welcomed with open arms. "We have been dating before I decided to come to Paradise," said Burnett. "I wanted to come to Paradise to get some clarity on everything and figure out where my heart was, and my heart is here. And so we're going to stay in Paradise."
Only one time before on Paradise has a franchise outsider joined the cast. In season two, Ashley Iaconetti Haibon's sister Lauren Iaconetti joined the former as a package deal. At the end of Tuesday's episode, Haggerty does decide to stay on Paradise and continue the show with Burnett, though she expressed hesitations and concerns before committing.
"The reason why it works so well — and in my opinion it does work — is because [Haggerty] is so innocent and naïve about the world she’s about to come into, that you can tell it's 100 percent genuine," said Harrison of how the rest of the season will play out.
Burnett is the second contestant to be openly fluid on the franchise, following Jaimi King, who was the franchise's first openly bisexual contestant in 2017. A teaser for next week's episode hints at Harrison breaking the rose ceremony rules, presumably so Burnett can cross the traditional gender lines to give Haggerty her rose. The structure of the competition is such that the men and women alternate leading the rose ceremony eliminations and hand a rose out to a contestant of the opposite sex.
"We’re a microcosm of what’s happening in the world. We’re all evolving and getting more intelligent, and our eyes are opening in a lot of ways," said Harrison, adding that Bachelor in Paradise's same-sex producers and crew behind the scenes helped the show to tell an authentic story. "I’m not going to say we’re changing the world — it’s an entertainment show, so let’s stay in our lane a little bit. But I am proud of the fact that we aren’t afraid of these social issues and are pushing these issues a little bit, and hopefully we do our part in raising the level of debate. And like society, our show will continue to evolve as well."
In response to Tuesday's episode, GLAAD praised Paradise and Burnett for speaking "honestly and openly" about coming to terms with her sexuality. "Bachelor in Paradise’s inclusion of Demi Burnett’s coming out story and her journey to accepting her queer identity is groundbreaking for the series,” said Anthony Ramos, GLAAD’s head of talent, in a statement to THR. "Tens of millions of people around the world watch The Bachelor and The Bachelorette franchises and this move to include a same-sex relationship in an honest fashion has the power to upend preconceived notions of LGBTQ people like Demi who are attracted to more than one gender."
Aug. 21, 8 a.m. Updated to include GLAAD statement.