9:00pm PT by Jackie Strause
'Bachelor in Paradise' Reunion Tackles Sex-Shaming and "Disgusting" Text Reveal
[This story contains spoilers from the Bachelor in Paradise season six finale.]
After a season that involved as much — if not more — off-camera drama as on-camera storylines, Bachelor in Paradise wrapped its sixth cycle with an explosive and, at times, uncomfortable cast reunion that touched on sex-shaming and production rumors, while also celebrating the many couples to emerge out of the summer spinoff series.
Tuesday's three-hour finale featured pre-taped footage from the beaches of the summer spinoff's Mexico set, where three of the final four couples got engaged. Marking a first for the long-running ABC franchise, same-sex couple Demi Burnett and Kristian Haggerty were among the celebratory engagements. Hannah Godwin and Dylan Barbour, and Katie Morton and Chris Bukowski, also walked away from Paradise with engagements, though the latter couple later revealed their road has been a rocky one.
One contestant who did not have much to celebrate, however, was Blake Horstmann. Horstmann, who returned to the franchise after a beloved stint as runner-up on last year's The Bachelorette with Becca Kufrin, quickly flip-flopped into the Paradise villain when it was revealed early on in the season that he had prior relationships and communications with four of the most high-profile women on the beach: Godwin, Tayshia Adams, Caelynn Miller-Keyes and Kristina Schulman. The women began to untangle Horstmann's dating web after arriving on the show.
Horstmann received so much backlash over the on-camera revelations about his behavior that the contestant felt compelled to release private text messages between himself and Miller-Keyes, a sexual assault survivor who accused Horstmann on-air of making her feel like a "dirty little secret" after they slept together at the Stagecoach music festival before filming Paradise. (Stagecoach became a buzzword for the season, as Horstmann met many of the cast at the festival and slept with both Miller-Keyes and Schulman during the three-day concert.)
After the Paradise premiere, Horstmann took to Instagram to share text messages that he felt proved that Miller-Keyes had not been completely honest and that he hoped would clear his name. His plan, however, backfired. Members of the franchise, both old and new, as well as viewers on social media, criticized his decision to make private conversations public and he soon after deleted his posts. Not before Miller-Keyes, who posted a response of her own, received hate messages online. "What infuriates me the most is that I’m being trolled for having sex because of what I’ve been through," said Miller-Keyes at the time (she had opened up about her past sexual assault on The Bachelor earlier this year).
"That was a really bad call," franchise host Chris Harrison candidly told The Hollywood Reporter shortly after Horstmann had released the texts. "There were a million ways he could have handled it that would have been better than releasing something as violating and personal as text messages. That’s tantamount to recording someone’s conversation and releasing the phone call or releasing naked pictures. I thought it was a real violation and really disrespectful and just a really bad idea."
After posting an updated apology ("I've gotten way in over my head with women and have made a lot of mistakes and although never my intent, I hurt several people along the way," he said, in part), Horstmann has remained quiet about his Paradise stint, which ended with him leaving the beach in a better place than he began, but still single. Last week, he broke his silence in another post that read, in part: "To say Paradise was rough for me is an understatement. I have no one to blame but myself for that."
On Tuesday's reunion, Harrison got the opportunity to address that off-camera drama that loomed over the season when he put Horstmann in the hot seat in front of the cast. After listening intently — and on the edge of his own seat — to his co-stars recount what happened, Horstmann said he knew he was going to take heat on Paradise, but he didn't anticipate how bad it would get.
"I didn't want it to come off like I was walking around like, 'Hey, look at these notches on my belt.' It wasn't like that and I didn't want it to come off like that," said Horstmann while explaining himself to Harrison. "I didn't want to talk about other peoples' private sex lives when everybody was down there to find somebody. I wasn't about to go shame and smear peoples' names on that beach for having hooked up with me."
Admitting that he "didn't know how to right things," he noted that during one episode, he apologized 19 times. But when talk turned to his relationship with Miller-Keyes, the reunion stage grew heated as each side tried to clarify their perspective — tensions that were even more simmering than what made it to the final edit.
Miller-Keyes admitted that she has regrets and takes ownership over her part in the saga, but told her co-star she was hurt when he "ignored" her during the show and said the text-message reveals only made things worse for her. "You're pulling from very perfectly selected text messages that make you look good and that make me look bad, so that's not fair," she said. When he fired back that he released the texts because of "not true" allegations. She countered, "I've never felt so exposed or violated in my entire life. I truly feel just disgusting that everyone has seen [those texts]."
In an attempt to catch up the audience, Harrison explained that Miller-Keyes was indeed attacked over Horstmann's reveal. "I didn't think people would stoop that low," Horstmann said, as both Miller-Keyes and her current boyfriend, Dean Unglert, called him out for being premeditated. Another contestant, Onyeka Ehie, accused Horstmann of slut-shaming Miller-Keyes. "Your whole point in this was to discredit me and you've done far more than that — you've discredited me in every aspect of my life," said Miller-Keyes through tears.
But Horstmann continued to defend himself. "Nobody would know she had made any mistakes had I not done what I did," he said. "The whole situation sucks."
After pleas from his fellow castmates to apologize, Horstmann then said to Miller-Keyes, "I am so sorry you got attacked and I am so sorry you are feeling the way you are." He then extended an apology to the entire cast.
THR can reveal that Horstmann defended himself more vigorously than what made it to air, prompting Unglert at one point to step in to shut the conversation down when Horstmann referenced accusations that he was "silencing a sexual assault victim." Miller-Keyes also revealed during the taping that she had offered to do interviews with Horstmann to help clear up the situation and that she would apologize for overreacting. Viewers did see both Horstmann and Miller-Keyes (being consoled by Unglert) in tears during separate behind-the-scenes corners offstage.
Though Horstmann was a main focus of the reunion show, the studio taping also gave Harrison, Burnett and Haggerty the chance to address accusations that production had a heavier hand in the way their historic romance played out. The show broke traditional rules to allow Haggery, a franchise outsider, to come on the show.
During the taping, Harrison said he wanted to "clear up production rumors" and explained, "We did know that you [Demi] had been dating a woman back home, but we also knew that you were open to coming to Paradise and figuring things out and finding where you were, that’s really what this was — it wasn’t premeditated that Kristian was going to come down. Sure it was an option, and that was the way things went, but honestly at first I didn’t think that was the way it was going to go. When you had the relationship with Derek I was like, 'OK, I guess that’s the way we’re going with this. This is what she’s discovered and found out about herself.'"
Haggerty told Harrison that she was surprised when she got the call and went into the experience knowing nothing about Burnett's intentions at the time. Burnett, who echoed Harrison's statements in a recent interview with THR, then added, "Her going out of her way to come to Mexico and come to Paradise was nothing she wanted to do — she didn’t want to be on TV. I know her, that’s not her jam. So the fact that she did that was an act of love."
What did make it to air with the groundbreaking couple was Burnett speaking about the positivity that she has received — and Haggerty getting the chance to propose and give Burnett a ring. "I've always dreamed of a day where I'd be able to celebrate who I am and celebrate love no matter which way it comes, so I feel like we're celebrating right now," Burnett said.
Tuesday's finale not only celebrated the engaged couples, but also revealed the other pairs that are committed to each other after another season of Paradise (the spinoff returns next summer with season seven.) In addition to Miller-Keyes and Unglert, Tayshia Adams and John Paul Jones are also now in a committed relationship. Morton and Bukowski, who got engaged on the finale, are still trying to make things work. The finale also caught up with newlyweds Krystal Nielson and Chris Randone and Bachelor families Jade and Tanner Tolbert, who recently welcomed their second child, and Carly and Evan Bass, who are expecting their second child.
But the biggest reveal of the night was the long-awaited Bachelor announcement that Peter Weber from Brown's season of The Bachelorette will be taking on the starring gig. "it's still hitting me right now. I feel so grateful just to have this opportunity in front of me — this is crazy! This is life-changing," he said while making his debut on the reunion stage. "My entire life I have truly looked forward to finding my girl and that person that I cannot wait to spend the rest of my life with."
Weber, who THR had reported was the frontrunner, beat out Bachelorette and Bachelor in Paradise star Mike Johnson, who would have been the franchise's first black Bachelor. The Bachelor returns Jan. 6, 2020.
Kirsten Chuba contributed to this story.