Only two weeks into Bachelor in Paradise and already ABC’s summer spinoff of the Bachelor and Bachelorette franchise is seeing offscreen drama play out alongside the sixth season of the reality dating show.
When Paradise launched with a two-night premiere, the franchise was celebrating a ratings win with the season finale of Hannah Brown’s The Bachelorette and a double renewal for Bachelorette and Paradise, joining the already renewed 24th season of The Bachelor. The franchise was also making entertainment headlines — thanks to Bachelorette runner-up Tyler Cameron dating supermodel Gigi Hadid — and being praised for what will be the long-running U.S. franchise’s first-ever same-sex relationship, which will play out as the current sixth cycle of Paradise unfolds this summer with contestant Demi Burnett.
Then during Tuesday’s second episode of Paradise, contestant Blake Horstmann gave the franchise another headline boost when he made private text messages between himself and another contestant, Caelynn Miller-Keyes, public in response to what was playing out on the show. Horstmann has received backlash over his relations with four contestants prior to coming on the show and took to his Instagram account to share texts that he felt better represented his side of the story about his relationship with Miller-Keyes (she accused him of keeping their affair a “dirty little secret,” among other things) and suggested show editing could be responsible for Miller-Keyes’ on-air account of what happened. She then posted her own response on social media to say that “a large part of the story is missing.”
Suffice to say, host Chris Harrison had a lot to discuss when speaking with The Hollywood Reporter about the goings on of the reality franchise. In a chat below, Harrison reflects on lessons learned from Brown’s sex-positive and twist-ending season of The Bachelorette (“The show has never been predicated on the fact that it’s guaranteed to be successful — it’s really incumbent upon the Bachelor or Bachelorette to dive in and get to know this person”), talks about the ongoing conversation for the next star of The Bachelor, teases Burnett’s “impactful” queer romance and weighs in on Horstmann “violating” Miller-Keyes by sharing their text messages: “That was a really bad call.”
Hannah Brown’s season was a success in ratings and audience response. She was also one of the most sex-positive Bachelorettes and steered the franchise into talking about previously taboo topics like sex and religion. Will the franchise lean into that moving forward?
I like your terminology of “sex-positive.” I think what we are going to continue to let evolve and lean into is what you’ve seen over the last three seasons, where we’ve allowed the show to dictate what we’re going to talk about. You can’t say, “Hannah’s season was sex-positive. That was a great social issue, let’s really lean into that.” That’s just what showed its face this season. In season’s past with Kaitlyn [Bristowe] it was slut-shaming; with other seasons, it’s been social-media issues. The goal for us now is to embrace whatever comes and allow it to be organic and run its course. You can’t go into this next season of The Bachelor — and first of all, I don’t even know who the Bachelor is — saying, “We’re really going to continue lean into this social issue.” Because then you’re forcing it. You’re going to make producers try and find stories about sex or religion or whatever, and that’s not our show. We have to wait and see what stories come to us and then we’ll deliver them.
The format felt looser, which was also a fit for Brown. In terms of production, what did you learn from her season that you will apply to future cycles?
You saw a lot more of this in Colton [Underwood]’s season of The Bachelor with the fence jump and his emotional breakdown. And subsequently, my talk with him that was really raw and fairly unproduced. We’re going to continue to embrace showing the good, the bad and the ugly and wrap our arms around that when it feels right and real. It’s more and more what the audience wants and is demanding of reality TV. You can’t go into a season not knowing who the Bachelor is going is going to be and dictate anything yet. But I always say that every season is going to be different and something will happen that we’ve never seen before. I can’t tell you what that is right now, but trust me — by mid-November, I’m going to be telling people, “Wow, I can’t believe that just happened.”
Now Bachelor in Paradise is breaking ground by having the first same-sex relationship air with contestant Demi Burnett. The woman is not part of the franchise; they had a relationship before the show and she ends up coming on Paradise. Can you talk about breaking show “rules” to allow for this moment?
You hit the nail on the head when talking about this kind of modern, evolved version of the 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. So 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.” 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. But the reason why it works so well — and in my opinion it does work — is because this young woman who you are about to be introduced to is so innocent and naïve about the world she’s about to come into, that you can tell it’s 100 percent genuine.
There are producers and some behind-the-scenes crew who are in same-sex relationships. How did that help to deliver a more authentic portrayal?
We leaned on those producers — and by the way, camera and audio people; there are plenty of people on our set in same-sex relationships. I felt that I owed it to them and to everybody else in that community to do this right and to make it respectable. To tell this story properly in their honor. I leaned on them and we all leaned on them to make sure they felt like this was being fairly and respectfully portrayed.
What impact will this have on the franchise: Will you open it up to more queer contestants? Have you ever talked about having a queer lead? How does this open up these conversations behind the scenes?
The point of all social issues and raising the level of debate in our country is that you will see more and more of that — whatever your cause is, you’ll see it represented in the workplace, on television, in politics. I always say The Bachelor doesn’t create and drive social issues. 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. 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
It feels like the next season of The Bachelor has come down to Mike Johnson or Peter Weber, who are both from Brown’s season. When it comes to having a diverse star, you have long said the person has to be popular among the audience and genuinely looking for love. It seems like Johnson might check both those boxes and has the potential to be the first black Bachelor. Why are both of these men good options?
They are both good options and they are both options. And Tyler [Cameron] is still in the mix as well, even though he went on a date with Gigi Hadid. The good news is, we have a little time and we can wait and see where are all these contestants and prospects are when we need to make a decision. Mike is about to make his debut on Bachelor in Paradise. The fact that he left early enough on The Bachelorette allowed us to get him to Paradise; because he was so popular and such a big name, the contestants and fans and producers wanted him there. So, we’re going to watch him on Paradise and see how people react to him there. We’ll see if he’s in a relationship or engaged when he leaves; obviously, that would kill the situation. And the same thing with a guy like Peter. We’re going to pay attention and see how he’s doing and where his life is, because at the end of the day when we make that decision, we need somebody who is sincerely ready to open their life, step into a relationship and hopefully find something meaningful — love, relationship, wedding. It’s a very particular thing to find and on top of that, we need to create a great television show like we did with Hannah. If you look back at the two Hannahs — Hannah G. and Hannah B. — they’re both great and maybe they both would have been a fantastic Bachelorette. But at the end of the day, we thought Hannah B. was going to be a really good television show and it turns out, she was.
How much does the potential to make franchise history play into the Bachelor choice?
Luckily, that goes so far up the food chain and over my pay-grade that I don’t have to worry about the historical implications or ramifications of their final decision. You always have to keep in mind the importance. But at the same time, you really have to lean towards: what is going to be the best television show? What will keep everybody entertained, employed and keep this train moving in the right direction? We work extremely hard behind the scenes to create diversity and see more people represented on our show. It’s incumbent on us to do that, but it’s also really incumbent on us and everybody who runs this show to keep the show alive and keep it a viable option for ABC to renew. What’s the purpose of making a big social stand if you’re off the air in December? Every writer or person who is clamoring for something, whatever their social issue is, they’re going to move on and go yell at somebody else. You have to listen, but you have to do so and be prudent about it as well. We can’t just make decisions because we want to make everybody happy by making a social statement.
Both Weber and Bachelorette winner Jed Wyatt were hit with claims of prior relationships during The Bachelorette. Weber has addressed his situation and it doesn’t seem to be impacting his Bachelor chances. But in Wyatt’s case, it cost him his relationship with Brown (they called off their engagement before the live finale). You had released the names of Brown’s contestants early and Bachelor Nation did help weed out some bad seeds. But when it comes to preventing Wyatt’s situation from happening again, have you come up with any ideas?
Someone tweeted, “How do you guys not know these people are in relationships?” When you think about that statement, it’s quite silly. Because it’s up to someone to say they are either in a relationship or they are not. It’s easier to tell if someone is married, that’s a legal document. But the boyfriend, girlfriend, dating, broken up. There’s a big gray area. The show has never been predicated on the fact that it’s guaranteed to be successful. It’s really incumbent upon the Bachelor or the Bachelorette to dive in and get to know this person. Could somebody lie and cheat and finagle their way through? Possibly. I don’t think that’s what Jed did. I think he really did fall in love with Hannah and I think that was maybe his biggest mistake — that he came on not really believing what the show was about and he fell in love with Hannah, and then he found himself between a rock and a hard place. That was an extraordinary situation we’ve never faced before. But beyond really sitting down and getting to know somebody and asking him, “Are you in a relationship? Are you not?” — that’s about as far as you can go. We’re not going to hire private detectives to follow everyone around for six months and dig through their trash. The show is a microcosm of what’s happening in the world and when you date someone, they could use you for your money or your looks or try to promote their music career. For Hannah, you have to look back at the show and say, “You walked through some red flags. His own family warned you about Jed and your family warned you about Jed.” Part of the show and dynamic is watching Hannah walk right by those red flags and say, “You know what? I’m going to fix this guy and it’s us against the world.” That was a choice. Maybe it wouldn’t have been the same if she had chosen Peter or Tyler.
What about raising the age for contestants? If you don’t know how to properly break up with someone, maybe you are too immature for this show.
(Laughs.) Well, there’s plenty of 40- or 50-year-old men who still don’t know how to talk to or break up with women. With age comes a little wisdom and experience, but that’s not always necessarily the case.
Cameron is a fan-favorite and seemed like a shoe-in for The Bachelor — until he was spotted with Gigi Hadid after spending time with Brown once the show ended. Have you spoken to him and how much is this hurting his chances to be the Bachelor?
I haven’t talked to him, some of the producers have. I saw my comments were taken as saying that Tyler’s chances are dead and he won’t be the Bachelor. That’s not at all what I said. He’s still a contender, this is just a good example of why we wait. The show is just now over. If we had announced Tyler [as the Bachelor] the day after and then this happens, that’s a big problem for us and it’s not a good look. So we wait. And maybe Tyler gets this out of his system. He went on a date. He’s a single and good-looking guy and not in a relationship whatsoever with Hannah, so I’m not really sure why anyone is mad at him for hanging out with Gigi Hadid. We are certainly not mad at him and it doesn’t exclude him from The Bachelor conversation. It just means that when we get to that point, we’re going to have to have a little deeper of a conversation about where his head is at. Maybe Gigi Hadid comes on the show, who knows?
She could pull a Chris Bukowski and come on to fight for him!
Bachelor in Paradise, meanwhile, has been off to a very dramatic start with this love pentagon that has Blake Horstmann in the center. The situation will continue to play out, but how do you feel about Horstmann releasing private texts between him and contestant Caelynn Miller-Keyes during premiere week? It’s atypical to see a contestant respond that way while the show is airing. Do you have rules in place to prevent that?
I haven’t talked to Blake or heard from him personally; I know some of the producers have. So judging this from 30,000 feet — releasing the text messages was a really bad idea. There was no good at all that was ever going to come from that. I know there were people in his life who were urging him not to do that and I wish he had listened to their advice, because there’s just no way you are going to come out looking good and there’s no way you are not going to just hurt Caelynn. I realize there’s a lot more to the story and what’s being told [on the show] is her version, and so he hasn’t really had a chance to speak. But 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 feel the same way about all of that. I thought it was a real violation and really disrespectful and just a really bad idea. I feel a little bad for him, because I feel like he’s so caught up in his head right now that he’s spinning and doesn’t know what to do, but that definitely wasn’t it. That was a really bad call.
Miller-Keyes responded on social media and said she’s being trolled because of what she’s been through as a survivor of sexual assault. What do you want to say to Bachelor Nation in response to that?
There’s nothing that I’m going to say that’s going to change the world and social media. Hopefully it’s a cautionary tale to others. Yes, we deal a lot in public with our emotions and stories, and I respect them all for displaying that. And I respect Blake for staying on Paradise and going through it even though he was getting hammered. I just wish he had gone any other direction than releasing those text messages. It’s not what a man should do; it’s not what a gentleman would do and he made a bad call. I’m not mad at Blake and I don’t want to bury the guy, either. I’ll have my chance to talk to him and hopefully he’ll do a 180, grow from this, realize he made a huge mistake and violated this woman’s trust. You just can’t do what he did. I hope he’ll take it and grow from this and come out the other side a better man.
Will the situation between them resolve itself any more on the show, or will it play out when you sit down with him for the reunion show?
We didn’t deal with this [releasing of the text messages] on the show because it’s just happening now in the real world and we’ve already finished shooting in Mexico. So it will have to evolve later on the show when we all sit down. Caelynn has handled this phenomenally well. I don’t know everything that she said — I don’t follow the whole social media thing — but from what I understand, she just said that she was a little angry and felt disrespected and I appreciate how she felt. She has every right to feel disrespected and upset.
Amid all the drama, what can you say about the love that will be found this season on Paradise?
The good news is: Paradise works. You start the season and it’s pretty wild as a producer, you just hope and wonder: Is it all going to work again? Does the secret sauce still hold up? And at the end of the day, it always does. It’s a great concept and it works time and time again. For the sixth time, Paradise works and love will be found on the beaches of Mexico.
The offscreen drama gives this season an added layer. Will you extend the episode count?
Well we’re going to have to now, with all of this happening. We always have a reunion and a finale special already on the schedule, because so much happens during Paradise and there are so many relationships that you have to go back and catch everyone up. What happened after Mexico? How have these couples been doing? Who is together and who is broken up? Paradise especially, you have to have that aftershow. It’s interesting now how these stories bleed into the show. The situation with Blake at Stagecoach and [prior relationships] with Caelynn and Kristina Schulman — all of that really hit day one. Typically, heading into the first rose ceremony is a slow burn. But we had so much going on leading into the show that it started immediately and that’s something that’s a little different. That’s why this season is possibly our best.
When talking about all these prior relationships — both the good and bad when it comes to Burnett and Horstmann’s respective situations — is this year a turning point in terms of leaning into the offscreen drama for the on-air season?
These things are presenting themselves and therefore, we’re going to lean into it. We’ve evolved and we’re more apt to embrace it more. No matter what the social issues is, we’re ready to dive in. We’re not afraid of what will come afterwards or the ramifications of people giving us a hard time or debating something. I think we’ve all realized it’s a good thing; if nothing else comes of our silly, entertaining show, then maybe we raise the level of debate on some of these issues. I am not so naïve as to think that dealing with a same-sex relationship is going to be this happy rainbow conversation and all of America is going to rejoice. I think there will be people in the community who won’t be happy with how it’s represented or how they’re represented. You can’t make everybody happy. We have to just do the best job we can do and feel like we are respectfully embracing it and portraying it. I haven’t really talked much about Demi because there is nothing you can say that will truly portray what viewers will see. When you see it unfold and listen to her tell her own story and watch her own story unfold, I think it will be that impactful. I try not to talk about it too much because I can’t do that justice. Even my storytelling isn’t that good!
As the face of this franchise and someone who doubles as a sounding board to all contestants, how did it make you feel when you heard the accusations about Bachelor creator Mike Fleiss amid his divorce settlement? Is he taking a step back behind the scenes?
All I can say about it is what I’ve said before, in that Warner Bros. reached out to me to let me know that they were well aware of it and were taking it very seriously. I know ABC released a statement that I’m aware of now to say that all the charges have been dropped and that they amicably settled their divorce and have gone their separate ways. The only thing I would add to that now that it’s over is that I wish both of them and their entire family peace and hopefully they can all move on.
Bachelor in Paradise airs Mondays and Tuesdays at 8 p.m. ET/PT on ABC. The Bachelor is set to return in January. Head here for all things Bachelor Nation.
This interview has been edited for clarity.