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Instead of his usual meet-and-greets as the castmembers make their way to the beachfront resort in Sayulita, Mexico, the host of the ABC reality franchise will open the fourth season solo, with a humble introduction that brings viewers up to speed about the controversy that nearly derailed the summer spinoff.
“We were all very emotional at the time, and we kind of just rode that wave of how we were feeling,” Harrison tells The Hollywood Reporter of returning to the set after a two-week production shutdown and being tasked with filming the season’s opening moment. “I try to explain what you are about to see. I will kind of guide you through those first few days up until the shutdown, and you will see right up until that moment where we did shut down.”
As has been heavily reported, a sexual encounter between contestants Corinne Olympios and DeMario Jackson sparked a misconduct allegation and on-set investigation. Ultimately, the investigation found no evidence of wrongdoing and gave the show the green light to resume filming. The cast and massive production team had been sent home, and Harrison, who also co-executive produces the series, said it was nothing short of a miracle to be able to turn their “big ship” around and get everyone back to Mexico to finish the season. Once they did, they had only 10 days to film, and first they needed to figure out how to handle the controversy on-air.
New rules were set in place, which will be discussed on Tuesday’s episode. Harrison says the show now keeps tabs on the amount of alcohol the cast consumes during filming, and consent is a requirement. The topic of consent was raised in think pieces in the wake of the scandal, as Olympios and Jackson had both been drinking during their encounter. Harrison confirms that footage of the actual incident will not be shown, but says that what happened leading up to the incident will air to provide “great insight” to viewers and answer their swirling questions.
Though the reunion special at the end of the season will invite Olympios and Jackson back to the franchise to rehash what happened, the show is dealing with the shutdown right off the bat and then closing the door on the controversy so that Paradise can return to its roots. The second episode sees Harrison leading interviews, sit-downs and discussions with the cast — including Olympios and Jackson — to hear multiple perspectives and discuss the new rules. By the third week, the show will feel “very much like Paradise” again, says Harrison.
Below, in an informative chat with THR, the face of the ABC reality franchise details what viewers will see from the first few weeks of the highly anticipated Paradise return (the season premieres Monday and Tuesday at 8 p.m. on ABC) and explains why the show arrived at these decisions and how the situation will impact the franchise moving forward.
Let’s go back to the first days of filming before the shutdown. At what point did you become aware that something had happened?
It really wasn’t until day three. It was a couple days after everything had allegedly gone down that any of us became aware of anything. It’s hard to explain and hard to understand. There’s such a gray area of what went down, who made complaints and all that, so I’m really looking forward to everyone being able to see and hear it for themselves. And then to see and hear DeMario and Corinne talk about it as well, since there’s so much confusion even with them. It’s hard for people to understand exactly how it played out, so I’m glad you will be able to watch it over the next couple of weeks.
When production told the castmembers that they were going home, did you think they would be returning? Did you think the season was over?
I was always hopeful that we would start shooting, and I was always of the opinion that we should still have been shooting. Having the inside insight into what happened, for the most part, I knew the shutdown was probably necessary and that everybody was going to go through the proper steps that needed to be taken. I really thought that we would start up again. But then there was that point where we all went home, and the cast went home, and it takes a long time to turn around a big ship. It’s not easy. Once everyone goes home — and we’re talking hundreds of production crew and cameras, there’s so much that goes into this — I thought that it was going to be near-impossible at that point to unring this bell. Because of logistics and how tough it is, not even for the cast and contentwise — that was the easier part — it was the bigger picture of production that I thought would just be next to impossible. How our team pulled that off, I don’t know that any other show could have, had we not been such a tight-knit group for the last 16 years. We were able to all pull it together, and it really is miraculous that anything happened.
About two weeks passed without cameras on the castmembers. Were you in communication with them during that time?
I was not, once they left. Just for my own reasons and probably for safety reasons, I stayed away from the cast and didn’t talk to any of them, including Corinne and DeMario. I was in contact with executives, lawyers, producers. While I wear the hosting hat, I also wear the producing hat. So my main concern was, “How do we get this thing back on the air?” and “How do we salvage this season?” once it was very clear that it was OK to do so. There are people on our staff who are particularly close with the cast, and I know they were keeping in contact. And the cast was great. The more I talk to them now, they all insulated themselves as well. A lot of them went home, and it was odd being home, so they sought each other out and went to Dallas and wherever they could to be together as a group going through all of this.
This presents a Paradise first, where the contestants had off-camera time to continue relationships that were formed in the first days of filming. How will we see that impact this season?
It’s going to be a very different season — in some ways, not great, and in some ways, I think, very interesting and very organic. After we shut down production and there was this in-limbo period where we weren’t sure what was going to happen, we kept the cast in Mexico. There were no cameras, we just had people around to keep an eye on them and make sure that everybody was safe. But for the most part, they were just hanging out in Paradise, so relationships continued. Then they all went home, and there was that week-plus where things either continued or deteriorated and people went in different directions. When we came back, there is the piecing of it all together. You’ll see that as well, the awkwardness. Some relationships got stronger and survived, some completely disintegrated, and there were different perspectives. You’ll see all of that, and it’s going to be a very different season because, obviously, we’ve never had to face such a thing before. We do our best to try to fill everyone in on what’s going on because a lot of it is off-camera.
When filming resumed, you went back first with the crew and figured out how to handle what happened. How did you arrive at your decisions about how the show will handle things on Monday and Tuesday?
I’ve learned this over the last 16 years: There are no secrets anymore. Everything is going to get out. I learned this even before social media became a big deal, and now it really is the case. I’m of the opinion of: Throw yourself at the mercy of the viewer, and let’s just show them what happened. You don’t need to sensationalize this or make a big deal out of it. We’re not going to draw it out, but it is the 10,000-pound elephant in the room, and so you have to address it. I think we did a good job.
We were very careful not to be accusatory or sensational. The tone I was trying to set at first was actually very humble. Now we have a little perspective, but at the time, things had really been emotional and crazy. I think you feel that as I walk down this empty beach because no one was there yet. We’ll come back from time to time, and I will add things with stand-ups about what you’re about to see and what’s going on. And then we’re going to let the video show for itself. The odd thing, too, is that the cast was not aware of anything. So what you’re going to see is just a normal Paradise beginning with dates, relationships, drama, tears and all that stuff. There wasn’t this big, dramatic and crazy bombshell that dropped. That’s the bizarre and kind of confusing and frustrating part for everybody, so that’s what I want everyone to see.
Warner Bros. Television confirmed that the tape of the actual incident isn’t going to air, but we will see the surrounding events, as shown by the trailer footage of Jackson and Olympios. How much will viewers understand about what happened after this first episode?
There was never a need to see the actual footage. I think everyone has a decent idea of what it was and what happened, so there’s absolutely no reason to do that to anybody. That was never going to see the light of day. What you will see is what led up to that, and that, to me, is the most important thing. 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? I think you’re going to have a great look and great insight into what was happening, so you can form your own opinion of everybody and of the whole incident.
Per ABC, you will be sitting down with the cast for a “thought-provoking conversation” on Tuesday’s episode. Why was that important? What kind of conversations about consent did this situation raise for the show and the cast, and will that be addressed in the discussion?
We do bring up the topic of consent. We had to sit down and have a heart-to-heart talk before we started up again. These are game-time decisions that we made in the moment. It didn’t feel right to just say, “OK, flip the switch: Paradise is back on, and let’s go,” and act like nothing happened. What the cast had been through was extremely emotional. They had been scattered around the country and hearing a lot of rumors and allegations. They didn’t know a lot of things when we got back. It was more of a heart-to-heart and less of a “telling you what’s going on in the show” talk. It was a lot of give and take and them expressing their feelings. We do deal with touchy subjects like consent. This show has always pushed social topics and issues, and this is just another one that we needed to push and talk about. Whether it was racial stuff last season with Rachel [on The Bachelorette], or whether its consent with Paradise, there are topics that come up where you have to have honest, sometimes emotional and sometimes ugly and messy conversations about them. That’s life.
Do castmembers have to ask for or give consent on camera now if they want to spend time alone with another contestant?
After the incident that caused the shutdown, we were more adamant about making sure everyone was very clear about consent and how important that is and what that means and the different ways it can be given. It was a good and important conversation to be had. There is more of an emphasis on that, especially early on, to make sure everybody is on the same page and feels safe and cared for, no matter what. Whether it’s overkill or not, it’s just steps that need to be taken. The main thing is that we really do care about everybody who is on the show, in front of the cameras and behind them, and we want to make sure everyone feels as safe as possible. When we did officially restart, everybody felt OK and like they were protected and safe. There were some subtle changes; it’s not going to be a big thing that you’ll see on TV.
Were you disappointed that Olympios and Jackson didn’t return for the season, or was that the right choice?
I was not disappointed. And I honestly don’t know if that was ever going to be a real option for either one of them anyway, whether they said yes or no. We asked them to come back because it was something we were mulling over, but we had not made a decision about if they were going to be brought back. We wanted the option to know if it was indeed possible. It’s all hindsight, but I don’t know if you could have brought them back fairly or unfairly. I don’t know that we could have had the same show and the same carefree attitude and produced the Paradise show that we wanted to. It probably would have hung over the cast and the show and remained an issue. Then, if and when they got voted out, would it be because of that? I think it caused more issues and brought up more issues than probably would have done any good.
Do you sit down with them one-on-one at any point aside from the reunion?
The first several weeks is when we’re going to deal with this, and that’s the other important decision that I think we made. We didn’t make this into something we would tease and say, “You’ll see coming up in future weeks …” and just throw this out and make people wait. It’s something that we needed to deal with in a very forthright, honest matter and get it over with so we could all move on. It’s the opposite of trying to take advantage of this and sensationalize it. We were very careful to walk that line. While we are trying to entertain, we also are trying to show everybody what happened. We’re going to try to take care of all of this as early as possible so that the people who come back to Paradise are allowed to enjoy Paradise and really do it without that hanging over their heads. You will see interviews, sit-downs, discussions with cast — with DeMario, with Corinne — all of that will play out in the first several weeks.
You will return to it for the reunion, but are you saying Paradise gets back to being Paradise pretty quickly?
Yes. I think everybody will feel the same, that when you are three, four and five weeks into it, you will really have forgotten that anything happened. Once we started shooting again, there was the awkward first couple of steps as we got going again, everyone was feeling their way and getting their sea legs back under them, but once we started, we were right back where we were. The same emotion, the same drama, the same relationships. It will feel very much like Paradise.
There is a report that Olympios admitted during the reunion that she mixed pills with drinking and that led her to black out. Will the reunion shed additional light on what happened?
Yes. You’ll have to wait and see. That’s why I’m glad we sat down with everybody. You’ll see both of them talk, and you can judge for yourselves.
Did the scandal impact the show’s “bartender” role?
No. That was something that was totally separate. It doesn’t impact that at all. With alcohol, we’ve always been pretty careful about trying to take care of everybody. People will let the day or night get away from them, and they’ll have too many drinks — that happens in life. But people, I think, put a little too much emphasis on alcohol with our show, and they always have. They think it’s something we lean on and use, and it’s really not. It’s not that great of a tool for us. Someone acting drunk and silly isn’t really great television. It might have been 15 or 16 years ago when we started because it was a novelty in all these reality shows, but it’s not good content, and it’s not a good story to follow. It’s just something that we’re going to be more cautious and more adamant about and more strict about following and keeping tabs on.
You told us you want to wait and see how Paradise plays out before you make the decision about the next star of The Bachelor.
Rachel Lindsay said she doesn’t think her runner-up, Peter Kraus, is right for this experience, but Bachelor Nation disagrees and wants to see him as the next Bachelor. Do you think he is ready?
I’d have to talk to him to see where he is. I can see where Rachel would say that because she didn’t leave on the best terms. I can totally see where she wouldn’t be the biggest ally and cheerleader for Peter right now.
There was a loud reaction to her picking Bryan Abasolo instead of Kraus. Knowing the Bachelorette couple as you do, do you think she made the right choice, or do you think he was he the “rebound” pick?
I hate to hear people giving them such a hard time. I think it’s always easy to sit on the sidelines and judge. I just wish people would be supportive and be happy for them. Life is hard, and relationships are hard. Are they going to make it? Who knows. But be hopeful. And then whatever happens, happens. I don’t feel like he was the “rebound” choice. I think she’s in love with Bryan, and I feel like they are happy. I wish them nothing but the best.
Is there anyone you are rooting for to stand out on Paradise?
The returning people, like Amanda Stanton and Vinny Ventiera, are Paradise alums who came back. There are always those returning favorites, where you hope things will work out for them this time. We’re just like the fans. We fall in love with these people too, and we want to end up seeing them find love.
Will you be tuning into Paradise? Tell us what you hope to see from the ABC reality series when it premieres Monday and Tuesday (Aug. 14 and Aug. 15) at 8 p.m. on ABC.
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