Bachelor in Paradise is the fruity summer cocktail we all need after gulping down the bitter Irish stout that was last season of The Bachelorette. Mercifully, it has arrived before our buzz wears off.
However you feel about Kaitlyn Bristowe’s engagement to Ryan Gosling look-alike Shawn Booth on last Monday’s Bachelorette finale, fans can probably agree that her season was a mess compared to last year’s outing, when we watched Andi Dorfman hold court among her own crop of hunky dudes in France, Italy, Belgium, and beyond. This year, the producers only managed to send Kaitlyn and crew to New York City, San Antonio, and Ireland—the last of which would have been an appealing destination if they didn’t moor them there for four episodes in a row.
Worse, those of us who went into Kaitlyn’s season expecting the usual mix of cocktail parties, Midwestern hometown dates, and a tropical proposal were instead forced to endure a grudge match between her two top picks that almost destroyed the format of the show. The overnight dates had to be moved forward, the hometown dates were replaced with a Park City trip, and the proposal happened next to a swimming pool. It was a disaster—and not in the good reality TV kind of way.
So thank God Bachelor in Paradise is here to wash it all away with sunshine and booze.
Now in its second season, Bachelor in Paradise is ABC’s replacement for Bachelor Pad, a short-lived spinoff that put former contestants through Big Brother-style competitions. The premise of this superior show is simple: The producers round up a crop of yesteryear’s most memorable (or most available) contestants, send them to a beachside resort, supply them with alcohol, and turn on the cameras. Contestants who form connections give each other roses and stay. Those who don’t receive roses are kicked out of paradise, much like Adam and Eve before them.
Paradise is the Bachelor brand stripped down to bare essentials: all of the drunken drama, none of the pomp and circumstance.
At the start of Sunday’s premiere, Chris Harrison welcomes this year’s round of vaguely-employed reality stars to a resort in Sayulita, Mexico, where they mill around an open bar sipping margaritas while they wait for the others to arrive.
First up, there’s Ashley I., a self-professed virgin last seen crying alone on a bluff in South Dakota’s Badlands as Chris Soules flew away in a helicopter—yes, this describes a thing that happened on television. This time around, Ashley is bringing along her sister Lauren who describes herself as “pretty much the opposite of a virgin.” Lauren is a virgin to the Bachelor franchise, however, as she’s never been on the show.
Also from Chris’s season, we have the spacey Ashley S., former cruise ship singer Carly, and former Playboy model Jade. Surprise, surprise, guess who the guys like the most? In her intro, Jade says that “America had [her] back” when Chris dumped her after learning about her nude photos, and the men of Paradise definitely have her back, too.
Not even Jillian, whose omnipresent butt was hidden behind a black box during Chris’s season—and who got breast implants before coming to Paradise—can distract the men from Jade, despite making her entrance in a neon yellow bikini.
As for the men, there’s the always-earnest Jared, the not-as-funny-as-he-thinks-he-is Tanner, and single dad Jonathan, all from Kaitlyn’s season. Some forgettable meathead named Mikey introduces himself as an “alpha male,” which goes over about as well as you’d expect.
And then there’s Kirk, a plaid-shirted guy so normal you might wonder why he’s on this show in the first place. With an almost alarming level of cleverness, he succinctly describes the show’s premise: “It’s like a very attractive adult summer camp.” Kirk gets an A for analogy. Go, Kirk.
The women celebrate the lack of “douchebags” until JJ appears, accompanied by some ominous musical cues. Yes, the producers have chosen their villain and they have chosen wisely. Last season, JJ was a cocky braggart who admitted to Kaitlyn that he had cheated on his ex-wife, so the ladies are understandably wary of him.
Once all the contestants have had a drink or seven, our host herds them into the ceremonial hut where he introduces this season’s twist: Sisters Ashley I. and Lauren will be treated like a single contestant—give a rose to one, the other stays, too. Carly calls the “package deal” incestuous but it doesn’t bother Jonathan, who is totally cool with the idea of getting a sister as a “bonus.”
Harrison then ushers them off to the beach and seats them in pews. The contestants loudly struggle to understand what’s happening until former Paradise contestant Marcus appears and they put two and two together: He’s getting married to Lacy, his girlfriend from the show. This is something that happens so rarely in Bachelor history that ABC is almost morally obligated to televise it. The network is apparently not obligated to fly out more than a handful of the couple’s family members, who are outnumbered two-to-one by the sloshed contestants.
But it’s hard to be cynical when the couple exchanges wedding vows so unadorned that they stand beyond mockery.
It’s probably the most honest moment in Bachelor history. Fortunately, it’s short-lived.
After a lecture from Father Harrison about the virtues of true love, it’s right back to the debauchery we came here for. Jillian’s black box now extends to her breasts, the men all make a beeline for Jade, Carly and Kirk start making out, and in a corner someone starts crying, probably for no other reason than that she’s howlingly drunk. All is well in the Bachelor universe. The order has been restored.
The next day is standard Paradise fare. Ashley I. uses her date card to ride shotgun in a dune buggy with Jared. Back at home base, the men discuss how badly they want to be with Jade, with one even describing her as the “kingpin” of the show. When Jade receives one of the coveted date cards, she bestows it on a gracious Tanner, who instantly brings up her Playboy shoot, saying, “I think it’s awesome that you just owned it.”
Jade and Tanner end up locking lips in a river while Ashley S. becomes the first contestant to be dramatically carted away in an ambulance—probably for heat exhaustion or alcohol poisoning or whatever mysterious illness always seems to befall Bachelor contestants whenever things are getting too calm.
At the tail end of the episode, a former contestant from Bachelor in Paradise returns and Chris Harrison sends us off with a drama-filled sizzle reel promising sex, possible fisticuffs, and a pregnancy scare in the season to come. Yes to all.
Say goodbye to Kaitlyn Bristowe and her dueling lovers. Sex on the beach is the perfect antidote to a plodding season of The Bachelorette.