Channel 10’s ratings giant The Bachelor has finally returned to Australian screens, and it’s already making headlines for all the wrong reasons.
The bizarre on-screen meltdown of flame-haired contestant Zoe-Clare showcased in Wednesday’s season premiere raises this question: Have The Bachelor producers finally gone too far?
Despite the ever-revolving door of fresh-faced contestants, each year we are introduced to variations of the same core characters: The sweethearts, the dark horses, the comedic relief and the villains.
But after the villain-packed premiere, viewers are wondering if the show’s ethos of finding love has taken a back seat to bitchiness and drama.
Producers may have gone too far in deliberately choosing participants who, at best have strong personalities, and at worst appear to be mentally unstable.
Giving them access to alcohol and encouraging them to behave erratically on national television raises serious ethical questions.
— Bridget Scott (@bridgetannscott) August 12, 2020
Psychologist Victoria Kasunic, who has consulted with a number of ABC and SBS reality programs, said producers and on-set psychologists have a duty of care to ensure contestants can cope in their new environment both on and off air.
“They are taking a group of people through some sort of immersive experience, which is out of their normal experience, so you would be looking at generally assessing their psychological health, finding out how well they will cope with this situation,” Ms Kasunic said.
“With a show like [The Bachelor], you’re really putting yourself up for public scrutiny, so you need to be a fairly resilient person to be able to cope with the attention on social media.”
But for producers eager to cram as much chaos into each episode as possible, where do you draw the line?
A spokesperson from Channel 10 said that strict guidelines regarding alcohol consumption are followed on set.
“Responsible service of alcohol guidelines are observed at all times by the production company, Warner Bros., during filming of The Bachelor and alcohol consumption is closely monitored by staff,” the spokesperson said.
Packed with people to hate
By now, we know villains will get decent airtime because they bring in the viewers.
People love to hate Keira Maguire, arguably queen of the Bachie villains (a title she would likely approve of), so much so that producers brought her back twice to the all-stars spinoff, Bachelor in Paradise.
Less a villain and more a TV tragic, Jamie Doran (who starred in season five of The Bachelorette and season three of Bachelor in Paradise) recently announced that he would be suing Channel 10 and Warner Bros. Australia for his negative depiction as a ‘‘stage-five clinger’’.
Despite the air-tight contracts contestants sign, the landmark 2019 case between former House Rules villain Nicole Prince, who successfully sued Channel Seven for psychological trauma, appears to have opened the floodgates for Doran and others to follow.
It serves producers to select contestants who come across as unhinged – that much is clear after witnessing the theatrics from the 2020 premiere, which featured three villains in Laura, Areeba and ginger activist, Zoe-Clare.
— Ask Janet (@AskJanet_movies) August 12, 2020
Ms Kasunic said that while depicting entertaining characters is crucial to the gig, it often comes at a cost to cast and crew.
A new, highly stressful living situation, surrounded by alcohol, cameras and producers keen to record the next public meltdown, does not bode well for the volatile personalities that are crammed in there together.
“You’re always weighing up the duty of care, firstly to the participant, but also to the other participants and the production team, because you really don’t want to put anyone in harm,” Ms Kasunic said.
A spokesperson for Channel 10 advised The New Daily that the responsible serving of alcohol on set is taken very seriously, and drink consumption is monitored so that cast do not consume more two drinks per hour.
Whether this year’s love story will be eclipsed by our newest villains remains to be seen.
However, judging by the fact our current bachelor has already dropped two normal-seeming contestants in favour of those he so clearly dislikes, it seems producers have won again.