Bachelor in Paradise is a horny show. It was labelled “America’s Horniest TV Show” just a few weeks ago. Its 2021 leads were (rightly) called “Horny Clout Chasers.” Even the sweating on this show… is horny. Yet, Paradise cast members are traditionally slow to actual sex. This is, after all, a series in the fundamentally conservative Bachelor Nation, where sex before Fantasy Suites is the ultimate taboo. There is a “Boom Boom” Room on the premises in Playa Escondida — but it's referred to as more a joke than a space intended for actual boom boom (even the word for pre-Fantasy Suites sex is silly and demeaning).
These unspoken barriers to early Paradise sex do not, however, stop Riley Christian and Maurissa Gunn, the newest couple to emerge during Tuesday night’s “Week 2, Part 2.” Towards the end of the episode, Riley and Maurissa appear to engage in sexual activity in the Boom Boom Room (Refinery29 has reached out to ABC and Warner Bros. for comment on the specific intent of the scene). It’s a hot moment and precisely the kind of Black joy Paradise needs — it also makes me extremely anxious for the immediate future of the series. Because now a Bachelor property is tasked with avoiding one of its greatest weaknesses: Slut shaming.
Paradise saves Riley and Maurissa’s hookup — however far it went — for the very last minutes of the chapter. It’s that juicy. As viewers watch the pair leave their one-on-one date, Riley pushes Maurissa up against a wall and kisses her. “I know a place we can go,” he whispers in between indulgent smooches (it’s compelling). Then they’re back on set and walking into the Boom Boom Room hand-in-hand. Footage, clearly captured by a previously-placed and permanent surveillance camera, shows Riley and Maurissa making out on the bed. The next time we see them, Riley is shirtless and Maurissa is in a shiny robe. They cuddle before Riley climbs on top of her. Breathy, excited moans are heard throughout the encounter.
This is a welcome departure from what has recently become expected when a Black cast member goes on a Bachelor date. As viewers saw during Tayshia Adams’ Bachelorette season, her first solo outing with Ivan Hall introduced the Black Lives Matter discourse to the franchise. It was a necessary conversation — but also a heavy one. That burden fell on two Black people; conversely, none of Tayshia’s non-Black contestants were expected to shoulder such painful discussions. During Monday night’s Paradise episode, Ivan once again had to speak on the importance of anti-racist conversations, this time with new love interest Jessenia Cruz, a Latinx woman.
“Really what I’m looking for in a partner is someone who isn’t afraid to go there,” Jessenia declares. Not a single one of Paradise’s other dates have been expected to tackle such intense social troubles on a makeout-heavy summer dating show. Noah Erb and Abigail Heringer simply smacked around piñatas. Riley and Maurissa’s date is a reminder that Black people can also have an easy romantic time with a heavy undertone of adult passion. There’s no trauma required for Black love.
Yet, Paradise must still add nail-biting stakes to this coupling. The answer is Connor Brennan, the man Maurissa was originally dating in Paradise. In “Week 2, Part 1,” Maurissa and Connor agree they “like” each other, which is the closest thing anyone can get to commitment in the second week of this series. Connor then spends “Part 2,” repeatedly saying he is “not worried” about new arrival Riley’s interest in Maurissa. While Riley and Maurissa go on their date, Paradise continuously checks on Connor, as he appears to sing songs about Maurissa, theorize she may return with a connection to “both” he and Riley, claim he “isn’t worried.” When Riley and Maurissa eventually hit the Boom Boom Room — moans and all, remember — producers intercut scenes of Connor forlornly wandering Playa Escondida. It’s brutal.
When Paradise returns on Monday with “Week 3, Part 1,” it will have a decision to make. It could be fair to Maurissa, and recognize her decision to spend the night with Riley wasn’t a betrayal of Connor, a man she has known for a matter of days and isn’t her boyfriend. As Connor says in a confessional, “This is what Paradise is. You get to talk to other people. You get to see what works. What doesn’t work.” Hooking up with Riley works.
But Bachelor in Paradise has an abysmal track record for supporting its Black women, particularly when it comes to sex and sexuality. Queer former cast member Jaimi King told Refinery29 back in 2017, producers “probably wanted to take advantage” of her sexual history to seem more “progressive.” Considering the tension Paradise has already built between Riley and Maurissa’s hookup and Connor's cluelessness, it is possible the show will incorrectly depict the situation as reality TV treachery to continue to power its drama machine.
The trailer is already hinting towards enmity ahead, with Tahzjuan Hawkins informing Connor of Maurissa’s night in the Boom Boom Room. Connor is shocked and seemingly horrified. We could hope the series will handle the fallout responsibly from there, but Paradise producers already punished Maurissa for not sharing her number of sexual partners on a first date by forcing her to eat an animal’s tongue. They’re going to have to earn my trust first — maybe by chowing down on some offal themselves.