Bachelor Nation viewers haven’t had a lot to unite over in 2021. But nearly the entire fandom was in agreement over their desperation for a new season of Bachelor in Paradise. On a basic level, the annual summer dating series is often a boozy piña colada in comparison to its more serious counterparts, The Bachelor and The Bachelorette. The stress of the pandemic has made the excitement for Paradise’s escapism all the more appealing, as has the growing number of series alums now eligible for a seat at Wells Adams’ Mexican beach bar. Due to last year’s Paradise production cancelation, four new seasons of Bachelor Nation members are primed for their first appearance in Sayulita.
Yet, every time I look at the newly released cast list for Bachelor in Paradise season 7, I experience the last feeling I could have expected: chest-tightening, nausea-inducing anxiety. Amid the welcome names of fan-favorites like Joseph “Grocery Store Joe” Amabile, Abigail Heringer, Ivan Hall, and Serena Pitt, you’ll find one cast member who should raise alarm bells: Victoria Larson, the “villain” of Matt James’ Bachelor season 25, who is now sporting a brand new blonde look. The decision to include Victoria in the fun-in-the-sun silliness of Bachelor in Paradise — which premieres Monday, August 6 — threatens to undo all of the promising growth Bachelor producers have shown since the end of Matt’s calamitous Bachelor season.
Many will say Victoria’s starring role Paradise was always a shoo-in. She is a known “pot-stirrer” whose bad behavior was rewarded with a prized visit to Good Morning America when most Bachelor contestants are shuddered off to the vast Bachelor Nation podcast realm for interviews. I would agree with the people who predicted this development. However, an obvious casting decision is not the same as the right casting decision — or a smart one.
The brains behind the Bachelor umbrella have seemingly put in a lot of effort to seem more progresive — and, specifically, less racist — following the much-criticized cruelty displayed and celebrated on Matt’s season (and outside of it). The franchise cut ties with host Chris Harrison as a response to his many racist incidents earlier this year and news that Bachelor Nation stars would not want to appear on Paradise with Chris as emcee. Ivan was one of the most vocal of those alums — as you can see in the cast photos, he was persuaded to go to Paradise. Production around Katie Thurston’s Bachelorette season — which filmed directly after Bachelor Nation’s racism reckoning — is noticeably more kind and thoughtful; in just this week’s episode, Katie and Black athlete Andrew Spencer have a lengthy and nuanced discussion on racism, interracial relationships, and their different perspectives as a Black man and a white woman. Black people on Katie’s seasons have been presented as weirdo villains, insecure schemers, and dashing romantic leads — they’re complicated people, not props.
The reintroduction of Victoria threatens to destabilize all of this work. Victoria is not a run-of-the-mill villain, like former Bachelor in Paradise image rehab recipient Krystal Nielson or Victoria’s Paradise season 7 co-star Karl Smith. Karl is exactly the kind of baddie Paradise needs — a drama king with little connection to reality. Victoria, on the other hand, who has shown herself to be an insidious and racist person in front of Bachelor cameras. She called dancer and Black woman Ryan Claytor a "ho," described Brittany Galvin as a ‘slore,’ helped lead a false slut-shaming and anti-sex-worker campaign against Brittany, and physically ripped a crown off the head of Catalina Morales, among many other disturbing and disparaging behaviors. Ryan, Brittany, and Catalina are all women of color. Victoria was given multiple chances to atone for her many offensive actions during the 2021 Bachelor (including that plum GMA appearance). Instead, she often defended her actions.
The Bachelor’s “Women Tell All” special — itself a Paradise audition — is a prime illustration of Victoria’s future inability to play nice, or fair. During the episode, Ryan explains the “ho” comment from her viewpoint, saying, “It’s just hard to hear yourself being called a ‘ho’ on national television, when I’m not. Dancers aren’t ‘hoes.’ Being a member of the arts community … we provide entertainment and emotion. It was hurtful.” Victoria responds by repeatedly attempting to gaslight Ryan about her feelings. She asks Ryan if she is “a super sensitive” or “emotional” person and criticizes the “extent of her upsetness,” suggesting a Black woman’s feelings about her are outsized and misdirected. Victoria continues, “But even right now with your attitude,” rolling her neck and doing stereotypical hand motions, “it’s kind of a lot.” Finally Victoria equates being called “a bully on tv” — which was an accurate description of her actions — to Ryan’s hurt over Victoria calling her a “ho,” an “idiot” and a “shady bitch.”
Victoria either cannot or does not wish to comprehend the inherent pain and racism of her behavior. Her “apologies” only extend her misogynoir. Welcoming Victoria to Paradise — instead of keeping her in the show’s past — is rewarding ignorance. The magnitude of this problem increases when you realize the women of color Paradise season 7 (nine in the original cast) now have to share their search for beachy love with someone capable of such harm. They will either suffer through the kind of behavior Victoria has already displayed — and been rewarded for — or be forced to bear witness to her too-late apologies for past transgressions. The love stories of women like Tahzjuan Hawkins and Natasha Parker should have nothing to do with Victoria.