At this point, Stagecoach Festival is practically a cast member on Bachelor in Paradise.
The majority of the drama that has happened so far in season six started somewhere around that April music festival, when Blake Horstmann either had hooked up, was flirting, was going to hook up, or at least was in contact with multiple women from Bachelor Nation.
If this drama is feeling a little unusual to you, that's because it is. Typically, Bachelor in Paradise doesn't love to acknowledge the fact that all of Bachelor Nation loves to intermingle in the off season, which makes sense in a way. Why talk about drama that wasn't filmed and didn't play out on the beach in Mexico?
In season two, Joe Bailey turned himself into a villain when he used Juelia Kinney just to stay on the beach until Samantha Steffen got there, which was a plan they had made together through texts before the season started. It also turned out that Samantha had made the same plan with Nick Peterson.
Last year, Bachelorette Becca Kufrin was rocked by the news that her contestant, Colton Underwood, had had a brief relationship with Becca's friend Tia Booth, and that drama spilled over into season five of Bachelor in Paradise as Colton and Tia got the opportunity to explore their connection on camera too. That didn't go so well and ended in tears on both of their parts, leading to Colton's stint as the Bachelor.
Just as we had never before seen the demise of a Bachelorette engagement over a real-life girlfriend, we've never seen the majority of the drama in Paradise fueled by real-life, off-screen hookups, all thanks to one Blake Horstmann.
In the first episode of the season, we learned that at Stagecoach, Caelynn had hooked up with Blake the night after he hooked up with Kristina, and while Caelynn was still in his bed, he was texting other people.
Later, he told Caelynn to keep their tryst a secret because it was a mistake.
He also dated Kristina for several months, and went to Alabama to visit Hannah G, so basically Blake had already done a season of Bachelor in Paradise before Bachelor in Paradise, and we get to witness the fallout.
In a very different and much more positive situation, Demi Burnett is finding her relationship with Derek Peth hard to fully commit to, because she had a girlfriend back home who she can't get out of her head.
Usually a girlfriend or boyfriend back home would be reason not to go to Paradise, but after Demi became such a breakout character during Colton's season and now provided an opportunity to give the franchise its first same-sex relationship, there was almost no way they could let her or her girlfriend stay away. (And it's a good thing too, because LGBTQ firsts aside, Demi has been a delightful addition to Paradise.)
In a recent interview with THR, host Chris Harrison noted that this season started off in a very different way from any other season.
"The situation with Blake at Stagecoach with Caelynn and Kristina Schulman—all of that really hit day one," he said. "Typically, heading into the first rose ceremony is a slow burn. But we had so much going on leading into the show that it started immediately and that's something that's a little different. That's why this season is possibly our best."
According to Harrison, it's all about what presents itself, and not about any intention to find this kind of fuel for the show.
"These things are presenting themselves and therefore, we're going to lean into it," he said. "We've evolved and we're more apt to embrace it more. No matter what the social issues is, we're ready to dive in. We're not afraid of what will come afterwards or the ramifications of people giving us a hard time or debating something. I think we've all realized it's a good thing: if nothing else comes of our silly, entertaining show, then maybe we raise the level of debate on some of these issues."
The Blake drama certainly has added a layer to this season that has, in a lot of ways, been entertaining TV, but it's also caused some problems. The timeline of Blake's various off-screen relationships, based on what everyone on-screen has relayed, is incredibly confusing and not a good look for Blake in particular, and it's caused him to make some somewhat desperate attempts to make himself look better.
Harrison wasn't a fan of the way that Blake took things a step further by releasing the text messages between him and Caelynn, supposedly revealing the nature of their hookup.
"I haven't talked to Blake or heard from him personally; I know some of the producers have," he said. "So judging this from 3,000 feet—releasing the text messages was a really bad idea. There was no good at all that was ever going to come from that. I know there wre people in his life who were urging him not to do that and I wish he had listened to their advice because there's just no way you are going to come out looking good and there's no way you are not going to just hurt Caelynn."
Caelynn was then forced to respond, defending her choice to have sex and to have any kind of relationship with Blake, and explaining that obviously, the selection of texts Blake chose to share were not all of the texts or the full story of their relationship.
As much as this situation has added to the show, it also makes it harder to follow. We'll never know exactly what went down between Blake and all of the women he spoke to before Paradise because it wasn't on camera, and Blake and all of those women will never be able to communicate the full story. We'll never even see everything that was filmed, because they have to edit this show to fit just a few hours a week.
So in a lot of ways, this season is both more interesting and more frustrating than seasons past because we can never get the full picture, but at least we're getting a bigger picture than we usually do, and we finally seem to be done pretending the members of Bachelor Nation save their hookups for Mexico—a good move toward transparency and actual "reality."
When it comes to Demi, some might argue that bringing in her off-screen girlfriend is breaking the "rules" of the show just for drama, but breaking the rules of the show is exactly what has been working so well over the past couple of seasons of the franchise, and exactly what needs to happen in order to move the show forward, to make a same-sex relationship not such a "groundbreaking" idea for TV's biggest dating show.
According to Harrison, despite what we've seen over almost 20 years of the franchise, there are no actual rules.
"I'm not exactly sure how we would have embraced Demi's situation in year's past. But with the way we do the show now, we let it come to us," he told THR. "So when this situation presented itself to us with somebody we really love and care about in Demi, I think our initial instinct was the right one: 'Let's lean into it. Let's go there. Let's explore this.' We could have easily said that because Demi is in somewhat of a relationship back home that she won't find love here and we should send her home and go on our way. Instead, we all made the decision to break or bend the rules a little bit. And the good news is, there is no rulebook. I always say that to contestants and producers. We have no rules and can essentially do what we want with the show as long as we're treating everybody fairly and with respect. It was a pretty easy but big decision to go down that path with Demi, especially since it's with someone who is outside of our franchise and our family. But the reason why it works so well—and in my opinion it does work—is because this young woman who you are about to be introduced to is so innocent and naïve about the world she's about to come into, that you can tell it's 100 percent genuine."
Plus, if you ask us, Demi is the best part of this season so far, and she's been nothing but honest about having been in a previous relationship since her introduction in the season premiere, which is more than you can say for many of the people who've been through this show.
It will be fascinating to watch as this franchise continues to evolve and embrace its own reality, but at least its host seems to understand what's been so compelling about it lately.
"We're going to continue to embrace showing the good, the bad and the ugly and wrap our arms around that when it feels right and real," he said. "It's more and more what the audience wants and is demanding of reality TV."
Bachelor in Paradise airs Mondays and Tuesdays at 8 p.m. on ABC.