In order to make reality TV worth watching, you need two things: conflict and sex. Three, if you count an often endless supply of booze, which usually serves as the catalyst for the other two. It’s a formula that’s been relied on and recycled for more than 30 years, starting on May 21, 1992, when MTV aired an experimental series called The Real World, and continues with shows like Vanderpump Rules that give young, hot, unflinching civilians a chance at fame. The powerful combination of alcohol, sex, and drama means would-be stars play up their most outrageous behavior as they jockey for screen time, placing themselves in situations that lack clear boundaries and consent. It also means airtight due diligence for networks in the form of legal releases that cover everything from invasion of privacy to serious injuries. Still, when you have that many hormones in one space, egged on by an open bar and hungry producers, it’s inevitable that bad behavior transcends slick editing, and often turns into tabloid stories way juicier—and way more real—than the drama we see onscreen.
On Sunday, trash television exploded into a garbage fire when allegations of sexual misconduct between Bachelor in Paradise cast members DeMario Jackson and Corinne Olympios emerged online, resulting in Warner Bros suspending production of the show, which was filming in Mexico. According to reports, Jackson and Olympios had some sort of sexual encounter while they were both intoxicated. One crew member told the Daily Mail that Olympios, 24, was so drunk that she appeared to “go limp” at one point, but that Jackson, 30, did not stop. A source told ET that Olympios said she didn’t remember much of what happened.
Warner Bros., the show’s production company, has launched an investigation, and both Olympios and Jackson released statements Wednesday. Olympios has retained a lawyer and called this experience “my worst nightmare,” while Jackson called the allegations “false claims” and said he was planning to take his own legal action.
As more information trickles out, it’s understandable that producers shut down production in order to investigate, but it’s also disturbing—if not surprising—that a woman’s trauma has become its own demented entertainment spectacle, seen through an exaggerated funhouse mirror of rape culture.
Because it’s 2017, and the combined power of online media and social media has the ability to make salacious allegations a worldwide story in a matter of minutes, the Bachelor in Paradise controversy feels like it might be the first of its kind, but the murky issue of permission—mainly as it pertains to sex—has plagued reality TV since its inception, as seen by the below timeline which lays out just how long the question of consent has been exactly that—a question.
Things got uncomfortably real on the iconic show’s second season when cast member David Edwards ripped blankets off his female, underwear-clad roommate Tami Roman as she shrieked in protest. The rest of the house had no patience for his “I was just joking around” excuses and voted to kick David out.
This was the first season when night-vision cameras and microphones were installed in bedrooms, but that was a harsh reality for cast member Cara Kahn, who had to watch herself hooking up with men in grainy footage (and with the sound of crinkling condom wrappers). Kahn reportedly hated that she was portrayed as promiscuous.
In fall 2003, according to police documents, a 22-year-old woman (not a cast member) reported being drugged and sexually assaulted in the show house by someone who claimed to be an acquaintance of one of the season’s cast members. The young woman was found unconscious and naked on a bathroom floor. She was also reportedly disoriented and sore when she woke up in a guest bedroom. Police investigated for eight months, but ultimately they didn’t file any charges.
Joe Millionaire had a questionable concept from the start—a construction worker (Evan Marriott) posed as a wealthy bachelor to snow 20 women into competing for him—but the show took things even further in a scene that implied contestant Sarah Kozer engaged in oral sex with Marriott. (Editors even included a gross “slurp” subtitle for effect.) After the episode aired, Kozer claimed it was all shady editing: According to her, she only kissed Marriott—the audio of her “moaning” came from an earlier scene, when she received a backrub from a friend.
In 2004, contestant Susan Hawk accused Richard Hatch of inappropriately touching her during a challenge in which Hatch, who was naked, came face-to-face on a beam with Hawk. Once their bodies were touching, he asked, “You want some of this?” Hawk, however, never pressed charges and said she eventually sat down with him to “hash it out.”
18-year-old Shandi was a former Walgreens clerk hanging out with a hot Italian male model, so of course things got sexy. However, this small-town girl had a boyfriend, and she immediately regretted the encounter. While it appeared to be fully consensual, the series nevertheless showed a young woman (who couldn’t legally drink in the U.S.) get drunk and hook up with someone. Tears were shed, apologetic phone calls were made, and the competition rolled on.
Michael “Ashley” Cox and Michael “John” Bric were escorted out of the Big Brother Australia house after one allegedly held down housemate Camilla “Halliwell” Severi as the other rubbed his genitals in her face. The scene never aired, and Australia’s prime minister called for “this stupid program” to be canceled.
According to Tonya Cooley, she was sexually assaulted by two cast members while she was passed out drunk. In the suit, she said that the men inserted a toothbrush into her vagina, which she only learned about the next day when someone told her about what happened. Both men and several fellow cast members denied that anything like that happened. No criminal charges were ever filed, but Cooley did file a lawsuit against MTV. She settled with the network in 2012.
After a raucous party at the Big Brother Brazil house went too far, police were called to investigate Daniel Echaniz for allegedly raping his castmate Monique Amin. Amin does not believe it happened and did not press charges. On the show, Amin said she only remembered kissing. But sex? “No, only if he was a real scumbag and did it while I was sleeping.”
Susie Meister wrote on Salon in 2014 about her experiences on several seasons of The Challenge, including rampant sexism and one night when two drunk men came into her room and one climbed into her bed. Worse than that? When she punched him to get him away from her, she says, cast members called for her to be kicked off the show. She said in her piece, “One male cast member said that ‘I shouldn’t come on these shows if I don’t want to party.’”
Put a bunch of ex-lovers together and there will be nasty fights, but Nia took things way too far with her ex Jordan. Nia pulled his pants down, grabbed his penis, and hurled a homophobic slur at him. She left the show and later apologized, but she also proved that reprehensible behavior isn’t limited to just dudes.
Following concerns about possible sexual misconduct, Siyanda Ngwenya of South Africa’s Big Brother was expelled from the show; the alleged victim was also removed “for her own well-being.” According to reports, he allegedly bragged about having sex with her the next day, even though she was passed out.
In 2016, an Illinois jury ordered rapper The Game to pay a hefty price — $7.13 million, to be exact – to Priscilla Rainey, who accused him of sexually assaulting her while shooting his 2015 reality show.
Housemate Ekemini Ekerete (also known as Kemen) said he was unfairly disqualified from the show after he was allegedly caught on tape touching a female contestant’s breast while she was asleep. Kemen maintained “there was no case of molestation.”
Celebrity Big Brother U.K. faced a backlash after Geordie Shore reality star Chloe Ferry rubbed her naked behind on pop singer John Grimes’s upper back despite his protests. “If a man did that, they would be removed,” one fan tweeted.
All images courtesy of networks.