UnReal, Lifetime's dramatic take on dating reality shows, flipped the script in its Season 3 premiere by featuring its first ever "Suitress" — i.e. bachelorette — to lead its fictional reality series Everlasting. Even though Serena (Caitlin FitzGerald) presented herself as a prim and proper businesswoman most of the time, viewers may have experienced a sickening sense of deja vu when she finally let loose and engaged in some uncharacteristically rowdy drunk sex with one of the contestants.
Even if you'd never watched a single episode of The Bachelor franchise, it was pretty hard to avoid the messy sexual misconduct allegations that surrounded Bachelor in Paradise last summer, after a producer complained to the studio about an incident that happened on set. The long and short of the story was that a contestant, Corinne Olympios, had too much to drink and claimed she was unable to consent when another contestant, DeMario Jackson, performed oral sex on her.
After watching Serena in an eerily similar situation, you might be wondering if UnReal made the comparison on purpose, but as it turns out, the Season 3 premiere was actually shot long before that Bachelor in Paradise incident occurred.
"I can tell you that that scene was the subject of much discussion even back when we were editing it, and that was before #MeToo, before any Bachelor in Paradise, before any of that," showrunner Stacy Rukeyser told TV Guide. "We, as women, when we wrote that script, our intention one thousand percent was that Serena was drunk and was doing something stupid... But there is absolutely a line, and it is in some cases a thin line between being drunk and doing something stupid and being too drunk to consent and someone taking advantage. That was a huge issue for me, for Sarah [Gertrude Shapiro] our co-creator, for other writers on the staff. It was really, really important to us, and we had many, many conversations with the studio to make sure that's the story that we're telling."
Given the current climate (and the very public scandal that followed the Bachelor in Paradise incident) the writers behind UnReal were aware that this particular part of their premiere would be viewed in a different light. Rukeyser seemed confident, however, that they gave the storyline the proper context and attention to let the differences speak for themselves.
"You know, I do know that in this current environment you can look at that scene and it can make you even more uncomfortable, but our intention was that it was a consensual thing," Rukeyser continued. "A stupid thing that she regrets, but not that she was too drunk to consent and was taken advantage of... It was a big deal, I'll put it that way. These were tough conversations to have because not everyone sees it the same way. I think now in this moment in time, people would be a little more sensitive to that, but not everyone sees it the same way."
Rukeyser did confirm that the Bachelor in Paradise scandal — particularly the part where a producer on the show lodged a complaint with the studio — was used as inspiration for storylines in the upcoming Season 4.
UnReal airs Mondays at 10/9c on Lifetime.