Glaring problem with dating show
As we watch the contestants of Bachelor In Paradise embark on their second week in sun-drenched Fiji, a troubling theme has come into sharp focus. No, I'm not talking about the feverish rate at which piña coladas seem to be drained or the painful displays of sunburn, I'm referring to the show's glaring lack of diversity.
With only two people of colour making it into the mix at the start of the series - Niranga Amarasinghe and Mary Viturino - it's become evident that with reality TV shows that centre around finding love, we have a long way to go when it comes to including people from different cultural backgrounds.
While shows like MasterChef have been praised for championing and celebrating the stories of its diverse contestants, the same simply can't be said for Bachelor In Paradise, a fact that hasn't been lost on viewers.
In a display of insult becoming intimately acquainted with injury, Niranga has received very little airtime up until last night. And only then it was the aircraft engineer's friendship with Renee that featured.
We have almost no knowledge of the kinds of conversations he's been having in paradise and certainly no insight into his backstory in general. The guy made it all the way to this tropical oasis only for us to be denied a solid view of his experiences there.
It's surely a case of been there, done that and bought the (rig-hugging) T-shirt for Niranga, who didn't nab a rose in the fourth episode of Angie Kent's season of The Bachelorette after receiving barely a blip of coverage.
It seemed a cruel and jarring portrayal, particularly because in an interview at the time with Huffington Post, the 29-year-old announced: "I'm definitely more than the brown guy. I'm fun, I'm energetic. I'm there to make a little bit of a difference and take on the Aussie boys."
Australia never did get the chance to find out anything about him and his time on Bachelor in Paradise thus far looks to be equally as scarce and disappointing.
Speaking with news.com.au, Niranga says his time in paradise feels "like deja vu". "I would love for people to see my easygoing, sarcastic personality. Unfortunately, we aren't seeing this at the moment … it's hard to feel anything towards my portrayal when there is little airtime."
On the lack of diversity, Niranga doesn't believe "the Bachelor franchise is purposely trying to do this" but feels the cultural traditions of people of colour (POC) have added extra barriers when applying for shows of this nature.
"From experience, there are less POC auditioning for reality TV," he says. "For the ones who do and are successful, there is another hurdle an individual has to conquer to actually make it to the filming stage. They have to convince their families they are happy for them to go on reality TV. POC individuals can have very strict cultural backgrounds which don't always allow this kind of public display."
A spokesperson for Network 10 told news.com.au that "eligible contestants on all Network 10 shows are considered regardless of race or background. Network 10 takes its commitment to diversity seriously and we cast as broadly as possible across our entire slate."
The diversity issue plaguing Bachelor In Paradise isn't confined to the gently lapping shores of Mango Bay Resort on Fiji's Coral Coast either, it infects every iteration of dating reality TV shows - not only in Australia but worldwide.
Last year on the UK's version of Love Island, contestant Yewande Biala was booted after being callously rejected. Sobbing, she said: "I don't understand why someone can't just want me." Writing about it for Vogue UK, author Yomi Adegoke described the visceral "demoralising" rejection of black women on reality TV shows where the aim is to find a love match.
"Black female contestants don't tend to fare well in most types of reality shows … Their departure is even quicker, however, if desirability is thrown into the equation as a means to longevity," she wrote. "It's like watching the same 1990s horror film over and over again, with the knowledge that the black character is going to be killed off first."
This pattern played out on Australia's version of Love Island last year when Cynthia Taylu was the first black contestant to appear on the show and the very last to be chosen. It was highlighted in the US when in 2012, two would-be The Bachelor contenders filed a class-action lawsuit against the franchise, claiming its lack of diversity was a deliberate effort "to minimise the risk of alienating their majority-white viewership".
And it was glaringly obvious in 2017 when the non-diverse contestants on Matty J's season of The Bachelor were revealed to raised eyebrows. It's not that reality TV shows that centre around matchmaking are the nexus of ingrained racism, but more a symptom of a world that desperately needs to change.
Meet your Bachelorettes for 2017. 🌹 Starts 7:30 Wednesday. pic.twitter.com/68C0Jlk0rX— The Bachelor Australia 🌹 (@TheBachelorAU) July 22, 2017
In a year where the voices of POC are finally being heard, it's disappointing that this much-needed cultural change isn't yet reflected on mainstream reality TV shows. Americans have proven that collective criticism can unlock progress in this area.
This year, a petition campaigning for more diversity on the US version of The Bachelor was signed by over 86,000 people and soon after, it was announced that Matt James would become the first black man to hand out roses in the show's almost two decade history.
The Bachelor In Paradise microcosm might feel wholly artificial but the racial bias that breeds among the palm trees is very real and it's worth examining.
Edwina Carr Barraclough is a journalist and editor, you can follow her on Instagram here.
Originally published as Glaring problem with dating show
Niranga doesn’t get many lines but when he does he roasts Ciarran and I respect that #BachelorInParadiseAU— Emily Tresidder (@EmilyTresidder) July 21, 2020