Bachelor in Paradise's history-making match

What the show's first same-gender engagement means for representation

Burnett and Haggerty's engagement marks an important step for representation on reality TV.
Bachelor in Paradise had its sixth season finale last week, and it was mostly business as usual onscreen: steamy Fantasy Suite visits, dramatic fights in the sand, and unnecessarily long reunion scenes. However, in between these Bachelor spin-off staples was a groundbreaking moment that had fans bursting with excitement.
On a sandy platform facing an ocean view, Paradise participant Demi Burnett got down on one knee to ask for her fellow contestant Kristian Haggerty’s hand in marriage, cementing the couple as The Bachelor’s very first same-gender engagement.
“I came here to find myself,” Burnett said, as she pulled out a ring, “but I found myself in you.”
Now, most couples on shows in the Bachelor franchise have a cult following on social media, especially on Paradise, where multiple couples get together and split up over the course of a season. More than others, though, Burnett and Haggerty’s engagement has been thrust into the spotlight because of their significance in reality TV history.
For Burnett, this season was an emotional one. From coming out as a bisexual woman on reality TV to having her on-again off-again girlfriend, Kristian, brought on as a surprise mid-season contestant, the Bachelor alum’s had to contend with her sexuality under the world’s watchful gaze.
In an interview with Ellen DeGeneres after the show’s finale, Burnett admitted she felt “a lot of fear” about coming out, and fear “of judgement [...] of disappointing people in my life [and] making them uncomfortable.”
This fear is valid, considering the less-than-pristine reputation The Bachelor has gained when it comes to breaking down barriers.
The Bachelor is arguably one of the most heteronormative franchises out there, pitting groups of men or women against each other in a bid to win the heart of each season’s star. The women don flawless makeup and dresses, the men try to get into fistfights and everyone is expected to conform to gendered stereotypes. It’s reality TV—some things never change.
That’s why a season featuring a same-gender relationship is so refreshing to see for the show. With a history of homophobia, racism, and sex-shaming, The Bachelor has a long way to go before it can come close to being considered progressive, but Burnett and Haggerty’s acceptance from the franchise shows there’s been improvement.
While people who don’t actively follow the franchise might not understand the weight of Burnett and Haggerty’s engagement, it represents a turning point on reality TV that’s been a long time coming.
One episode of the show even devoted screen time to exploring Burnett’s self-consciousness about same-gender public displays of affection and openly discussing her bisexuality. Instead of sensationalizing her feelings, the show treated Burnett’s feelings with the gravity they deserved.
From MTV’s first sexually-fluid dating show to more LGBTQ+ contestants appearing on shows like Big Brother and Survivor to this groundbreaking season of Bachelor in Paradise, things are looking up for representation on reality TV.

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