On last Monday night’s episode of ABC’s “most dramatic” summer sizzler Bachelor in Paradise, Taylor Nolan and Derek Peth, the only solidified couple on the reality TV dating show, entered into rocky waters when Derek let slip a triggering phrase to Taylor, sending her into emotional upheaval and leading viewers to believe, if only for a few minutes, that the only couple who seemed to have found love might not make it out of paradise.
Taking contestants from Bachelor Nation’s other primetime shows, The Bachelor and The Bachelorette singles are brought together on an isolated Mexican beach for the chance to find love. Bringing in new contestants each week, Bachelor in Paradise features weekly rose ceremonies where men and women alternately have the power to choose who stays and who goes. Bottom line: if you haven’t made a connection with someone, you’re going home.
Currently, in its fourth season, previous Bachelor in Paradise seasons have seen many happy couples emerge. Regardless of the fact that some of these ‘happy couples’ broke up mere months after filming, the show continues to claim that love is in the air. So far, this season shows only one couple finding love, Taylor Nolan, and Derek Peth. Amidst many other petty singles and too many love triangles to count, Taylor and Derek’s relationship is the only beacon of hope for the show’s premise of ‘true love’.
However, this relationship was threatened when Derek told Taylor to “fuck off” after she tried to have a conversation with him about communication in their relationship. Taylor initially tries to explain to Derek that being told by a partner to “fuck off” triggers her emotional past. However, she quickly becomes too emotionally overwhelmed to explain her side coherently and excuses herself to be alone and process what just happened.
Initially, the interaction between the two contestants appears petty and can be easily accepted as the show’s producers attempting to create drama between the only successful couple on the island. Taking the interaction at face value, it is easy to assume that it is yet another line in the show’s “script” and viewers can be free to delve themselves into this seemingly constructed fight and choose sides, aligning themselves with either Derek or Taylor, whomever they feel is more credible and rational in the given situation.
Monitoring Twitter during the couple’s argument, there were many references to Taylor as ‘petty’, ‘crazy’, ‘over-dramatic’, ‘craving attention’, and ‘too emotional’, among many others. Initially, it’s easy to agree with these critics without knowing anything more about the situation or the people in it. Viewers just see a girl picking a fight with a boy and running off being whiny about it as dozens of cameras film the whole thing.
But making this assumption is dangerous and using these hurtful adjectives to describe Taylor is harmful, both to her as an individual and to the very reality of verbal and emotional abuse.
In the ‘in the moment’ interview that follows the couple’s fight, Taylor reveals that she is a victim of verbal and emotional abuse, having been in a past relationship wherein her partner frequently swore at her and frequently used the violent language the Derek used against her just moments before. This fight between two contestants on a reality dating show turns from a scripted production act to a very real issue for a young woman who, as a victim of an abusive relationship, has every right to be triggered by those two words that Derek threw in her face so casually.
While critics of Taylor were quick to say mean things about her on the Internet, it’s important to realize that this wasn’t her being ‘petty’ or ‘crazy’ or ‘over-emotional’ or any of the other hurtful things viewers had to say about her reaction to Derek’s “fuck you”. This was Taylor reacting not as a reality television contestant, but as a human being, as someone who has been verbally abused by a previous partner and who is a victim of abusive relationships.
Taylor didn’t stage this fight to get screen time. She wasn’t picking a fight with Derek for attention. She wasn’t taking advantage of the cameras all around her to boost her image. Taylor was reacting as a woman who is a victim of abuse. She was triggered by the words Derek said to her because of the fact that those exact words and words of those kind were used against her in a previous abusive relationship. Her reaction was real and is understandable if you’ve ever been in an abusive relationship of any kind. Words, tones, treatments, and actions stick with you, and as time goes on, they may start to fade from the forefront of your mind, but they’re still there waiting to be triggered. And that’s exactly what Taylor experienced on August 28th’s episode.
On the other side of things, Derek admits in his ‘in the moment’ interview that he has never been in a relationship with a partner who is a victim of abuse, and thus he fully admits that being sensitive to Taylor’s triggers is brand new territory for him. Owning up to his mistake, Derek later apologizes to Taylor after giving her the space that she asked from him.
Admitting his naivety in regards to her triggers and her as a victim of an abusive relationship, Derek does what any loving partner should do: he sincerely apologizes for his mistake, owns up to the fact that he made one in the first place, considers the fact that there are things to learn about loving someone who has been previously abused, and finishes by telling Taylor that he wants to be on her team. The two have the first mature conversation to come out of this season of Bachelor in Paradise, or perhaps any season of the franchise’s offspring, and continue to be a beacon of hope once again in this otherwise dreary season of Paradise.
Is it problematic that those behind the scenes of Bachelor in Paradise used Taylor’s abusive past as a way to frame drama and gain viewers? Absolutely. But does that make her reaction and the legitimacy of her reaction any less real or important? Absolutely not. Emotional abuse is still abuse. Verbal abuse is still abuse. And Taylor Nolan experienced what so many victims of abusive relationships experience when in new relationships with partners who don’t know all the triggers and might not fully understand the complexity of the scars of one’s abuse.
What makes Taylor’s situation different is that her triggering moment was caught on camera for millions of viewers to see and therefore criticize. By calling Taylor ‘crazy’, ‘over-dramatic’, ‘attention seeking’, ‘too emotional’, and countless other negative descriptors, we are failing to consider the severity of abusive relationships and their long-lasting effects on their victims.
It’s easy to consume such a fluffy reality show like Bachelor in Paradise as lacking depth and societal importance and it’s just as easy to forget that the contestants are real people with real lives and real lived experiences. But Taylor isn’t crazy. She isn’t over-dramatic or over-emotional. She didn’t over-react and she wasn’t looking for attention. She was having a very real emotional reaction to a very real lived experience.
Victims of abusive relationships frequently believe that they are at fault, that they are the ones to blame for their mistreatment. And our mockery of Taylor is just an example of how society upholds this victim blaming instead of turning around to look at the abuser, the source of the problem, right in the eye.
Featured Image via screengrab from Bachelor In Paradise