When something goes terribly wrong during filming of a reality show, contestants may want to blow the whistle — but legal language in their contracts forbids it.
“Bachelor in Paradise” contestants Corrine Olympios and DeMario Jackson have both issued statements about what transpired between them that caused the show to shut down production — but neither has gone into detail. There may be many reasons, including a hesitation to share graphic details and the fact that Olympios says she has little memory of what occurred.
But they also face legal concerns. Warner Bros. “Bachelor” website details how participants in the Bachelor franchise are asked to waive their right to speak publicly about what happens on-set.
All “Semi-Finalist contestants must sign a Confidentiality Agreement” the site says, and agree to “treat all information… as strictly confidential.” They must also agree not to “disclose or otherwise disseminate any such information to any third party.”
It may be possible to break those agreements in the event of a crime, legal experts told TheWrap. But no one has been charged in the “Bachelor” situation.
The legal language may explain why the details that have surfaced in the news media so far have been attributed to anonymous sources.
TMZ has cited unnamed individuals who said producers failed to stop contestant Olympios from initiating a filmed sexual encounter with Jackson, even though Olympios may have been too drunk to give consent. Warner Bros. is investigating.
Both Olympios and Jackson have made public statements, with Olympios stating “I am a victim” and Jackson saying he’s the victim of “malicious allegations.” No other contestants have publicly spoken out about what occurred.
Warner Bros. declined to comment about whether it would try to enforce its confidentiality requirements for leaks or public contestant statements about “Paradise.”
Reality TV show contestants are typically required to sign broad confidentiality or non-disclosure agreements, known as NDAs.
Kai Hibbard, the winner of season three of NBC’s “The Biggest Loser” in 2006, told TheWrap she got cease-and-desist letters from producers after she went public with claims of mistreatment.
She told the Guardian, “I bled through my shoes in the first three weeks” and when the show ended, “I was crazy sick” from overexertion.
“Yes, I had an NDA,” Hibbard told TheWrap. “Yes, they mailed me threatening letters telling me to cease and desist, but I was telling the truth as a whistleblower.”
But she couldn’t publish her tell-all book, “Too Fat, Too Thin, Can’t Win.”
“I was told by multiple publishing companies that they feared financial repercussions from one of the many companies connected to ‘The Biggest Loser,'” she said. “The message related back to me was that they were concerned about the NDA.”
CBS requires “Survivor” contestants to fork over $5 million each time they violate a non-disclosure provision, according to realityblurred.com, a website that posted a reputed 2010 version of the “Survivor” contestant contract.
NBC and CBS have not responded to requests for comment.
Edward Ruttenberg, a Los Angeles entertainment lawyer at Leopold Petrich & Smith, told TheWrap that he won a $500,000 award against two reality show contestants for revealing the outcome of a pilot in violation of their contract.
But studios rarely sue or seek large damages over minor leaks, said Santa Clara University law professor Eric Goldman.
“A judge would likely laugh at a producer who invoked the $5 million damages clause for a trivial breach,” he told TheWrap.
But the “$5 million damages clause is so scary to most contestants that they won’t dare test its enforceability,” Goldman said.
There are some instances where a court is unlikely to enforce a confidentiality agreement.
“If the contestant is called upon to testify in a court case or other legal proceedings,” the court would not enforce the gag order in the contestant’s contract, Goldman said.
“I don’t think a court would enforce an NDA that prohibits someone from reporting a crime” to police, said Stacey Lantagne, a law professor at the University of Mississippi.
Nor are courts likely to enforce a non-disclosure agreement for the leaks or public statements by Olympios or Jackson about “Paradise,” said Randy Renick, a Pasadena lawyer with Hadsell, Stormer and Renick.
“Where the result would be to punish an employee for speaking out against sexual assault in the workplace, it is unlikely that a court would enforce a non-disclosure agreement,” he told TheWrap.