Thursday, January 24, 2008

A "Moment of Truth" in my TV Fast

I've been traveling this week, staying at hotels.

I was lonely.

I did things I wouldn't normally do and that I'm not proud of.

I watched a whole episode of Charmed, all of Boston Legal, most of Supernanny, and part of American Idol.

I can find some scrap of redeeming value in each of these if pressed, but I can't say as much for my last selection, The Moment of Truth. That was a pure moment of rubbernecking at a bloody car wreck and all I can say in my defense was that I turned it off after 15 minutes.

If you haven't heard of this show, it's the most controversial reality show since Temptation Island (and perhaps not coincidentally, hosted by the same guy). The premise is simple: A person is must answer 21 questions correctly. They get money for each correct answer and lose it all if they don't. They can walk away while they still have some money before hearing the next question, or keep playing for $500,000.

So far, sounds like Who Wants to Be Half a Millionaire. However in this case, the player won't be stumped by any questions--the only arbiter of whether they've answered correctly is the lie detector they are connected to. Their friends and family aren't sitting there in front of the contestant for support. They are there to witness and react to the contestant answer questions like "Have you ever said you were sick when canceling an appointment when you weren't" and "Do you think you are better looking than any of your friends?"

But as the game progresses, the interrogation crosses the line from being merely personally embarrassing and uncomfortable to potentially destroying a person's relationships and reputation. I flipped away before they could get to the types of questions featured on the commercial, which included "Would you cheat on your wife if you knew you could get away with it?" and "Have you ever slept with someone for money?"

I have to wonder if these contestants had any idea what they had signed up for. Did they think they had nothing to hide, or did the prospect of winning that cash overwhelm their judgment? Or did they just never suspect that Fox would take it so far? By the nature of the questions, all of them must have been subjected to a questionnaire or even a background check, and I think only the worst were allowed to go on air.

For the longest time, my husband couldn't bring himself to watch The Office because he couldn't stand to watch even the fictional Michael Scott embarrass himself in every episode. I know what he would say about this show: Fox is making money off of the misery and embarrassment of others. That's not enough to stop me under normal circumstances. There are many shows that do this that I will watch--the audition episodes of American Idol, the "To Catch a Predator" episodes on Dateline. You might even argue that any reality show exposes it's contestants to unflattering portrayals. But all of these people volunteered to be on air, or in the case of Predator, were deserving of being exposed (I don't buy weak protestations of "I showed up to tell her not to solicit dirty old men on the Internet ").

I think subjecting yourself to that kind of scrutiny is one thing but allowing innocent family members to be collateral damage is another, and in this case, I don't blame the contestants, I blame Fox. I know that the friends and family must have signed waivers before they could appear with the contestant on the show but they couldn't have known what they were in for. Fox better have a bunch of episodes in the can because I think they will have fewer volunteers after the original episodes air. However, you never know. I found this blog review of the show at the Palm Beach Post and the only comment by a reader was "i want to apply to be on the show how can i do that????" [sic]

I made several rules for myself when starting this TV fast almost three weeks ago. One was that I couldn't watch shows on a TV set at home, but I could do it when outside the house. Overall, this has helped me to reduce mindless channel surfing. But while I've adhered the the letter of my rules this week, I'm not sure about the spirit. One day at a time.

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