Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Cleri, Cleri, Way Too Eerie

Reality TV, unless you live under a rock, you know as filled with preening, uninhibited, often intoxicated loudmouths who are willing to do anything to get their 15 minutes. (Minus some far-too-uncommon blessed souls.) Once in a while, one of these inherently hateable people somehow becomes a person that people love to hate, or at least is viewed as such by the producers, and is brought back for future seasons, or even guest appearances on other shows, or for a rare obnoxious few, a show all to themselves.

This is a large part of why so many obnoxious people show up. Aside from the stated, primary goal of the program, many of them hope that by standing out enough, by being the famewhoriest of the famewhores, they too will get their own show, or at least another appearance on the one they're on.

What none of them realize, however, is that they can't all have that. The punishment for failure in acquiring the Famewhore Holy Grail can have disastrous effects once the cameras go off. Relationships at home can be strained or ended. Employers may be humiliated to have these people on the payroll. And if you're on a talent-search show for a common job- a cook, a businessperson, an interior designer- and you make a disastrous blunder, or get eliminated early on, your career in that field can easily come to a screeching halt. Never mind getting the dream job the show was offering. What aspiring cook anywhere is going to take lessons from the person who, on national television, can't tell sugar from salt?

(Colleen, Season 5, Hell's Kitchen. I know you were wondering.)

If you truly suck at what you do, or if you truly suck as a person, reality TV has a billion ways to make sure you get yours.

Take 'The Moment Of Truth', technically a game show but with all the spectacle of reality TV. The premise is simple enough. You take a lie detector test prior to the show, are asked a series of questions (some more personal than others), and are given many of the same questions on air. You are tasked with answering honestly. The more questions you answer honestly on-air, the more money you win, up to a top prize of $500,000. (In the American version, at least, and yes, there were international versions.) But if at any point you lie, you lose everything and the game is over. Refuse to answer, and the game is also over, although you (and your loved ones) are given one opportunity to swap out one question you feel is better left unanswered by pressing a button.

On its face, it doesn't sound so bad. But once you start asking the kind of questions you expect someone to answer for half a million dollars- or $200,000, as nobody ever made it to the top of the money ladder in the US version- things go south in a hurry, especially since friends, family and other people in the contestant's life were commonly brought in by FOX to spectate and sometimes ask a question themselves.

And this is prime-time television. They know how you answered before the cameras go on. You know full well they're going to make a beeline for the most humiliating and damaging answers in the whole test. Which is the other thing: the answers are out there once you give them, whether you win any money or not.

The most spectacular revealing of skeletons in someone's closet came by way of Lauren Cleri of Piermont, New York, who would later flat-out admit to the New York Post that she was solely going for the money.

Lauren left enough bridges burned in the process to span an ocean. Host Mark L. Wahlberg, who you'll note as the person who signed up to host this show in the first place, felt the need to make a preshow comment that the episode containing Lauren, had Wahlberg had his way, would not have aired at all, and that it was "the most uncomfortable I've ever been on television."

The episode is available on YouTube here:

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5

Here is the line of questions Lauren faced, with her answers in parentheses:

1: As an employee of a hair salon, have you ever told a customer you liked their hairstyle when in fact, you didn't? (no)
2: Have you ever flashed a stranger just for laughs? (yes)
3: Would you give food to a stray dog before you would give it to a homeless person? (yes)

This one got the first groans from the audience. If they only knew what was coming...

4: Have you ever derived pleasure when one of your siblings has gotten into trouble? (yes)
5: Have you ever been fired from a job for stealing money? (yes)

Please note, Lauren hasn't actually won any money yet. The first prize level, $10,000, comes only after answering the first six questions.

6: If you knew you wouldn't get caught, would you steal money from your place of employment? (no)

Now she's won money. The next level is five more questions for $25,000.

7: Since you've been married, have you ever pretended to be asleep in order to avoid having sex with your husband Frank? (yes)
8: Do you blame your husband for your lack of close friends? (yes)
9: Would you ever be a surrogate mother for your sister if she were unable to have children? (yes)
10: Do you think your parents are proud of you? (no)
11: Do you know things about your father that you keep secret from your mother? (yes)

$25,000 and some long talks with Frank are now Lauren's... for now. Next up, four questions for $100,000. And those long talks are about to get longer, as at this point Wahlberg appears for a second advisory warning, mentioning the following to be the part that made him not want to air the episode.

12: Do you secretly stay in touch with any boyfriends that your husband does not know about? (no)
13: Have you ever taken off your wedding ring to appear as if you were single? (yes)
14: Do you believe you might have been in love with a former boyfriend on your wedding day? (yes)

At this point, Wahlberg is half-facepalming and telling Lauren "I can't tell you to walk away" while in the process strongly suggesting it. When she elects to continue, he just shakes his head. Lauren's aforementioned ex arrives on stage to ask the $100,000 question.

15: If I wanted to get back together with you, would you leave your husband?

Wahlberg is almost begging Frank to hit the button and swap the question out, but by now Frank's reaction is 'no, no, now I kinda want to hear this'. So Lauren's sister hits the button instead.

Fate can be cruel, Lauren's sister.

15-A: Do you believe I am the man you should be married to?

Not only was that fight not avoided, it actually got worse. Lauren said yes with disturbingly little hesitation. Coming back true (and making the skipped question easily guessable), she made it to $100,000, which by this point seems not nearly enough money to cover the costs of even attempting to undo all the damage.

So of course Lauren continues on for $200,000, three more questions away.

16: Since you've been married, have you ever had sexual relations with someone other than your husband?

Wahlberg: "I wish the button was still there."
Frank: "You're telling me."

Lauren answered yes. The answer is true. Frank is now burying his face in his hands. Lauren's face has gone cold at this point. ...well, it was prior, but now it is flat-out emotionless. Forget the long talks. There's no longer anything to talk about. This marriage has died right there on-stage.

And then reality TV rears up to give Lauren a good hard smack:

17: Do you think you're a good person?

The entire human race and several species of lichen found only in Antarctica immediately scream the answer. Frank shakes his head no before a word comes out of Lauren's mouth.

Lauren answers yes.

The lie detector begs to differ.

Game over. Lauren walks away with absolutely nothing. This is the end of the episode, and Wahlberg makes one final note in front of an empty stage:

"I honestly believe that some truths are better left unsaid. Hopefully, Lauren and her family can make peace with what happened here tonight. I wish them all the very best."

In fact, the marriage may have been doomed from the moment she was cast. As the New York Post reported:

The show's executive producer, Howard Schultz, said Lauren Cleri told him later that "she doesn't want a relationship [with her ex or her husband].

"She wanted out of her marriage, and she wanted to . . . tell the truth," Schultz told The Post.

"Perhaps some of it was then, 'If I'm going to end my marriage, then if I can win a hundred thousand or two hundred thousand dollars. I can start a new life with some cash in my pocket.' "

Asked if she went on the show to get out of her marriage, Lauren yesterday said "definitely" not.

In an update interview, Lauren noted that she and Frank split up. Or as she put it, "are no longer living under the same roof." An aspiring model, she also told the New York Post that no job offers came out of her appearance.

Considering the nature of modeling, and considering there has been no update on her since, she is in all likelihood still waiting. Her only stable job now is as a cautionary tale.


Pinyan said...

I clicked the youtube link and watched the entire episode before reading the rest of the entry. Things about this show that make me haaaaaaaaaate, as compiled in real time:
Playing the same promo that destroys the tension of each question, all the way up to "that will destroy her marriage!" multiple times.
The pitiful amounts of money that you win for a half-hour of embarassment.
That annoying look to the left and play with your hair that she does just about every friggin' time.
The pre-convicting audience that groans at every question the way any prosecutor's dream jury would.
The hug from her dad that screams "Thanks for keeping quieting about that hooker I killed."
What awful parent would want to attend the taping of this show, knowing that at bare minimum, your child's sex life will be discussed?
Every warning about "This is uncomfortable." and "I didn't want this to air." He knows damn well that any person on this show who could win six figures is going to necessarily admit to terrible things. It's what you signed up for, you sanctimonious prick.
The playful question Mark asks, followed by the DINNNNNNG and the evil question.
The way she's been coached to act nervous and guilty even when she's giving the "good" answer.
Seth Rogen Husband and everything about his jerkoff self.
Again with the repeated promos. Reminds me, for obvious reasons, of Greed, the original FOX dickbag gameshow.
How much of a human pile of shit does Frank #2 have to be to walk in to that studio?

Aaron Allermann said...

Concerning Wahlberg, it was only the fifth episode of the series and it may not have quite hit him until Lauren came along just what the show was capable of.

A show centered around a lie detector test can mean a lot of things. doesn't necessarily mean they're going to ask about cheating on the husband. You can ask silly questions all day long and make a completely different show than what they wound up doing. You could point at a random member of the audience and ask 'Would you kiss that guy for a dollar?' You could ask if they liked Nickelback songs. 21 questions like that, maybe a few of the mildly uncomfortable ones at the very end, and Moment of Truth looks completely different.

So to see what happened here, have the trainwreck of epic proportions happen right in front of him- and you can see him visibly want to be anywhere on Earth but that studio- yeah. He signed on for it. But until that moment, he didn't quite realize what it was he had signed on for. 'Hey, a lie detector test? That sounds like a pretty original concept for a shOH MY GOD PEOPLE WHAT THE HELL.'

The fact that Wahlberg stayed on with the show after that, though, that does undermine his credibility.

Aaron Allermann said...

By the way... Moment of Truth was an import. Colombia came up with it.

Their version was even worse. One contestant got the question "Did you pay a hit man to kill your husband?", and the contestant answered yes.


She went on to say "The crime couldn't be carried out because the hit man tipped off my husband, and he ran away forever - God save me."

The Colombian network pulled the plug on the show immediately afterwards.

Pinyan said...

Maybe this was the first time it ever got awful, but there was an indication right from the get-go. According to The Wiki, the very first contestant, a former NFL player was asked:

Have you ever had sexual relations with someone the very same day you met them? (yes)
Have you delayed having children because you're not sure if Catia will be your lifelong partner? (yes)
As a personal trainer, have you touched a female client more than was required of you? (no, but he was lying)

I hadn't realized that this particular contestant was quite so early in the running of the show, nor that it lasted into a third season.