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Monday, December 9

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Airbags

When The Moment of Truth premiered on Fox in late January 2008, TV Guide's Matt Roush wondered, "Who with a brain or a soul could do anything but despise Fox's new bottom-of-the-reality-barrel time-waster, which turned out to be as dull as it was degrading. Welcome to the latest blood-curdling and soul-numbing example of how eager Fox's reality division is to debase people for fun and profit." Before The Moment of Truth airs, players are hooked up to a lie detector and asked more than 50 questions. (A polygraph is not used during the show.) On the actual episodes themselves, surrounded by a live audience with family members and loved ones also in attendance, contestants are asked increasingly personal questions of larger and larger amounts of money. The most a player can win is $500,000. If an answer given on the show does not match the results from the polygraph, the contestant loses all the winnings earned to that point. Sounds like fun for the whole family, doesn't it? (Note: The original version of the show, which debuted in Colombia, was canceled in October after a woman admitted she hired someone to kill her husband. She left the show with about $25,000.)

The February 25 offering of The Moment of Truth was not dull at all. It opened with host Mark L. Wahlberg intoning,

This episode was so controversial, it sparked a long debate as to whether or not to air it at all. Quite honestly, if I had my vote, it would not air. It is the most uncomfortable I've ever been on television [this from a man who hosted the original Temptation Island!], asking these questions and listening to the answers that were given. But in the end, it was decided that this episode should air. I will tell you, however, that the truth is often not pretty. So here it is.

Thanks, Mark. It's good to know that you wouldn't choose to run this episode. Yet you choose to host this show after you earned some hard-won respectability on Antiques Roadshow. Hmmm.

Anyway, aspiring actress Lauren Cleri — with her family and husband, New York cop Frank, looking on — had to answer only one more question to reach the $100,000 tier. Wahlberg brings out her former boyfriend (also named Frank) to ask her, "If I wanted to get back together with you, would you leave your husband?" Dang. There's an option on the show that if a loved one doesn't want to hear the answer to a question, he or she can hit a button, and the question will be replaced. Husband Frank doesn't hit the button, but Lauren's sister Monica does. Ex-Boyfriend Frank's replacement question is, "Do you believe I'm the man you should be married to?" With her marriage and $100,000 on the line, Lauren truthfully answers yes. Double dang.

After this shocking confession, Husband Frank admits that he didn't know Ex-Boyfriend Frank was still an issue. However, when Lauren hesitates to continue, Husband Frank says, "I would tell her to go. I mean, what else is there to tell me?" Oh, Husband Frank. She agrees and is immediately hit with, "Since you've been married, have you ever had sexual relations with someone other than your husband?" The answer, of course, is yes. As is Lauren's answer to the follow-up "Do you think you are a good person?" However, her response is determined to be a lie, so Lauren loses everything.

Including, maybe, her relationship with her husband. According to a New York Post interview, Husband Frank knew about Lauren's infidelity but the couple had kept it from their friends and family. The Cleris still live together, but he's not sure if their marriage will survive. Lauren denies reports that she went on The Moment of Truth to get out of her marriage. She also wisely noted, "The money wouldn't have bought us happiness. We'd still be in the same situation — except our bills would be paid and my boobs would be bigger."

The Moment of Truth is a deliberate exercise in how far people will go to humiliate themselves for money and/or recognition. At what price, fortune? Even if Husband Frank knew about all Lauren's closet skeletons, is going on national television to air one's dirty laundry the best way to earn some quick cash? One could argue that if a spouse is already aware of such shenanigans, why not try to make some money from the situation? Never mind the fallout from friends, family, co-workers and the schadenfreude-loving general public. You'll be able to buy larger breasts!

Or, in this case, at what price "fame?" Rumors circulated that Lauren saw this as a chance to advance her acting career, that it would open new opportunities for her. Ex-Boyfriend Frank, also an aspiring actor, feels "sick" about his part in this morality play (but not sick enough to keep quiet about it). There's a whole subcategory of reality "stars" who have used their 15 minutes to pursue acting or the like, but the majority of them never do much more than go on other reality shows. Although The Moment of Truth falls more into the game show category than strict reality show fare, it is still real people dredging up real thoughts and real memories.

At least in most non-relationship-based reality shows, contestants must participate in tasks or contests to earn rewards and money. The Amazing Race requires pairs to race around the world for $1 million. American Idols calls for singing talent (unless you are Sanjaya) to land an album or two. America's Next Top Model hopefuls walk runways, photo shoots, film commercials, and try not to piss of Tyra to earn that $1000,00 Cover Girl contract. Survivor players must complete physical and mental tasks for $1 million.

The Moment of Truth, which usually airs after American Idol, is the third-highest rated program of the season among adults 18-49. Great. Let's hope that the end of the writer's strikeheralds an end to such high numbers. I'd rather suffer through Grey's Anatomy.

(If you want to watch the trainwreck for yourself, footage from Ex-Boyfriend Frank's appearance to the bitter end is available on YouTube, and, if you can stomach it, the entire episode is on Fox's website.)

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About the Author(s)

As a child, Dee Stiffler was only allowed to watch one hour of television a day. She usually chose Sesame Street. Today, she overcompensates by knowing far too much about the CW's lineup as well as pop culture in general. Email her at pop@gapersblock.com.

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