The Moment of Truth has come along at a time in our society when truth isn’t at a premium. Everyone lies, everyone knows everyone lies, and we’re generally OK with this. Reality TV has long been heralded as a symbol of an ever-increasing Orwellian grasp on our culture, and The Moment of Truth is probably the most blatant example of this…so far. That the show was borne out of the on going writers’ strike is moot: The Moment of Truth is here, and we are left to grapple with its meaning. Personally, I watched the pilot episode, thought it was both appalling in nature and incredibly boring. I haven’t watched an episode since, nor do I plan on it. What interests me most about The Moment of Truth, however, are the contestants. These people who are willing to give up their dignity and expose themselves and their secrets to the world in order to receive a large check from Rupert Murdoch. Besides the obvious motivation of money, what would possess someone to be contestant on The Moment of Truth? And, why do we seem to care? The more I think about it, the more it becomes clear – these people are both incomprehensible and average, and maybe it all means that The Moment of Truth is far less diabolical or controversial than I first thought.
Contestants who try out for The Moment of Truth know exactly what they’re getting into. They know that the goal of the producers is to embarrass them. They know that to win money, they will have to reveal possibly damaging information about themselves to their family and loved ones in front of millions of Americans. This has, somehow, not deterred the people we see on Moment of Truth, and this brings up a very prescient question: Is it simple greed or are they also delusional?
The way the show is set up allows the contestants to know exactly the questions they will be asked before they go in front of the cameras. Before the taping, they are strapped to a polygraph and asked a series of questions, 21 of which are chosen for use for the actual show. This means that if a contestant realizes they might be busted on a particularly damaging query, one which they are unwilling to answer, they can formulate a way out. They can purposely answer an early question wrong and get away. They won’t win any money, of course, but they’ll save face. I presume this happens regularly, though it baffles me that contestants didn’t think they’d be found out. Did they walk onto the Moment of Truth set believing that these interrogation/polygraph specialists wouldn’t find out the ugly secrets of their past? If the answer is yes, then these people are indeed delusional or at least very, very optimistic. If the answer is no and they still were up for it, then I don’t know. Greed reigns supreme.
So, given all that we now about the process of making The Moment of Truth, these appear to be the only four reasons any contestant would ever get a question wrong:
1) They know a really embarrassing question is coming up and they feel that getting out of the game will save them a lot of personal anguish.
2) They actually think they’re giving the right answer.
3) They knowingly lie, but believe they can beat the polygraph.
4) The polygraph is wrong.
In all four of those scenarios, the validity of the show comes into question. And, obviously, the fact that we as the viewer don’t know which of these scenarios apply, any wrong answer given by a contestant is meaningless to us. We are gaining zero insight into these people. The sobering truth that emerges from this is that the “game” part of Moment of Truth is totally and utterly meaningless.
Therefore, the only semi-interesting aspect of The Moment of Truth, for me, is when a contestant answers a particularly telling and devastating question correctly. To see the shocked and saddened faces of their loved ones is, I’ll admit, the stuff of riveting television. It’s also exploitative and cringe-inducing (Which brings me to this: FOX, in their recent promos, has actually trumpeted The Moment of Truth as “cringe-inducing” as if it were a good thing). What does this all boil down to? Knowing that wrong answers by the contestants mean nothing and that the game is fundamentally flawed, and that the show is only of worth when contestants are admitting to awful secrets or incriminating points of view, we can come to this enlightening conclusion: The Moment of Truth is, basically, The Maury Povich Show.
FOX has discovered a way to re-package the sleaze of daytime talk shows and present it as an intellectual game show. Un-ironic mass audiences are turned off by excess sleaze, but The Moment of Truth has hidden their sleaze factor behind flashing strobe lights, wads of money, and a facade of intellectualism.
The contestants on The Moment of Truth are, in reality, no different from the malcontents you find on Jerry Springer. Instead of getting into fist fights with their loved ones when hidden truths are revealed, they win money. Weird.
The people at FOX are geniuses, and the people of America love smut television. I think we actively try not to like it, but sometimes when it’s presented in a shiny new package (like The Moment of Truth) we get fooled. And this is fine. However, no one should be ashamed by the schadenfreuude of The Moment of Truth. If you enjoy the show, watch it – maybe it makes you happy. Just don’t kid yourself. You’re not watching an interesting and trenchant social experiment – you’re watching Jerry Springer with a nicer suit.
-Oscar Dahl, BuddyTV Senior Writer
(Image Courtesy of FOX)