Update – 8.4.03
The best show on television just got better, although the improvement was not at all anticipated. First, original host Tommy Grand left the program, which at first I thought would be fatal. After all, Grand was self-righteous and deeply moralizing and the new host, Joey Greico, was half Grand’s size and appeared meek and boyish. Still, I gave the program the benefit of the doubt and after a dozen or so shows, I have come to love Joey in ways I never thought imaginable. In fact, he surpasses Grand. It turns out Joey is even more self-righteous, more prone to lecture cheating spouses, and he even puts himself right in the center of the action. So far this season, he’s been knocked to the ground at least ten times, had a gun pulled on him and his crew, and in the 8/3/03 show, was stabbed in the abdomen by a crazed piece of Mexican trash. You heard me, the host of Cheaters was stabbed! Bleeding profusely, he was rushed away in an ambulance with the cameras following him every step of the way. As the guest host informed us, Joey is recovering, but there’s no telling when he’ll be back. If you haven’t been watching this program, now is the time to start. No reality program – hell, no program at all – tops Cheaters for sheer drama, action, and the giddy joy of watching the worst of America at their lowest points.
At long last, we finally have a worthy companion piece to Cops, one of the guiltiest pleasures ever to hit the small screen. Whereas that landmark hit reinforced every stereotype about the poor you could imagine (drunk, abusive, loud, incoherent, and of course, born criminals), Cheaters goes a step further. Yes, it embarrasses white trash and other social undesirables at their lowest points, but it also manages to include the most smug, holier-than-thou host in television history, Mr. Tommy Grand. Still, despite Grand’s obnoxious presence and judgmental tone (a constant refrain is “You should be ashamed of yourself”), he has an undeniable charisma; a watchability that forces the viewer to agree with his moralistic pronouncements and sarcastic sneer.
The premise is an obvious one: various spouses, boyfriends, and other jilted lovers call the program and ask that their significant other, suspected of having an illicit affair, be followed around town by Cheaters investigators and hidden cameras. These surreptitious private eyes follow the “suspects” (this is how the show itself refers to them, as if cheating were a punishable crime) to their homes, places of employment, and assorted nightclubs and restaurants. One desperate woman even set up a camera inside her bedroom to catch her lesbian lover in the act. The video we see is always grainy, cheap, and dark, yet the ever-helpful Tommy is on hand to emphasize the wrongdoings (a kiss here, panties on the dashboard there, etc.) One must wonder if all of this is genuine, then we realize with a jolt that Cheaters takes place in Texas (vehicle registration tags are everywhere), and there is surely no shortage of scummy, big-haired women and beer bellied men willing to reveal their most intimate pains and betrayals on national television.
Once the “evidence” is collected, Tommy presents the video to the “client” and we watch as tears flow, half-witted epithets are hurled through the air, and rotten, yellow teeth are bared in anger. In case the cuckold does not fully grasp the implications of two shadowy figures rumbling beneath a blanket in a park at 3:00 AM, Tommy spells it out in plain English – with an emphasis on what a cad the person is and how he/she should be exposed and shamed in front of the Cheaters cameras. With the shell-shocked fool in tow, Tommy and his crew hunt down the lowdown cheat in order to get to the bottom of the situation. Imagine, for a moment, that you are cheating on your lover or spouse, and an impossibly lean, curly-headed maniac approaches you in a parking lot. He is hurling accusations and questions, demanding that you answer why it is you have seen fit to throw away a good relationship, or that you have no respect for the children, or “don’t two weeks of love and kindness mean anything to you?” Reasonably enough, the “suspects” are stunned, wondering (along with the audience) why it is any of this man’s business.
But then, just as quickly, we side with Tommy once again. After all, these are the least of us, people so outside the normal bounds of decency and humanity that it is perfectly reasonable for a television camera to capture them in all their pitiful glory. While on occasion there are long-standing marriages that are being destroyed, the typical “couple” on Cheaters is a pair of fresh-faced, wide-eyed lunatics, barely out of their teenage years. They have been together for an average of a few months, and by their own admission, there has never been an understanding other than “we are just dating.” Still, we do get the “committed” types, always unmarried, with the man usually jobless, and two kids running about back at the trailer. It is here that Cheaters reveals a stark truth that no one has ever been able to answer to my satisfaction. Find me the most unappealing, mullet-wearing, unemployed, verbally and physically abusive, beat-up-truck-with-the-tags-expired loser on earth, and he will not only have a big-titted woman on his arm, but another, equally big-titted lady, fighting to take him away. Is this a Texas thing, or is it nationwide? I am surely no Adonis, but why is it I had to buy love dolls, fuck couches, and wrinkle various centerfolds during my lonely years, when these worthless crackers are able to secure good, dirty, crab-filled sex on a nightly basis? Where is the justice in this stinking pit of a planet?
My only satisfaction is that I can watch as the poor and socially disadvantaged among us are further labeled as adulterous drunks without morality, stability, or proper grooming habits. Perhaps we can admit that the evidence proves that affairs are a universal condition, but it is much more fun to consider the “Other” – a distinct, easily defined creature who surely deserves his fate. And rather than discuss the sociological implications of poverty and institutional inequalities, I’d rather switch on Cheaters, kick back, and nod as those crazy lower classes ruin their lives again and again. Somewhere, the Social Darwinists among us are smiling.