Reality Bites

Reality Bites: Cheaters

There are a million reality shows on the naked television. We're going to watch them all, one at a time.

"To be with another woman, that is French. To get caught, that is American." -- Inspector Andre, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels

I know the premise of this weekly exercise is that I'm supposed to check out a reality show I've never seen before and review it for your reading pleasure, but we're talking about a reality TV institution here, and one with which I have a long and sordid history.

That said, I don't know if I can really call myself a "fan," as that implies some level of affection. I can tell you I've been an off-and-on viewer since the Tommy Habeeb days, and that until its hard drive gave up the ghost recently, the episode where Joey Greco got stabbed was one of the only permanent residents of my DVR.

How, then, do we explain the End Times harbinger that is Cheaters? Very carefully, as it turns out.

The premise of the show is simplicity itself: A man or woman, suspecting their partner of philandering, contacts the steely professional Cheaters investigative team. They, in turn, put the suspected party under surveillance, amassing evidence of their infidelity for presenting to the complainant. A confrontation is "arranged" between the aggrieved party and their wayward lover. Hilarity then ensues, if by "hilarity" you mean emotional breakdowns and the occasional threat of physical violence.

And that's it. The show is primarily shot in the D/FW area, though there are/were occasional forays into the Houston metroplex. I personally have never recognized any local scenery while watching, but one strip mall Chili's looks much like the next. And I choose to take the show's Big D environs as further proof of our city's superiority.

I'm not one given to hyperbole, but Cheaters is as great an American institution as baseball and morbid obesity. Who but the good old US of A would so brazenly combine our love of moralistic posturing (the wayward partners are referred to as "suspects" as if they were felons) with salacious, albeit (barely) pixelated footage of sexual transgressions.

And no one embodies this better than host Joey Greco, who puts his Master's degree in counseling to good use every episode. Thrill as he paternalistically offers his sympathies to those who have been wronged while implacably holding a video camera viewfinder in their faces, the better to shock them with footage of their loved one making the beast with two backs with their roommate.

On a side note, "Joel" Greco used to host a hip-hop fitness show on ESPN called Fitness Pros. If you ask me, Cheaters was a step up.

And in the interest of full disclosure, your very own Houston Press did a piece on the show back in 2002, implying participants may have been paid for their...participation. I know, I know: A "reality" program may have been scripted? Next you'll tell me the Saints' Super Bowl win might be tainted. In any event, I don't know if this holds true in recent years.

Besides, the show also celebrates that other most American of values: equality. Politicians of all stripes like to trumpet how this is the Land of Opportunity, but Cheaters truly cuts across socioeconomic boundaries. Admittedly, there's an emphasis on the lower-income end of the spectrum, but that in itself is uplifting. While other programs or pundits might talk down to the poor, Greco proves week in and week out that lack of a job, dental plan or fashion sense are no barriers to getting laid.

I mean, look at the guy at the 2:50 mark. He reminds me of the survivalist from the original Highlander: "Come on, Marine, this is for real!"

Cheaters is outrageous and off the mark in its laughable attempts to virtually criminalize infidelity. It also holds a grotesque mirror up to ourselves, and has been doing so for 12 seasons. 12 seasons. That sound you just heard was 10,000 Firefly fans chewing off their own tongues simultaneously.

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Peter Vonder Haar writes movie reviews for the Houston Press and the occasional book. The first three novels in the "Clarke & Clarke Mysteries" - Lucky Town, Point Blank, and Empty Sky - are out now.
Contact: Pete Vonder Haar