Written by: Rob Van Winkle, CC2K Staff Writer
The Fox Network officially unveiled The Moment of Truth this week to great fanfare and a metric ton of advertising and hype. A few things have become abundantly clear (or at least, more abundantly clear): The Fox executives have descended one notch closer to Hell, and we are now officially feeling the harsh bite of the Writers’ Guild strike.
The premise, taken from the smash hit Columbian game show that CC2K has written about before, is extremely simple. A person is asked a series of questions while strapped to a polygraph lie detector. These questions are then re-asked on national television, in front of family, friends and a live audience. The questions are progressively more and more personal and damning, and the longer they can answer them honestly, the more money they stand to earn. If they are “caught” lying, they walk away with nothing.
In the season premiere, we were thrust right into the concept with little more than a cursory greeting, and a “let’s get to it.” The first guest (a former NFL player, now personal trainer) was brought onto the stage, and seated in front of his wife and two friends. Over the course of his fifteen questions, he reveals that he thinks himself to be the best looking of his friends, that he once looked at a teammate’s junk while in the shower together, that he has a secret from his wife that would cause her not to trust him if she knew it, and that he has delayed having children because he is not sure if his wife is his lifelong companion. His quest for half a million was tripped up by the question “Have you ever touched a female client more than was required?” He said no, the machine said otherwise. Our erstwhile hero walked away with no money into the arms of his now uncomfortable and disenchanted wife.
Quite frankly, there is too much to hate about this show to try to compress it into one brief article, but I will do my best here and now.
First of all, Fox once more has outdone itself in taking an already horrible concept and ratcheting up the tension to unfathomable degrees. There are plenty of swirling lights and mood lighting to create an atmosphere of foreboding, the questions, as they are asked, are also plastered on a massive graphical background in front of our victim, and that same contestant is seated alone in an uncomfortable chair, made for all intents and purposes to look as though he is being interrogated. The studio audience has been instructed to respond to EVERY question with noises of shock and disgust, the contestant has been instructed to pause before every answer to simulate conflicted consideration, and the soulless computer voice offering the verdict is given an interminable pause to make us feel tension that might not actually exist. Perhaps most oddly, the audience is also instructed to applaud when the contestant has told the truth, which leads to exchanges like this one:
Host: Do you have a secret from your wife that, if she knew, would cause her not to trust you?
Audience: (Shock and disgust)
Wife (to friend, off microphone) – I hope not.
Audience: (More shock and disgust)
Wife (to friend, off microphone) – I can’t believe this.
Friend (To wife) – Are you sure that this is worth the money?
Voice: That answer is………………………………true.
Audience: (Wild applause)
Contestant: (Huge smile)
This man has done something his wife would dislike strongly enough that he has kept it from her, and he has just admitted this in front of her – perhaps to the detriment of his marriage – so he can win some money. YAAAY!!!
This brings me to the second thing about this show I find so abhorrent: the contestants. Daytime talk shows and reality programs essentially proved for us that people have almost literally no shame when it comes to their deluded quest for money and/or fame, but it seems to me that even the very worst of those people still had a step of distance from their absurd words and actions. We could always imagine that these people were playing a role, and that deep down they could not be as shallow or mean as they allowed themselves to be portrayed on television. In other words, they whored out their bodies and souls, but at least they kept some thoughts hidden. However, with The Moment of Truth, that’s exactly what they’re exposing. In John Irving’s A Widow for One Year (Yeah, I’m invoking Irving in a piece about Fox. Want to make something of it?), the main character was an illustrator with a penchant for philandering. Irving discussed how this character, when he selected his latest sexual conquest, would begin a series of sketches of her that would begin extraordinarily flattering, and become progressively more and more explicit and sexual as time went on. Eventually (and always at the end of these things), the drawings of these women were raw and rough to a degree that made them – to paraphrase here – somehow more exposed than being merely naked. I have often thought about this sentiment, and wondered how someone could be more naked than naked…and I think I’ve found my answer. This show strips away a person’s pretense for being a good person, in a mostly fruitless quest for money. Who gives a shit about clothes, once that’s gone?
The third thing to hate about this show is its smarmy host, Mark L. Wahlberg (the L. stands for “Let’s not confuse him with the successful Mark Wahlberg, please.”). Wahlberg first found his way onto television as the host of Temptation Island, and with this show his status is secure as the man who smilingly and snarkily allows people to ruin their lives in front of millions of people, for our entertainment and their humiliation. Both of the shows he’s hosted feature moments that truly show the hole where his soul should be. In Temptation Island, during the confrontational campfire segments, Wahlberg would sometimes tell the contestants that, due to a rule of the “game,” they would now be forced to watch out-of-context footage of their loved one partying on the other side of the island. “You don’t have to watch this,” he’d tell the clearly conflicted (though equally shitty and soulless) contestant, “but I HAVE to play it.” In Moment of Truth, Wahlberg approaches the contestant’s loved ones, and tells them that if he ever asks a question that they do not want to know the answer to, they could press a button located in front of them, and the question would be removed. However, they can only do this one, and afterwards, he will not be able to stop any other questions from getting asked, no matter how damaging they might be. If you ever watch these shows enough to catch this moment, be sure to watch Wahlberg’s face as he delivers these lines. Outwardly, he plasters on a look of care, but with no trouble at all you can see the evil glee barely concealed behind it. It’s an evil look on an evil person (come to think of it, could that “L” stand for “Lucifer?”).
The last issue with this show is the inherent flaw in its concept, which is that LIE DETECTOR TESTS ARE FLAWED! There is no machine that can measure “truth;” that would be akin to being able to medically prove the presence of “love.” Polygraph machines measure physiological responses to the questions themselves and your answers to them, seeking to find anomalies that could be the sign of a lie. Government agents are trained in how to control their bodies to beat these machines. So, an abundance of control could allow a person to lie without detection, and on the flip side, the machine could just as easily measure your thought process to a question as a lie when it was nothing of the sort. Let’s take for example the question that eliminated the first contestant: “Have you ever touched a female client more than was required?” He responded no, and was informed that this response – according to the polygraph – was false. Now why would he lie here? Once the question is asked out loud, the “truth” is going to come out, either through your lips or through the results of the test. I believe that he was telling the truth, and that he never touched a female client in the way that this question was implying. However, imagine him being hooked to that machine when the question was asked. He knows that he’s never groped a client or anything like that…but the question uses the word “ever.” As he prepares to answer, he starts to think. He recalls a time when his hand inadvertently slipped, or a time when a grateful client hugged him a second too long. He gets scared that his truthful answer might read on the machine as a lie, and his heart rate accelerates, thus ensuring that it will. That’s all it takes, and with that question, he walks away with nothing but the disdain of a country, and a severely shortened client roster.
This show will no doubt be around for a while, or at least until someone admits to something so horrible that Fox will have to shut it down to save what’s left of their face. If you get a moment, check it out to have a peek at the current benchmark for how low television can go in the interest of “entertainment.” If you enjoy watching the utter deconstruction of a fellow human being – albeit a greedy and shallow one – then perhaps you will have gained a moment of truth of your own.