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the irresistible charm of 'cheaters'
adultery, american style
by jason gilmore (@JasonGilmore77)

What, then, do we make of our collective, morbid fascination with adultery? The sticky, seductive stench of it lures our nostrils, torn from the biographies of politicians, athletes and entertainers, glamorized in our adolescence and kept alive by daytime talk shows, soap operas and movies starring Sharon Stone. Though less prevalent than, say, lying or stealing, it is safe to say that adultery is our most fascinating and celebrated transgression. It is always, for some reason, able to secure our attention.

Having stated this, I, normally no avid solicitor of misery and misadventure, have nevertheless found myself drawn to a weekly show that highlights our favorite iniquity. The show is called Cheaters, and the set-up, like those of nearly every show that is oh-so-watchable, is quite simple: If you should suspect infidelity within their relationship, Cheaters' private investigators will trail your mate, videotaping their every move. Upon gaining credible evidence, they will show you -- the hapless, forever-scarred victim -- their findings and create the opportunity for you to confront your soon-to-be ex and their new lover, TV lights and cameras blaring. Paradise Hotel is flat-out retarded, the fourth Big Brother should have died after the first Big Brother, Survivor, The Real World, and The Bachelor will never top their first seasons, and American Idol's interest fluctuates on who's singing that night. All of this leaves the door wide open for Cheaters: the most consistently enjoyable reality show on television.

Should you dare to diminish the power of adultery, no less an authority than the Son of God Himself said in Matthew 5:32 that it was the only legitimate grounds for divorce. But most of the subjects on Cheaters are not married - and clearly, will not be now - and maybe that's part of the problem. This is certainly not to say that married people don't cheat (insert malicious but funny Kobe Bryant or Scott Peterson joke here) but they usually tend to have more to lose when they do and are usually more cognizant of that fact, whether that curtails their selfish escapades or not. Conversely, many of the show's subjects have nothing but blank stares (and sorry answers like, "Well, you work all the time, what did you expect me to do?") with which to answer their mates' heartfelt pleas for a reasonable explanation. The casual, soulless amorality and lack of remorse on the part of the adulterers is actually the scariest thing about the show.

Each episode tends to be set somewhere in the rural south (The Cheaters headquarters is in Dallas), though I once saw an episode that was clearly in Manhattan. Maybe because we see New York so much on television, the angry trio of white people yelling at each other all up and through Greenwich Village looked woefully out of place, like an R-rated episode of Friends. Cheaters is too dark, and, well, too real, to be a part of the weekly reality lineup on a network like ABC or NBC. The participants are hardly the toned studs of Survivor or Paradise Hotel. And lastly, the show's background music sounds like the score to Boyz N The Hood: ominous keyboard chords hover over the scene breakdowns at the beginning of the show, adding a dark sense of tragedy to the coming events, way too hot (and subtle) for mainstream television.

The show always airs at obscure, but accessible times: 5pm on Saturdays, midnight on Saturdays, 3pm on Sunday, etc. Even now, I have never intentionally caught an episode. I always find it while channel surfing: a pleasant surprise like finding out that Samantha, the prettiest girl in 8th grade, told Carla, who told your best friend Eddie that she thinks you're cute. Even that fact adds to the appeal of the show: it seems seedy, not Springer-trashy, but mordant, with an insight into the cryptic truths of who we really are as human beings that no stuffy sociology dissertation could ever even approach. Inadvertently, but predictably, the show exhibits a virtual smorgasbord of aversion techniques, as those "caught in the act" are rarely willing to take responsibility for what they have done. Most initially take on the host and cameramen ("Who are you guys! Get these cameras out of here! This is none of your business!"), while some go to the other extreme: downplaying the entire event into indifference. ("Well, it's your fault. If you hadn't gained all that weight after the baby, I wouldn't have had to cheat on you.")

Sometimes, the show will revisit previous episodes and interview cheaters to get their point of view with the benefit of hindsight. One time, this black guy named Leon (whom I must admit, was quite hilarious and should probably be somewhere doing stand-up) went on to describe how, when his two white girlfriends began fighting, he was accidentally pushed down a flight of stairs, eventually spraining his arm. He explained that, for him, the moral of the entire encounter was, "Don't jump in between two big white women when they get to fighting. It's dangerous." Strangely, that was the conclusion that I came to as well.

When I first began watching the show a year ago, it was hosted by a mysterious, well-dressed man named Tommy Grand. Grand's striking, vaguely Middle Eastern good looks, relentlessly cool demeanor, and engaging ability to instigate arguments without actually being involved in them, made the show entertaining in and of itself. His recent replacement, Joey Greco, is the Jeff Van Gundy to Grand's Pat Riley, making up for aesthetic and personality shortcomings by simply outworking everyone else on the show. Still puzzling over Grand's abrupt, unexplained departure from the show, I found his website (www.tommyhabeeb.com) where he has left a note to his Cheaters fans. "I did not leave the show by choice," the message reads, "but to the contrary, I have been forced out by unlawful greed to which I cannot fully comment... due to pending litigation." Cry no tears for Tommy. His website lists an array of movie and TV projects that he is involved in. It's likely that we will see him again.

Drama. Mostly extreme and unnecessary drama, but then again, most drama is extreme and unnecessary, otherwise, what's the point of having it? Once I saw an episode where the cheater's new man, exasperated at the camera crew and soon-to-be-ex-boyfriend following her from parking lot to parking lot, brandished a gun, sending the cameramen scurrying back into the company van. Another time, I saw an episode where an aspiring rapper was told that the baby that he was working to support wasn't his. And then, there was the one where the cheater told the woman he was sleeping with that his wife was dead, a curious development since his wife turned out to be the one that he was cheating on her with. A classic episode featured a fiftysomething woman who confronted her cheater as he strolled out of church, hands firmly locked with the new object of his affection. Myself a believer, I could only watch in horror, thinking, Now that's embarrassing.

Which actually brings me to my point concerning why this is must-see TV. My wife disagrees with me, but I believe that Cheaters does not exploit its subjects. Or at least, it doesn't as much as it could, under the circumstances. The gravity and truthfulness with which the show is run gives it a moral center that so much of today's entertainment clearly lacks. Because of the way in which the cases are presented, it is quite difficult to feel anything but pity and sadness for the show's subjects. In a world where secrets and lies are not only the norm, but encouraged, Cheaters stands as a tangible reminder of the emotional and physical consequences of bed-hopping, hopefully one that we can all use in our own lives. While many feel that the most embarrassing and painful moment of being caught cheating is the deer-in-the-headlights moment of actual confrontation, reality has shown that it actually comes later. Weeks or months may pass, but it will come then, when we are alone, maybe driving in our cars, and the hurtful revelation comes that the reckless, euphoric rush of forbidden love is not tangible, not credible and rarely worth the reverberating damage that it does inevitably cause.


Jason Gilmore is a film director, screenwriter, novelist and unrepentant Detroit Pistons fan. Track him down on Facebook.

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tim lockwood
10.1.03 @ 3:03a

It is refreshing to know that it is still possible to cheat.

Casual "friends with benefits" relationships seem to be the in thing among high-schoolers, at least around here. It's good to know that people do still make strong emotional ties to one another, and that it still actually hurts when those ties break.

I think I'd be with you on this, though:

The casual, soulless amorality and lack of remorse on the part of the adulterers is actually the scariest thing about the show.

I could just be romanticizing here like us old people often do, but I think even adulterers were more remorseful of their actions in years gone by. At the very least, they knew in their hearts that what they were doing was wrong.

It almost sounds like these people are mostly ticked off at getting busted while they were busy getting busy - the same sort of irritation you feel when the phone rings during dinner.

alicia white
10.1.03 @ 3:52p

I am also a fan of the show...however the hilarity (maybe not hilarity, but entertainment value)of the stories were diminished when on one episode, Joey Greco, having egged the cheater on by his words, was the victim of a pretty serious stabbing. It kinda makes the show not so entertaining anymore....



jason gilmore
10.1.03 @ 11:33p

I had heard that Joey got stabbed, which is messed up, but I haven't seen the show since late August. You know, with college football and everything.

matt morin
10.2.03 @ 2:59p

Oh, I saw that replay of when Greco got stabbed. And shit, he was bleeding all over the place. It actually gave me a new respect for that show (which I've seen maybe 4 times). It went from a cheesy, contrived Real Worldish show to something that now seems pretty real.

jason gilmore
1.10.05 @ 3:39p

I just watched the show again this weekend: this dude got busted at the gas station in a bumblebee outfit (a la John Belushi on SNL). He claimed he was mad at his girl for not going to the costume party with him.

This other dude chased the camera crew out of his house with a loaded paintball gun. This show is still INSANE!!

cristina david
3.5.06 @ 3:32p

this is the best insight I have seen so far the show gets criticized so much but this is a good point of view

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