One thing classical scholars and television enthusiasts understand in equal measure is that infidelity is a cornerstone of entertainment. From Mount Olympus to Albert Square nothing quite floats our collective boat like a saga of doomed romance and deception. But while the bizarre love triangle has beguiled humanity for even longer than the pyramids, only recently has the spectacle of human frailty been milked to the merciless extent enjoyed by visitors to the emotional abattoir that is Cheaters.
Since it burst forth from America onto the Reality TV channel back in 2003, Cheaters has been regarded by connoisseurs of digital TV as the high water mark of confrontational television. Though it is now entering its fifth season over here, nothing has come close to it in terms of adulterous and unadulterated anarchy, and for that we should be grateful. To this day it remains the only TV show whose host has succeeded in antagonising its participants to the point where one of them stabbed him on camera. And in the inverted world of Cheaters, that episode is still regarded as an all time classic.
The premise is devastatingly simple. Someone who thinks their other half might be cheating on them, rather than confronting them themselves or opting for a traditional method of solace like writing to a problem page or drinking heavily, makes contact with the Cheaters team instead. What they may not have grasped (and there’s really no excuse for this unless they’ve never seen the show) is that in terms of their relationship, they have unleashed hell. The Cheaters team appears to consist of retired Special Forces maniacs and surveillance freaks that track your other half for weeks on end compiling video evidence of their every misdeed.
In a section euphemistically called “The Briefing” the tearful cuckold watches the footage and invariably agrees to take things to the next level, “The Confrontation”, which is where the fun really begins. By any means necessary the team then transport the aggrieved party to where their other half is getting it on with someone else and the whole thing explodes into a wild al-fresco version of the Jerry Springer show. The cheaters are surprised to say the least of it and react in a wild an unpredictable fashion. In one memorable episode this even led to a man running down a freeway in his underpants screaming for the cameras to get away from him.
The real stars of Cheaters though are its hosts. The first series were presented by an unlikely figure called Tommy Grand, a kind of B-list Steven Seagal whose ability to pour oil on troubled waters by yelling “this woman is your wife!” at key moments was a wonder to behold. But even he has been upstaged by his replacement, the remarkable Joey Greco (he of the stabbing) whose facility to switch from overt sympathy to theatrical condemnation in the blink of an eye suggests either a bright future in politics or severe emotional dysfunction.
This week’s highlights include a man threatening the entire team with a gun and a man screaming at Joey “get away from the car or I’ll run you over.” The show’s motto is, “dedicated to the faithful and presented to the false-hearted to encourage their renewal of temperance and virtue.” “Stirring up trouble for you entertainment” is what they really mean, but as we know, we need an element of deceit sometimes before we can have any fun.