Reality TV Gets Twisted

The 25 women vying for an engagement ring on The Bachelor were well aware of the trophy boy's stats, but a new show has a surprise ending that may leave contestants more brokenhearted than ever — or just plain broke.

Joe Millionaire, a new Fox TV show, features 20 single women who fly to France to vie for the hand of a handsome American they are told is worth $50 million. But "Evan," who will tug at their heartstrings, actually only pulls in $19,000 annually working as a — gasp — construction worker.

"What will happen when the truth is finally revealed that he is a just a regular 'Joe' and his wealth is a facade? Will his true love accept him for who he is, or reject him in search of greener pastures?" the Fox promo asks.

With the reality show taking a deceptive twist, the real question is, will reality fans decide duping unsuspecting women goes too far, or that contestants who seek fame and prizes through dating are finally getting their comeuppance?

Linda Stasi, an entertainment columnist for the New York Post, has no sympathy for the hapless contestants who compete for love on the boob tube.

"If they trick you in the end, you deserve it," said Stasi. "If you're willing to demean yourself like that just to have a man support you, you deserve everything you get."

The contestants on dating reality shows merely sign up just to get on TV, she added.

"Remember Darva Conger? The highlight of their life is that they actually got on TV and people knew them for 15 minutes," she said. "It's tragic. Be on the news because you've done something fantastic with your life other than win some dopey guy."

Still, some viewers say the underhanded tone of the show gives them a voyeuristic thrill.

"This is an excellent scheme and takes the seedy genre of reality TV to its most characteristic lowly level," said Kristina Malcolm, a hotel project manager in San Francisco. "Viewers aren't meant to respect the so-called 'actors' on these shows any more than they respect the naked Jell-O wrestlers on Howard Stern."

However, other viewers feel a program that purposefully plays with participants' hearts is cruel.

"Obviously the public finds amusement in emotional exploitation of people," said Peter Soderling, a technical architect, who prefers The Osbournes brand of reality TV. "It's sad and shows that our society doesn't have a lot of value or depth in their own lives."

But people who decide to go on reality TV should be ready for anything, other viewers argue.

"Participants know what they're getting into," said Claudia Bernett, 30, of New York City. "Any shock that comes at the end is just part of the game."

And despite criticisms, Joe undoubtedly appeals to some audiences.

"I think it will be funny to find out their reaction when they find out the guy isn't rich," said Stasi. "I'm anxious to see how they react. Are they really in it for the money or the publicity? Love doesn't have anything to do with it."

Another show that's turning the tables on the looking-for-love formula is The Bachelorette, in which a woman (who was the final contestant to be rejected on The Bachelor) will be courted by a house full of men.

But Stasi for one doesn't think the voyeuristic audience that made The Bachelor a hit will tune in for the testosterone-heavy version.

"I don't think The Bachelorette will fly," Stasi predicted. "The audience that watches The Bachelor have fantasies that this could be them, and I don't think they'll care as much if it's in reverse."

In fact, with reality programs arguably scraping the bottom of the barrel, Stasi doubts the life span of the genre.

"We're seeing the last gasp of [reality TV] now," she said. "People are going to get tired of it. Whose reality is this anyway? Maybe if you were in the court of Henry the 8th, but not since then has there been a reality like that."

Still, Bernett said she understands why some would tune in. "We're all voyeurs into other people's experiences and lives and that's why people watch. There's something interesting in exposing people's values."


News Corp. is the parent company of the Fox TV network and