Rob Mariano’s Tontine reality show ended in contestants’ deaths, film trailer suggests

One of the greatest lingering mysteries in reality TV history–that a small but passionate group of people really care about–is what happened to Tontine, the reality show produced by Survivor‘s Rob Mariano that would award a record $10 million prize in part by having contestants give up their life savings. Sometime after Rob punched an auditioner in the head three years ago, the show seemed to disappear, although its web site is still online.

Now we know what happened to Tontine: The contestants were brutally murdered, probably by each other.

At least, that’s what the trailer for a movie called Tontine Massacre below would have you believe. In an obvious work of satire that is nothing short of brilliant, at least as a concept, the mystery of what happened to Tontine is answered in a film composed of found footage that purports to be from the reality series. There’s even alleged deposition footage on YouTube that includes alleged clips from the first episode. (The least creative part is the “first public viewing” footage that’s in the trailer, an obvious rip-off of the Paranormal Activity marketing campaign that showed actual people watching the movie to show how scary it was.)

From Paranormal Activity to The Blair Witch Project, we’ve seen films that pretend to be assembled from found footage but are actually mockumentaries. Both of those films succeeded as horror films, while Blair Witch especially managed to convince people of its reality for some period of time. I think we’re too jaded now to buy into such a film any more, though the technique can still be effective, as it was for Paranormal Activity.

But even though this is obviously not real, I think it’s a smart way to wrap up what was seems to be a reality competition concept that publicly never went any further than casting. Since the trailer includes high-quality footage from the casting calls, one could argue that the entire thing from day one was a hoax designed to produce this movie, but I doubt it; waiting three years just to generate mystery is a bit much. Who exactly is behind this is not yet clear, but the alleged footage of the show itself includes Rob, so it appears he had at least minor involvement in the project, if only for a cameo.

There is a Tontine Massacre web site, which has a timeline and news reports from the original series announcement, but like the original Tontine site, the registration of the web site is masked by Domains by Proxy. That both sites use Domains by Proxy and were registered through GoDaddy would be evidence of something if GoDaddy wasn’t the world’s most popular domain registrar.

The movie’s Facebook page promises there will be an “Exclusive one-day online screening” on July 1 for those who become fans/like the page, but it’s unclear if an actual film exists, or if the satire stops at the YouTube footage, the web site, and this trailer:

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about the writer

Andy Dehnart is a journalist who has covered reality television for more than 15 years and created reality blurred in 2000. A member of the Television Critics Association, his writing and criticism about television, culture, and media has appeared on NPR and in Playboy, Buzzfeed, and many other publications. Andy, 36, also directs the journalism program at Stetson University in Florida, where he teaches creative nonfiction and journalism. He has an M.F.A. in nonfiction writing and literature from Bennington College. More about reality blurred and Andy.