From the start of its first episode, The Joe Schmo Show had many terrific moments, but really, it exists to show us one thing: when the schmo is told that he or she is a schmo, and has been lied to for months and months by producers and by people he or she trusted. That makes the finale incredibly unpredictable–though, of course, had the mark freaked out, the entire season likely wouldn’t have aired, or they would have just been cast on Survivor.
Still, the moments leading up to that are truly riveting in a way that most reality TV is not. The show builds tension week after week, manipulating the person into believing in the reality and the consequence of a game that doesn’t exist.
As I watched those final minutes, the sinking feeling I felt in my stomach was beyond wrenching: I had no idea what he’d do or how he’d react–which was true, I think it’s safe to assume, of the production, too. And this is one moment the show didn’t weaken by injecting a scripted line about how unpredictable the ending was. We knew.
Ralph Garman has lifted the cover off the show’s deception three times now, and handled it well, smoothly transitioning from “now you’ve stuck me with Lorenzo Lamas as a bounty hunter” to “raise your hand if you’re an actor.”
The reveal that everyone was playing a role happened really fast, so fast that Garman’s great joke–”I’m an actor,” Lorenzo Lamas said; “No, a real actor,” Garman replied–didn’t have time to land, nor did the impact of the individual reveals, including that Karlee wasn’t deaf (or, you know, named Karlee). It was like it was in fast forward, as if we had to hurry fast so Chase wouldn’t freak out.
Ralph Garman, as himself, not the fake host of a fake reality show, told Chase the production’s goal was “to try to find a guy who’s deserving of a special journey, and you were that guy.”
Let’s translate that, because the translation will help us understand the look on Chase’s face, which seemed to be complete anger and devastation, at least behind his arms, which were covering his face as he either cried or raged or both.
What Ralph Garman said was basically: You were the guy who we decided to fuck with, and now we’re hoping this will cover the giant wound we just inflicted.
At the height of the tension, Chase’s face covered, Garman took that moment to tell him the check for $100,000 was real and was really his, turning anger into joy.
That allowed us to settle in to the moment, too, and be happy rather than disturbed. And that made it a great ending to a fun season that ranged from the absurdly comical to genuinely surprising.
For the record, Chase says that it was “all positive emotion” he was feeling. It did not appear that way at first–though we did get footage of him with the cast, seemingly happy, a short time later–but I will take his word for it.
But I think it’s important to linger there for a while, even if it’s just in the possibility of a negative response. As much as I loved this season, from Mr. Wentworth to the “Casual Pouch” to Stan standing in the fountain, all its jokes were at the expense of a real person with real emotions and a real personality who had the potential to be deeply wounded by the experience of working hard to get something that didn’t exist.
The kind words–”you showed honor, you showed courage, you showed honesty you’re a hall of a guy and you deserve this”–help, as did the incredible surprise of having Chase’s wife stand in as Lady Justice–but they’re kind of like hugging someone after stabbing them in the thighs.
One of the show’s producers, J. Holland Moore, wrote, “Never feel bad about doing good.” But let’s be honest: the “good” of giving Chase $100,000 and turning him into a hero is totally an ends-justify-the-means argument, and the means can be be very mean sometimes.
Chase gave us a lot of entertainment and more competitive spirit than many of the alleged fans on Survivor are currently demonstrating. But we must never forget that the experiences can actually affect those we watch.