12 days of reality: Joe Millionaire’s slurps, Joe Schmo’s schmo
Of the gifts reality TV has given us, it has given us a lot to laugh at and mock. The 2003 Fox series Joe Millionaire formalized that mockery by satirizing The Bachelor, pretending its star was a millionaire when he really was not. It ushered in an era of prank reality shows, most of which sucked big time, but Spike’s The Joe Schmo Show perfected the genre by making Matt Kennedy Gould think he was on a real reality show when in fact everything was scripted except for his reactions. (It even included Kristen Wiig in a pre-Saturday Night Live role.)
On the Fox series, which was hosted by former Trading Spaces host Alex McLeod (although she kind of evaporated), perhaps the most memorable scene was the one that had no visual imagery, but instead included a subtitled “(slurp),” which suggested Sarah Kozer performed oral sex on Evan Marriott in the woods when they snuck off together. Fox’s president later admitted sound effects were added but that the scene wasn’t “totally fake” like Evan suggested. Still, that episode drew 20.3 million viewers—American Idol numbers today.
Spike’s version tricked just one person, but worked so much better, and worked up to an incredible conclusion during which the smarmy host told Matt, “the only real thing on this reality show is you.” If you haven’t seen it, you should get it on Netflix or buy the DVD (the second season is available, too), because it’s a great series. But it really worked because it had a surprising amount of humanity, thanks to both the way the producers handled the show and to the person they cast, Matt Kennedy Gould. In the end, it’s always about real people and real reactions, even in satirical series.