On the game-show front, it seems that tests of human psychology and the American mind are coming to supplant quizzes of trivial knowledge. It amounts to a little fresh air and a few noxious gusts. The most compelling of the new programs is The Power of Ten (CBS, Wednesdays at 8 p.m. ET), an approximate hybrid of Family Feud and a Gallup poll. Contestants try to guess, within a given range, what percentage of people surveyed think that public authorities should distribute condoms to teenagers (55 percent) or say that “y’all” is in their regular vocabularies (31 percent) or claim to have “good gaydar” (61 percent). Well, these are questions you can chew on! These are answers that you can yell at the screen about! In the matter of dishing out food for thought, The Power of Ten easily beats anything recently served up by its network’s news division.
This isn’t quite a parallel, but it must be said that Fox News, with its steadfast commitment to high-quality entertainment, must be comparatively disappointed in The Moment of Truth (Fox, Wednesdays at 9 p.m. ET), an approximate hybrid of Deal or No Deal and a deposition. Before appearing on-air, each of the contestants submits to a polygraph test. Once in the studio, seated across from host Mark L. Walberg, they then answer some of the questions that were put to them earlier. To answer 21 such questions correctly is to win $100,000 while maybe losing your wife. The show got my hopes up with an introductory montage depicting questions to be posed in the season ahead: Have you ever been paid for sex? Have you ever gambled with your kid’s college fund? In the finest moment, Walberg asked a young woman, “Have you ever suspected that your boyfriend, Jeff, might be gay?” Cut to a shot of Jeff in crowd, his haircut and sheepish visage triggering the gaydar of a good percentage of viewers.
If the series consisted solely of footage of people about to tell lies or confess awkward truths, then it would be something to watch. It would be shamefully delicious to witness the contestants squirm—to see the strain in their neck tendons, the expressions caught between grimaces and slick grins. But that would be an experimental film, and this is Fox, and there’s no such luck. Instead, we receive glimpses from people’s private lives in a way that makes even the tawdriest of secrets sound as dull as recounted dreams. It can’t help that one prerequisite for signing up for the show is, inherently, being an idiot. Last night, a personal trainer named Ty was in the hot seat. In the audience were two of his buddies and his wife, Catia, whose accent, grooming, and manner combined to open up the possibility that she arrived on these shores as a mail-order bride. At one point, Ty confessed that he was delaying having children with Catia because he was unsure if they’d stay together. Why did Ty decide that it was fine to admit this but then try and fail—thus losing the game—to fib about having felt up his clients at the gym? Did he think he could beat the lie detector? Or was he just bailing out of the game before being pressed about some felony in his past? Only his marriage counselor knows for sure.
The embarrassment one feels at participating in the spectacle of The Moment of Truth is nothing compared with the feelings evoked by Battle of the Bods (Fox Reality, Sundays at 1 a.m. ET), an approximate hybrid of Hot or Not? and a marketing focus group. On the first episode, five Los Angelenas were trotted before the camera and a two-way mirror. On the other side of the mirror sat three men, identified merely as “surfers,” who discussed the sexual desirability of each of the women and then, having reached consensus, ranked them from one to five. There were separate evaluations of the prettiness of their faces, the niceness of their gams, and the hubba-hubba-osity of “the full rack.” The women stood to earn money, collectively, by anticipating how the rankings would shake out. I’m not sure what was in it for the dudes and therefore must presume that they share some obscure paraphilia and receive unnatural gratification from being seen to look like jerks.
It should be clear that Battle of the Bods is innovatively vile. Further, it is virally vile. To watch it is to play along and to start sizing up the women like a frat boy during orientation week. Worse, it is boringly vile. About half of the program finds the female contestants yapping about whose knees are better than whose. Ultimately, upon being ranked fifth by the boys, the most obnoxious of the girls teared up and stomped backstage. Her comrades went to comfort her and cheer her up, with one mentioning the $300 they’d each won. “Three hundred dollars?” came the retort. “That’s not a Louis Vuitton purse. That’s not even half of a Louis Vuitton purse!” Poor dear. Doesn’t she know there’s a sale on at Coach?