Before we go on, someone in this room is not who they say they are....
April 24, 2012 11:28 AM   Subscribe

The Lap of Luxury was a Big Brother-style reality tv show filmed for Spike TV in 2003. The format is familiar: 9 contestants living in a house together, all trying to win immunity, prevent themselves from being voted out and vying to win a $100,000 prize while facing down a smarmy host. Except... only one of them, a guy named Matt Kennedy Gould, was really a contestant. The rest were actors, playing stereotypical reality show roles. The series was scripted, heavily improvised and entirely created around Matt -- his very own Truman Show. Welcome to Joe Schmo.

Unfortunately, parts 2 and 5 of the first Joe Schmo episode were deleted by Youtube, because they showed a wet t-shirt contest and apparently even cloth-covered nipples are verboten. Haven’t been able to find an alternate link yet.

Before they were famous:
* SNL / Bridesmaids’ Kristin Wiig played “Dr. Pat, Quack Marriage Counselor.”
* It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia’s David Hornsby played “The Asshole.”
* VH1's Free Radio creator Lance Krall played "The Gay Guy."
* Ralph Garman, voice actor for Family Guy, and co-host of "Hollywood Babble-On" played "The Smarmy Host."
* Series writers Paul Wernick and Rhett Reese would go on to write Zombieland.

TV Tropes has an entire page on both series which includes an entry for Gone Horribly Right: "The intention of the first season was to seek out the nicest guy they could find for their experiment, once it became obvious that Matt was every bit as decent and honest as he presented himself in his audition video the morality of lying to him became a central part of the show's drama."

Additional background. Contains Spoilers


Joe Schmo 2

”Anyone smell that? That's the infectious scent of love.”
So how does one create a sequel to a surprise (parody) reality show? Joe Millionaire famously failed miserably to do so. But the producers of Joe Schmo tried again, this time creating an over-the-top, fake Bachelor-style reality show called Last Chance for Love. A new set of actors was picked. Two new contestants (Tim Walsh and Ingrid Weise) were chosen... and second season began.

But Ingrid caught on....

Season Two: Episodes 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9

Wikipedia has a decent breakdown of both shows.
posted by zarq (55 comments total) 94 users marked this as a favorite

 
Metafilter is just like this. I can't say any more.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 11:36 AM on April 24, 2012 [28 favorites]


One more thing... Jon Huertas played "TJ, The Playah" in the show's second season. He's better known to Castle fans as Esposito.
posted by zarq at 11:37 AM on April 24, 2012 [4 favorites]


Holy cow, thank you so much for this post! I always thought The Joe Schmo Show was fascinating TV, as you could see very clearly how the show evolved from a silly, long-form prank to a really cool psychological experiment. Matt Gould's fundamental decency really surprised everyone, and you could see the actors quickly became very, very fond of him. It remains the only reality TV show DVD I've ever purchased.
posted by shiu mai baby at 11:38 AM on April 24, 2012 [4 favorites]


You humans. So gullible.
posted by Ardiril at 11:40 AM on April 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


I was a really big fan of the original and some people I knew watched an episode or two until they found out it wasn't "real" and they moved on to more "realistic" reality tv, like Road Rules.

I'm not friends with any of those people anymore.
posted by dave78981 at 11:42 AM on April 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Glad to see this post. I hate reality tv, but so loved watching the first season of this when it was on. Matt was just the nicest guy, and it was amazing to watch him go through this, and to see the attitudes of the actors change as they got to know him.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 11:43 AM on April 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


I guess this must come across as a LOT nicer on TV than in print because I felt physically ill just reading about that. What an awful thing to do to a person.
posted by DU at 11:43 AM on April 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


I liked both of these when they aired (and I actually liked Joe Millionaire, mostly for the schadenfreude (well, that and Zayra's buxomness)). The reaction of Matt Gould when the reveal came in the final episode, of "What is going on?!?" was classic TV. Sad to hear he hit a bender (although that's as likely just from the influx of extra cash) for a while, but that would be kind of a serious mind fuck to find out you were the only "real" person on the show, that everything had been fake for weeks, and that even someone you thought had become a good friend was just a paid actor.

One more one more thing: for fans of "Trailer Park Boys", Johnathan Torrens a.k.a "J-Roc" was on Joe Schmo 2.
posted by hincandenza at 11:46 AM on April 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


This show might have been the most gloriously theoretical thing I've ever seen on network TV and I'm glad it's not forgotten.
posted by escabeche at 11:46 AM on April 24, 2012 [6 favorites]


WHAT IS GOING ONNNNN????

WHAT IS GOING ONNNNN????

WHAT IS GOING ONNNNN????

WHAT IS GOING ONNNNN????
posted by gonna get a dog at 11:47 AM on April 24, 2012 [8 favorites]


s you could see very clearly how the show evolved from a silly, long-form prank to a really cool psychological experiment.

This is a very dangerous and slippery slope.
posted by Fizz at 11:47 AM on April 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


DU, I swear it's all in the execution. You can tell that everyone thinks it's a big joke at the beginning, but I think everyone involved, from producers to actors, was surprised at just how damned likeable Matt was, and it changed the feel of the entire show.
posted by shiu mai baby at 11:47 AM on April 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


The Joe Schmo Show was both smarter and dumber than it deserved to be. On the one hand, the challenges and situations were completely absurd. On the other hand, the moral debate over how long they could keep lying to Matt was more subtle and fascinating than the reality TV hijinks themselves. The actors became the subjects, the lie became the object being tested.

This was a rare transcendent form of reality TV, where something really dumb transformed into something sublime. The only other series that did that for me was the first season of Solitary. Someone oughta do a post on that show.
posted by sixohsix at 11:54 AM on April 24, 2012 [25 favorites]


DU: "I guess this must come across as a LOT nicer on TV than in print...."

Yes. No. Not really. Hard to explain.

The show was, as shiu mai baby explains, a long-form prank. Initially, everyone involved thought they were playing an elaborate joke on him. And then as they got to know him the entire atmosphere of the show changed. The show, which was already very meta became even more so.

The reactions of the cast and crew during the last couple of episodes are abstractly fascinating to watch. Many of them obviously felt badly about their deception. The finale included a scene with taped comments from the actors to him.
posted by zarq at 11:59 AM on April 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Fantastic. The moment where he finds out is here.
posted by unSane at 12:01 PM on April 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


I loved Joe Schoe! This was also when Spike used to air Most Extreme Elimination Challenge with the MSTK type voice over.
posted by spicynuts at 12:02 PM on April 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Joe Schmo deservedly gets a lot of love, but Joe Schmo 2 is often overlooked because the "real" contestants - while still decent people - were not quite as lovely as Matt Gould is. But Ingrid figuring out the trick and then agreeing to participate? Absolutely golden TV.
posted by mightygodking at 12:03 PM on April 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


For those like me who find this intriguing but don't really have the time to watch a whole series of episodes, it seems like watching the season finale of Joe Schmo gives a pretty good overview of what happened through the whole show. And, yeah, it's kind of nuts. Wow.
posted by koeselitz at 12:05 PM on April 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


If I had to do it over again, I wouldn't do the show at all. Honestly, the show really made me feel dumb. And I never felt like that before. I did it because I needed the money. I lived with my parents. I had just dropped out of law school. I was a regular pot smoker. I didn't want to work. And after the show I got $100,000 and signed a development deal with Spike. I went to California, and I was supposed to do all this stuff, and I just didn't do it. I was so embarrassed about the whole premise of the show that I never wanted people to think, ''Oh, here's this guy who didn't even know the show was about him. It's a big joke, and now he's some reality star trying to be a TV host.'' So I holed up in an apartment in Santa Monica, and spent a lot of the money on marijuana and alcohol. I lived there with a girl who broke up with me. The next day I flushed a half ounce of pot down the toilet, packed my car, came home to Pittsburgh, and I got help. I haven't done drugs or alcohol for four years. Now I'm married with a new baby and a stepson. I work at a logistics company. Were things different, I would much rather be working in the entertainment business. I just went about it the wrong way.
posted by unSane at 12:07 PM on April 24, 2012 [33 favorites]


"I guess this must come across as a LOT nicer on TV than in print...."

I don't like televised pranks. I emphasize too broadly with the victim and can generally not finish watching. This was, however, done with care and consideration. The actors were keenly aware that they were dealing with a human being. I stumbled upon the first season and I thought it was both captivating and well within the bounds of good taste. The subject of the prank seemed like the kind of guy that everyone wants as a friend, and the situations always seemed SO over the top that you knew he could reconcile it all easily when he was filled in.

Plus, the ostensible game show was set in mansion and a fantastically bad Nouveau Riche theme-- every contestant had their image on a Franklin Mint-style collectors plate, and when they were elminated the host smashed the plate. My favorite moment of every episode was the smashing of the collector's plate!
posted by Mayor Curley at 12:12 PM on April 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


If I had to do it over again, I wouldn't do the show at all.

I wonder what percentage of reality show contestants would say the same thing. Embarrassment seems inevitable on almost any reality TV show.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 12:12 PM on April 24, 2012 [5 favorites]


I wish Solitary would come back. I want to be on that show so bad.

--

I remember being a bit outraged when Joe Schmo was on. It didn't seem fair to Matt to really extend the joke past a day. I'm glad his life worked out OK and that he feels somewhat fairly compensated but it clearly did a good bit of harm to him.

It was like a really long and even more fucked up version of ABC's "What Would You Do?"
'
posted by zephyr_words at 12:13 PM on April 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


Mayor Curley: "My favorite moment of every episode was the smashing of the collector's plate!"

"Ashes to ashes. Dust to dust. [Contestant's Name] you're dead to us." *crash*
posted by zarq at 12:16 PM on April 24, 2012 [4 favorites]


I wonder what percentage of reality show contestants would say the same thing {"If I had to do it over again, I wouldn't do the show at all."}

That would be a fantastic research study, a la the studies of lottery winners. Somebody do this!
posted by Sidhedevil at 12:17 PM on April 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


I haven't seen the show but TV Tropes notes that in season one Matt Gould was edited to appear more saintly than even he was, at least according to later interviews with Gould. So it seems likely they pumped the other actors to talk about their concerns about deceiving Gould.

It has to make you question whether the actors/producers/etc.. had a real change of heart or if that was simply the loose script they came up with and encouraged.
posted by PJLandis at 12:19 PM on April 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


I haven't heard of Solitary, and I can't be the only one. What made it transcendent?
posted by naju at 12:20 PM on April 24, 2012


The ultimate prank was a British show called Space Cadets. They searched for the most gullible people they could find and send them on a fake trip into orbit.
posted by Yakuman at 12:24 PM on April 24, 2012 [4 favorites]


Huh. I remember watching this for a while when it aired and actually enjoying it (as someone who hates reality TV). I had no idea Wiig was in it.
posted by brundlefly at 12:24 PM on April 24, 2012


Lots of great moments on this show. Early on there was a contest to see who got which bedroom. The winner got the master suite and the loser had to sleep on a cot in the laundry room.

Apparently, the plan was for everyone to drop out until Matt was one of the last two people at which point they had something planned. Instead, Gould decided he didn't care where he slept and just let go as soon as the contest started.

This left a bunch of actors spending hours pretending to be in a contest so that the only real contestant didn't get suspicious.
posted by Bonzai at 12:29 PM on April 24, 2012 [15 favorites]


I see that the actors and producers concerns weren't sufficient to 1) end the charade, 2) return their paychecks, or 3) not air the show.

This show was an unkind thing to do.
posted by leotrotsky at 12:30 PM on April 24, 2012 [4 favorites]


I wonder how much they paid the actors, compared with the $100,000 he won and whatever he was paid in addition to that prize money. Did the subject of the prank get paid more or less than the people who pranked him?
posted by The World Famous at 12:35 PM on April 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


i can understand matt gould's reaction and embarrassment. being on candid camera is one of my biggest fears. but - from his little blurb it looks like he was having depression and pot smoking problems before the show - thought the show would get him out of that rut - got to LA with quick money and continued to have pot smoking and depression problems. even if the show had been exactly what it seemed to be instead of a gotcha, there's a good chance he would have still had those issues. reality tv isn't a great place to fix what ails you. that's not entirely the fault of the premise of the show.
posted by nadawi at 12:38 PM on April 24, 2012 [5 favorites]



It was like a really long and even more fucked up version of ABC's "What Would You Do?"


This show taped for a week on the block leading to my office in Hoboken. They were doing an episode on how many people would help a person that was being robbed or was having a seizure or some shit. The number of my co-workers that came to work crying, in panic or straight up angry that day was shocking. Because they don't tell random strangers what is going on and then the whole scenario is set up in such a way that any normal person cannot get help. For example, during taping, the Hoboken Police and EMS were told not to respond to any 911 calls for that street. All the onlookers, police and city workers were actors instructored NOT to help. So for example, the one skit was a person is having a heart attack and the paramedics are around the corner on their lunch break. So my friend, who stumbled upon this woman lying in the street having a heart attack, starts running to grab the paramedics, who promptly tell her they are on their lunch break and can't help. So now she is frantic and is crying and fighting with the paramedics and looking around desperately for help and others have joined and are doing the same thing, all to no avail. So now my friend calls 911 - they answer and say they can't respond!!! When she got to work she immediately went to HR, said she needed to go home and she couldn't stop crying for a week.

How the fuck is that worth 5 minutes of 'journalism'?
posted by spicynuts at 12:38 PM on April 24, 2012 [78 favorites]


He almost certainly got more. The actors were probably working for scale.
posted by Sidhedevil at 12:38 PM on April 24, 2012


How the fuck is that worth 5 minutes of 'journalism'?

Terrible. I heard similar stories from a friend of a friend about a setup for a talk show- someone was told they had an interview for a job at the talk show at a restaurant, oh, and can you sign this release before you go, standard procedure, blah blah blah. The interviewer leaves to go to the bathroom and someone subtly pretends to steal their purse; the interviewee is immediately hounded by the secret taping crew about HOW COULD YOU LET THAT HAPPEN?????
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 12:40 PM on April 24, 2012


the Hoboken Police and EMS were told not to respond to any 911 calls for that street

Yeah, that can't possibly end badly.
posted by leotrotsky at 12:45 PM on April 24, 2012 [5 favorites]


He almost certainly got more. The actors were probably working for scale.

So, how much is that (or how much was it at the time)?
posted by The World Famous at 12:48 PM on April 24, 2012


@leotrotsky I suspect that in that situation, they made arrangements (perhaps by paying overtime) to have extra police and ambulance attached to the shoot.
posted by parliboy at 12:57 PM on April 24, 2012


The World Famous: " So, how much is that (or how much was it at the time)?"

Assuming they were SAG members...
"SAG members who fall within the contractual specifications laid out in the collective agreements negotiated by the guild benefit from minimum wage requirements. As of June 2010, an actor hired under a day performer contract must be paid a minimum of $809 per day. Actors hired under a weekly performer agreement -- and who are guaranteed a minimum of one week's worth of employment -- must be paid at least $2,808 per week. There's no contractual guarantee for consistent work, however. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics in its analysis of May 2008 data, acting jobs that last longer than three to six months are rare."

posted by zarq at 1:01 PM on April 24, 2012


ThePinkSuperhero:I wonder what percentage of reality show contestants would say the same thing. Embarrassment seems inevitable on almost any reality TV show."

There always seems to be a lot of former contestants of the Survivor/Amazing Race/Big Brother shows campaigning to return or get on other shows.
posted by the_artificer at 1:07 PM on April 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


There always seems to be a lot of former contestants of the Survivor/Amazing Race/Big Brother shows campaigning to return or get on other shows.

True, and traditionally they are the ones who do well at those shows. If you are good at something, you generally like doing it more! This is not exceptional behaviour, and people who piss on, for example, "Boston Rob" Mariano for liking to go on these shows and make some money doing something he finds fun are just incomprehensible to me.
posted by mightygodking at 1:13 PM on April 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


i agree that there's a big enough pool of people who will return (or do other shows) - but i think there's still a lot who hated their experience and wouldn't do it again (and some who hated it and will continue to do it for money or "fame" or their own dysfunctions). i've read and seen enough post show interviews to see the recurring theme that a fair amount they wish they hadn't done it or wish they had done it differently. especially getting at that part of matt's reflections about how he wanted to be in entertainment and the reality show was a terrible way to go about it - i've seen that repeated so many times it's nearly as tired as i'm not here to make friends.

that's not to say that some people don't flourish in the environment - you see this on survivor or the RR/RW challenge shows sometimes - where fundamental changes have happened and they're most comfortable eating bugs or fishing or being constantly tested physically and mentally.
posted by nadawi at 1:18 PM on April 24, 2012


spicynuts - Now I feel like a horrible person for participating in What Would You Do? (In the sense that I watch and enjoy the show; I am not involved in its production.)

I find some of the social experiments they setup to be interesting. But, yeah, now that I know how the sausage is made I'm not so sure that I want to eat it.
posted by asnider at 1:25 PM on April 24, 2012


If I had to do it over again, I wouldn't do the show at all.

I wonder what percentage of reality show contestants would say the same thing. Embarrassment seems inevitable on almost any reality TV show.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero


This is a good point.

I generally dislike prank shows; I'm very uncomfortable seeing someone played for our amusement. (I can hardly watch more than a few minutes of What Would You Do, despite its air of "social experiment.")

But, I really enjoyed Joe Schmoe when it originally aired, and in fact bought the DVD set within the last couple years to watch it all again. To me, the difference was that Gould was such a likeable guy, and despite all efforts to rile him up, he conducted himself with great humanity. And the "prank" aspect didn't seem cruel or mocking of Gould (which I honeslty expected it to be) but rather goofy and mocking of reality shows themselves.

I was sad when I found out later that he wished he hadn't done it, and that he felt he was hurt by it.

(I think of this show very often, because my lovely bride, for our first Christmas together, bought me a fluffy robe. But there were only limited sized available, so she was forced to buy one several sizes too big. It's so huge and ludicrous we call it The Pimp Robe of Immunity.)
posted by The Deej at 1:26 PM on April 24, 2012 [5 favorites]


i agree about what would you do - the ones i mostly flip by and get stuck watching are much more "strangers at a table discussing terrible stuff goading the other customers to intervene either on their behalf or against them", like - cafe worker won't let a woman breastfeed, or two teenage boys discuss drugging a woman's drink. that heart attack one seems terrible.
posted by nadawi at 1:28 PM on April 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Metafilter is just like this. I can't say any more.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 11:36 AM on April 24
pfft, everyone's known that for years. Do the scriptwriters for this thing seriously expect us to believe that The Whelk is a real person? Or ColdChef? I mean, seriously?
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 1:38 PM on April 24, 2012 [6 favorites]


The Whelk is a commenting machine. An actual commenting machine. Gas-powered. Reasonably sure.
posted by troika at 1:39 PM on April 24, 2012 [8 favorites]


I remember watching this on cable many years ago, just by chance and only what I think was the last chapter but one. When I got the hang of what was actually happening, I actually had to go take a very long walk before both heartrate and stomach uneasiness went back to anything like normal. Bunch of cruel fucks the whole lot of them, sorry, I'm unable to see it from any other perspective. (The other one with the fake heart attack, they try it here with our already inexistent patience with criminally incompetent and corrupt health/security services, it would have ended in a riot that burnt the whole neighbourhood and a few lynching attempts.)
posted by Iosephus at 1:47 PM on April 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


sickening, but on the bright side we are one step closer to going back to Roman gladiators.
posted by Shit Parade at 3:11 PM on April 24, 2012


Gas-powered.

Peak oil can't come soon enough.
posted by ODiV at 4:17 PM on April 24, 2012


I'm pretty amazed by all the negative comments here.

When a friend insisted that I watch the first season as it aired, I was skeptical. Reality television is pretty high on the list of things in the media that I hate. But, this program was radically different, not only from other programs in the genre, but from the most everything else on television.

Sure, there were a few obnoxious titillation scenes. A charitable viewer might claim they were intended as a critique of other programs; I'm not convinced. Sure, there were a few rounds of humiliation-for-laughs thrown in now and again. Certainly the advertising and branding of the show were tacky in the extreme.

But, the show itself was among the most humane and thoughtful things that have ever appeared on tv. Maybe not quite Dekalog good, but a lot closer than one might expect given the premise and the script and the people who payed for it.

It isn't easy to create tens of hours of content which is engaging, and funny, and popular, and which at the same time shows someone behaving ethically in the face of strange and interesting challenges.

In order to hold our attention, reality television generally churns up everything which vile and cruel and nasty in contestants, then flings them at each other in an obsessive fight over petty bullshit. It shows us people at their worst, eggs them on, and invites us to join them in their selfish narcissism.

Joe Schmoe did exactly the opposite. Because everything cruel and selfish was explicitly artificial, and cut with behind-the-scenes interviews with the actors out of character, the audience was never tricked into rooting for the bad guy. (Not that rooting for the bad guy isn't fun, on occasion. But, it gets old. Especially when they're bad in dull and predicable ways for no good reason.) Yet, it managed to retain the spark of the genuine that makes true stories so compelling. It's rare to find a television character that you both want to root for, and that is interesting enough to bother rooting for. They managed to pull it off.

I don't know whether the producers and writers knew what they were doing. If there wasn't a sleeper agent somewhere in the spike-tv machine sabotaging their program with grace and humanity, then I suspect it must have been an accident. Judging by the one episode of the unwatchable second-season which I managed to sit through, an accident seems a lot more likely. But, it was one hell of an accident.
posted by eotvos at 4:36 PM on April 24, 2012 [8 favorites]


I hate reality TV with a passion, and I remember hearing about this at the time because it was supposedly different; of course that wasn't enough for me to check it out.

Anyway, it seems some of the negative comments above are about What Would You Do? and not Joe Schmo, just not labeled as such. I think.

I guess this must come across as a LOT nicer on TV than in print because I felt physically ill just reading about that. What an awful thing to do to a person.

Y'know, when I think about it from his perspective, it can't have really been that much different than the experience of a contestant on a "real" reality show. Especially up to that point, there were still people going in with the sense that it was "real" and not an elaborately half-scripted game show, anyway, and you probably can't get a Matt for a show like this anymore. Most people playing are angling for demi-celebrity and are ready to go along with just about anything as a result.

But here's the mind-fuck. It isn't that much different to be a contestant. Reality shows are, indeed, cruel, awful, and manipulative, and if it weren't for the riches at the end of the rainbow (even if they're just gold-colored foil around chocolate cookies), most people wouldn't put up with it. That's the mind-fuck at the center of reality television.
posted by dhartung at 6:20 PM on April 24, 2012


A notable example of this genre is Bobcat Goldthwaite's feature Windy City Heat. It is very mean, though the meanness is partially excused by the fact that the victim of the prank is not a nice person at all. If you like Joe Schmo, and you are able to leave your conscience in another room for a bit, or like many of the comedians I know who revere the film, you do not in fact possess a conscience, you might find it extremely funny.
posted by ivanosky at 8:45 PM on April 24, 2012


Zarq, you are the best poster.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 6:40 AM on April 25, 2012


Gas-powered.

Peak oil can't come soon enough.


Peak Beans. C'mon...
posted by pupdog at 2:34 PM on April 25, 2012


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