'Joe Schmo' duped in new reality show
Spike TV chronicles guy taken in by actors
LOS ANGELES, California (Reuters) -- It sounded like the ideal job for a college dropout-turned-pizza deliveryman in today's America: go on a reality TV show, live in a fancy house, spend time with good-looking women and vie for the chance to win a lot of money and national fame.
Except the whole thing was an elaborate hoax, perpetrated on an unsuspecting "Joe Schmo" by a cast of actors and a team of producers known for reality competition shows and irreverent, male-oriented programming.
"The Joe Schmo Show" premieres next Tuesday on the Spike TV cable channel, culminating more than a year of work creating a reality series as elaborate as any that have aired on the mainstream broadcast networks.
"I never had a question about whether we could pull it off; we had a question about whether we could find the right guy," David Stanley, one of the show's producers, told Reuters.
That "right guy" turned out to be Matt Kennedy Gould, who was delivering pizzas in Pittsburgh after leaving law school.
Enticed by the chance to appear on the show "Lap of Luxury" and compete for the chance to win $100,000, Gould signed on for what turned out to be a month in a mansion this June in southern California, competing in reality-style reward and immunity competitions and participating in evictions.
Among the competitions Gould is asked to endure: "Hands on a High-Priced Hooker," where the contestant who keeps a hand on the prostitute for the longest wins; a talent show; and a mock sumo wrestling battle.
"What we set out to do was to parody reality TV," said Rhett Reese, one of the show's creators and executive producers.
The cast of eight "contestants" includes all of the most common reality show stereotypes, including "grizzled veteran" Earl, played by Franklin Dennis Jones; "schemer" Gina, portrayed by Nikki Davis; and "buddy" Brian, played by segment producer Brian Keith Etheridge.
Producers saw 1,500 people for the cast, all of whom needed to be newer and unrecognizable talent so as not to give away the scam.
"Joe Schmo" is "hosted" by Los Angeles radio personality Ralph Garman, playing "himself." Garman, best known for his work doing comic relief on the popular L.A. morning radio show "Kevin & Bean," said one of the biggest surprises of the program was finding he actually liked Gould.
"It was definitely surprising that I developed some real genuine affection for Matt as we started working on the show," he told Reuters. But he also said it was difficult to try and maintain the fiction as time went by.
"There were lots of moments where the show didn't go as planned ... there were plenty of moments where I thought the 'jig is up, this guy knows what's going on,' " he said.
Scott Stone, Stanley's partner and another producer on the show, agreed that there were mixed emotions as the project rolled on.
"All of us got to that point where we realized how vested he was in the show and the people around him, that we felt bad for the emotional rollercoaster he was going through," he said.
Paul Wernick, a veteran news producer who with Reese co-created the show, was more blunt about the emotional impact. "There were times we wanted to stop the show," he said, though he also allowed that "the bottom line is Matt had the experience of a lifetime."
But does Gould agree? He was not available for interviews about the show, and all of the producers declined to talk about how happy or unhappy he is, now that he knows that he was put up, for America's amusement, as a "Schmo."
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