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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » The Best of Cheaters - Vol 1
The Best of Cheaters - Vol 1
Universal // Unrated // November 1, 2005
List Price: $34.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Stuart Galbraith IV | posted December 1, 2005 | E-mail the Author
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It's pure exploitation trash, but Cheaters nonetheless is a fascinating document of our times with occasional honest glimpses at human behavior worthy of a Frederick Wiseman documentary. A late-night hit in syndication since its 2000 debut, this one-hour reality series about cheating lovers caught red-handed by their angry spouses is sometimes depressing yet frequently hilarious, and it says a lot about how messed up romantic/sexual relationships can become. Students of human psychology will want to study this program, both for the consistently askew knee-jerk reactions of cheaters confronted in the midst of their wrongdoing, and to consider the audience that would make a program like this a success in the first place. The Best of Cheaters, Volume 1 is a three-disc set, and not to be confused with The Best of Cheaters, Volume 1: Uncensored, a four-disc set released the same day.**

The program's format is simple. Two cases are presented, with a lover concerned that his/her spouse may be unfaithful. In the earliest, less slick shows hosted by Tommy Grand (nee Tommy Habeeb), the concerned spouse is interviewed in what looks like someone's basement. Later episodes, hosted by Joey Greco, have the subjects simply sit in front of the camera and tell their story, often with tears in their eyes but still hopeful that their plans for a wedding, children, etc. can continue unabated.

Next is "The Investigation," with Cheaters' Detectives on the trail of the suspected philanderer, usually complete with surreptitiously recorded phone calls of the suspect lying though his teeth, accompanied by lots of grainy video of him and his new lover making out at some park, screwing in the back of a car, or seen in silhouette through motel curtains. Quite often they defiantly if foolishly parade their passion out in the open.

The investigation concluded, Tommy or Joey prepare the cheatee to confront the illicit lovers in the act, with a crew of about ten videographers, boom operators, and burly security types in tow. We see the spouse's blood boil as their worst fears are confirmed, with the host ruefully if perhaps insincerely stating, "I'm really sorry to have to show you this." (As far as this reviewer knows, no episode has ever aired in which it was learned that the suspect was entirely faithful and that it was all just a big misunderstanding.)

"The Confrontation" is the show's payoff, and usually consists of the angry victim beating on her cheating lover, the cheater or his mistress fleeing naked into the darkness, as Tommy/Joey & Co. look on with barely-disguised glee.

The cheater's reactions at being caught with their pants down, literally, are continually fascinating. Only about 10% make any effort to apologize for their wrongdoing. Most either deny doing anything wrong at all, even when confronted with indisputable evidence or, more frequently, blame the cheatee for their misdeeds. (Conversely, the cheatee often lashes out at the secret lover rather than their spouse, even when the lover had no idea the straying spouse was already in a committed relationship.)

Almost every cheater lashes out at the cheatee for bringing the television crew along; they bitterly complain that their presence is embarrassing and denies them the chance to work things out alone, and in general act as if the crew's presence all by itself excuses their months of infidelity. Of course, the show works on the presumption that the cheatees aren't guilty of any wrongdoing, but the confrontations sometimes suggest that's not always the case.

Cheaters works best when the cheatee is a woman whose boyfriend has continually taken great advantage of her trust, and the videotaped evidence for her becomes curiously empowering. She'll sock her soon-to-be-ex squarely in the jaw as the boyfriend pleas for forgiveness, and Cheaters' crew will follow her back to their apartment (or, as show announcer Robert Magruder would call it, "the domicile") as she throws his belongings out into the street. Conversely, it's the men who usually take their girlfriend's cheating hardest. Cheaters cameras often find them sobbing in a fetal position reacting to their (usually) cold-hearted lovers unfaithfulness.

Unfortunately, many cases end badly, with obviously mentally- and possibly physically abused cheatees frequently going back to their unrepentant lovers.

Presumably, those cheaters with their faces optically obscured refused to sign releases, but what's incredible about Cheaters is just how many ambushed philanderers eventually sign away their rights, under circumstances that most sane individuals would consider horribly humiliating.

The cheaters' behavior often goes well beyond crude ("She wants to be licked, not sticked!" screams one cheating girlfriend's lesbian lover to the woman's shocked boyfriend) and mere moral bankruptcy - some resort to sub-human acts that are downright shocking. One hidden camera finds a cheating girlfriend's lover urinating in the cheatee's coffeepot, from which the poor sap unwittingly drinks from moments later. But without a doubt, the highlight of The Best of Cheaters takes reality television to a new level, in which a cheating boyfriend, with a personality somewhere between The Real World's infamous Puck Rainey and Helter Skelter madman Charles Manson, apparently lunges at host Joey Greco with a fishing knife. Never one to pass up good footage, the crew dutifully records Greco's ambulance ride to the hospital. "That's your lung collapsing," says the paramedic, as the camera zooms in on hapless Joey's pinched features.

Video & Audio

The Best of Cheaters's transfer is a trade-off. You get more episodes for your money - six one hour (39 minutes without the commercials) shows per disc - but at the cost of a criminally low bit-rate with a lot of digital break-up, though this probably will matter not at all to most viewers. The stereo track is typical for shows of this type; there are no alternate audio or subtitle options, and no Extra Features

Parting Thoughts

Trashy but watchable, Cheaters is a show for rubber-neckers everywhere. As the end title song says, "Another heart is broken, by the Devil's oldest sin...."

** Reader "Eric" writes: "Hi. I just wanted to let you know that The Best of Cheaters DVD set was released in two versions: a censored 3-disc set and an uncensored 4-disc set that I have. On the uncensored version you do see all the nudity. On the 4th disc [are] cases with graphic adult content that [is] not blurred out."

Stuart Galbraith IV is a Kyoto-based film historian whose work includes The Emperor and the Wolf - The Lives and Films of Akira Kurosawa and Toshiro Mifune and Taschen's forthcoming Cinema Nippon. Visit Stuart's Cine Blogarama here.

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