NEW YORK — Have you ever forced yourself to throw up? Did you ever think your spouse might be gay? Do fat people repulse you?
Contestants hooked up to a lie detector will face such questions on Fox’s “The Moment of Truth,” a game show so controversial that a Colombian version was shelved after a woman there revealed she put a hit out on her husband. The real question is: Just how far will the American edition go?
“We’re not out to destroy somebody,” says executive producer and creator Howard Schultz. “I don’t think there’s any joy in watching someone crumble under the lights. So, typically, the people that we cast to be contestants are stronger people. They have good self-esteem and a strong sense of themselves.”
To win the $500,000 grand prize, such folks must truthfully answer 21 questions about themselves in front of their family, friends, co-workers, an audience and everyone at home who sticks around to watch after “American Idol.” (The show debuts 9 p.m. EST Jan. 23.) Like “Millionaire” and “Deal or No Deal,” contestants can walk away with less money at six different levels in the game.
“It’s the only game show in the history of the world where you know all the questions and all the answers,” boasts Mike Darnell, Fox’s president of alternative entertainment.
Some questions off-limits
Prior to filming, contestants are hooked up to a polygraph machine and asked 50 to 75 personal questions, such as “Have you ever made a sexy video and uploaded to the Internet?” and “Do you think you’ll still be married to your husband five years from now?” Players are asked 21 of those questions during filming.
Slideshow: Celebrity Sightings “They do not know the results of the polygraph or what 21 questions will be asked,” explains Schultz. “They’re free to change their answer the day of taping the show, but the polygraph is used as the measuring stick.”
Questions deemed sexually explicit — by Federal Communications Commission standards, anyway — or anything that could harm a minor are off-limits, says Schultz. Fair game, however, are questions about criminal activity, despite what happened last year on the Colombian version when Rosa Maria Solano walked home with $25,000 after admitting she had hired a hit man to rub out her husband.
“The crime couldn’t be carried out because the hit man tipped off my husband and he ran away forever — God save me,” she said.
‘Show is going to rock America’
Following negative public reaction to the revelation and the threat of legal action, the network pulled the show off the air. Schultz, who sold the “The Moment of Truth” concept around the world, wasn’t directly involved with the Colombian production but says that the show’s producers should have alerted the authorities before airing such a confession.
Even so, the American edition could tap into its own controversies. Schultz promises a U.S. contestant will answer yes to the question, “Have you ever illegally smuggled something into this country?” According to Schultz, the contestant later tells “The Moment of Truth” host Mark L. Wahlberg that he might have smuggled drugs into the U.S. — but he’s not totally sure.
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“I think the show is going to rock America,” says Schultz. “I think it’s going to be talked about around every water cooler and coffee pot in the country.”
Fox reality guru Mike Darnell thinks so, too. He bought “The Moment of Truth” away from NBC after the network decided not to turn the potentially scandalous game show into a series. He even gave the program the prime-time sweet spot after “American Idol.”
Schultz hasn’t been especially shocked by any contestant’s answer or unwillingness be honest. Instead, the veteran reality TV producer was most stunned by the studio audience’s reaction to a player who truthfully tackled questions about his troubled relationships with his family members.
“He confronts each question with such vulnerability,” says Schultz, “that after he answers each one of these questions honestly, the audience spontaneously gives him a standing ovation. That, to me, is the surprise. I never thought something like that would occur on a show like this.”
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