Extreme Reality Exposed

Ep 1026/9/2004

Critics of mainstream Reality television say it often exploits participants in order to titillate viewers and bring ratings. But imagine a world not governed by federal standards or sponsors. A world where morals go out the window. Welcome to Extreme Reality. Buoyed by the success of uncensored videos like Girls Gone Wild and Backyard Wrestling the no-holds barred, mail-order video genre is thriving. Extreme Reality producers are resorting to outrageous stunts, sometimes witty and funny, often perverse, brutal and exploitative. VH1 goes inside extreme reality through the eyes of producers who are testing the limits of the First Amendment, seeing how far audiences will go satisfy their hunger for shock reality. You'll meet the victims in their wake who are fighting back in court.VH1 follows a filmmaker whose project aims to show just how far contestants will go for fortune and fame.Part 1: Games People PlayJames Ronald Whitney is a self-confessed "reality whore". From The Bachelor to Punkd to Elimidate and American Idol he tunes in regularly for the raw drama and train wrecks. But too often, he complains, he is left feeling unsatisfied- theres a flatness he cant quite define. Its all so one-dimensional, Whitney says. I just knew there was a way to add something to the salad. So Whitney, a successful documentary filmmaker, invented Games People Play, an extreme reality game show taped over a 72-hour period and edited as a film series. Games tests how far actors will go for fortune and fame (or $10,000 and a starring credit in his film series).In Las Vegas we watch Whitney cast his six contestants, individuals who prove to be the most physically and emotionally uninhibited; in other words those totally willing to bare their body and soul. The games include outrageous hidden camera-style challenges: a female player must get an unwitting pizza delivery man naked and on the couch and give him a massage; a team of male and female contestants must solicit a stranger to join them in a hotel room for a naked trio, which turns out to be a nude dance routine. There are also mind games - players must tell a close member of their family they are participating in a pornographic video; contestants are grilled by a resident psychiatrist about extremely personal issues. The games become increasingly extreme: contestants must convince a bystander she is witnessing an attack in progress; Is Whitney going too far in the name of satire?Part 2 & 3- The Battle over BumfightsInside a warehouse in Las Vegas, Zach Bubeck, Ryan McPherson, and Danny Tanner are sweetening the final version of Bumfights II. They do not appear concerned that in four days they will each be sentenced in El Cajon, California for coercing two homeless men to beat each other senseless in the original, Bumfights: Cause for Concern. In fact, they view the sentencing expected to be a light slap on the wrist - as a marketing opportunity for the sequel. Experts weigh in on the appeal of uncensored voyeurism and shock value citing bumfights as a new low.Bumfights sold 600,000 copies via internet mail order, reaping millions in profits. Bumfights producers may be following the lead of Rick Mahr, the self proclaimed king of extreme reality. Mahr, who turned raw videos of backyard wrestling into a multi-million dollar enterprise, describes himself as a dysfunctional combination of Vince McMahon meets Hugh Hefner meets Marc Burnett. Mahrs videos include Ghetto Brawls Street fights and Bum Hunts in which homeless men are tied up and tagged while others bums compete in a humiliating obstacle course. While Mahrs empire grows largely under the radar the producers of Bumfights are under scrutiny. And the stars of Bumfights are fighting back. In southern California, the stunt bums, Donnie Brennan and Rufus Hanna, have filed civil suits claiming exploitation of the worst kind. The homeless pair hopes to recover their dignity and enough compensation to ease the pain of their physical and emotional scars. The producers defend their relationship with the homeless actors, whom they call their friends, and argue the pair has been duped by a greedy legal team. We trace the truth behind Bumfights in interviews with police, witnesses and the homeless men themselves.Does the rising popularity of extreme reality presage an era of entertainment that will only grow more viscious? Where can it go from here? The makers of Bumfights are sentenced in Superior Court in El Cajon, California. We get reaction from the filmmakers, who announce the release of their sequel. They have no regrets, continue to assert that the stunt bums were willing participants, and that they are merely filling a niche in the expanding marketplace of reality entertainment. Rufus Hannah and Donnie Brennan are getting on with their lives. Their civil case remains.