Topic: Sports & Entertainment

Xtreme Cruelty: Reality TV Strikes Again

The unethical underpinnings of TV “makeover” shows like “The Swan” and “Xtreme Makeover” have been thoroughly condemned on the Scoreboard and elsewhere, but a recent story is revolting even by past standards. “Xtreme Makeover” told Deleese Williams, who has many cosmetic disadvantages to cope with, that she had been selected for the show and would receive “a Cinderella-like” cure for her malformed jaw, snaggled teeth, droopy eyes and other aesthetic problems, giving the Texas woman a “Hollywood smile like Cindy Crawford” that would “transform her life and destiny.”

Excited and thrilled, she told everyone she knew. Meanwhile, in preparation for her segment, the show interviewed Williams’ sister Kelli and persuaded her, as well as other family members, to describe at length, on camera, how hideous Deleese was. Deleese’s Mother-in-law was coaxed into admitting that she had been surprised that her son “would marry such an ugly woman.” Meanwhile, as the format of the show demands, Deleese was subjected to humiliating photos, including full-body poses in skimpy clothing, to emphasize her physical flaws. But it would all be worth it, because, like Cinderella, she was about to be transformed by the magic of plastic surgery.

Then Deleese was examined by an oral surgeon who told “Xtreme Makeover” producers that her dental and jaw deformities were just too extensive to fix in the time period allotted. For the producers, that ended Deleese’s usefulness to the show, and they told her that she wouldn’t be getting that destiny-transforming makeover after all, and sent her home. Williams’ sister, utterly remorseful over her on-camera derogatory comments (and presumable other issues) killed herself. Deleese now refuses to come out of her house and is in deep depression. The family has been torn apart. Naturally, there’s a lawsuit, though it’s likely that the show’s lawyers had Deleese sign every waiver imaginable in return for the promise to make her beautiful.

For the producers to make excessive promises to someone as vulnerable as Deleese Williams and then discard her because she couldn’t be beautified as easily as they had assumed is a new low in callous, irresponsible and uncaring behavior. Whether the show has a legal obligation or not, its ethical obligation is clear: “Xtreme Makeover” should give Deleese the cosmetic procedures she was led to expect. And while it is a bit far-fetched to hold the show responsible for Kelli’s suicide, it needs to institute procedures that ban interview techniques that damage personal relationships. Better yet, it ought to end this vile show entirely. Its values and those of everyone connected with it are hopelessly and, as this episode proves, dangerously warped.

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