Since 2008, ABC’s What Would You Do? has been staging dramatic and troubling scenarios in public places in order to see how bystanders react, all under the aegis of host John Quiñones, a news correspondent and motivational speaker. Tom Cush recently received an unwelcome crash course in the show’s inner workings when he was tricked into agreeing to a brunch date with a woman who deliberately misrepresented herself online. Cush writes about this experience in an article at Adequate Man bluntly and memorably titled “I Was Catfished By ABC’s What Would You Do?” The point of the show, Cush writes, is to depict how “morally sound or inept” people are “based on their instinctive reactions to incidents.” A typical scenario for the program has an actor pretending to drug a woman’s drink. Will the other patrons intercede? Stay tuned.
Cush points out that the show’s methods are neither fair nor sound. Viewers at home are allowed to pass moral judgment on the behavior of the bystanders, “the real stars of the show,” but they’re not getting all the information they need to make an informed decision. Lots of factors come into play when a person is in public and has to make a snap decision about how to behave. As Cush puts it:
These social experiments aren’t controlled, though, and the participants usually don’t get to tell their stories. Someone who abhors homophobia could have crippling social anxiety; someone who isn’t comfortable with their body might avoid stopping a physical confrontation; someone who has been catfished by an internet date could have a brutal hangover.
In Cush’s case, he really was hungover when he arrived at the fraudulent date. Another factor complicating matters is that he was born with achondroplasia, a condition that causes dwarfism, and was feeling highly self-conscious and anxious about the matter. His initial reaction to being presented with release forms was to start cursing uncontrollably. Ultimately, at the advice of a friend, he did not sign the forms. “I am eternally grateful for that,” he writes. ABC says it will not air the segment.