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"Truman Show" Plot

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"1.7 billion were there for his birth. 220 countries tuned in for his first step. The world stood still for that stolen kiss. And as he grew, so did the technology. An entire human life recorded on an intricate network of hidden cameras and broadcasted live and unedited 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, to an audience around the globe. Coming to you now from Seahaven Island, enclosed in the largest studio ever constructed and, along with the Great Wall of China, one of the only two man-made structures visible from space, now in its thirtieth great year ... it's The Truman Show!"
Narrator, The Truman Show

Cut to camera three, and...

Usually a variant on the Tomato in the Mirror, where it turns out that the lead character is in fact the main character on a Reality TV show. Exactly how much of his life is controlled varies: in some cases, every little detail of his life is controlled by the network, while others basically let the main character do whatever he wants, so long as they catch it on camera. It can be a Twist Ending, or it can be established right at the start of the show.

Obviously, this was named after the plot of The Truman Show.

A fairly potent form of Paranoia Fuel. If you have the meta version of this trope in mind — a character discovers that they're in a piece of fiction being viewed by a real world audience — then you're thinking of Medium Awareness.

Now, toss your hair back a little so your face can catch the light - perfect! Great shot! *ahem* As you were...

Compare The Whole World Is Watching, which this will often involve. This may be one way to play a Subverted Sitcom.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • The ending of The Big O implies that everyone in Paradigm City is seemingly missing memories of more than forty years ago because the whole world they know is an artificial construction that didn't exist before then. Everyone present is in fact part of a novel or television show written by Angel's true self who somehow became aware of their own existence.
  • Booty Royale: Never Go Down Without a Fight!: Misora befriends a newbie model named Dai-Dai Reon, who mentions offhand while texting her later that the agency doesn't let her leave the apartment they're both shooting in. Misora is infuriated and complains to agency president Sanada Hikaru, who doesn't know what she's talking about and says that Reon committed suicide in that apartment a month ago after a porn shoot. Sudden Out-of-Genre Experience? Nah: turns out Akira and and Beruko were playing a candid camera prank on Misora for the TV station, and the very much alive Reon is just a normal newbie they roped into it.
  • The anime Eternal Family. Several people are implanted with false memories and their daily lives are broadcast across Champion City.
  • A rather bizarre variant was featured in the Rave Master manga. In one chapter, the team comes across an island with a popular manga that's suspiciously similar to their adventures. After finding out that the whole thing was a coincidence, they entertain the idea of being watched constantly before finally just deciding that the whole thing was a coincidence and laugh it off. Then it's strongly implied that the strange gingerbread-like creature who often appears in the background is actually some kind of monitoring device-creature that exists to record their lives for the author.
  • In So I'm a Spider, So What? the protagonist realizes after a while that a world based on RPG mechanics isn't meant to be fun for her; it's meant to be fun for the gods watching her. This is likely an incomplete memory given to her by D, who indeed built the System for the sole purpose of amusing herself.
    "This world is pretty fun, it's like a game"? I'm an idiot. If this world is like a game then I'm not the one enjoying it. It's the Administrators who are watching it.
  • In Blood-C, vampire protagonist Saya is living in one of those created specifically to see whether she would change her inner nature and start feeding on humans.

    Comic Books 
  • X-Men villain Mojo is an extradimensional media mogul whose interest in the X-Men lies in secretly filming their adventures for entertainment purposes. His cameras were Psylocke's eyes.
  • The second story from the comic anthology The Eternal Smile revolves around Funny Animal character Gran'pa Greenbax discovering he and his friends and relatives are modified normal animals created for a hybrid of reality TV and cartoons.
  • In The Simpsons comic issue "The Homer Show", some TV producers figure out that broadcasting Homer's bumbling antics would make for a ratings smash, so they set up hidden cameras all around Springfield and pay off all the townsfolk to help them. However, because the citizens of Springfield aren't trained actors, but average joes who all want to be on TV, the whole town starts following Homer everywhere, Acting Unnatural around him and mugging for the cameras to get their 15-minutes of fame (which is pointless as the show isn't even being shown in Springfield). This, of course, freaks Homer out and causes him to fall into a paranoid depression, with him refusing to do anything but lie in bed. In order to save the show, the producers come clean to Homer and he decides to help them out. Unfortunately for them, Homer's attempts at trying to be funny end up irritating everyone and the show gets cancelled anyway.

    Films — Animation 

    Films — Live-Action 
  • The Truman Show is the Trope Namer, and one of the few to fully consider the massive levels of subterfuge needed to make this work.
  • Ed TV: Ed agrees to let a camera crew follow him around because he needs the money. Close enough to The Truman Show to be Dueling Works, the key difference being in that this case the person is aware of the camera.
  • This is the plot of The Even Stevens Movie. The Stevens family (from the tv show of the same name, of course) win a free vacation to an island and terrible stuff starts happening to them; it turns out that they're on a new, incredibly popular, yet cruel and heartless, reality show. Things are falling apart all around them, and they don't realize that it's all a fake until they do and get a chance to get back at the producer.
  • The plot of The Cabin in the Woods, though the "viewers" in this case aren't so much Reality TV enthusiasts as they are elder gods that require routine sacrifice.
  • While not a "Reality Show" per se, the plot twist in Dark City reveals that the whole city is a humongous spaceship where aliens trapped humans for experimenting with them. The aliens constantly reshape the city and wipe the memories of the human inhabitants, in order that the latter don't notice the oddities in the setting (such as the fact that it's Always Night, as they are in space and excessive light is lethal to the aliens).
  • Part of the premise of Free Guy: Guy is an NPC who gains sentience and his exploits become global entertainment. He eventually learns that his world is just a video game and the "sunglasses people" he views as heroes are players from the real world.
  • Gamer features a variation. Ken Castle, reveals in an interview why his latest creation "Slayers" is popular because millions of people like watching several dozen dead row inmates, controlled via brain implants, pitted against each other in massive guns battle (basically a FPS multiplayer match using real humans), and anyone who can survive thirty matches gets an unconditional pardon. "Slayers" also features NPCs', criminals serving time for minor offenses fitted with brain implants that force them to perform an activity in a loop, if they don't get killed in the crossfire, they're free to go. Castle also talks about his earlier success, "Society," in which a performer would be fitted with brain implants and controlled by a player to act out whatever demented fantasy they're thinking of (basically The Sims but with actual humans).
  • The Year of the Sex Olympics: After "The Sex Olympics" get disappointing ratings, a family is taken to a remote Scottish island and then murdered in "The Live Life Show!".

  • Philip K. Dick's novels have often used the idea of a person's belief that they are the center of everything, at least to themselves. Time Out of Joint has the protagonist the centre of possibly the prototype Truman Show plot. He's not on TV, but living in an ordinary town, where he does a newspaper contest every day called 'where will the little green man be next?' He is actually predicting where the missiles fired from a breakaway Luna republic will impact on Earth; also, he designed the factory that makes the missiles, but has had a psychotic break through guilt, that providentially gave him limited precognition. It's normal for PKD.
  • Robert Rankin's Armageddon: The Musical is another one where the entire Earth is a reality show for aliens.
  • Although it predates the reality-show phenomenon, Piers Anthony's Race Against Time has a similar premise: the characters are living in a zoo for otherwise-extinct human ethnic groups and don't know it.
  • The end of Goosebumps' original HorrorLand book.
  • Margaret Petersen Haddix's book Running Out of Time is a variation on this. It's not a reality *show*, but it *is* a 24-hour a day living history re-enactment in an enclosed village, where lots of people are secretly watching the inhabitants during the day. Or at least, the 'living history village' is the cover story for what's really going on. And only the adults know what's up, none of the kids do.
  • Happens to Katniss, Peeta and all the other tributes during The Hunger Games, although there's no subterfuge about it. Both the tributes and the audience know that it's being filmed from the beginning.
  • The Young Adult novel This Is Not The Jess Show is a teen Truman Show with a twist: the protagonist has been led to believe she is living in the 1990s when the novel takes place in the 2040s.
  • Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Double Down: Greg wonders if the world really does revolve around him and thinks that people are watching him on TV. This leads to situations such as him inventing a Catchphrase, Greg wondering if his family members are actors or robots, Greg suggesting new plots to the "writers" by talking into a mirror, and doing funny things to make sure people keep watching.
  • Vicarious: The most popular VR show in High Earth is Ignis: Live, focused on the lives of the inhabitants of a generation ship called the Ignis. The inhabitants themselves think that Earth is gone, and they're the last humans on their way to Tau Ceti. In fact, the ship is circling Earth and has been for the past 50 years. The original inhabitants were 10,000 volunteers from among the "delisted" (those cast out from High Earth for various transgressions), whose memories were altered using brain infusers. Everything is entirely unscripted. One of the two main characters is Asher Reinhart, the Chief Director of Content for Ignis: Live. The other is Mission-14130, an inhabitant of the Ignis, whom Asher made a star by focusing the show largely on her.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The Twilight Zone (1985): In "Special Service", John Selig learns that the last five years of his life have been filmed and shown on television. While shaving one morning, he accidentally changes the alignment of his bathroom mirror and discovers that there is a camera behind it. Almost immediately, a friendly repairman named Archie appears to fix the problem and tries to assure John that there is nothing out of the ordinary. After several minutes, however, he admits to John that his life is the subject of a hit TV show on cable and there are cameras in every room of his house, his workplace and elsewhere. When he is brought to meet the JSTV executive Arthur Spence, he is shocked to discover that his wife Leslie is an actress who was hired to play his love interest. As John has discovered that he is being filmed, the TV show is cancelled. However, Archie suggests that JSTV may only have pretended to remove all of the cameras and the show is continuing without John's knowledge.
  • The Amazing Stories episode "Secret Cinema" played this for a black comedy, where a woman had her life filmed and manipulated and shown in secret theaters she never sees; she finds this out when people start to recognize her and treat her as a celebrity. At the end of the episode, she turns the tables on the directors and heads off into a happy ending... cut to an audience applauding in a movie theater. This episode was in fact Paul Bartel's remake of a short film he did in the '60s. That short gained a cult following, and helped Bartel start his film career.
  • This was also the premise of an actual Reality Show known as The Joe Schmo Show. To be specific, the person is on a reality TV show and knows he's on one, but he thinks it's a genuine competition show, when in fact, he is the only real contestant and everybody else are actors playing along with a script.
    • The second season, a fake dating show, had two real contestants (who would share the winning prize). However, midway through the season, one of them caught on that the whole thing was fake. The producers convinced her to continue with the charade, and brought in a third real contestant. At the end, all three got equal "winning" prizes.
  • Channel Four brought an intergalactic variant of the Joe Schmo concept in 2005 with Space Cadets, wherein a group of gullible "thrill seekers" were convinced that they had been selected to be Britain's first space tourists (the Joe Schmo factor kicks in in that half of the contestants were paid actors), and went through a training program in "Russia" (actually an air force base near Suffolk) in preparation for their low-Earth orbit "flight".
  • One episode of Boy Meets World invokes not just this plot but The Truman Show itself, with Eric in the Christof role and Rachel in the Truman role (complete with phobia from childhood preventing escape).
  • Happened on Sabrina the Teenage Witch. Salem was the one who sold the show to the Other Realm network.
  • In the Korean drama W, the main character Kang Chul was beyond shocked when he found out he was only a written character in a webtoon for the first time.
  • Black Mirror has a predictably twisted version of this. White Bear is actually a theme park designed to publicly punish the main character in an ironic fashion.
  • In The Zack Files episode "The Zack Show", Zack discovers that he is the star of a reality show which is broadcast in a parallel universe. The only problem is that ratings are flagging and, if the show is cancelled, his universe will be destroyed.
  • The one hour special of Nicky, Ricky, Dicky, and Dawn called "Go Hollywood" has the family win a trip to Hollywood. The people involved give them an adventure, all secretly filmed. The family only learns about it when they crash land a hot air balloon on a red carpet premiere and enter to see the movie is all about their experiences in Hollywood.
  • In The Good Place, one newcomer to the show's titular afterlife is convinced that he's on a prank show. He's not far off the mark—it's a newly-designed neighborhood in "The Bad Place" where all but four of the residents are demon actors engineering the situation for maximum torture, following a plot planned out at least eighty years in advance.
  • Supernatural have two distinct examples that's a variation on this trope:
    • The first example is when the angel Balthazar sends Sam and Dean into an alternate reality where they're actors who play brothers that hunt monsters on a show called ''Supernatural''.
    • The second example, which becomes a minor Running Gag that crops up on occasion the rest of the series, is when the brothers discover the "Supernatural" books which depict their lives and adventures. When they track the author, he's revealed to be a prophet whose job is write their story. Of course the variation here is that no-one who reads the books thinks its real and have at best a cult-following.
  • WandaVision: In an outburst of grief, Wanda Maximoff induces this trope on herself: she ends up creating a Hex that turns the entire town of Westview, New Jersey into a sitcom reality with her as the "lead". All the townspeople are forced to act out roles in Wanda's sitcom fantasies, while S.W.O.R.D. observes from afar. Of course, the reality slowly chips in during each episode.
    • In the second episode, the false reality is disrupted twice, first when the voice of Jimmy Woo tries calling out to Wanda on a radio, "Who's doing this to you, Wanda?" Later, a S.W.O.R.D agent transformed into a beekeeper by entering the Hex comes out of the sewers.
    • In the third episode, Dr. Nielsen's car just happens to break down as he and his wife plan on going on vacation to Bermuda, so he is available to help with delivering Wanda's twins. Cinema Wins calls this moment a "Reverse Truman Show".
    • In the fifth episode, Vision goes through an epiphany process that's very similar to Truman's discovery of his whole life being a lie. First, he becomes savvy to Agnes / Agatha Harkness's Drop-In Character bit. Then he intercepts a S.W.O.R.D. communique at work that everyone reads in unison, then briefly snaps Abilash Tandon out of his "Norm" character and finds out he's been cut off from his family. And he becomes suspicious as to why there are no other children in Westview.
    • In the seventh episode, Darcy and Vision leave the S.W.O.R.D camp (which got transformed into a circus when Wanda expanded the Hex) in a funnel cake van (which was a Bearcat on the outside) to go find Wanda. When they reach an intersection in the middle of the open countryside, the sitcom reality conspires against them to keep them from moving forward. First, a bunch of utility workers appear out of nowhere to fix the traffic light in front of them. When they finally leave, a crossing guard arrives to let a bunch of schoolchildren (who also appeared out of nowhere) start crossing in front of them, much to Darcy's annoyance.
      Darcy: Ugh, kids?! What's next, puppies?

  • In Nebulous, it turns out that the characters have spent the past six years trapped in a time loop, which is actually the weekend omnibus of an alien reality TV series.

    Video Games 
  • American Arcadia: The games protagonist Trevor is an everyman who lives in a seemingly perfect futuristic utopian town of Arcadia where most other residents are The Beautiful Elite. Not only does it turn out to be one of these but unpopular characters like Trevor are "retired" to maintain the shows ratings.
  • Manhunt's hero is forced to kill a lot of people by a "Director" of snuff films. And the "Director" is... the player.
  • In A Mind Forever Voyaging you play as an AI who was trained in "how to be human"' via this method, and then suddenly forced out on its 20th birthday.
  • While they're not exactly on a reality TV show (though they do get tricked into one about 1/3 of the way into the game), the protagonists of Wild ARMs 5 are being watched on Duo's magical camera(s?), so everyone across Filgaia is witnessing their exploits for most of the game and NPC dialogue is undoubtedly affected by this.
  • This is the world of MadWorld. Exactly why this is done, besides for profit, is pretty damn important.
  • Invoked by Guildmaster Kadish in Uru: Path of the Shell, using a huge rotating set of spheres in the Age of Ahnonay, plus an unfinished fourth one that's programmed to be skipped, designed to trick the D'ni people into believing that Kadish is the Grower, by using the rotation of each sphere to give the appearance of Time Travel when a person Links to the Age. This trope plays even straighter when you manage to break the system and reveal the backgrounds of one of its spheres to be mere paintings, and that you can disable the ocean's current.
  • Two locations in the Submachine series, specifically the beginning area of Submachine Zero and the ending of Submachine One appear as if they are on the surface, outside in the real world. But returning to them in later titles reveal signs of huge painted scenery props and spotlights, set up inside empty, black cavernous areas. This is one of many signs in the series that you're being watched by someone, as proven by floating security cameras in other areas.
  • At the end of Star Ocean: Till the End of Time, the characters find out that they are programs and characters inside a video game, and that the gods of their world are actually programmers.

    Visual Novels 
  • Danganronpa: Monokuma likes to broadcast his killing games to an audience, since the contestants are considered to be symbols of hope for the world, and seeing them kill each other and be filled with despair will fill the viewers with despair as well.
    • Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc: This is The Reveal in Chapter 5: the killing game is being broadcast all across Japan. To further the comparison, the game ends with the surviving students leaving the "set" (the school) and venturing out into the real world.
    • Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair: Unlike the last game, the twist is not that the killing game is being broadcast, but who it's being shown to, what the "set" really is, and why these students were put there in the first place.
    • Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony: Again, it's no surprise that the killing game is being broadcast, but you probably wouldn't expect that it is a literal reality TV show based off the popular Danganronpa franchise, currently in its 53rd season (or at least its 50th, since the show would've started on Danganronpa 4 at the earliest), and all of the students voluntarily signed up for it, happily consenting to have their minds wiped and be implanted with Fake Memories and personalities of Danganronpa characters so they could kill each other for fame and profit on their favourite show. The exception to this is Ultimate Robot K1-B0, who actually is a robot, and is the Audience Surrogate character whose eyes function as a camera letting the fans watch the action from his perspective, and whose "inner voice" that he constantly looks to for guidance is actually telling him the results of fan surveys about what he should do next. The characters themselves are utterly horrified by this revelation, particularly Player Character Shuichi Saihara, who watches a video of his pre-mindwipe self requesting to be turned into an Ultimate Detective just because no Ultimate Detective on the show so far has killed anybody and he wanted to be the first, and then suggesting what his execution should be if he got caught.
  • Thousand Dollar Soul has a discussion about this trope after watching the trope-naming movie. Their entire world is actually a simulation made so Future Todd can live his fantasies involving Angela.

    Web Original 

    Western Animation 
  • Pantheon: Caspian's homelife is a dark twist on this.His parents are agents of Logorhythms roleplaying a toxic, abusive relationship to mold their son into an asset for the company. His dad Cary is having regrets about this while his mother Renee is more focused.
  • The Hollow: The video game turns out to be a competition between Adam, Mira, Kai, and the other team as part of a game show being recorded in front of a live studio audience. Played with in the sense that the teens did volunteer for the competition, but it also involved them temporarily losing their memories once they started the game.
  • The Simpsons:
    • Homer's murder trial in "The Frying Game" turns out to be an elaborate reality TV hoax, which is only revealed when the switch is pulled on the electric chair.
    • The episode "To Surveil, With Love" ends with the revelation that all of the surveillance cameras set up around Springfield (ostensibly to keep the peace) were broadcasting the Springfieldianites' behaviour as a reality TV show in Britain.
    • "How I Spent My Strummer Vacation" starts with Moe getting a taxi for a heavily-intoxicated Homer. Unbeknownst to them, this taxi turns out to be part of a reality show, Taxicab Conversations, which films the passengers' personal thoughts. This puts Homer in the uncomfortable position of explaining away his drunken statements about his family after he discovers the show on TV.
    • In The Simpsons Hit & Run, it's eventually revealed that the robot wasp cameras are filming everyone so Kang and Kodos can turn Springfield into an intergalactic reality show.
    • The Simpsons Game takes it a step further when God reveals that the Simpsons world is a mini-game of the videogame 'Earth', which he never stops playing.
    • One of the comics pays a more direct tribute to The Truman Show when a pair of executives realize that Homer Simpson's everyday behavior is comedy gold. It unravels when he learns the truth, only to begin self-consciously playing along and 'trying' to act stupid, which he is much worse at. They lament that they spent all that money installing thousands of camera's all throughout the town, when they could have captured Homer's whole life with about six.
  • South Park:
    • "Cancelled" reveals that the entire planet Earth is one of these, set up by aliens. Every different species on Earth, including different races of humans, actually originated from different planets and were all thrown onto the same planet to see what would happen. When the inhabitants of Earth discover this, they start fame-whoring it up and end up getting the show cancelled because of it ("cancelled" in this case meaning the total destruction of Earth). Eventually the boys were able to blackmail the producers of the show to simply wipe everyone's memories instead. Originally the intended 100th episode, it was a callback to the first episode and explains why Cartman had an anal probe to begin with (it was one of many anal probes that transmit recorded footage back to the aliens). Incidentally, this episode was produced during Hit & Run's production, but aired about six months before the game came out.
    • In "Goth Kids 3: Dawn of the Posers" the whole plot of the episode turns out to be a hidden camera prank television show called Yes, I Was Scared!.
  • An episode of The Fairly OddParents! has Timmy finding out that his life is secretly being broadcast to Fairy World.
    • Crimson Chin of the comic book variety.
  • In Futurama, Leela wonders why a pair of mutants are stalking her. One of the reasons she puts out is "some kind of even more boring Truman Show?" They're her parents, secretly watching over her.
    • There's another episode where it turns out a romantic, secluded resort which hosts only one couple at a time is actually the "human habitat" at an alien zoo.
  • On Jimmy Two-Shoes, Jimmy is unknowingly put on a game show to win Lucius' fortune through a Secret Test of Character.
  • A B-plot in an episode of American Dad! involves the Smiths learning that Al Tuttle's life is being broadcast to Korea, through cameras snuck in under the pretense of a home renovation, because his pathetic life is immensely popular there. Naturally Hayley, Steve, Roger and Klaus start insinuating themselves into Tuttle's life in an attempt to get on TV, which almost ruins the show. It's saved when they abandon him and his crying breakdown immediately wins the viewers back.
    Korean executive: It's called Sad Fatso. Like The Truman Show, but with a sad fatso. Our viewers are very cruel.

    Real Life 
  • Real Life is (hopefully) not an example of this trope, though there's actually a real life phenomenon known as "Truman Show Delusion" (a persecutory/grandiose delusion suffered by some schizophrenics) in which people think they're being watched as part of a TV show. Sibling Team psychiatrists Joel and Ian Gold coined the term in 2008. Several of their patients have referenced the film explicitly in describing their delusion.
  • Apparently, Andy Kaufman. When he was a child he would address a hole in the wall, seemingly under the belief that it contained a camera and he was on TV. This was adapted in his biopic, Man on the Moon, which appropriately enough starred Truman himself, Jim Carrey! It's unclear whether Andy actually believed this or was just kidding (like so much of his behavior), even as a kid.
  • MIT researcher Deb Roy wanted to understand how his infant son learned language — so he wired up his house with videocameras to catch every moment (with exceptions) of his son's life, then parsed 90,000 hours of home video to watch "gaaaa" slowly turn into "water." Ted-Ed: Deb Roy - Birth of a Word
  • This ABCNews article (via Cracked [1]) describes a Dutch village that has been established as a sort of "Truman Show" for senile dementia patients as an alternative to a traditional nursing home. Of course, they don't film the patients for entertainment purposes, and the caregivers will tell any patient who asks that they are in a care facility. It doesn't matter much, as the patients either don't care or will promptly forget.
  • Actually done (for a short while) on an Israeli TV show, The Steve Show, back in 2003. It started off with a budding actor calling his wife, for whom he had a unique nickname (‘Livluvít’Hebrew, roughly ‘Blossomette’), to tell her he’d failed an audition; Yig'al Shilon, most famous for being the host of Fisfusím, an Israeli Punk'd-style show, heard the interesting nickname and devised a Reality TV show based on this trope, getting him ‘accepted’ and following him around with 10 cameras and actual famous actors ‘working’ with him, pretending it’s all for real, and putting him in awkward positions to see how he’d react (e.g. actress Gila Almagor pretended she was a kleptomaniac). It lasted for just under a month before they finally told him; despite being very surprised, he took it rather well.
  • Such was the case for a Japanese comedian named Tomoaki Hamatsu in 1998. He accepted a challenge by a comedy show to lose all of his belongings and attempt to make 1 million yen from prizes earned through write-in sweepstakes while being cut away from human contact. Unknowlingly, his daily life during this time was livestreamed by the comedy show 24/7 online. Think that he was scot free after obtaining the one million yen and earning a trip to South Korea? Nope. Again stripped of his winnings and told to earn enough yen from prizes in Korea to obtain a ticket back to Japan (later moved to getting enough for a business class, then a first class ticket). Think that was enough? Not at all. As a last bit of mockery, he would be led onto the main stage of the show unknowingly, and while he was sure that he was stuck in the same situation as before the walls give way to him naked in front of hundreds of audience members. This all occurred over the span of 15 months.