Sacha Baron Cohen takes no prisoners in Showtime’s Who Is America, a mockumentary TV series in which the actor goads political and celebrity figures into doing outrageous stunts of their own free will. The satire, created by Baron Cohen, is meant to trick people into saying absurd things, which in turn exposes their true colors—whether that be their racist tendencies or desperation for fame.
The show is only on its second episode and is already making waves for prompting Jason Spencer, a Republican state lawmaker from Georgia, to say multiple racist slurs, causing him to resign shortly after the episode aired. Other political figures including Bernie Sanders and Sarah Palin have also been on the show, but Baron Cohen’s participants are not limited to politicians.
In last week’s episode, former The Bachelor contestant Corinne Olympios got trolled into endorsing a fake charity that sponsors child soldiers, saying things even more ridiculous than her infamous catch phrases from Nick Viall’s season of the reality dating show (“platinum vagine,” anyone?).
In Olympios’ segment, Baron Cohen plays an Italian photographer who tells her that she won a (fake) award for reality star of the year. He stages a video-shoot with her in which he has her pose in a hazmat suit saying she was in the trenches in Sierra Leone during the Ebola crisis. She blindly goes along with the scheme, following his lead to say she stopped a massacre in an African village and saved 6,000 people from a warlord.
It’s hilarious and terrifying at the same time. At one point, Olympios reads from a teleprompter, “For $18 per month, you will get a message from your child soldier, telling you about their progress. For example, ‘Today we burned down a village and launched a grenade at a hospital.’”
There’s been some backlash over the Olympios prank, with outlets such as Vulture and Vanity Fair questioning the purpose of targeting a reality TV star as opposed to elected officials, such as former Vice President Dick Cheney, who was also on the show.
In a Vulture article titled “What’s the Point of Pranking Corinne from The Bachelor?” writer Kathryn VanArendonk contemplates, “The segment does raise questions about Who Is America? and its goals. Why is this reality star a target? Why is the assumption that it’s hilarious to watch a powerful man manipulate a fame-hungry, clueless younger woman?”
It should be noted that the show pranks both men and women, and does not limit its guests to celebrities only. While it does rely on some famous faces for laughs at their own expense, Baron Cohen also pokes fun at regular people.
To her credit, Olympios has spun the unfortunate event to her favor, making the media round with outlets such as Vanity Fair, Access Live, and The Daily Beast, because no publicity is bad publicity. Maybe Olympios is the genius after all.