Oh what a tangled web we weave, when we put our lives on reality TV.
Apologies to Sir Walter Scott, but a new version of his old adage seems appropriate in the wake of the scandal surrounding Jon and Kate Gosselin, the stars of Jon & Kate Plus 8. The show, which chronicles the lives of the Pennsylvania couple and their brood (8-year-old twins, 5-year-old sextuplets) started its fifth season TLC Monday night, following a flood of speculation about whether the Gosselins' marriage is on the rocks and who's cheating on whom. (Various reports connect him with a teacher; her with their family's bodyguard. Other reports claim Kate made Jon sign a marriage contract that allows him to date as long as he shows up for tapings of their show.)
While the premiere's presumed focus was the sextuplets' fifth birthday party, it seemed a footnote compared to Jon and Kate's testimonials about the state of their relationship and the reports of their alleged infidelities.
Each affirmed they've never cheated on the other, but they did so solo, glumly, sitting on love seats that could easily have accommodated a hand-holding partner to bolster the message.
"I'm just all over the place," Jon admitted. "Kate and I obviously have been going through a lot of stuff."
While he stressed that he never betrayed his wife, Jon conceded he shouldn't have been out late at night, vulnerable to the paparazzi who now follow the Gosselins. Photographs taken weeks ago of Jon and another woman in a car sparked the first round of infidelity rumors.
"I'd like to apologize for my family for my actions. It was wrong place, wrong time," he said. "I didn't understand the ramifications on how it would affect everything. I should have thought about more of what I did and where I was going."
Kate made no effort to acknowledge Jon's apology.
"I have a lot of anger," she said. "He's made some very poor decisions. We have to live with them."
The two faced the camera together towards the end of the show. Asked what the future holds for their marriage, Kate said, "I wish I knew." Later, during another solo interview, she tearfully confessed that she wonders if the sextuplets' fifth birthday party might be the family's last major event together.
Jon acknowledged that they no longer want the same things, conceding, "We're going in two different directions right now."
The season premiere also featured a montage of the sextuplets' past birthdays, which may as well have been subtitled, "Good Times in the Gosselin Household." While Jon and Kate looked like a happily, if harried, married couple at those past parties, they now resemble work-weary business partners. Through the party planning, Kate emphasized again and again that she was handling preparations alone, without Jon's help, because he needed a break from the kids.
At a family cookout at the close of the show, they admitted that maybe it would be in the interests of the greater good if one of them bowed out of the operation. There's plenty of love to go around for the eight kids, but for each other? Perhaps not.
Jon and Kate Gosselin aren't the only couple to have their relationship ruined by reality TV. Heidi Montag and Spencer Pratt turned into publicity fiends, albeit willingly, when they started dating on The Hills, taking advantage of love's ups and downs by parlaying them into tabloid magazine covers and staged photo-ops. But the Gosselins' disintegration does seem to have the most dire consequences for both their family and their franchise.
There are, above all, eight kids' futures to consider. Then there's the rest: Kate's built a brand on running a house of 8 and holding down a marriage -- she's been touring the country promoting her new book, Multiple Bles8ings. The show is a ratings powerhouse for TLC -- the season four finale drew 4.6 million viewers, and the number of people who tuned into this season's premiere may rise considering the bout of publicity surrounding it. If the Gosselins' marriage falls apart, will Jon and/or Kate Plus 8 see similar success?
Maybe. At one point in Monday's episode, Jon asserted, "I did not sign up for the public scrutiny and everything ... And neither did Kate." But that's exactly what reality TV does -- it invites strangers into the star's home and paparazzi into their daily routines.
For better or for worse, Jon and Kate's relationship is a product of this reality TV reality. And in a country where, as Kate cried towards the end of the show, "parents of multiples have triple the divorce rate," it can be argued that watching the Gosselins' marriage teeter on the brink of collapse is at real as it gets.