Jessie Nizewitz was prepared to bare it all for VH1's summer series Dating Naked. But the 28-year-old contestant from Long Island, N.Y., says she didn't realize that her most private parts, shot from an extremely unflattering position, would become part of an episode.
So with powerful celebrity attorney Matthew Blit representing her, Nizewitz has filed a $10 million lawsuit against the show's producers and the network's parent company Viacom, saying she felt "beyond embarrassed" by an uncensored naked crotch shot.
Nizewitz appeared on the third episode of Dating Naked, in which she play-wrestled with her date, crouching down and tackling him on a Panamanian beach. She claims in her lawsuit that producers encouraged the sandy romp and promised that her genitals would be pixilated. But in the episode, which was telecast July 31, "defendants did not blur out her vagina and anus, which were fully exposed to all viewers," according to the suit.
"When it first aired, I watched it with friends and was mortified when they failed to blur my private parts," Nizewitz told Adweek via email. "Although I went on this show knowing that I would be nude while taping it, I was told that my private parts would be blurred for TV. If you watch an episode, you will see that the blur actually makes it less revealing than a bikini would. Obviously, I did not expect the world to see my private parts. This is not what I anticipated or what any other contestants on the show anticipated."
A VH1 spokesman says the network does not comment on pending litigation.
The lawsuit accuses Viacom, Lighthearted Entertainment and Firelight Entertainment of gross negligence and intentional infliction of emotional distress, compounded by sharing of the scene on Twitter, Tumblr, YouTube and other social media outlets.
Eagle-eyed fans definitely noticed, posting comments on the show's Facebook page like "Good job with the non blur. You could clearly see her vag and butt when she bent over" and "i just had to pause and rewind and replay in slowmo ... Just to make sure ... Yup! Thats the money shot!" Wrote another, "This show is horrible they totally showed this chicks whole vagina on tv not ok."
Robert Thompson, professor of popular culture at Syracuse University, says he would be surprised if participants' agreements to appear on naked TV shows did not make clear that producers have the ultimate discretion when it comes to blurring body parts.
While it was likely an editing mistake, contestants open themselves up to all kinds of exposure by appearing on such a show in the first place, as he points out. "You've already said you'll date naked in front of cameras and a crew," he said. "To bring a case now as a victim, saying too much of your body was shown? It seems like a specious claim that would require some pretty clever arguments."
Blurring and pixilation on naked-themed shows, even by the networks' own admission, tends to be inconsistent. VH1 executives say that bare bums, for instance, get digitized during scenes set during the daytime scenes but not at night. Pixels and blurs are used interchangeably, with different types of special effects providing varying levels of coverage for one's most sensitive parts.
One series in the genre, TLC's Buying Naked, has made a running gag out of using objects like bowling balls, microphones and sunflowers as natural modesty patches. On Discovery's Naked and Afraid, participants sometimes make their own loincloths using natural materials.
Nizewitz's lawsuit, filed Aug. 21 in New York, is the first known legal action brought by a naked reality contestant.
"With lots of nudity on TV, the chances of slip-ups happening does increase," said Syracuse's Thompson. "But producers usually cover for every contingency. And at any rate, they don't allow participants to determine how far a show will go—they make that decision."
Read more about the naked TV trend in Adweek's Aug. 25 cover story.