It was the spoiler heard 'round the world. (But just in case, we're issuing a spoiler alert right now, for people who have never seen The O.C. and wish to remain unspoiled!)
You see, that honor actually goes to my own mother. (Hi mom! Love you!)
But let's back up a bit for those who don't remember the exact details of Barton's major pop culture faux pas. The morning before The O.C.'s season three finale aired in May 2006, Barton sat down for an interview with Access Hollywood revealing Marissa's fate, which aired hours before the episode, "The Graduates," did. But fans couldn't escape that spoiler even if they didn't watch the entertainment news show, since Access Hollywood then sent out a press release email promoting the segment with the subject line, "On the next Access Hollywood: Mischa Barton Confirms Her Character On The O.C. Dies and Reveals What the Show Has in Store For Fans."
Once that inescapable subject line was read, the entire plot twist was ruined for everyone, despite the show's producers taking multiple precautions against the secret getting out, like filming multiple alternate endings with different characters dying to throw everyone off the scent. Other media outlets then ran with the story, and like that, the biggest surprise of the entire series was ruined.
But I did the impossible.
I managed to avoid any and all headlines containing the words "The O.C.," "Marissa Cooper," "Mischa Barton," etc., whether it was in a newspaper, online, or in an email, because I had heard that a spoiler was leaked early. You see, even back when I was in high school, I was a huge TV fanatic. I treated season finales like the major events they were and I made a very conscious effort to stay in the dark about anything having to do with The O.C. all week long leading up to the finale. It was tough, but I did it.
And here's some more backstory on me to help you better understand just how well I avoided this particular spoiler. After all my after-school meetings and play rehearsals ended, I would spend an additional three hours at a dance studio in rehearsals every night, so I wouldn't get home until about 10:30 p.m. Thanks to my trusty TiVo, I would then hurry downstairs into the basement to watch all my recorded shows before finally tackling my homework at midnight and getting to bed around 3 a.m. only to have to wake up at 6 a.m. to do it all over again the next day (Yes, I know that sounds miserable. It was. But I survived!)
So I managed to avoid the big spoiler until 10:30 p.m. that Thursday night. I was incredibly proud of myself and could barely contain my excitement as I ran through the house trying to get to my TiVo ASAP. I ran through the kitchen to get a bite to eat on my way to the TV, and my mom was sitting at the counter reading the newspaper. It wasn't even opened to the Arts & Entertainment section, but still. That should have been my first warning. I should have just kept running. Oh, how I wish I had kept running!
"Hi honey! How was ballet?" my loving mother asked so lovingly. And before I could respond, she continued, oh-so-lovingly: "Are you upset about that Marissa character dying on The O.C.? You watch that show, right?"
I just stood there, blood draining from my face, eyes wide in shock as her words sunk in. "MOM! NOOOOOO!"
To her credit, she didn't know the lengths I went to avoid getting spoiled all week long. Back then, I don't really think anyone in my family understood my devotion to TV, and to The O.C. in particular. In fact, I don't think any of them realized it until after I graduated from college and pursued a career in entertainment journalism, specifically to write about TV.
And that's totally understandable. During high school, most of my TV-watching was done after everyone else had gone to sleep. In fact, I don't think my parents or brother even knew how late I was staying up each and every night just so I could watch all my shows before getting my homework done (and yes, sometimes I did my homework first and watched TV second. I'm not an animal, you guys). The rest of the house was pitch black, everyone was asleep in bedrooms that were on the opposite side of the house as the basement TV, so I free to watch as loud as I wanted without disturbing anyone. So I really think that my mom was actually curious to see how I felt about someone dying on a TV show that I watched (because back then, main character deaths were extremely rare, unlike these days when people die left and right on every show).
But even though she had the best intentions, I'll always remember (oh-so-bitterly) how my own mother accidentally spoiled one of the biggest moments in TV history for me. (I still love you, mom, I promise!)
Of course, even though I knew exactly what was going to happen, I still raced downstairs to watch the episode in question because how could I not? It was The O.C. season finale! But for the entire hour, I was just sitting there, waiting for Marissa to inevitably die. Even though I didn't know how it would happen, or when it would happen, it completely ruined everything. The buildup to the climax, the car wreck (ugh, Volchok), the emotional ending with Ryan (Ben McKenzie) carrying her lifeless body away from the burning car, everything. It was like I was watching the episode through a haze. It pretty much ruined the entire season for me, having the big season finale twist spoiled like that.
This was my very first experience with spoilers, and it's certainly one I'll never forget. Since then, I've learned not to freak out or get mad when someone accidentally spoils something for me, because I know it's not their fault. They're not doing it maliciously. But now I make sure to let all my friends and family know if I'm behind on a show, or anxiously anticipating an episode of a show, so I don't run afoul spoilers again. And yes, writing about TV means learning spoilers is an occupational hazard (and kind of a job requirement, if we're being honest), but there are some shows that are sacred to me that I refuse to get spoiled on.
And if The O.C. was still on today, that show would be on the list. You hear that, mom?!