At the beginning of this year, a show about an elite Texas cheer team vaulted to the top of our Netflix queues.
Over the course of six episodes, Cheer followed the nationally ranked Navarro College Bulldogs on their journey as they prepared to bring it at the National Cheerleading Championship in Daytona Beach, Fla. And it was a delightful ride, one that made overnight stars of the docu-series' core squad and resulted in three Emmy wins, including Outstanding Unstructured Reality Program. The cast was on Ellen and went to the Oscars.
After making a massive splash and charming audiences, the Bulldogs' devoted longtime coach, Monica Aldama, is competing on Dancing With This Stars this season—an outcome that's almost always on the table for a former non-celebrity who has recently taken pop culture by storm. (See: Aldama's spotlighted fellow contestant, Carole Baskin.)
Alas, there's another potential outcome that's almost always on the table, too. And that's disappointment.
Because so long as TV cameras are roaming the land to capture "real life," and people "as they are," they're going to find folks who are destined to go off script.
Sometimes you get a bad feeling about someone—but more often than not, you don't.
Jerry Harris—seemingly beloved Bulldog whose infectious personality lit up the team, and who provided inspiration for countless kids as a gay, Black athlete who overcame the loss of his mother when he was 16 to thrive in college—is currently in jail.
After being investigated by the FBI for allegedly soliciting sex and explicit photos from minors, the 21-year-old was arrested last week on a charge of producing child pornography. Harris is accused of enticing an underage boy during an online encounter to produce sexually explicit videos and photos, after the boy had informed him that he was only 13. After a remote hearing Monday, he remains in jail after his lawyers asked the judge to delay a decision on bail while he lines up a place for Harris to stay should he be released on bond.
The criminal complaint obtained by E! News states that Harris admitted to federal agents last week that he asked for and received explicit messages on Snapchat from at least 10 to 15 people he knew were minors, had sex with a 15-year-old at a cheerleading competition in 2019 and paid a 17-year-old for nude photos. The FBI searched his Naperville, Ill., home on Sept. 14.
The alleged victims who triggered the overall investigation are 14-year-old twin boys who said that a pattern of harassment began when they were 13 and Harris was 19 and went on for more than a year. On Tuesday the FBI's Chicago office announced the launch of a "Seeking Victim" information web page to enlist the public's help in identifying additional potential victims.
One felony count of producing child porn carries a sentence of between 15 and 30 years in prison. Harris has not yet entered a plea, but a spokesperson for him told E! News on Sept. 17, "We categorically dispute the claims made against Jerry Harris, which are alleged to have occurred when he was a teenager. We are confident that when the investigation is completed, the true facts will be revealed."
But what a disappointing turn of events all the same.
"As a victim of sexual abuse as a child, I know all too well the pain of experiencing this kind of abuse and the difficulties it can create in life after such trauma," Harris' former teammate La'Darius Marshall wrote on Instagram in response to the news. "My heart goes out to all who may be affected by this behavior from adults. It is wrong and should never happen to a child. I am broken to pieces to see this happen with someone close to me."
Aldama wrote that her heart was "shattered into a million pieces," adding, "I am devastated by this shocking, unexpected news."
She and everybody else.
On an episode of Variety's Big Ticket podcast released in June, Harris spoke of his late mother, who died of lung cancer, as still a very real presence in his life.
"I feel like she's very, very happy and excited for everything that's been going on, and she's really loving it," he explained. "I know she's telling me to always stay humble, because she doesn't want to see me get a big head."
Asked what kind of a role model he hoped to be for other kids who may be struggling with their sexuality, Harris replied, "I want to be someone that's fearless, that's confident to others, and that's confident to themselves and believes in themselves, and just to tell them you can be who you want to be, and you can be who you are, because you are perfect and you are enough for anyone."
If this all-too-real turn of events sounds like just another scandal in a long line that have erupted from the wilds of reality TV... you're not wrong.
A lot of controversy and bad behavior—from the fairly benign and possibly forgivable to the egregiously awful—has been unearthed, both when the cameras are rolling and after they've been turned off. Sometimes even years after they've been turned off.
There's much to be debated about what sort of people reality TV tends to catch in its web, considering all the different walks of life, jobs and scenarios that have been deemed interesting by television producers, networks and now streaming services. But this may just be what happens when more and more people are in the public eye, brushed by the gloss of celebrity and left holding the mixed bag that is fame. Endless entertainment may be on offer, but there are just that many more opportunities to be disappointed.
Join us on a walk down disappointment lane: