The Shocking Arrest of Cheer's Jerry Harris and More Reality TV Scandals

The Cheer fan favorite has been arrested on a charge of producing child pornography and is awaiting a decision on bail. But as we've seen many times, the glare of those cameras can be harsh.

By Natalie Finn Sep 22, 2020 11:00 PMTags
Watch: "Cheer" Star Jerry Harris Arrested for Child Pornography

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.

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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."

Greg Endries/Bravo

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. 

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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."

Where Are Your Favorite Real World Stars Now

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.

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:

Josh Duggar, 19 Kids and Counting

It turned out the Duggars had more behind the scenes drama than they'd ever let on when an Arkansas police report, unearthed in 2015, revealed that 19 Kids and Counting parents Jim Bob Duggar and wife Michelle had brought their eldest son, Josh Duggar, to the Children's Safety Center in Springdale, Ark., in 2006 to be interviewed in response to an accusation that as a teen he had molested underage girls in 2002 and 2003.

"Twelve years ago, as a young teenager, I acted inexcusably for which I am extremely sorry and deeply regret," Josh said in a statement to People at the time. "I hurt others, including my family and close friends. I confessed this to my parents who took several steps to help me address the situation. We spoke with the authorities where I confessed my wrongdoing, and my parents arranged for me and those affected by my actions to receive counseling. I understood that if I continued down this wrong road that I would end up ruining my life."

While the original police report was expunged in order to protect the names of the victims, his sisters Jessa and Jill (who along with sisters Jinger and Joy ended up suing the police over the report's release) came forward and spoke out about the importance of not sweeping sexual abuse under the rug, hoping to remove any stigma of shame. "It was amazing to understand that there are so many people that deal with the exact same thing in their own families, so just being educated is very good," Jill said in the TLC special Breaking the Silence.

19 Kids and Counting was canceled but a number of family members (including Josh's wife, Anna, but not him) moved on to the TLC spin-off Counting On. Adding to his ignominious 2015, Josh also admitted to cheating on his wife after the father of four was rumored to have an Ashley Madison account (a massive leak of info from the extramarital hookup site embarrassed all sorts of people that year), calling himself "the biggest hypocrite ever."

Anna stuck to her promise of for better or worse, though, and the couple now have six children.

Mama June, Here Comes Honey Boo Boo

TLC canceled Here Comes Honey Boo—the reality series following former kid pageant star Alana "Honey Boo BooThompson and her family—following reports that the child's mother, Mama June Shannon, was dating a convicted child molester after a photo of her with the guy made the rounds.

"TLC has cancelled the series Here Comes Honey Boo Boo and ended all activities around the series, effective immediately," the network said in a statement. "Supporting the health and welfare of these remarkable children is our only priority. TLC is faithfully committed to the children's ongoing comfort and well-being."

Mama June insisted that she was not dating the man in question. "Just got a phone call this morning from TLC and as of right now there will be no more production of the show…the statement of me dating a sex offender is totally untrue...I would not ever, ever, ever put my kids in danger. I love my kids too much. That is my past. I have not seen that person in 10 years and don't seem to want to see that person."

After spending time in cultural purgatory during which she appeared on Marriage Boot Camp: Reality Stars with ex-husband Sugar Bear, Mama June engineered a comeback by documenting her 300-pound weight loss, starting with surgery, and ended up back on the air in WeTV's Mama June: From Not to Hot.

Meanwhile, Alanna admitted on Oprah: Where Are They Now in 2016, that she was "kinda happy" that their show got canceled, but "at the same time I was sad, so I was sappy."

Rachel Frederickson, The Biggest Loser

Rachel Frederickson won The Biggest Loser in 2015 after losing 155 pounds, or 59.62 percent of her body weight, to end up weighing 105—prompting a flood of criticism (some in the form of concern, some outright body-shaming) that she had lost too much weight. 

During an interview with Today, she talked about her journey and the backlash, saying, "There will always be other voices in life. The trouble comes when you stop listening to your own. I am committed to trusting my decisions and standing strong behind them. I found strength in this struggle and I am listening to my own voice again!"

It wasn't the first or the last scrutiny directed at The Biggest Loser and whether or not the show provided healthy, effective weight loss solutions for all of its contestants. But fans missed it when it was gone. Four years after the endlessly engrossing competition series ended its run on NBC in 2016 following 17 seasons, it returned for an 18th season on USA Network in January.

Juan Pablo Galavis, The Bachelor

Now a villain in the eyes of Clare Crawley fans everywhere, Bachelorette cast-off Juan Pablo Galavis really stepped in it shortly after his season of The Bachelor premiered in January 2014. 

Asked by The TV Page at a network party during the Winter TCA Press Tour to share his thoughts on a gay man possibly becoming the Bachelor one day, the former soccer player and father of a young daughter said, "I don't think it is a good example for kids to watch that on TV."

He continued, "Obviously people have their husband and wife and kids, and that is how we are brought up. Now there is fathers having kids and all that, and it is hard for me to understand that too in the sense of a household having peoples… Two parents sleeping in the same bed and the kid going into bed… It is confusing in a sense. But," he added, "I respect them because they want to have kids. They want to be parents...Where do you put it on the scale? Where is the thin line to cross or not? You have to respect everybody's desires and way of living. But it would be too hard for TV." That would be "more pervert in a sense," he said.

Galavis immediately issued an apology via Facebook, saying his comments were taken out of context, he had many gay friends (including one of his closest friends who was "like a brother" to him), and he had "nothing but respect for gay people and their families." Moreover, "The word pervert was not what I meant to say and I am very sorry about it. Everyone knows English is my second language and my vocabulary is not as broad as it is in Spanish and, because of this, sometimes I use the wrong words to express myself." (He was born in New York to Venezuelan parents and grew up in Venezuela.)

Phil Robertson, Duck Dynasty

The Robertson family patriarch was suspended indefinitely from the hit A&E show after making anti-gay remarks in a 2013 interview with GQ, in which he compared homosexuality to bestiality.

Phil said in response to the backlash, "My mission today is to go forth and tell people about why I follow Christ and also what the bible teaches, and part of that teaching is that women and men are meant to be together. However, I would never treat anyone with disrespect just because they are different from me." 

Enough of his audience agreed to pressure A&E to rescind the suspension barely a week later.

Duck Dynasty took a hit in the ratings, and the controversy didn't do much for backwater stereotypes, but people kept tuning in until the show ended in 2016.

Rozlyn Papa, The Bachelor

In season 14, Rozlyn Papa, one of the contestants competing for Jake Pavelka's heart, was found to be romantically involved with a Bachelor crew member—and was promptly sent home.

"It was incredibly unfortunate," host Chris Harrison said about the situation. "Horrible decisions were made. This is something that we took very serious, and it's something that we couldn't just sit by...because of things in the past. This was embarrassing for us, for Jake, and for the other women, so we were like, let's nip this in the bud, take care of it, and that's what we did."

Papa denied that her relationship with the crew member was sexual, but Harrison said that she and the unnamed gentlemen had found time to have "relations."

He explained, "This was the rare time that before I had to go talk to the girl, Jake and then the women, I had lawyers, psychologists, producers, executives saying, 'Okay, these are the words you can say.' It was a wild night."

Multiple Offenders, Big Brother

The CBS reality series made headlines all summer long in 2013 after contestants made racist and homophobic remarks that were—duh—caught on camera. Something about "Big Brother" always watching...

Spencer Clawson made jokes about child pornography in the course of pranking fellow houseguest McCrae Olso, while off-camera Aaryn Gries was dropped by her modeling agency and GinaMarie Zimmerman was fired once the outside world got wind of some of the stuff they'd said on the show.

The enduring reality competition made headlines again in 2018 after TMZ posted videos from the 24/7 online house feed that showed J.C. Mounduix trying to place an ice cream scoop on other housemates' genitals while they were sleeping (again, in service of a "prank") and Rachel Swindler and Angela Rummans making comments that were swiftly condemned as racist.

"Big Brother is a reality show about watching a group of people who have no privacy 24/7—and capturing every unfiltered moment and conversation in their lives. At times, the houseguests reveal prejudices and exhibit behavior that we do not condone," CBS told E! News at the time.

Season 22 premiered in August.

Jonny Fairplay, Survivor : Pearl Islands

Jon Dalton, who ironically went by "Jonny Fairplay," pulled a fast one on his fellow castmates during season seven in 2003. To gain sympathy, he had a friend come to the island and tell him that his grandmother had died. Jonny broke down in tears as he was consoled by his competitors. It was later revealed that he had concocted the plan before filming began and that his grandmother was still very much alive.

Host Jeff Probst called it "the greatest lie in Survivor history."

Teresa and Joe Giudice, The Real Housewives of New Jersey

The couple pleaded guilty to multiple fraud charges in 2014 and were each sentenced to prison, with Teresa getting to serve her time first so that one of them could be home with their four daughters. Among the charges in the indictment: conspiracy to defraud lenders and illegally obtain mortgages, mail and wire fraud, bank fraud and allegedly hiding assets and income during a bankruptcy case. 

After his release, Joe was deported back to his native Italy and, though his family has visited, Teresa went through with divorce proceedings and their split was finalized in September 2020 after 20 years of marriage.

Jeff Varner, Survivor: Game Changers

Win at all costs took on new meaning when Varner, an alum of seasons two and 31, went ahead and outed fellow contestant Zeke Smith during the CBS' juggernaut's 34th season in 2017.

During Tribal Council, apparently desperate to stay in the game, Varner announced, "There is deception on levels here that these guys don't understand." Looking at Smith, he asked, "Why haven't you told anyone you're transgender?" Everyone, including Smith, was blindsided.

When host Jeff Probst explained that he had outed Smith not just to the other players, but also to the entire world, Varner said, "It never dawned on me that no one knew. I'm just devastated."

When the episode featuring that pivotal moment aired, Varner wrote on Instagram, "Yep. I did that. And I offer my deepest, most heart-felt apologies to Zeke Smith, his friends and life allies, his family and to all those who my mistake hurt and offended. I recklessly revealed something I mistakenly believed everyone already knew. I was wrong and make no excuses for it. I own responsibility in what is the worst decision of my life."

Smith, meanwhile, opened up to The Hollywood Reporter about the unequivocally traumatic experience, and said that, while he didn't necessarily think Varner was transphobic or a bad guy, he wasn't automatically forgiving him either.

"If we're being perfectly honest with one another, I've struggled with that forgiveness in the months following," he explained. "I can't foresee us sipping martinis together in Fire Island. While I can reconcile the personal slight of him outing me, I continue to be troubled by his willingness to deploy such a dangerous stereotype [that trans people are deceptive] on a global platform. But forgiveness does not require friendship. Forgiveness does not require forgetting or excusing his actions."