How far can producers trick reality TV show contestants before they start suing, contracts or no contracts? A new British reality show has found out.

According to the BBC and the (Manchester) Guardian, the show, entitled either Find Me a Man or There's Something About Miriam, featured six men, who were given a lineup of beautiful women and asked to pick the one that they found most attractive. All of them selected a South American beauty named Miriam (pictured below). Then, in typical reality dating show fashion, they competed to win her affections.

However, unknown to the men, Miriam wasn't a woman. Instead, she was a preoperative transsexual -- similar to Jaye Davidson in the 1994 movie The Crying Game. The show, produced by the Brighter Pictures subsidiary of Endemol, the huge Anglo-Dutch reality TV producer (Big Brother, Fear Factor), apparently was intended to be Endemol's entry into the "reality-twist" genre that other reality producers have been mining, such as Stone Stanley's The Joe Schmo Show, Rocket Science Laboratories' Joe Millionaire, Doug Ross' Boy Meets Boy, and all of the imitators up to the current NBC show Average Joe.

At the end of the show, when the men found out that the "gorgeous creature" Miriam wasn't a gorgeous female, they went bonkers. One of the men, a Royal Marine, supposedly broke down crying from the "humiliation" when the deception was revealed ... and, according to the articles, some of the production crew sympathised with the men's reaction and turned on Endemol and British network BSkyB, a sister network to Fox in the U.S., which was planning to air the show.

The six men hired the publicity-oriented U.K. law firm Skillings (which has also represented Nicole Kidman, J.K. Rowling and Naomi Campbell among others) to try to keep the show off the air. Some of the bizarre claims framed by the Skillings lawyers for the lawsuit include defamation, personal injury and conspiracy to commit sexual assault (apparently because several of them had kissed and hugged Miriam). We find the claim that voluntary sexual behavior could constitute sexual assault because the "woman" was a transsexual to be a triumph of legal ingenuity over common sense.

The crux of Skillings' legal case (presuming that British judges, like North American ones, usually make rulings based on the law instead of fanciful theories) will be the waivers signed by the men. The men apparently claim that they signed the releases under false pretences, and thus their signatures do not make the releases valid. Since the release forms and the circumstances of their signing have not been revealed, it's impossible to evaluate their chance of success.

In the meantime, BSkyB has announced that it has not scheduled an air date for the show at this time, perhaps to give its own lawyers a chance to evaluate whether there are any merits to the men's claim, or perhaps just to build up publicity prior to actually airing the show. We find it reasonable to believe that Endemol's attorneys anticipated this very situation once the men found out that they had been duped and are reasonably confident of their legal position -- and we tend to doubt the report in the Guardian that the men weren't asked to sign the forms until just before Miriam's secret was revealed. However, stranger things have happened.

Other than (possibly) Endemol, the only person who seems to be enjoying the brouhaha is Miriam. The Irish Examiner reports that Miriam claimed that some of the contestants had initially suspected that she was a man. Said Miriam, "The producers warned the boys that there would be shocks and surprises along the way and several of them wondered about me in the first few days. But as the series unfolded, I really thought that we got to like and know each other as friends and had a lot of fun." We wish to point out that being "friendly" isn't generally the object of a dating show.

Miriam continued, "I made some good friends on the show and I hope that we can all have a happy reunion one day and watch the first show go out on Sky One together.” Finally, Miriam noted that the show, if aired, could bring the lives of transsexuals out into the open: "The show will help people understand better what people like me are all about. I am what I am."

And what Miriam is ... is why the six men don't want anyone else to see the show. The legal fun may have only just begun.