Australian documentary filmmaker Justin Sisely is getting international publicity for planning a reality show in which men and women will auction their virginity to the highest bidders -- but hoax experts are casting doubt on the whole enterprise.
After a yearlong audition process in Australia, Sisely says he has found six virgins -- five men and one woman -- willing to broadcast their first-times on prime time for about $17,700 each, as well as 90 percent of their sale price. Two of those virgins, Ben Smith and "Veronica Peach," are reportedly in Nevada after the Australian government threatened to hit Sisely with prostitution charges if he filmed the show in his home country.
Now Sisely is claiming the auction will take place in a Nevada brothel, which will receive the remaining 10 percent of the sale prices.
Although bids supposedly will be placed online before the final auction, experts in both hoaxes and the sex industry doubt the whole affair is real or will ever happen.
Joey Skaggs, who has a 40-year-career of playing pranks on the media, says Sisely's purported documentary sounds like a big media hoax -- and not a good one at that.
"It smacks of a desperate plea for attention," said Skaggs, whose previous pranks include creating a cathouse for dogs (a canine brothel "featuring a savory selection of hot bitches") and a campaign complaining that the name of the gypsy moth is demeaning to real Gypsies. "It's been done before, so there's no great originality or creativity here."
Much of Skaggs' work in fooling the media has been to get journalists to do basic fact checking on the folks making outrageous claims. To that end, an Internet search of Sisely or his production company, Thomas William Productions, reveals no previous credits or any information suggesting he is whom he says he is.
"There's no paper trail. Therefore, he's either a filmmaker of no renown or it's a fabricated name," said Skaggs, who during his pranks tried to make it easy for lazy journalists to pick up on his fakery by using obvious pseudonyms such as "Giovanni Scagolini" in hopes they would connect the dots.
They rarely did, and when he called them on it, they would often admit their gullibility.
"Sometimes a story is too good to be true, but it's too tantalizing and too provocative not to do it," Skaggs said.
If Sisely is playing a media prank, Skaggs hopes he has a valid reason for doing so.
"I'd have to hear that magic word 'intent' before I could decide whether there was a socially redeeming point to it," Skaggs said. "Till then, it's just porn to me."
Another hoax expert, author Alex Boese, also believes Sisely is probably trying to pull a hoax -- especially because he is branding it as reality TV.
"Producers of reality TV have a reputation for honesty that puts them on the same level as used car salesmen and politicians. In my book 'Hippo Eats Dwarf,' I even listed it as a rule that 'there's nothing real about reality TV.'"
Boese, who discusses hoaxes at Museumofhoaxes.com, said there are other factors that make him raise his eyebrows.
"The central claim they're making is that the [participants] on the show are virgins," he said. "But ultimately, they can't offer any proof of this. The audience just has to take their word for it -- that is, the word of the producers and the women. But
everyone involved has a large financial incentive to lie, making it very likely that they are all lying."
According to Boese, there's a long history of similar stunts and hoaxes, such as the 1998 "Our First Time" hoax in which filmmaker Ken Tipton hired two actors to pretend they were virgins planning to webcast their first time. In addition, back in 1988, a couple did a round of talk shows claiming to be a sex worker and her 35-year-old virgin client.
"They were exposed as a fraud," Boese said. "Turned out they had earlier been on 'Oprah' claiming to be a married couple -- a frustrated husband and his sex-hating wife."
Most recently was the case of Natalie Dylan, a supposed virgin who, in September 2008, announced that she was going to auction off her virginity online and that the act would be consummated at the Moonlite Bunny Ranch in Nevada.
Dylan told reporters at the time that she decided to do it, in part, because her older sister earned good money working as a prostitute at the Bunny Ranch, and also to change public perceptions of virginity.
Interestingly, one of the alleged Aussie virgins, "Veronica Peach," is making similar types of comments in interviews.
Allegedly, Dylan had more than 10,000 offers, including one for $3.4 million. As of October 2009, she claimed she was going to accept one for around $1 million.
Many people have denounced Dylan as a hoax, but Dennis Hof, owner of the Moonlite Bunny Ranch, a legal brothel near Carson City, insists Dylan was legit.
"It didn't work out, but she still made $250,000 out of the deal," Hof said.
He won't go as far as to say Sisely's project is a hoax, but he claims it will never happen.
"What did Dick Clark say? It's got a good beat, but you can't dance to it," said Hof, who is famous for his appearances on the HBO series "Cathouse."
Hof said he has had three or four people call about similar projects in the last month, adding, "I'm pretty sure one of them was from this group."
Still, he is convinced it won't get off the ground.
"In order for a woman to work in a brothel, she has to be a hooker for a day. That means she has to undergo a medical check and get a business license," he said. "The first question they will be asked is 'Are you a U.S. citizen?' and the second is 'Do you have a work permit?' There is no way they are going to grant a work permit to someone so they can be a hooker."
It's possible the filmmakers are sincere, but they are victims of bad planning, Hof said.
"All the reports say the crew is going to Las Vegas, but prostitution is illegal in Las Vegas and Reno," Hof said. "According to Nevada law, it's only legal in counties with less than 400,000 people."
There is one person who believes Sisely could be on the level, and, interestingly, it's Ken Tipton himself, the guy who attempted to pull off 1998's "Our First Time" media hoax.
"There's no doubt in my mind that this is not a hoax," he said. "Times have changed, and the Internet now brings us ridiculously talentless videos, wonderfully sweet and humorous videos and an abundance of grisly video realities on a daily basis that rack up ad revenue in multiple ways."
Tipton believes that people have lost their virginity for much less and that this website could make hundreds of millions from worldwide viewers and sales. Still, he hopes Sisely is familiar with "Our First Time" and will consider it a cautionary tale.
"To Justin and his virgins, what seems like a fun way to make lots of money and make you famous now may have consequences you could never conceive of," Tipton said. "If you can honestly look at yourself in the mirror at the end of a production that actually devalues and deflowers a human being and be proud of what you have accomplished, then be prepared to have your soul obliterated.
"If, or the other hand, you are as creative as I hope you are and have something up your sleeve that will punk the world, then go for it. Just make sure your servers can handle the load of worldwide geeks eager to see something new."
For the record, Fameandfortune.com.au, Sisely's website about the virgin auction and the resulting reality show, was down for a few days because the server was overloaded, but it is up and running again.
A spokesman for Thomas William Productions -- who calls himself "Travis H." -- insists the production is not an elaborate hoax, but admits delays are keeping the production from going on as scheduled.
"We have had five previous cast members -- each time someone pulls out of the production, it sets us back," Travis H. said. "Having just lost the male cast member, our main focus now is choosing a new male and keeping the production on track. As you can imagine, this documentary is not an easy production to maintain."
The spokesman also said the production crew is considering letting two television crews on the set in the coming weeks when the new male cast member tells his parents.
"So if you are in doubt of the project, as I'm sure some people are, witnessing such an occurrence will be reassuring," he said.