The untold truth of To Catch a Cheater

To Catch a Cheater is the wildly popular YouTube series that blends elements from its infidelity-investigating predecessor, Cheaters, with the smash-cut production values of a Logan Paul video. As of this writing, the show's channel sits at just more than 2 million subscribers, with many videos accumulating views well beyond that already-impressive figure.

The showrunners are host Luis Mercado (above right) and cameraman Sam Bhavnani (above left), and their concept is simple: a hidden camera show where significant others are set up by their suspicious partners to test whether or not they will cheat. With the help of attractive models and actors, Mercado and Bhavnani stage a brazen flirtation with the suspected cheater, then record their partner reacting to the encounter and the confrontations that may arise from it.

That inherent drama combined with Mercado's awkwardly amateur interview skills makes the show an undeniable guilty pleasure. So, how did this whole thing come about, and is it even real? We answer those questions and more with the untold truth of To Catch a Cheater.

It's good to have friends with scumbag boyfriends

Speaking with InTouch Weekly (via PressReader) in one of the few interviews they've given, Mercado and Bhavnani revealed that the concept for the show was born out of simple curiosity. They wanted to know how "average people" would react to being hit on by "super-attractive men and women." Shallow? Sure. Watchable? Oh, heck yeah.

The guinea pig for the project was their female friend Luz's boyfriend, a "gym rat" that Mercado and Bhavnani set up to get hit on by an Instagram model at a Starbucks. Luz's man did not pass the test – the dude flirted with, kissed, and even touched the buttocks of his scheming suitor. That video, however, passed the test of internet viability with flying colors, racking up a staggering 10 million views on Bhavnani's YouTube channel.

Understanding that they'd clearly struck internet gold, To Catch a Cheater was born. "I think we're providing a valuable service," Mercado told InTouch. "People get to see the truth and what their significant other's intentions are when they're not around." 

Well, let's not get ahead of ourselves here…

More like...To Catch a Faker

Every reality TV show has a degree of staging, but critics of To Catch a Cheater have accused the show of crossing the line directly into satire. Fellow YouTubers h3h3 Productions even put out a scathing hit piece on a controversial episode titled, "Young Girl setups her 13 Year old Boyfriend to see if he'll cheat!" Yep, you read that right, and the actual video is just as scandalous as the title suggests — or as h3h3 Productions put it, "way too sexually provocative," especially since it's clearly scripted to have a 12-year-old girl asking a 13-year-old boy, "Do you like younger girls?"

The lid was blown completely off the episode when one of the young actors, Marquis Moore (above right), who was supposedly the jilted girlfriend's rebound in a follow-up video, flat out admitted that he was hired for the role.

That wasn't the only episode to send up red flags. There was also a since-deleted episode that featured a supposed Jehovah's Witness being so successfully seduced by To Catch a Cheater's accomplice that he stripped down to his underwear. Doubters quickly pointed out that it was "obviously fake because Jehovah's Witnesses always travel with one partner at the very least. And their field ministry doesn't include jeans for apparel."

Wait, the jeans were the unbelievable part of that scenario?

Mercado's master plan

Over a year before the first episode of To Catch a Cheater hit Youtube, Mercado may have revealed the kernel of the idea for the show during an interview on the SideKickBack Radio podcast. Speaking with actor and podcast host Andrew Fromer, Mercado said a video director they both worked with had become his mentor.

Mercado said the unnamed mentor taught him the value of preparation before a shoot to boost one's ability to create content quickly. (Mercado and Bhavnani promote new episodes every Monday night on the show's channel.) Mercado also said he admired the director's on-the-fly shooting style, which he described as looking "like that cell phone coverage making it seem like we just caught someone in the act — that reality look." He added, "They're really using pro cameras and all that stuff."

Granted, this concept isn't exactly original, but it has been perfectly executed for the YouTube format, meaning shorter runtimes, quick-cut editing, and full narrative captioning for muted viewing. It's like Mercado was watching an episode of Maury one day and thought, "What if they shot this on an iPhone?"

People are dying to bust their bogus baes

Even though the show is routinely called out for fakery, Mercado and Bhavnani claimed to InTouch Weekly (via PressReader) that they still have "roughly 100 requests a day" from folks who want to catch their sketchy significant others in the act. They told the tab the process works like this:

Most inquiries come through social media, so the person who runs that for the show does a "pre-interview" with the hopeful candidate before sending them on to Mercado and Bhavnani. Once selected, the suspicious spouse then brainstorms with them on how to craft the set-up. 

Asked how he feels about this essentially being "entrapment," Mercado refuted the words of his own mother, who apparently told him, "That's not fair, if a perfect 10 comes on to someone, they can't help themselves." In response, he said, "People have brains and can make conscious decisions. … We're not animals: we still have the power to choose." Did…that guy just call his mother an animal?

Lights, camera, cheat!

One of the hallmarks of To Catch a Cheater is Mercado's awkward host persona. Delivering lines that oddly range from bro-isms to sincerity, Mercado puts in a performance on par with an adult film actor in the scenes where they're still fully dressed. Don't get us wrong, that's not an insult — for what could possibly be the ultimate satire of "gotcha" reality shows, Mercado's performance might be the most brilliant thing about it. And there's a reason for that.

When he's not setting up an allegedly pregnant Mexican maid to cheat with a customer (Yep, actual episode), Mercado can be found on the sets of movies, TV shows, and commercials. That's right, he's a SAG card-carrying actor whose resumé boasts roles such as "Maverick" in the feature film Sweet Harasser, and the lead role on the infomercial Hollywood Lawyers.  

He's also done work for several big ad campaigns, including Coca-Cola, Modelo, Tempur-Pedic, Amtrak, Adidas, and more. Speaking with The Boss Mann Magazine, Mercado attributed his entrepreneurship and his "acting skill experience" as the reason for the success of To Catch a Cheater. "It takes about 5-10 years to become an overnight success," he told the mag. Well, that and a video that goes viral to the tune of 10 million views.

Eyes on the prize

In addition to his "acting skill experience," Mercado also has "a background in Psychology and Social Dynamics," according to The Boss Mann Magazine. Prior to creating one the internet's cringe-worthy viewing experiences, he "taught body language seminars" and become "very passionate about human behavior and learning patterns." Apparently one of those patterns was that a lot of men will cheat with a beautiful model if given the chance — who knew?

Anyway, Mercado may have alluded to his study of the human psyche on the SideKickBack Radio podcast, when he revealed that he follows the teachings of motivational speaker Tony Robbins. He also said he became a voracious reader after finishing the first book he'd ever read cover-to-cover in his life at age 20. That book was the inspirational tome, Rich Dad Poor Dad, and it gave Mercado the idea that actors need more than just talent and luck to break into the entertainment biz.

"Actors should be working a lot on personal development," Mercado said. "The people you're working with are very business minded … it's one advantage I feel I have over a lot of people is just my understanding of the industry … understanding what's going on, where changes are happening." You know, like a rapidly expanding social media platform specializing in lucrative video content.

Banking on bad behavior

Though the part of this whole thing where cheaters get nailed is allegedly fake, the money To Catch a Cheater rakes in is decidedly real, at least, according to Social Blade, a site that tracks YouTube channel performance in real time and estimates ad revenue earnings. At the time of this writing in June 2018, Social Blade estimated To Catch a Cheater was earning $8,900 to $142,200 per month. That's a lot of scandalous scratch. Another YouTube revenue tracker, Nailbuzz, puts Mercado's net worth at $700,000.

Of course, those are both ever-changing estimates, but even Mercado himself has begun to flaunt the fruits of his low-brow labor, like in this Instagram post where he shows off his new Maserati, an Italian sports car that retails for more than $100,000. "I can't even begin to tell you guys how grateful i am to each and every fan that supports the show," he wrote in the caption. "In a year i went from over looked to over booked."

Birds of a feather

To Catch a Cheater also makes loot through sponsorship deals, which Mercado plugs at the beginning of every video, like in the screenshot above. This major monetization of mendacious lovers hit a snag when the show endorsed a shady website that advertised — wait for it — cheating services for students. No, not the adulterous kind — the academic kind.

The questionable sponsor was EduBirdie, an "essay-writing service" that many YouTubers were promoting as a way for students to "hire the super smart nerds … to write your essays and your papers for you." After a BBC investigation concluded that "more than 250 channels" were promoting the service, YouTube started alerting content creators and pulling episodes.

To Catch a Cheater lamented getting caught in EduBirdie's wake with a May 2018 tweet that claimed it lost 49 videos. "1vid/week = years worth of work, dissapeared [sic] over night," the show tweeted. However, as of this writing, their videos now plug another essay-writing service, called Tutoriage, which Mercado says is a way for students to "get rid of your academic problems and spend more time with your bae." So much for that comprehensive understanding of the industry, huh?

Their Patreon isn't doing well

Though we've already made it pretty clear that To Catch a Cheater doesn't need much help in the finance department, it should still be noted that its crowdsourcing efforts haven't exactly panned out. As h3he Productions pointed out in its diss video, To Catch a Cheater includes a title card at the end of every episode with link information for its Patreon, which is a site where "patrons" contribute cash to creative projects in exchange for bonuses, such as producer credits or behind-the-scenes access.

At the time of that video, in November 2016, To Catch a Cheater had zero patrons. Hey, they'd only been online for seven months at that point, so things had to improve since then, right? Well, sort of. As of this writing, more than two years later, the project now has two patrons and has earned $1 of its $5,000 per month goal. Yeesh.

Mercado is still the marrying type

Given To Catch a Cheater's rather cynical view of monogamy, you would think its creators approach relationships with a jaded view. Think again. Mercado told InTouch Weekly (via PressReader) that he still has faith thanks to his estimation that "65 percent of the people we film don't cheat." 

In another interview for Australia's Edge 96.1 radio station, Mercado said that some of the guys on the show have completely ignored the girls they hired to hit on them, while others have sniffed out the set-up. He also claimed that "for the most part [the couples] do stay together and work it out," although he knows of "one where they did split." That's an interesting claim, considering the show has featured several follow-up videos where the participants clearly spell out how they've broken up with the would-be cheater and moved on. 

At any rate, let's hope when Mercado and Bhavnani find love, they can not only remain true, but also never be surprised by someone yelling their signature catchphrase: "You're on To Catch a Cheater, b***h!"