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Fishing, chess, Irish dancing, ‘wife guys’… Cheating is now a game-changer | Life and style

The cheat-reveal is always shocking and delicious, but rarely quite as shocking and delicious as the footage from the Lake Erie Walleye Trail, a fishing tournament held in Ohio at the beginning of October. The video shows a judge weighing the fish that contestants have presented, before deciding to cut the fish caught by two men called Runyan and Cominsky open. He stands up, with a certain amount of piratical fury, and shouts, “We’ve got weights in fish!” The crowd erupts, a sea of branded sweatshirts and waterproof trousers. “We’ve got weights in fish!” One of the cheating fisherman remains quite still as his peers, who appear to have long suspected foul play, scream. And, from the gutted fish, the judge now produces… a fillet of a different fish, stuffed inside among the weights. It’s gorgeous: low stakes, high drama, Midwesterners hurling swearwords at a fisherman across the wet ground. It ushered in the season of the cheats, and I for one am loving it.

This week the world of Irish dancing was rocked by cheating allegations, too, with the Irish Independent saying in one case a teacher and a competition judge “appeared to be exchanging sexual favours for higher scores”. It’s in the air, a little treat for the civilians after Covid. After two years of living under strict rules, rules with clauses and fines, and fear, and the kind of confusion and pressure that led to paranoia in the streets, the urge to cheat appears to have grown.

Something has been bubbling, rebellion fermenting. Few of us have indulged, but many of us have enjoyed those delicious cheat-reveals. Now, when we hear about somebody breaking the rules, the fact of it feels even more radical and exciting than it did in the before days, when our language had not yet absorbed such concepts as “lockdown” or found ourselves frozen in a park wondering if reading a book on a bench counted as exercise. Cheaters don’t care about rules, or being nice, or doing the right thing. They just… do what they like.

Last week, current world chess champion Magnus Carlsen walked out of a match with 19-year-old Hans Niemann, saying he’d cheated. Previously thought of as a teen prodigy, Niemann insisted he was willing to play naked to prove he was “clean”, but instead an investigation was launched and a 72-page report compiled, concluding that he “likely cheated” in more than 100 online matches. The key takeaway remains the rumour he’d been communicating with his coach during matches using “vibrating anal beads”. Fabulous?

A similar thing happened at a high-stakes poker game, where Garrett Adelstein, considered one of the best players in the world, claimed he was “clearly cheated” by opponent Robbi Jade Lew after she went all-in on an underwhelming hand, suggesting she’d also used a vibrating device. I love it. “We’ve got beads in anuses!”

The most feverish and interesting cheat-related discourse has been around recent celebrity sex scandals, all featuring what the internet calls “wife guys”, men whose brands rely on them very publicly loving their wives. Guys like Adam Levine (the singer in Maroon 5) who sent a series of banal sexts to a woman who was not his pregnant wife. The messages were adorable in their simple raging horniness. Highlights included, “It is truly unreal how fucking hot u are,” and “Watching your ass jiggle on that table will permanently scar me.” But soon the conversation changed, and unlike our cheating scandals of yore – where attention rarely strayed from the evil “other woman” who lures our hapless hero away from his saintly wife – today gender politics have shifted our focus. In response to the Levine story, model and writer Emily Ratajkowski posted: “The power dynamic is so skewed, it’s ridiculous. It’s predatory, it’s manipulative.” The cheating narrative is changing. And with it, ideas about “cheating” itself.

Relationships are evolving in two directions, to include both ideas like “micro-cheating” (behaviours such as: creating a dating profile, just for looking, or messaging an ex, behaviours that creep up to the boundary of fidelity and peek over in the evening), and at the other end of the spectrum, “ethical non-monogamy” – consensual arrangements involving other people. We’re both expanding and narrowing our expectations of what cheating might look like, and thinking more deeply about why people do it. About expectations of monogamy, its limits, and how its importance might differ from marriage to marriage. And about, as Ratajkowski said, the power dynamic often present in a cheat – the men who leave their families for women half their age, the other woman’s vulnerability, the people who gaslight their partners, the singers who steal into the loo one afternoon and text an Instagram model: “I may need to see the booty.” Rather than just being outstanding meme material, the modern cheating scandal is helping shape ideas about how we want to live.

Email Eva at e.wiseman@observer.co.uk or follow her on Twitter @EvaWiseman



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