Cheaters (film)

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Directed by John Stockwell
Produced by Kevin Reidy
Gloria Jean Sykes
Written by John Stockwell
Starring Jeff Daniels
Jena Malone
Paul Sorvino
Luke Edwards
Blake Heron
Dov Tiefenbach
Music by Paul Haslinger
Cinematography David Hennings
Edited by Eric A. Sears, Scott K. Wallace
Distributed by HBO Films
HBO Home Video
Stardis Pictures
mediacs AG
Release dates
May 20, 2000 (2000-May-20)
Running time
108 minutes
Country United States
Language English

Cheaters is an HBO movie released in 2000 that chronicles the story of the 1994–1995 Steinmetz High School team that cheated in the United States Academic Decathlon (USAD). It is based on a true story. The movie was filmed in Toronto and Chicago.

Plot summary[edit]

Students at Steinmetz High School are less than enthusiastic about anything in the classroom, except for Jolie Fitch, a junior who enjoys Dr. Jerry Plecki's English class and is involved heavily in all discussions, especially on his favorite book Paradise Lost. Aside from teaching, Dr. Plecki is offered the position of Academic Decathlon coach, a job all the other teachers consider to be a waste of time for them as well as the students. Dr. Plecki holds an open call for the students after class, but no one arrives to participate. He is about to leave for the day when Jolie comes in and convinces him that he needs to look for the smarter students and recruit them. He succeeds and the six students (Darius, Matt, Paul, Dominik, Irwin, Agnieska, and Jolie) spend the next few months studying hard for the regional competition.

On the day of competition, they feel intimidated as they face their biggest competition: Whitney Young Magnet High School, a team that has consistently won the regional and state competitions for almost a decade. At the end of the decathlon, as predicted, Whitney Young is victorious and Steinmetz places 5th overall, but fortunately, those who place in the top five move on to the state competition. Overwhelmed with the anxiety of having to face Whitney Young in the next round, the students begin to feel that the whole decathlon is a waste of their time. But then, an opportunity arises as Matt's friend has given him a copy of the test for the state finals. Irwin takes the exam and gives it to Dr. Plecki who, despite his views on cheating, feels that it's their chance to bring down Whitney Young for good.

After some coercion, all six members agree to dismiss their conscience about cheating and begin reviewing the booklet, copying the answers on various items (calculators, shoes, a piece of gum, etc.). Dr. Plecki then takes Irwin out to the hall and explains that because he had the lowest scores in the group, he will be out of the state competition, but will be guaranteed a spot in nationals. Though Irwin is upset by the news, he agrees to go along with it.

On the day of the state finals, a much more confident Steinmetz meets Whitney Young again, with an opportunity to end their long winning streak. The Steinmetz team successfully get through the exams with the answers they secretly wrote down and with Jolie coaching them in the Super Quiz. At the end of the day, Steinmetz is victorious and win the state finals with an overall score of 49,000. Whitney Young is upset and are suspicious about how Steinmetz could have improved their score within such a short time.

As the five members and Dr. Plecki celebrate their victory, a spiteful Irwin writes an essay, detailing how he feels betrayed by Dr. Plecki and how they received an advance copy of the test ahead of time. Suspicions begin to arise when the essay is turned in to the principal, who questions Irwin about the truth of his essay. But the Illinois Academic Decathlon board arrives at the school with news that the team will need to take a retest to validate their scores, noting that their state score was nearly 10,000 points (almost one-third) higher than their regional score. If they refuse, they will lose their title as champions. Feeling betrayed by Irwin and angered by the board's ultimatum, they refuse to take the retest and plan to protect their title and reputation by seeking an injunction to halt the state from retesting them.

As the media siege continues to get more and more brutal, the five members and Dr. Plecki have no one to trust or confide in but themselves, knowing that if they are exposed, they will lose everything they feel they've deserved.

In the midst of the investigation, Dr. Plecki finds himself suspended, and the team members are taken to the board of education headquarters where they are interrogated individually. Despite being pressured, they refuse to come clean and say they did not cheat. However, Dominik ultimately breaks and confesses that they did cheat.

As a result, the state title is stripped from Steinmetz and awarded to Whitney Young. Dr. Plecki is fired from Steinmetz High School, and the team members are harassed by the other students for ruining their reputation. Dr. Plecki decides to leave Chicago in hopes the media will go away and leave the team members alone. Before he leaves, the students present him with a gift: John Milton's book Paradise Lost signed by the team and the gold medal in Language and Literature that they didn't return to the board. With the team disbanded and Dr. Plecki now gone, Jolie feels that she's lost a mentor that actually cared about her academic possibilities and her team that supported each other. But in the end, Jolie gets accepted into college as the admissions board believed that her experience on the Academic Decathlon team allowed her to build character, and recognizes the merit of her achievements without cheating.

In the epilogue, Dominik, Agneiska, and Matt went off to college, Paul worked in a warehouse, Darius' whereabouts are unknown, Irwin went to college to become a journalist, and Dr. Plecki started a business.

As a result of the 1995 cheating scandal, Steinmetz High School was banned from fielding an Academic Decathlon team for ten years. They returned to the competition in 2006.


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