OPRAH WINFREY'S interview with the disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong may well bring to a close more than a decade of doping allegations and vehement denials with a conversation that is make or break for both its participants.
''If Oprah is seen as being too soft on him, it will destroy her brand,'' says the communications consultant Sue Cato. ''And if anything Armstrong says to her is proven to be a lie, he'll have to go right back to the beginning. This has to be an endgame.''
In many respects Friday's TV tete-a-tete is more than just a plea for forgiveness at the altar of Oprah. For Armstrong it is his last chance to undo a decade of denial and obfuscation which has left his career and reputation in ruins.
In the interview, according to media reports, Armstrong will confess to using performance-enhancing drugs to win cycling's most prestigious race, the Tour de France, seven times.
Armstrong, 41, was stripped of his Tour titles in October after an investigation by the US Anti-Doping Agency uncovered what it described as ''the most sophisticated, professionalised and successful doping program that sport has ever seen.''
The financial impact has been enormous. It has cost Armstrong lucrative sponsorship deals, including Nike, RadioShack, Anheuser-Busch, Oakley and 24 Hour Fitness.
But what has brought Armstrong to Winfrey's TV confessional is not entirely a search for absolution, but a far more commercial need to make a living. Reports in The Wall Street Journal suggest he is hoping to lay the groundwork for USADA to give him permission to compete in elite triathlons.
The choice of Winfrey, says media and brand consultant Jane Caro, is revealing in itself. ''Oprah Winfrey is the proxy for throwing yourself on the American public's mercy,'' Caro says. ''If you're going on Oprah you're 'fessing up to something. You're giving us mitagating circumstances.''
But there are also a number of unexploded financial bombs still on the minefield, including demands Armstrong repay appearance fees, a $US1.5 million claim from the London Sunday Times over the libel suit it lost to him and ''several million dollars'' paid by the South Australian government to Armstrong to compete in the Tour Down Under.
''This is massive roll of the dice, and he cannot afford any more lies,'' Sue Cato said.
She believes that anyone can recover from a situation as personally and commercially damaging as this. ''With an appropriate and fulsome mea culpa, anyone can be redeemed,'' she says.
The interview will air on Friday at 1pm on Winfrey's network, OWN, in the US and on Australia's Discovery channel simultaneously.