The Telefile
<I>Secret Millionaire</I>: The Secret Is, It’s Not Very Engaging

I swear I'm not a heartless bitch -- well, most of the time. I totally teared up when Michelle was reunited with her dad on The Biggest Loser this past week, so I'm not utterly unfeeling. But I tried watching Secret Millionaire last night. It's got a nice Extreme Makeover kind of premise about it. Multi-millionaires go undercover to live in the real world to see how poor, or regular, people survive. Then after a week, they give them money out of their own pocket. It's kind of like what Greg Garcia did during the writers strike, but, you know, filmed for television.

I wanted to like it. I still enjoy grabbing a box of tissues and watching Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, but there's just something about this that doesn't give me that warm, fuzzy feeling. I mean, the poverty-stricken people on this show are undeniably deserving of the cash, and it is sort of fun to see people with megabucks trying to cope with the day-to-day realities of people who don't spend $4000 for dinner, but it just doesn't tug at my heartstrings. I think it is the same problem that I had with Oprah's Big Give. Like, there are so many good people out there just doing what they can to stay afloat and get by; how do you pick who is the most deserving? And if these secret millionaires have cash to burn on private jets and yachts, why do they have to choose just one or two people to help out? I dunno. And then there's the whole lying thing, which kind of rubs me the wrong way.

Ostensibly this show claims that they tell the "poor" people that the millionaires are doing a documentary on poverty. But if a guy who was bright orange (like George Hamilton) from a healthy overdose of sunbeds and self-tanner showed up at my door looking for work, I'd be skeptical. These Millionaires, don't exactly arrive Morgan Spurlock-style. I mean, I did like Greg (the orange guy), and his sullen son Cole, but the second he came in and applied for a construction job, I would have politely turned him the other way. He couldn't figure out how to put on a face mask. Which really makes me wonder, how did they discover the job? They didn't seem to be researching anything, they just kind of showed up in a small, polluted beach town and found a pay-by-the-day motel they could afford with their tiny budget (equivalent to a local welfare check). Did they just stroll around until they found a job? And they just happened to run into a nice woman who believed in the pay it forward mantra, and another kind soul who was running a makeshift homeless shelter in her house, and a family struggling to pay medical bills for a young girl with cancer. The mean old cynic in me just thinks that maybe, just maybe, someone tipped them off somehow.

The second episode was even more jarring to me. Gwen and Todd, a well-to-do couple who both made their fortunes in the restaurant business, take off in a brand-new SUV, head down to a coastal Louisiana community still recovering from Hurricane Katrina, and are set up with their "welfare" cash and a little trailer. No cockroach filled motel for them. They don't even try to get a job to make ends meet. Instead they just drive around, talk to people and then at the end of the week hand out checks. Which is generous, don't get me wrong. It is a nice thing they are doing, but like why the shadiness? Why couldn't they just say they were working on a documentary and live among the people? Why couldn't they just act like journalists or volunteers who were looking to help out? Plus, while the people that are getting these checks (which total at least $100,000) seem grateful, they have this perplexed look on their face, like "why were you lying to me?" I mean, they are all happy about the helping hand up, but the secrets just seem unnecessary.

And why the need to pretend to be poor? I'm sure that they could have learned more about these communities by talking to these people rather than spending a week living in a trailer or a shady motel. In fact, watching the millionaires adjust to the lives is the part of this show that I like the least. I don't really care so much about their pain -- which lasts for a week -- when we are supposed to be learning about why the people they've met are so deserving. Those stories of giving back to the community when you have nothing or overcoming the odds just to survive -- that's the kind of stuff I'd like to see more of, and much less of how Gwen and Todd love to go to black-tie dinners and fly their family places in private jets with the help of their entire entourage of employed help. If it makes them learn and be more willing to give back and help out, I guess it is OK, but I'd rather the show focus more on how this money helped the lives of people in their .

Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe I'm just too cynical about this whole thing. Did this show give you warm fuzzies? Sound off below




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