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Review: 'Secret Millionaire'

Secretmillionaire I am of at least two minds about "Secret Millionaire," a new reality show from Fox -- based, like so many reality series, on a foreign model -- in which the very rich go incognito among the very poor for six days to learn or remind themselves what it's like to live on a pittance. At the end of each episode, the millionaire will give at least $100,000 of his or her own money to a deserving person or persons met over the course of the week -- part of the show is about finding them. With the economy going over Niagara Falls in a barrel, it seems the right time to explore the real and psychic space between the haves and the have-nots.

Although there may be some (other) millionaires in the audience, whose hard hearts "Secret Millionaire" will met and whose purse strings it may loosen, the greater audience for this is the ordinary rest of us, who at least might have had trouble paying a bill sometime. Although the participating tycoons attest to the life-changing aspect of the experience, it is, as entertainment, more about the big giveaway than the still-revolutionary notion of giving away one's goods. (Instead of just learning to, you know, appreciate them more.) Its forebears are "Queen for a Day" and "Extreme Home Makeover" with their narratives of suffering rewarded.

It's also a little like those old tales in which a king goes disguised among his subjects to reward the deserving good. And I couldn't help thinking of "Sullivan's Travels," the Preston Sturges comedy about a Hollywood filmmaker disguising himself as a tramp to learn about poverty -- especially a scene in which Sullivan's butler, who knows whereof he speaks, warns him off: "The poor know all about poverty and only the morbid rich would find the topic glamorous," and they "rather resent the invasion of their privacy, I believe quite properly, sir."

Does "Secret Millionaire" exploit the poor? I don't imagine that this is what the producers mean to do -- I am pretty sure they mean to make some people happy, and some people into better people. I don't know whether you can rightly call it exploitation to give a person $50,000, and presumably the people whose distress is nationally displayed here have agreed to the displaying. But most reality TV lives off of emotion, like some life-sucking "Star Trek" alien: Exploitation is its stock in trade, tears are the signal of its success.

I certainly don't mean to question the sincerity of the participants, either the witting millionaires or the unwitting subjects of their largess. (And in each of the two episodes that aired Wednesday night, the participants gave more than they were contractually obligated to.) In the first, Gregory Ruzicka, a Newport Beach lawyer who makes hay from home foreclosures, is landed in a depressed beach town with his young-adult son, given $150 -- welfare wages -- and let loose to survive. They do some manual labor, meet a woman who takes in the homeless and a little girl suffering from cancer; they feel for them, and bond with one another. In the second, Todd and Gwen Graves, whose money comes from a Baton Rouge-based chicken-finger fast-food franchise, move into a trailer and travel out to see what Katrina hath wrought (and is still not righted).

With the millionaires writing checks on their personal accounts, I can't help but wonder how much Fox is going to make on this thing, and where that money will go.

-- Robert Lloyd

Pictured: Millionaire Molly Shattuck

(Photo courtesy Fox)

Comments () | Archives (31)

I watched the new show last night featuring Todd and Gwen Graves and was amazed at how real and poignant it was. My plea to the producers would be to leave it as rough as it is and don't 'over script' and 'hollywoodize' it the way Survivor and Oprah Giveaway ended up being.
Some of these reality shows start out real and tell a true story, then they get 'glammed up' as they achieve some success and it totally ruins the whole reality side of it.
What I really likde about the show was that down to earth, hard working, generous people got some just reward from a couple of earnest, sincere millionaires.
I made my 13 year old son sit through it because the message was poignant and spoke to how fortunate most of us are, even if we can't always have everything we want immediately. I thought it spoke well to those of us that aren't rich, but aren't in dire situations.

I am the program manager for a large southern california truck driving school, and Dan was one of our students while his daughter was undergoing treatment for cancer. He is a wonderful father who was so devastated by her disease that he took a leave of absence from the school to take care of her. He could'nt get any aid, so he was on his own except for a few donations. It was wonderful to see him receive this gift. He is a humble man who will be most appreciative of this gift.

How did they explain the tv cameras following the millionaires around?

Okay, the show has good intentions but like many Fox shows, it is overdramatized and quite unrealistic. For example, what did the "itinerent father and son" tell everybody about the camera man and the wireless mics that everyone wore included the "poor people." What kind of a show did they think that they were on? Were they told, be on our show and you might get a big check?
And couldn't they find some millionaires that didn't make their fortunes on the backs of others? I mean really, a real estate attorney who specializes in helping lenders foreclose on homeowners who stated that this downturned economy was great for his business and his bottom line? And a fast food baron who made millions by paying minimum wage to thousands of poor people and feeding other poor people deep fried chicken parts? Couldn't the lawyer just go out and write a check to one of the people he was foreclosing on? Couldn't the fast food king find a deserving employee in one of his 70 stores? I really hope that they find some internet millionaires like Mark Cuban who at least invented something that didn't harm others. Or even someone who inherited his massive wealth. But these two guys were really a turnoff. However, the lawyer's son was very much worth watching because he obviously learned and felt so much in one week.
I will tune in again but I really hope for a better class of millionaire next time (lol)

"With the millionaires writing checks on their personal accounts, I can't help but wonder how much Fox is going to make on this thing, and where that money will go."

What does that matter? This show is one of the very few where handouts are given to people, yet you manage to find fault with that? Would you rather the show didn't exist, and the recipients not get anything?

When your father gives you a McDonald's Restaurant for your 21st birthday as Gwen Drain Graves was given you can never identify with the poor, the down trodden or the helpless.

With the mounds of negative television on these days, any time a network takes the time to go to the trouble to create a show that actually benefits good people I am all for it. Like the "Extreme Home Makeover" show, it's nice to see the network going to the trouble to put on a positive show.

I enjoyed this show from a variety of angles. For example, the 1st millionaire being "physically and mentally exhausted" at the end of 1 day of hard labor--he probably hasn't worked like that in a long time. The second one was slower for me since they didn't seem to be as high up to start (looked more "normal" even as millionaires). However, seeing them hand out the 3 checks for $100k each was terrific to see.....

Whether the donations are tax deductible to the millionaires or not, whether the networks make a lot more off it than they give--the important thing is positive programming. In an age of 20-somethings "hooking up" and drugs, smoking and lack of accountability being glorified, a show like this is a TERRIFIC change of pace.

This is really a good reality show that millionaires will gave out money to the needy people and change their lives. I hope someone will come to california also and help our people here being laid off of their jobs and can't pay their bills every month. Thank you all for creating this show and helping others to make their lives easier.


Julius O.

I don't have a problem with this show's premise. It's great to see ordinary people be rewarded for their selflessness. My objection is to the dishonest portrayal of Imperial Beach on the first episode. IB is in my neck of the woods and it is probably the last largely unpretentious beach community in California. There aren't any McMansions there and the folks who live there are proud of their little beach town. It's really not surprising the millionaire heroes were able to find good people to reward for everyday, down-to-earth living.

The problem is that the show repeatedly showed shots and scenes that weren't in IB. Tijuana, trash in the Tijuana River Estuary, wrecking yards that don't exist. Then there are the claims of the most polluted beach in the country. Actually IB's swimming beach gets top grades for water quality during the Summer months year after year. I take my kids there because the beaches are always spotless. Apparently, the producers thought so also. They had to insert shots of Tijuana and call them IB. Yet the show flashed a statement that the polluted beach had devastated the local economy. Actually, Secret Millionaire probably did more in that direction that water pollution ever has.

And 250,000 people below the poverty line in IB? Ummm... I don't think so. The populations is only 27,000.

Sorry. I like the premise but I have to give the show a big "thumbs down". It's one thing to help out folks, but FOX shouldn't do it at the expense of the good people who live where they decide to shoot their little melodramas.

I do not begrudge the Secret Millionaire for dramatization nor do I wish to denigrate the experiences or contributions of the show’s wealthy participants. Too few programs attempt to positively alter our perceptions and awaken us to the struggles and generosity of our fellow man. The artificiality of the ending, however, cheapened the experience for me. For the wealthy participants to stress the impact of their experience only to readorn their bejeweled wardrobe and luxury cars on their final day rings false. That the participants give freely and generously to the impoverished few they have met is uplifting and quite disappointing. After having acquired and maintained great wealth through personal enterprise and ingenuity a monetary gift is beneath them and the change they have claimed to have undergone. A pledge to affect humanity rather than a check to affect a few would have rung true.

I agree with gary B. It has its heart in the right place, but it is overdramatized and seemed extremely scripted (like Kitchen Nightmares). They used every cliche in the reality tv show playbook in the first 10-15 minutes of the show. I ended up just fast forwarding to the end to see how the money was distributed.

Either it's me, but it seems every other show on FOX is some dumb reality show that seems scripted.

And for those wondering, they said at the start of the episode that the cameras were there because they were doing a "documentary" on homelessness.

did anyone notice that the checks from Todd and Gwen were dated 4/31/08?

This show sucks. I am (was) watching it now. I'm not destitute and i'm not wealthy so i could care less. Over scripted and fake. stupid, stupid, stupid. I wonder how many times a week they will end showing this crao.

My husband and I are hooked on this show.

I would like to see one change. When the couple reveal themselves, they should refrain from using the words "multi-millionaire". They can say they are wealthy or have enough money that they are set for life. It's just embarrassing when they say "multi-millionaire.

Keep up the good works. We love your reality show.

So what the check were dated incorrectly. I loved the show and was thoroughly affected by the overall generosity of these benefactors. People always focus and talk about the insignificant, (whether the show was scripted or not...or what date the check had on it--who cares?). People should focus on the part there is good in the 'hood and that this money will go a long way in the program services of these organizations who operate a good program with little and often times--no money.

I find it disgusting that FOX would capitalize on the egos and vain of cheesy millionaires who only care about getting publicity and airtime. These people are cheapskates. Look at that Indian Jew...He's worth over $300 million and he gave a total of only $90,000 to 2 girls and 2 homeless shelters? CAN YOU SAY CHEAP BASTARD? Like G, if you think you did something good youre clueless. Try giving $10 million next time you cheap bastard.

I felt the episode with G was very scripted. He did not give away 100K, Only 90K. 35K, 35K, 10K, 10K. I thought the minimum was 100K. The very first episode of Secret Millionaire was the best so far. They really showed the father and son get involved in the community and live as some poor may live. I think its great that a foreclosure lawyer saw what happens to those who lose their home. The episode with the fast food couple was pretty good, although they gave away a lot of money, they still seemed detached, I felt the wife was thrilled to get back to her riches. Dec 11th episode with G was really no good. He didn't seem to get involved, just asked lots of questions to people. I thought 35K was cheap, round it up to 50K. I would love to see another season of this, but with more "real" emotion from the millionaires, I want to see them really be affected. Maybe something like, has it still changed the millionaires life or what changes has the millionaire made, 6 months later (being that I think the show is filmed way before it aires). This type of reality show is still much better than most.

I watched tonight's show, and I have to say "G", The 300 million dollar man is a total loser.
Not only did he give away a very small amount, he didn't even give away the minimum, I only saw checks totalling $90,000.
What is up with that?
The 300 Million Dollar Man is cheap, period.
He even brings his sister in to "HELP" figure out who to give the money to?
Give me a break.
At least in the last show they gave away $400,000, why, because it was a drop in the bucket compared to what they had in their bank accounts.

As for "G", you are a total loser.
The very least you could have done was give everyone a $100,000 check, or how about this, give the shelter a quater million?
The poor girl who is a single mom, who looks like she was beaten every day, that $10,000 won't help as much as if you had added another freakin zero.

I enjoyed the first couple of shows, but the "G" man has ruined it for me, and I don't plan on watching any more episodes.

I will not be watching this show again. I watched the San Francisco Tenderloin episode. This show is an insult. Is this the best that an agent/publicist could could come up with. Are you kidding me???

Assuming that he has control over the $340 million dollars he was paid and that it's invested at today's best CD rate of 2.76%, he gave away less than two days worth of interest ($~102,000), assuming the 'tax man' took half, then it bumps it up to four days of interest. In fact, he is only shown giving away $90,000. Am I supposed to be impressed? Gimmme a break.

This giving represents a mere 0.03% of his wealth. He made the money. He can spend it how he wants. However, I am not going to waste my time watching you act like you are doing the world a favor. If you want to impress me, pick up a bible, read Mark 12:41-44. Let's not go this far though. How about 1/10?

His charitable deeds shown on the program are exemplary in their own right. But the rubbish show that Fox put out is simply not worth my time. Think about how much good each of us could do in the world if we gave up that one hour of television per day and actually went out into the real world to help.

i loved the show - but when G handed out the cheques they didnt total $100,000
$35,000 to the food shelter
$35,000 to the womens shelter
$20,000 - $10,000 each to 2 individual women

ok that totals - $90,000 - where did the other $10,000 go?

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