The headline read something like, “CONTROVERSY: New show helps those in need – but only after an unbelievable decision.” And I know they are trying to bait me into clicking, but the accompanying picture was of a couple fighting and my imagination got the best of me.briefcase

I immediately thought they had to break up their family to keep the money. I know, crazy, but that’s the kind of “controversy” I expect from a headline like that. (I suppose I’m more naive than I’d like to admit). So I clicked. What I got was the trailer for a new reality show called, The Briefcase.

My 12-year old son was nearby and, as he is so often prone to do, he eaves-watched as the trailer played. After the brief video, I came across endless scathing reviews of the show, which had premiered a week earlier than I knew about it. I’ve seen it shunned for exploiting poverty. I’ve seen it called a real life Hunger Games. It “reaches a new low of immorality,” “manipulates the impoverished,” “pits struggling families against each other,” and so on, and so on.

How? Well, they give a struggling family $101,000 and tell them to keep it or give all or part of it to someone else in need. As you can imagine it’s a complicated decision and at the end there’s a twist. I don’t really watch “reality shows” like this – or at least, like Undercover Boss, grow weary of them quickly – but clearly, I had to watch this one. So, I just finished up with the first two episodes in the background and I have some thoughts…

1. These aren’t the faces of poverty. Struggling? Sure. Impoverished? No. These are everyday folks who fell on tough times and/or made bad financial decisions and are dealing with the consequences. These are the “living paycheck to paycheck” people who make up somewhere between 40-75% of America.

2. $100,000 isn’t going to “change their lives forever”. Don’t get me wrong, I would love to have an extra hundred thousand laying around, but that sum doesn’t even cover the debts most of these families are facing. It will definitely help, but it will also disappear quickly. Going through this process most likely helps them appreciate it more.

3. The agony is magnified by the camera crew. Yes, this is a real struggle to decide how much, if any, money to give away and it’s exacerbated further by the slow trickle of information about the other family. After the first episode, I feared all the episodes would end the same, but fortunately, the second was a different outcome.

4. This “exploitation” makes problems more manageable and people more human. We all need to know that we’re not alone. It’s so easy to get buried by problems of our own, but by simply putting a face to other people in need, this show helps alleviate self pity and awaken a sense of community.

Ultimately, this show inspires us to engage in conversations we should already be having. My son immediately asked what I would do and tried to rationalize what he would do. It’s great to see him think about how to weigh his needs against the needs of others and organize needs and wants a lot more clearly.

So I don’t HATE this show. I probably won’t watch much more of it, but it has already served its purpose in my household. And, by the way, it’s not going anywhere, despite all the criticism, because it had great ratings.

peace… love… bdg…