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The Briefcase

This is the premise of the reality show: two families in need are each given a briefcase containing $100,000.  They have three choices:

(1) Keep and use all the money for themselves.

(2) Give some of the money to the other family, who is also in need, and keep some of the money.  The first family doesn’t know that the second family also has a briefcase.

(3) Give all of the money to the other family.

So it’s about how philanthropic you are when you hear about another person in need, especially when you are in need yourself.

Oh, and you’re filmed while you make your decision so the whole world can judge you for being altruistic, greedy, or a bit of a fool in how you spent the money.

I haven’t watched the show yet.  In Hebrew school, we were taught Rambam’s Ladder of Giving, and this sort of giving falls firmly around the second rung (or, in that inverted version, level 6).  Give me a show where people are acting on the top rung (level 1), and I’ll give the network an hour of my time.

But I know that IVF and adoption come up as situations in the first few episodes of the show.  The couple in need is given $100,000 but told about this other couple who really needs the money to build their family.  Are they moved to donate or not?

I’m going to spoil it for you.  So click away if you don’t want to read the rest of this post.




With IVF, the couple gives the women in need $25,000 toward treatments.  Impressive, except that the women who need IVF give the other couple $99,600 of their $100,000.  In other words, despite the fact that they need the money to build their family, they opt to give all but $400 to the other couple.

With adoption, one couple needs the money to adopt because the woman cannot carry a child, while the other family lives apart much of the year due to the nature of the husband’s job.  The couple who want to adopt give the other couple $20,000 and keep $80,000.  The other couple gives the adopting couple $40,000 and keep $60,000.

I have a lot of fears that this show will be detrimental to the overall act of giving (toward any situation) but moreso to the general public’s feelings about family building.  If people didn’t have enough judgment on a personal level, it’s now being fomented on a much larger level for entertainment purposes.  This is a show about judging the worth of another person, whether we think they are deserving or not.

Because what we’re teaching here is to judge worthiness.  To not give because we want to give but to give because we think someone else’s story is sadder than our own.  And to do so without all the information; these people don’t know that the other couple also has money to give away or keep.  It’s a stunt that could have emotional fallout for the people involved in the show, but could also impact the way we give out here in the non-reality world.

What are your thoughts?  Are you happy or cringing to hear that infertility featured on the Briefcase?


1 Brid { 06.18.15 at 10:29 am }

The whole idea makes me cringe… Basically sending already vulnerable and possibly rather desperate people to the sharks does not sit well. I don’t know when it became acceptable entertainment to dangle possible solutions for people’s real life problems, only to either suggest they give it away, or chastise them for trying to make their own situation better. Quite a sad thought to start the day.

2 illustr8d { 06.18.15 at 10:52 am }

I hate this and won’t have anything to do with it. As someone who’s been homeless, to me this is using the poor or desperate as entertainment. Worse, it’s using their problems as entertainment. “Let’s tune in and see if Illustr8d will use any of the money so she’s no longer housing insecure.” Disgusting.

3 nonsequiturchica { 06.18.15 at 11:49 am }

This show disgusts me. I will not be watching it.

4 Suzanna Catherine { 06.18.15 at 12:47 pm }

“Disgusting” really doesn’t cover my feelings towards this form of, so called, entertainment. And I’m appalled that some television network Director of Programming would consider this as an acceptable series idea!

As you pointed out, the repercussions from this could be endless.

Personally, I will be researching which network is involved. They will be hearing from me – not that it will make any difference to them – but at least my head won’t explode from rage.

5 andy { 06.18.15 at 1:54 pm }

the whole premise of this show disgusts me…..I have no words.

6 Middle Girl { 06.18.15 at 10:57 pm }

Twisted. Disgusting. Horrible excuse of entertainment.

7 Northern Star { 06.19.15 at 1:06 am }

Blech. Not a fan of this concept!

8 fifi { 06.19.15 at 5:25 am }

Ugh, that sounds awful. People’s personal distress stories and an invitation to judgement as entertainment.

But at the risk of sounding hypocritical, I’m wondering why the IVF couple were so generous. The others gave a generous but not excessive amount, but the IVF couple gave away nearly everything. Was the other family’s situation particularly distressing? Did the couple undervalue their own needs, or are they just a really charitable couple?
I’m curious, but not enough to actually watch this train wreck.

9 Justine { 06.19.15 at 8:09 pm }

I heard a story about this on NPR which made some of the same points in The Atlantic article (http://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2015/06/cbs-briefcase-victorian-poverty-reality-tv/395798/) … that the judgment it invokes is terrible, but that there’s also an element of class voyeurism that makes me feel uncomfortable. I haven’t seen it, and I don’t plan to watch it (even if we had a TV), because I don’t think that should be the stuff of entertainment.

10 Lori Lavender Luz { 06.19.15 at 10:43 pm }

Contrived and a bit mean. Do not like.

(c) 2006 Melissa S. Ford
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