First Impressions

Oprah's Big Give

Aired on: ABC

Reviewed by Melissa Minners

            On Sunday, March 2, 2008, a new reality series aired on the ABC Television Network, directly after Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.  This new show, called Oprah’s Big Give is sponsored by television talk show host and American icon Oprah Winfrey.  Out of the multitude of contestants that tried out for this show, only 10 competitive and diverse individuals were selected to compete in the ultimate “Pay It Back” series.  For those who don’t understand the concept of Pay It Back, imagine someone paying your bus fare.  Feeling so good about the good deed bestowed upon you, you decide to do something nice for someone else.  Entering a store, you pay for the next person’s cup of coffee.  That person helps someone else carry their groceries across the street.  That person stops someone before they step out in front of traffic.  And so on and so on and so on. 

            In each episode of Oprah’s Big Give, the contestants will be given missions to accomplish.  They will also be given money to aide them in that accomplishment…just enough to get the ball rolling though, not enough to complete the mission.  The contestants will then find the individual selected for their mission, discover how they can help them and go about arranging to do so.  Remember, this is a competition.  After the missions are completed, the contestants will assemble before Host Nate Berkus, one of America’s most recognized interior designers, and the show’s panel of judges: chef Jamie Oliver, NFL star Tony Gonzalez and Malaak Compton-Rock (Chris Rock’s wife).  Each of the judges has been involved in raising attention to needy causes, charities, and other philanthropic pursuits.  These judges will decide how well the contestants have done, give pointers for the future, etc.  They will also decide which contestant has to go, for at the end of this series, there will be only one contestant left and that contestant will be rewarded 1 million dollars.

            Watching this first episode of the series, I came away with mixed emotions.  Yes, the contestants were helping truly needy people: a young family who just lost their father to an act of heroism, a woman and her two children forced to live on the streets, a war veteran who returned home wounded and has no way to support his family, a young man interested in helping the children of his community yet swamped with medical school debt, the founder of a center for disabled in desperate need of a place to work out of and instruments.  I was extremely happy to see how these people were helped.  I loved the fact that the contestants didn’t just throw money at the homeless woman, but in addition, arranged for job training so that she could continue to thrive on her own.  The fact that the young family who lost their father not only had their mortgage paid, but were given an opportunity to send a message to their departed via helium balloons was incredibly touching.  It was nice to see how generous people can be when motivated.

            However, I noted some serious flaws in all of this.  For one thing, most of the people selected to compete are already serious movers and shakers: a West Point graduate and Iraq War veteran, a pageant queen, a dot-com millionaire, a former model turned disaster relief worker, a media executive, a singer/actress and a real estate executive.  Only two of the contestants don’t have high-profile careers: a train attendant and a pre-med student.  Now, when it comes to setting up charity events, finding mortgage companies willing to sponsor families, setting up future college funds, etc, who do you think is going to excel at this sort of thing?  The train attendant?  The pre-med student?  If the first show is any indication, I think not.  Thus, someone who is already fairly well off and should probably be doing this without Oprah Winfrey’s prompting or money stands to win a whole helluvalot of money.

            And let’s talk about this million dollar prize, shall we?  In the promotions for this show, Oprah Winfrey has repeatedly said that the contestants have no idea that she will be awarding the winner with a million dollars.  She even has stated that the contestants have never once asked what was in it for them.  Let’s look at this for a minute – this is a reality show…with a number of contestants, one voted off each week…someone will be the last contestant…the winner…at least, that’s the way they are describing this whole thing.  Now, correct me if I’m wrong, but don’t most reality shows that are also competitions usually have a prize for the “winner”.  Do you honestly believe that these people have no idea that there is a reward waiting for them at the end of this season, especially when you know just how generous Oprah Winfrey can be?  Let’s get real here people!  Yes, I’m sure that some of the contestants are really enjoying doing great things for other people – hell, I know I do and I’m not being given tons of money or aide to do it.  But you can’t tell me that not one of them is planning on what could possibly be waiting for them at the end of the Big Give rainbow! 

            The show is a nice idea…maybe for one episode.  But for a series…Well, there’s nothing else really enjoyable on at the moment, but as soon as Cold Case returns with new episodes, I’ll be tuning into that after Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.

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