Riding Coattails: Putting The Ho In Hoax


I normally devote this column to The Apprentice, but this week’s episode was such an embarrassing ass-whupping for Chris and company that I don’t feel it merits much analysis. Chris did a piss poor job and Sandy rocked the house. End of story.

Instead, I’d like to turn my attention to reality TV’s newest arrival, $25 Million Dollar Hoax on NBC. The premise smacks of FOX’s My Big Fat Obnoxious Fiancé, in which an adorable, all-American blonde is tantalized with enormous cash prizes if she successfully fools her family into believing some heinous lie. The trick worked well for Randi Coy on Fiancé, who convinced her family that she was in love with a belching, “show me the moose”-loving troll who was actually a professional actor channeling his inner John Candy. In a touching finale, Randi admitted to her shell-shocked, distraught family, that the wedding was a joke and got an even bigger surprise when she learned that she was prey to a set-up as well. The show rewarded her with even more cash than she was originally promised and the whole family dissolved into an enormous group hug showered with tears and laughter.

In Hoax, the deceitful blonde is back, this time in the form of Christine Sanford, the oldest child (and only daughter) in a family of seven kids. At the beginning of the show, Chrissy is led by limo to an abandoned parking lot where she is confronted with the show’s wicked scheme: she will be awarded the $5 million dollar prize in a fictitious online lottery called TheBigWin.net. The catch? She is not allowed to spend any of her fake winnings on her family. She has five days in which to spend as much cash as possible as her bewildered brothers and parents look on. At the end of the five days, the online lottery will give her a “chance” to increase her money five-fold in a showcase showdown-esque wheel-spinning ceremony. If her six brothers and parents are standing beside her at this momentous event, young Chrissy will walk away with $400,000, most of which will presumably end up in the hands of her pissed-off relatives whom she’s tortured for nearly a week.

Easy, right? Of course not. The moment Ed McMahon appears at the Sanford’s front door, Chrissy’s guilt-o-meter starts flashing red. Ed engages the entire family in a Christmas wish list conversation as they fire off their new materialistic desires. Since the family consists mainly of a pack of teenage and twentysomething guys, automotive purchases are at the top of the list, as are computers and guitars. Chrissy looks on, smiling and nodding. Off-camera, she’s a wreck.

But the fun has just begun. Unbeknownst to Chrissy, she and her family are being jetted off to Palm Springs for a five-day luxury stay at a gorgeous hotel, all under the guise of filming a promo for TheBigWin.net. Of course, the network has sequestered this family in the hotel to film the show, a brilliant hoax in itself.

After the family spends a few moments running around the hotel, oohing and ahing over the opulence of their new fortune, they begin to reflect on the gravity of the situation. The money belongs to Chrissy, but everyone assumes they’ll be getting a piece of the pie. And Chrissy admits that if the situation were real, of course she would share her winnings with her loved ones.

Although I don’t doubt the authenticity of Chrissy’s love for her family, the fact that she is willing to put them on national television and lie to them is despicable. Does that kind of humiliation have a price tag? I’m probably the wrong girl to ask, as I’ve never even considered filling out an application for Fear Factor or any other reality show that forces the contestants to do totally yucky, embarrassing things. But it’s one thing to voluntarily put only yourself through that kind of ordeal in pursuit of glory, 15 seconds of fame, and a shot at a pile of cash. It’s an entirely different matter to drag unsuspecting people (the ones she supposedly cares the most about, no less) into this pit of greed and degradation. What gives?

And if the final prize really is $400,000, that doesn’t amount to much after taxes and when split among so many people. So I have to wonder what’s motivating this girl. Is it just the money, or she a media whore?

The most painful part of the show was when Chrissy went clothes shopping with her mother and her brother’s girlfriend in tow. The saleswoman at the fancy-schmancy boutique they visited was a professional actress in disguise, and the producers coached her to be as snooty and insulting as possible to Mom and Girlfriend. When Chrissy joined the saleswoman in making fun of them, calling them the “Target and Wal-Mart Girls,” I knew she was a full-on biotch. No amount of hand-wringing and crying later in the show about how guilty she felt could change my mind. This is not a good person, no matter how loving her original intentions may have been.

I’d say that NBC has set a new low for reality TV with this show and I’m totally disgusted. Having said that, I don’t plan to miss a single episode.