ABC’s ‘Secret Millionaire’: Why it sends the wrong message
The emotionless, disembodied narrator (who I could swear also narrated the Monica Lewinsky-hosted Mr. Personality) makes it clear that in visiting the underprivileged Knoxville, TN, neighborhood of Western Heights and living for six days as if she were on food stamps, Dani “will leave her identity behind.” Because, of course, one’s identity is inextricably linked to one’s bank statement. ...
During her time in Western Heights, she goes on to volunteer in a soup kitchen, deliver food to the elderly, clean musical instruments, and redecorate the bedrooms of kids with special needs. All of this is great. But I wish the show could be structured to emphasize this, to highlight the great value of volunteering, rather than building to a windfall-climax in which the millionaire rewards each of the charities with a donation. It sends the message that cutting a check is more valuable than donating of your time. That financial transactions are more important than the creation of human connections. Western Heights will still be mired in poverty when Dani returns to her life of privilege (with a substantial tax write-off), but kudos to those who stay behind to make people’s lives better when the cameras stop rolling.
—Christian Blauvelt, popwatch.ew.com, March 6, 2011