‘Big Give’ has big problems

The phony altruism and the competition make good reality TV, but they don't really reflect reality.

Some claim the world is divided between those who love Oprah and those who hate her. I’ve always fallen somewhere in the middle, and after watching Sunday night’s “Oprah’s Big Give” series premiere, I’m still just as conflicted.

Let me be upfront: There were a few moments during the show that I got a bit choked up, notably when the young daughters and wife of a murdered store manager tied notes for him to balloons. Oprah’s always been good at making me weepy.

The show itself is standard reality TV fare, fitting the traditional format of introducing the challenges, followed by the zany, frustrating and heavily edited completion of team tasks and a judgment segment ultimately ending in voting off one of the contestants. Oh, and let’s not forget the product placement.

But ever since commercials for the newest addition to the Oprah Empire began to appear, a few things about the concept of the show have bothered me.

First of all, I cannot help but wonder how much of this endeavor really is altruistic, for the contestants and for Oprah herself.

Many of the contestants described their reasons for being on the show as part of their own self-improvement, and obviously they wanted people to watch them doing so on national television. I am not questioning the integrity of these people, because as I mentioned earlier, the magic of editing can make them appear however the show’s producers wish them to appear. I am, however, questioning whether it is intrinsic in such a format as reality TV that altruism is impossible.

As far as Oprah is concerned, I won’t deny that she has given enormous amounts of money and things to a lot of people, and that’s just great. However, her smiling face is attached to everything she gives away, which leaves me to wonder how much of her “big giving” is really for other people, or if it’s about Oprah associating herself with all things good in the world. I suppose it could be a little of both.

Another aspect of the show that bothers me is the fact that it’s a competition – people get kicked off for not giving enough or not giving the correct way, according to the celebrity judges. The first contestant to leave on Sunday was kicked off for essentially not having enough contacts, leaving the impression that one must be privileged with knowledge of people willing to give the big bucks in order to help those in need.

Considering Oprah is a high-profile celebrity who happens to be campaigning for Barack Obama, whose platform rests upon change happening from the bottom-up, she certainly is not following that philosophy herself with the show. Contestants are expected to get large donations from corporations and celebrities, but this is most definitely not the only way to give.

Oprah should use her celebrity status to show that everyday people can also make contributions to society and others, rather than having those in the contest rely upon her celebrity status to get big-name donations. After all, real change will happen when those most affected organize to change the problems afflicting themselves; it will not come from the pockets of millionaires pitying or “helping” those less fortunate. That is reality; unfortunately, it doesn’t make good reality TV.

Chelsey Perkins welcomes comments at [email protected]