A Briefcase Full of Humilation (And Cash)

Back in ancient times before the words “reality” and “television” were ever put together, there was a game show called Queen for a Day. The “contestants” were all ladies with problems. Not television problems like “Uh-oh, Darren just told me his boss is coming for dinner and Aunt Harriet turned the house into a medieval castle,” but REAL problems like not being able to pay for a life-saving operation—for your child. The ladies competed to see whose story was the most pathetic. The audience would vote for the “winner.” The queen would then parade around in a tiara and fur-lined cape. What did she get for humiliating herself and her family on national television? Cash money to fix her problems, plus a whole lot of stuff from the sponsors. What did the losers get? The technical term is bupkiss.

And she never had dishpan hands again!

And she never had dishpan hands again!

Are they bringing back this crime against humanity wholesome family entertainment? Not exactly, but CBS has come up with a modern twist on pitting the financially challenged against each other with promises of quick riches! (No, not boxing!)

The latest version is called The Briefcase. It has the old-timey grovel factor, but for added fun/cruelty it’s also a morality play like Job or the one where two old super-rich brothers wager on the character of the less fortunate.

These fictional brothers. Whom did you think we were talking about?

These fictional brothers. Whom did you think we were talking about?

How does it work? Two families, each is given a briefcase. Does it contain Marcellus Wallace’s soul? Nope. It’s holding $101,001 in cash money.

Each family is on the verge of financial catastrophe, yet they are “deserving” because they’re still desperately clinging to the moniker “middle class”—because America hates the poor, who by definition are never deserving. Both families thought they’d be participating in a documentary about how the middle-class is slip sliding away probably because of Obamacare, but they’re naturally surprised and delighted to be reality show-bound instead! $101,001! Why, that could pay off their combined student debt, maybe!


There’s just one itsy-bitsy catch. They are told they can keep the money, or share it with another needy family, or give it all to the other family, who is just as deserving and in the same or worse financial shape. But first they have to spend $1,000 because that little glimpse of sunshine after a long cold lonely winter will fill their heads with dreams of a vacation in a tropical paradise, or at least buying actual oranges to cure the children’s scurvy. As in the prisoner’s dilemma, they don’t know the other family also received a briefcase and the same choice.

Both couples are wondering just how much hookers and blow $100,000 can buy you these days


The clock is counting down. They have seventy-two hours to argue about whose fault it is they’re in this financial sinkhole and whether or not they deserve to take the easy way out. They are slowly fed pieces of the other family’s story to make sure they get no joy from their newfound fortune. Then, they are flown across the country to tour each other’s homes, study the other family’s bills, inspect their dirty laundry in search of designer labels, and rummage through the nightstand to judge the quality of the sex toys. Would you give a $100K to someone who could afford the latest in pleasure gear?

Finally the couples meet. The first couple tells the other about the briefcase and how they came to whatever decision they made, which is either, “You are so much more pathetic than we are that we are giving you all or part of the money” OR “We are so much more needy and/or deserving than you that we are taking it all, so suck it up and that’ll teach you to make better life-choices!” Ha-ha, won’t it be embarrassing when one couple selflessly gives up all the money, and the other one doesn’t? Like they used to say on another old-timey show, “People are funny!”

A typical 1960s family in Ossining, NY, watching a game show

A typical 1960s family in Ossining, NY, watching a game show

Marion Stein

Marion writes television recaps and reviews for the Agony Booth, and books you can find over at Amazon.

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