The Briefcase


Ryan Birchfield, Photojournalist

What would you do with $101,000?  Would you put it on the bank? Invest it in stock? Go on a wild spending spree at the mall?

What if I told you there was a catch?

You’d probably not be shocked, because there’s always a catch when someone offers you a lot of money.  In the case of the new CBS show The Briefcase, two poor families are each given a briefcase full of money, and they have to decide how much money to keep for themselves and how much to give away to another poor family.  What the families don’t know is that both they and the family they’re giving the money to both got a briefcase and the exact same conditions, so it’s possible for a family to get no money at all, some money, or a max amount of $202,000.  Both families have 72 hours to make their decision, while slowly learning about the other family.

At first, I thought it sounded like an extremely interesting concept.  I saw the first episode recently, and it was an interesting social and emotional dilemma.  Watching the people struggle over how much to keep and trying to justify their decision was fascinating, and I kept thinking about what I would do in their situation.

Then I kept thinking.

How were these people selected?  How do we decide whether a person is poor or not?  Were these people coached ahead of time?  How ‘poor’ were they?  Was it unfortunate circumstances or just dumb choices that made them poor?  Why can’t regular people go on the show?

I don’t have answers to any of these questions.  There is, however, one I can answer: how cruel is this show?  The answer: very.

People are put into an extremely horrible catch-22 in which they cannot win.  Either you keep it all and are declared selfish and greedy on national TV, or you give it away and remain in severe debt.  This is a no-win scenario.

Also, the whole premise is that the family doesn’t know that the other one also has a briefcase.  After the first season, the mystery is gone, and the people will know that the other family also has a briefcase full of money.  What will the network do then?  How ‘real’ will this reality show be?  Again, I have no answers, only questions.

When asked what she would do with the money, Kelly Nguyen (9) said that “realistically, I’d keep all the money, but I’d love to donate it to charity”.  What would you do with a briefcase full of $101,000 dollars, and such a terrible decision to make?