is the wildly successful CBS reality show where a CEO or other high-ranking corporate officer dons a disguise and works alongside several employees in an effort to reconnect with and reinvigorate the brands identity. Skeptics believe many aspects of the show are fake or exaggerated, but producers and most show participants insist otherwise. Weve uncovered the truth.
Undercover Bossuses the genius tactic of pretending to be some sort of win your own franchise game showcomplete with a fake host in some episodesto dissuade employees from figuring out theyre onUndercover Boss. Amazingly, few workers see through this flimsy facade. Maybe its because in every episode, the bosses must change their appearances.
According to ainterview with producer Eli Holzman, the bosses are allowed to choose their disguises, which usually involve wigs, makeup, and fake facial hair that looks like it was purchased on clearance the day after Halloween. This leads us to believe the businesses either choose the most gullible employees they have working for them to participate in filming, or they actually know whats going on but play along in hopes of being rewarded at the end.
One of the biggest questions people ask is whether the work scenarios the bosses have to engage in are completely staged. The answer is yes and no.According to Holzman, the show obviously tries to pick job scenarios with good TV optics, but the bosses dont know exactly where theyre going to go, and they dont know exactly with whom theyre going to work, because we want them to [have] an authentic experience.
Though the Emmy-winning series conducts reconnaissance of employees and workplaces to look for potentially juicy opportunities, the resulting footage can still prove spontaneous. There have been more than a few occasions when a boss broke cover to fire someone on the spot. ABoston Marketemployee was immediately canned after inadvertently confessing to his boss, I literally hate customers more than anything in the entire world. I hate them so much. A worker at aRetro Fitnesshad such a terrible attitude that she eventually started dropping f-bombs in front of the incognito CEO, effectively tendering her accidental resignation. Does the show stage some of this stuff? Sure, but the consequences can be all too real.
Fans of the show will recognize that chosen employees often have some type of visceral connection with their boss, such as a family member coping with a similar illness, or falling behind on the mortgage like the CEO did before finding success. While these similarities arent the specific reason the employee is selected,Holzman admits, If there are two people who do the exact same job in the exact same way, and one of them as soon as you see them, you laugh uproariously or cry because their storys so amazing, and the other one its crickets and youre really bored, were going to go with the really good one.
The takeaway here: if you and your coworker are the best burger flippers in the kitchen, make sure he or she isnt secretly a war hero or stand-up comedian when theUndercover Bossrecruiters come calling.
Anytime a problematic employee is featured on the show, you can count on the boss to talk about implementing some new type of training program. Audiences love to watch a branch manager geek out on his staff, but is it just lip service?
Some companies have actually implemented positive steps to drive change, such as providing a financial incentive for employees to improve.Checkers CEO Rick Silvastarted giving bonuses directly to team members, not just the branch managers.Dan DiZio, CEO of Philly Pretzel Factory, discovered a brand new, hot-selling product after uncovering a rogue franchisee that was marketing and selling an unsanctioned pepperoni pretzel roll. DiZio wasnt pleased with the free-wheeling franchisee, but he also took its transgression as a sign that hed become an out of touch boss.
Not every undercover big wig enjoys their TV experience. Steve Joyce, CEO of Choice Hotels International, felt exploited by the shows producers. They look for something personal to torture you withfor me, my mom had died from Parkinsons a few years before. And I hadnt really dealt with it. So every chance they got they brought that up, he toldThe Wall Street Journal.
Joyce also felt the show created the narrative that he didnt know what it was like to do most of his companys positions, despite the fact that he had worked his way up through the ranks. They deliberately sabotage you so you dont do well and you look stupid, he said. They had me cleaning the pool in Orlando in late June at 2 oclock in the afternoon. It was like 110 degrees.
Joyce did say the experience forced him to confront his pent-up emotions regarding his mothers death in a positive way. My mother made me promise to always have a place for the family to get together for vacations, he said. I bought a beach place two weeks after that show. Were not exactly sure thats the healthiest coping mechanism, but if hes going to give the wife and kids a hug on the deck, sure, why not?
Like a lot of American television,Undercover Bossstarted in the UK, then crossed the pond to become a hyper-inflated version of a concept that will never die so long as the networks can still extract money from it. Hence the reason CBS, TLC, and Oprahs OWN Network have all carried the U.S. version of the show, as well asUndercover Boss: Abroad, which features some of the many international versions of the programs.
One particularly memorable episode from our usually congenial northern neighbors, featured Canadian CEO Rick Smiciklas breaking character and completely freaking out on a Wild Wing franchisee. TheHuffington Postasked Smiciklas how producers felt about him blowing the shows cover. They told me to! he said. I said I cant go in there, I have a crazy temper, I have a daughter, I dont need an assault charge.
That film crew sounds like instigators, eh? Fortunately, no assault charges were issued and Smiciklas said his business is doing better than ever thanks to the show.
The most beloved part of everyUndercover Bossepisode is the ending. The head honcho reveals his true identity and starts making it rain with cash, vacations, and college tuition payments for the employees who were duped by the elaborate ruse. Its a tearjerker every time, even if it is a cheap emotional trick.
The reward concept seems straightforward, but CEO Doug Guller of Bikinis, a Hooters-style bar and grill, somehow misinterpreted it, offering one employee the followingincentive: If you can make it through six months and youre a rockstarIm going to put you in touch with the best [breast augmentation surgeon] in town and well make this happen! Wow. Even for reality TV, thats sleazy with an extra side of sleaze.
While its hard not to tear up at the end of each episode when the boss starts doling out cash, vacations, and college scholarships, thats usually where the admirationor even any further thoughts about that CEOusually end for most viewers. This was not the case with Aaron Beck, a self-described learning disabled Lowes employee who saw Belfor Property Restoration CEO Sheldon Yellens episode and became an instant fan. According toTulsa World, Beck would make it a point to share his admiration for Yellen with every Belfor worker who came into the store. After Belfor employees passed the word on to Yellen, he and Beck became pen pals for years, with Yellen even sending Beck a gift card and a letter for Christmas one year.
In May of 2017, Yellen decided to surprise Beck by getting back into hisUndercover Bosscharacter, Tom Kelly, and surprising Beck at his Lowes store. Yellen gave Beck an autographed book and a backpack full of goodies, and promised to keep their correspondence going. He even spent the day working alongside Beck, whose manager described him as an exceptional employee, and a joy to work with. And yep, there go the tears again.
It was while watching the real-life PR disaster of theopening of British Airways Terminal 5that reality TV producer Stephen Lambert had a brilliant idea. According to Lamberts book,Undercover Boss: Inside the TV Phenomenon That Is Changing Bosses and Employees Everywhere, the kernel of the concept for the show came from British Airways head honcho Willie Walshs response to a reporters question about whether hed suffered traveling inconveniences using the very airline he runs. He responded, I cant because people in BA recognize me.
That simple truth led Lambert, who had previous success creating the showWife Swap, to pitch the idea to Channel 4 and they agreed to a two-episode cycle, according to executive producer Eli Holzman, who spoke withThe Futon Critic. Lambert and Holzman were then able to bring the show to CBS and make it the reality TV juggernaut it is today, with one interesting difference: in the British version, after the emotional one-on-ones, the boss never reveals the ruse in front of the entire company via a celebratory screening of clips from the episode. Holzman says he thought Americans would want a big celebration, and the companies involved have confirmed that to be true. The celebrations have supposedly been a big morale booster..
Another interesting tidbit fromLamberts book: the first episode ofUndercover Bosswas lucky enough to follow the Super Bowl that year, giving it the absolute best possible lead-in. And while many shows havefailed in the spot,Undercover Bossthrived, retaining an astounding 38.6 million viewers for that debut episode. Even after it moved to its regular 9PM Sunday night slot, it still averaged 17 million viewers per episode, making it what Lambert claimed was the most popular new show of the 2009-2010 television season. Thats pretty amazing for a series with the singular premise of What if we make the boss wear a mustache and clean the toilet?
Attempting to copycat the success of the show, Rear Admiral Dave Thomas, Commander, Naval Surface Force Atlantic, went undercover for a day as an E-3 (a much lower-ranking seaman) aboard USS Whidbey Island. Admiral Thomas, who was in his 50s at the time of the filming, cleaned rust off the deck using a needle gun, and participated in training exercising for the LCAC orLanding Craft, Air Cushion. There were no tears, hugs, or monetary awards at the end of his day, but his his fellow seamen did attempt to act surprised that theyd been working alongside a superior officer all day. Though many who watched contended the jig was up before it even began.
According to commenters on the Surface Force AtlanticFacebookpage, theres no way anyone would have believed a man of Admiral Thomas age would have been an E-3. Not only that, but according to some, it was obvious that most of the supposed TV crew were actually part of the admirals security detail, which would have sent up another huge red flag. (Maybe next time he should try a nose ring or some fake tattoos. Thats worked for the real show.) But hey, it was a good effort, and an admirable gesture on behalf of a military superior to try to get an idea of what his crew goes through every day.
According toThe Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Pittsburgh mayor Bill Peduto found himself at the center of a controversy that he categorized as sublime ridiculousness when County Controller Chelsa Wagner refused to release taxpayer funds to a tourist organization that offered to donate some of the prize money awarded to the city workers featured on the show. Prior to his episode,Peduto promisedthat no public funds would go towards the prizes, but then VisitPittsburgh, an organization largely funded with taxpayer dollars, agreed to donate $50,000 of the $155,000 he pledged to help four needy workers.
This prompted Wagner to withhold all taxpayer funds from VisitPittsburgh, sparking a mini controversy that died down a week later when VisitPittsburgh clarified that their donations came from their general fund, which is a mix of public and private dollars. Wagner released the funds, but vowed further action if it could be proven that tax dollars were in fact used. Peduto had this to say on the matter: Some people want to use this as an opportunity as a battering ram. I think its the first time that any politician has ever been accused for lining someone elses pockets.
Most companies enjoy a healthy shot of positive PR from being onUndercover Boss, but almost exactly one year after house-flipper-turned-seminar-guru Armando Montelongos episode aired, over 150 former students of his seminars fileda class action lawsuitagainst him. Their suit alleges that his seminar course, which purports to instruct people on how to get paid to flip houses, is a lie, and their widespread promotion of that lie over a course of years violates the federal Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO). Among the accusations are bizarre claims that Montelongo studied a film about mind control cults, and used it to develop the AMS programs, and that advanced programs costing participants up to $54,000 are nothing more than schemes to get participants to keep buying additional seminar products.
Montelongo has refuted the allegations, tellingInTouch Weeklythat the participants in the lawsuit are people who decided that continuous hard work is not for them. He also claims that some of them have started rival seminars and are colluding to come together to try to bring down No. 1.