Before I start the last recap, I have two words for you: "seventy minutes."
That's how long the finale of $25 Million Dollar Hoax ran: 70 minutes. Not 60, or 30 or even 90, but 70 minutes. To complicate matters, the finale began ten minutes before the hour.
To quote my good friend Mantenna, "What sort of devilry is this?" If this is allowed to continue, anarchy would reign supreme and the very fabric of reality could be torn asunder. Up would be down, black would be white, Cold Turkey would be NBC's premier Thursday night show while The Amazing Race would occupy the 3 am Sunday time slot on Spike TV. In other words--havoc.
If you missed the first ten minutes, you didn't miss much.
The finale began like all reality programs begin: with an interminable recap of last week's episode. We see Chrissy Sanford striking a Faustian bargain with George Gray to fool her family into thinking she's going to win at least $5 million in a phony Internet lottery called TheBigWin.net. Chrissy must spend all the moolah on her and not spend a single dime on her family. If she can pull off this hoax for five days, her family will come into $400,000 in cash and prizes.
Chrissy has already bought clothes, jewelry, artwork, a new SUV, and finally, a house. We last left Chrissy and the Sanfords after Chrissy had just broken the news that she was in negotiations to purchase a multi-million dollar home, thus spending all (and perhaps even exceeding) her $5 million allowance.
The first half-hour of the finale is almost entirely devoted to the issue of the home sale and the reactions of the Sanfords, both "hidden camera" footage on the day of the "Big Spin" and interview footage from after the event.
The second half is devoted to the Big Spin itself and the Sanfords' payday for being the victims of Chrissy's hoax.
Chrissy Sanford in the House!
The Sanfords are frantic with worry over Chrissy's spending habits. They collectively do the math and think that the (non-existent) $5 million is gone or nearly gone.
Lois asks Chrissy how she expects to support herself now that her winnings are gone. Chrissy tells her mother that she will have her "singing career."
Chrissy tells this to Lois with such a straight face that--considering her singing voice--she really ought to be nominated for an Oscar. Or, at the very least, get involved in one of those celebrity poker tournaments. Her poker face is that convincing.
Guy and Eric continue to talk about home construction and think that their dream of owning a home-construction business is dead now that Chrissy's spent the caboodle.
Now, do you remember the last time you got really wasted? And you and your friends suddenly found you had an urge for pizza? And it seemed a relatively simple affair to call the pizza restaurant and have a pizza delivered...until you started disagreeing on the toppings, your idiot friend Jeff was broke (again) and no one could agree on the best delivery pizza? So you all ended up in a foul mood, hungry, and staring at Tuck Everlasting on HBO at 2 o'clock in the morning...?
Well, Guy and Eric's business plan is a little like that. I'm not sure, but I think they want to take the millions Chrissy was going to spend on the palazzo, build her house at a quarter of the cost and take the other three-quarters to seed their business. (Isn't this called "embezzlement"?)
Chrissy insists that she's going to buy a home rather than have Guy and Eric build one for her.
"You've blown me away today, Chrissy," her mother, Lois, says, sounding the least animated I've ever heard since the start of this program. A little disheartening.
As the Sanfords lounge around dejectedly in the resort common room, Chrissy's decided she's had enough (for the moment) and leaves the room. Since what follows are honest, hidden-camera reactions from the Sanfords about Chrissy and their situation, something tells me Chrissy's sudden exit isn't entirely her idea.
"Oh my god," Lois exclaims about nothing/everything.
"That pop star thing isn't going to happen," Paul says. (Ya think?)
"She has the opportunity to do something great [with the money]," brother Eric laments.
Then the accusations start:
"This is your fault, dad, for spoiling her," Paul says.
Guy is taken aback. Guy says, "I 'spoiled her'?! I didn't spoil you? You're sitting at home playing video games, not out getting a job! I didn't 'spoil' you?"
Eric then paints the picture of life in the 'hood with the Sanfords: "All of us grew up eating pancakes made out of water."
And to that I can only add the brilliant and hilarious observation by my good friend, LG.: What else do you make pancakes out of? Gold?
"That was hard," Lois chimes in. "She's spending like a nincompoop."
(Other developmentally-challenged people with bad financial habits include: birdbrains, blockheads, boobs, dodos, dunderheads, goofballs, ignoramuses, lamebrains, lightweights, louts, lunkheads, pinheads, schnooks and twerps.)
Chrissy returns to the common room to a barrage of questions from her family about the terms of the home sale.
They wanted details, but there were no details because I never contacted the realtor, Chrissy confides to the viewer.
"What's your house payment?" Lois wants to know.
"This is crappy," Chrissy whines. "I don't want to be talking about this now! You're spoiling my fun!"
It was right around this time that the Diva Detector sitting on top of my TV lit up. Chrissy has taken to the role like a fish to water.
Soon after, David left the room, with Eric in tow, creating some question as to whether they would show up for Chrissy's Big Spin.
In a surprisingly tender and heartfelt moment, Guy expressed how much he loved his daughter and said, "If she has to fall flat on her face, I'd be there to pick her up," summing up parenthood quite nicely, I think.
Moments later, though, he adds, "I pray she hits more than five million" and speculates that with a big jackpot, Chrissy may throw a million or so their way. (Sigh.)
An hour before Chrissy's turn at the Big Spin, George Gray sits down with Chrissy for an interview.
"You have to look them in the eye and tell them you didn't win a single thing," Gray reminds Chrissy. (Apparently, the NBC producers are afraid that not only the viewers have forgotten the goal of this ordeal but that the chief participant has, too. Were they expecting Chrissy to jump out of her chair and shriek, "I have to what!"?)
When asked who's taken the hoax the worst, Chrissy replies that Holly has because of the session in the recording studio. (I think that’s a pretty good call on Chrissy’s part.)
When asked who's been "coolest" about it, Chrissy feels it's her mother.
Gray asks Chrissy to predict how her family will react. Chrissy replies that they'll be shocked, but that some of them will say, "We knew it."
This sends Gray into a frenzy. (Maybe any additional work he has with NBC depends solely on whether the hoax would work...? Who knows?)
"They didn't know it!" he rants. "I won't let them get away with that!"
If this whole show-biz thing falls out from under Gray, he has a future as a Bond supervillain, that's for sure. He’s almost there, what with the glasses, the soul patch and the weird cadence of speech.
George Gray and Chrissy end their interview in preparation for Chrissy's turn on the Big Spin.
Ed McMahon reappears by the wheel of fortune, and the Sanfords join him. Guess what? David's shown up, after all, in what must be one of the most anti-climatic moments in recent reality-television history.
Chrissy Sanford is the last to appear. She is all smiles and looks radiant in a blue dress.
"She looked like 50 million bucks!" exclaims brother Eric.
As Chrissy prepares to spin, McMahon first gives her a kiss then kisses the "50 Million" slot on the wheel of fortune "for luck."
So, hey, Ed--if you kiss my ass, will it come up winner on a wheel of fortune, too?
The wheel goes around...and around...and around. (I thought they said this thing was fixed?)
Finally, a season change, two commercial breaks, and the birth of a new Sanford later, the wheel comes up $25 million. The Sanfords all cheer.
This begs a final question: Why $25 million? It's all a hoax, anyway, and the idea, in my mind, was that the Sanfords would think a loved one had come into a substantial amount of money that may benefit them. So if the ultimate prize is $50 million, why play the hoax at $25 million?
On the Sanfords' rejoicing, David makes the observation "It was like cancer had been cured!" (And that, I think, was the first time that I laughed at something on this show that was intended to be funny.)
Phillip, the financial guru, quipped, "I don't care anymore! Go and buy the house! Heh."
Ed McMahon presents Chrissy with a $25 million check. (And no one thought to question why he had a check prepared precisely in that amount?) It's not a huge novelty check, either. Chrissy looks at it, faces her family…and tears the check in half.
Guy is the first to react: "What!" he screams. Holly silently mouths "No!" and David bursts into tears.
"This has all been a huge, elaborate hoax," Chrissy confesses.
"Shut up! We've been had!" Paul gripes, and for the second time in as many minutes, I laugh again at something that was intended to be funny. Hell has, indeed, frozen over.
Later, in interview, Phillip is shown shaking his head sadly and remarking, "Last time I trust cameras in my face--last time." Spoken like a man who's been betrayed by the circle of Hollywood elites and Hollywood sharks who make up his immediate social circle, no doubt.
Then the unexpected happens: The Sanfords begin laughing.
"I still love her!" Guy shouts.
George Gray appears from behind the wheel of fortune (where he's been the whole time...? Wha--?) to explain the terms of the hoax.
"She did all this for you," Gray says.
"You ripped up $25 million for me?!" Guy says. "Don't do me any favors!"
Gray reveals that the Sanfords have $400,000 in prizes coming to them, and this is met with the expected applause.
But first, Chrissy wants to say something to her family: "This showed me a lot about my family. I wouldn't take it back."
"After we realized it was fake, we realized we were here for each other," David adds.
Chrissy is in tears, Lois is in tears.
"I'm rich because of my family," Guy points out. "I saw love, respect; I saw my family grow."
We cut to commercial, and there's a public service announcement (or "PSA," to all you insiders) from NBC, featuring Donald Trump asking me to volunteer my time. Okay, listen: Trump saying that I need to be more giving is like Rosie O'Donnell telling me I ought to watch what I eat and exercise more. Or George W. Bush telling me I ought to spend more time reading at the library.
Back from the break, Gray begins to dole out the goodies.
First, for the entire family: A luxury getaway to Los Cabos, Mexico, complete with a yacht, a private chef and three villas. (Only three? It seems that the Sanfords will never escape their "four crammed to a room" vacations.)
For Lois: A new state-of-the-art kitchen, compliments of GE (who own NBC, incidentally, in case you didn't know).
For Andrew and Phillip: New Gibson guitars.
For Chrissy's brothers: A PlayStation2 for each along with 15 games, 40-gigabyte iPods from Apple.
For Holly: One year's worth of sessions with David Cory.
Then Gray presents a $5,000 home stereo system to Eric so that he can enjoy listening to Holly's music.
I've got to break in here and say that NBC sets a bad precedent for men and women everywhere with this gift-giving gesture. If I were to receive gifts based solely on J.'s hobbies, then all I can expect this Christmas is a walk-in closet the size of a barn.
Eric, though, is ecstatic. "My best speakers came from the back of a white van in a bank parking lot," he recalls with a laugh. (So, Eric, you shop at Circuit City just like me, huh?)
The raining down of swag continues: Matthew and David receive Apple iBooks. Matthew is so giddy with excitement that he jumps forward and shrieks, "You are da man!" Exhausted by conjuring up this outdated bit of hipness, he quickly retreats back into his bland, suburban persona.
To Paul: A $10,000 shopping spree for clothes. Well, Paul, we've seen the Captain America T-shirt; is there a possibility we may yet see a T-shirt featuring..."SHAZAM!"?
To the Sanford Family: A Radio Shack home theatre system.
Finally, to Guy: A $200,000 check, which is quickly snatched out of Guy's hands and into Lois's. The only thing missing is Lois slipping the check down the front of her blouse (where it would be as safe as if it had been deposited at Citibank).
In the closest we will come to a surprise twist: George Gray pays off Chrissy’s student loans, offers her a Lexus convertible and a 7-day trip for two to Jamaica.
"The whole point was to prove that family means more than anything," George Gray closes. (I thought the whole point was to trick your family into thinking you'd won the lottery and then catching their hilarious reactions when you didn't share any of it...?)
The Sanfords all stand around and hug, except for Phillip, who awkwardly tries to get in on the group hug, fails and then awkwardly puts his hands at his sides.
Chrissy gets the last word: "You can't buy this kind of love."
And with that, my friends, I bid you farewell until next time. May our American friends enjoy spending time with their families and friends this Thanksgiving…even if your family didn’t cash out on $400,000 in prizes.