Hello there, my friends! Welcome to the season premiere of The Benefactor. My name is Manny, and I shall be accompanying you throughout the season. Mark Cuban, a self-made billionaire and classic American success story, is giving sixteen people—just like you and me (but sadly, not you nor me)—the chance to win a million dollars and have their life changed forever. His game, he explains as he magically pops onto the screen, is a series of tests on the qualities one needs to be successful. He promises that the competition, like his life, will be unpredictable and break all the rules. That’s right . . . if you’ve ever closed your eyes and dreamed of a show where you didn’t necessarily have to backstab people, eat bugs, or even be really, really good-looking, this is it. The contestants must, instead, be creative, competitive, and risk-takers. Who could possibly pass the test of success and win one million dollars from The Benefactor? Let us find out.
There Can Be Only One
To find his contestants, Mr. Cuban held a huge nationwide search, out of . . . well, we don’t find out how many people, but I’m sure it’s a lot. At least 17. One such applicant is Laurel, who says in her video, “For one million dollars, I’ll take out the garbage.” And, whoosh! Off come the clothes; out runs Laurel with the garbage, wearing nothing but a smile. I’m not sure what to say, but it’s certainly not a bad ploy to get attention.
Narrowing down to his favorite sixteen applicants, in whom he believes there is something special, Mark personally calls them all to inform them that they’ve made it on, which surprises many. “I’m about to scream and cry like a white woman!” says contestant Kevin. The sixteen will live together in a mansion, and so the game begins.
Hello! My Name is. . . .
Mark informs us, and the contestants, that the game begins the moment you walk into the house. This is often a cliché, but in this case, there is a much more literal meaning. Since we are talking about one millllllion dollars, Mark has a Dr. Evil-like secret underground lair “control room,” where he will be watching all the goings-on in the house. Now would probably not be the time to bash the Mavericks. Mark also reveals that tonight the contestants will be tested on three key parameters of success. First, the crucial first impression. A bad first impression can ruin your chances in any aspect of life. Second is living up to expectations. “If you set an expectation for yourself, you’d better be able to deliver on it,” says Mark. Finally, they will be tested on their ability to deal with pressure.
But, I know what you’re thinking. “Who are these people!?” Never fear, for they are beginning to arrive at the house as we speak:
Tiffaney is 23 years old, hails from Dallas, Texas, and is currently unemployed. She informs us that she loves watermelon and won the title of “National Watermelon Queen.” I’m still trying to figure out what that might involve.
Mario, a 39-year-old career counselor from Glendale, California, is here representin’ the forty-ish, balding, wanting-to-adopt-a-child, Hispanics of America. Booyah! He has a notepad handy and obviously plans to take notes over the evening.
Grayson is a 26-year-old MBA student from Portland, Oregon. She plays poker, and I guess that’s about it.
Rich, aged 42, and from Alpharetta, Georgia, is the token Marine, Harley-riding . . . florist? Rich also wields the ever-handy pocket memo pad. His wife believes that he stands a chance--if he can keep his mouth shut. Rich thinks that they’ll have to do some stupid stuff, but not stupid-stupid stuff.
Laurel, with whom we’re already very familiar, is 36, a marketing director, and from Santa Monica, California. She says she has an enthusiasm for trying new things. If she won a million dollars, she’d love to start a punk rock band. I have some news for you, Laurel . . . you don’t need a million dollars to start a punk band. You don’t even really need a fully-stringed guitar.
Spencer (bearing an uncanny resemblance to Jeff Goldblum) is from Atlanta, Georgia, 31 years old, and a computer programmer. He thinks he’ll be one of the smartest people here, if not the smartest.
Kathy is a 23-year-old med student from Webster, New York. She seems very amiable, and worries that she won’t do well if there’s a lot of lying and manipulation.
Kevin, from Dallas, Texas, is 33 years old and a bartender/nanny, naturally. To make things even more interesting, he says he absolutely loves Oprah. He watches her show religiously and thinks WWOD in tough situations.
Shawn is 29 years old, hails from Hemet, California, and teaches second grade. She says that other contestants will think she’s the cute, sweet, little one, but she’s also quite “conniving.” Mothers, hide your children!
Dominic is 24 years old, from Las Vegas, Nevada, and works as a waiter/model. Probably not at the same time. His favorite thing seems to be his hair . . . everybody seems to like his hair. More on that later.
William is a 28-year-old histologist from Gresham, Oregon. He describes himself (correctly) as loud, obnoxious, and annoying; the other contestants are more than slightly creeped to learn that he performs autopsies.
Christine, from Boise, Idaho, is a project coordinator and 25 years old. She doesn’t want to be pigeonholed as the “pretty beauty pageant girl who can’t really do anything.” Hey, at least that means people think you’re pretty. . . .
Linda is 30 years old, from North Hampton, New Hampshire, and is a professional football player. Lest you doubt it, she walks in carrying a duffel bag roughly the size of herself with little difficulty. She says she’ll do whatever it takes to win—even lying and cheating—and that things always work out for her.
Latane is a marketing director from San Diego, California, and is 25 years old. He describes himself as a risk-taker and has started his own business. Since it is my duty to inform you of such things, his name is pronounced “Latin-ee.”
Femia is from Henderson, Nevada, 22 years old, and is a disease intervention specialist . . . whatever that means. She declares that she’s the total package: she’s pretty, she’s smart, and she’s athletic. Mmm-hmm. She’s sure that people will feel threatened by her, but that’s not her problem; it’s theirs. She also says she’s humble. But not really. I just made that one up.
Chris, from Duluth, Georgia, is 25 years old, and a director of sales and marketing. He mentions that he was adopted, but considers his “real parents” the ones who raised him his whole life--which I think is awesome.
All the contestants file one-by-one into the house, and soon all are talking and laughing together, and all is wonderful. But! Mark is watching everything, unbeknownst to them. He notices that Spencer doesn’t stand up while shaking hands with some of the ladies who arrive, that Mario helps himself to some bottles of water (which he passes around to all the contestants who want some), and that Dominic stops talking about his hair long enough to ask everyone’s opinion on the situation in Iraq.
Mark finally appears for the first time and walks in to much fanfare and applause from all. Grinning, he welcomes them to The Benefactor and speaks briefly about their first test of the day, which has actually already taken place! This is the ever-important first impression. “You don’t get a second chance for a first impression,” says Mark, “and you’ve already made your first impressions on me. The game began as soon as you stepped into the house.” Nervous expressions abound. Someone’s chance at a million dollars is going to slip away, right off the bat!
Talk about the death of a party. Everyone immediately appears crestfallen and tries to remember what they’ve been saying for the past few hours. Mark begins to speak about his decision.
Mario . . . you helped yourself to the water and snacks without asking permission. You took a chance. Mark likes that! Mario is relieved.
Dominic . . . you decided to discuss politics (between talking about your hair products). You took a chance. Mark likes that! Dominic breathes a huge sigh of deliverance.
Rich . . . you called his game stupid. Mark did not like that. You’re going home.
Rich is shocked, and he tries to argue his way out of elimination by saying that he never called it stupid, but ‘tis too late. If you check Mario’s notes, I’m sure you’ll find it in there. With that, Rich is sent packing, and the reality of the competition is clear to all. As he hops into the car, he confesses that he should have just kept his stupid mouth shut.
Clapton, Beck, Hendrix and . . . Laurel?
After that opening trial-by-fire, Mark addresses the group again. “As you can see, you play or you’re toast.” All right, game on. So, what’s next? Mark will get to know each of the contestants a little better, via one-on-one meetings. After these interviews, two more will be eliminated, kind of like Outback Jack. Mark asks if anyone would like to go first, and practically the whole group raises their hand, which comes as a pleasant surprise to him.
First up is Latane, who tells Mark that he’s never afraid to take risks. Latane has started several businesses and currently runs a fitness/social club. He’s put on the spot by being asked to rank the hotness of the women in the house. Uh, random? As he finishes and starts to get up, Mark asks, behind a mask of seriousness, “Did I say you could leave yet?” Embarrassed, Latane awkwardly sits back down, but Mark says, “I’m just kidding. You can go.” Oh, the ol’ power-Simon says. Ha ha ha. . . .
Dominic comes in next and explains that people usually see him and his supercool hair and assume he’s a rockstar-type person. (Billy Idol?) He explains that he might be something of a rockstar, but only to a point. He won’t sleep with a hundred women or something because he has morals and beliefs and stuff. Actually, that is nice to hear. Too bad he then goes off on his hair again and how he’s been blessed with his “rockin’ body.” Mark says that Dominic cracks him up, and he’s the one that he’ll go to if he ever needs a break from all the action.
Shawn, when asked what she’d do with a million, mentions the inner-city kids in her class. That’s right, she’s doing it for the children! And I set the Reichstag fire, signed the Declaration of Independence, and won 28 gold medals in the Tokyo Olympics. Shawn also complains about Dominic and says that the others probably view her as an arrogant biotch, but she doesn’t care because she loves who she is. At least there’s one.
Tiffaney tells us that she’s a good girl, and she writes in a journal that her future husband will read someday . . . whoever he turns out to be.
Spencer tells us that he’s a big-time risk-taker. He’ll take any risk. When Mark asks what the biggest risk he’s ever taken was, Spencer pauses, and says, “Well, let me tell you about the biggest risk I didn’t take.”
Next, we come to Laurel, who is determined to do all the crazy things she can before it’s too late and she becomes a granny. Mark jokingly asks if she’s having a midlife crisis and asks her about the craziest thing she’s done. She tells him that she bought an electric guitar, and she’s trying to learn AC\DC’s “Back in Black.” Mark grins and asks her to air-guitar a little bit of it, but she’s not too thrilled about that. She blushes and manages to meekly sing a bit of “dun . . . da-dun. . . .”, sans air guitar.
Linda, sporting a heavy northeastern accent, reveals that she’d like to win a million to hook her mom up with a prosthetic leg, as her mom was hit by a car and lost both of her legs. Ack! She’s got me on her side already.
William, on the other hand, considered turning the show down because he feels he can make his own million. Whoopee for you. Whatever.
Grayson thinks that she’s out of her element and feels a bit shy around the other contestants, so far. Or, is she just wearing her poker face?
With all the interviews completed, Mark heads off to think about his choices while the contestants continue to sit and bite their nails in the main room.
The Game of Champions
When Mark returns, he tells the contestants that as hard as this cut is on them, it’s hard on him, too. “Some people weren’t who they said they were, and that was disappointing,” he says. After a tense moment, he reveals that the next cut of the night is . . . Laurel! Apparently, she couldn’t live up to the crazy persona that she had portrayed in her audition. Seriously, who wouldn’t play air guitar for a million dollars? After Laurel packs up and heads out, Mark prepares to reveal the third boot. Everyone holds their breath; Mark looks down at his cards, and says . . . “I’ll be right back.” He runs back to a room and explains his thought process to us at home. Shawn and Spencer were both close to being put on the chopping block, but it came down to William and Grayson in the end.
William, Mark says, is dancing on the fine line between confidence and arrogance/extreme annoyance. I’d go with the latter. He thinks he can make his own million, eh? Grayson, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to show any competitive fire. Or is her experience at hiding her emotions in poker hurting her now? Only one way to decide between these two and that is the final test. A game of epic proportions. A game of skill and fortitude. The game of . . . JENGA!!!
That’s right . . . it’s the biggest game of Jenga you’ve ever seen. Why Jenga? Well, it’s definitely unexpected, and you have to keep your cool under pressure, you have to concentrate, and can’t let your hands shake. It makes sense, really.
I’d give you the play-by-play, but . . . um . . . it’s Jenga. Grayson and William whittle the tower down piece by piece, William deflecting the pressure by trying to distract and psych out Grayson by being utterly obnoxious. Mario and Kathy tell us in confessionals that they hope Grayson will win, as they feel she’s being bullied by William. Kevin can’t stand the suspense and covers his eyes. Both put up a valiant effort, but finally, Grayson moves the tower a little too much, and her run in the game comes to a crashing halt. The other contestants bid her farewell as she sadly leaves the mansion.
And there we have it, my friends . . . the curtain falls on the first episode of The Benefactor. Thanks for sticking through the lengthy premiere recap! What crazy twists does Mark have up his sleeve? Will Shawn’s rivalry against Dominic turn ugly? Will Manny survive the station’s ineptitude in scheduling this show at 2:05 A.M.? Be sure to tune in next week to find the answers to all these and more!
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