You can’t help but fall for the people who are getting help.
By CHUCK BARNEY
CONTRA COSTA TIMES
When Oprah does reality TV, don’t count on any back-stabbing or bug-eating. That’s just not her style.
Instead, you’ll find plenty of heartwarming stories and feel-good moments in “Oprah’s Big Give” (9 p.m. Sunday, ABC) an absorbing new series that represents the first venture into the genre for the media mogul.
Our advice: Keep the box of tissues handy.
Giddily defying television convention, the show has 10 hand-picked contestants competing to give rather than get as they crisscross the country lavishing hundreds of thousands of dollars upon unsuspecting people in need.
“I’ve lived most of my life for myself,” says one contestant, a 40-year-old woman who admits to being mired in a midlife crisis. “I can get a boob job and Botox — or truly change my life around.”
In Sunday’s opening episode, a playful Oprah — disguising her voice in some cases — contacts the contestants by phone to inform them that they’ve been selected, from a pool of thousands, for this grand adventure in altruism. Some respond with ear-splitting shrieks. A call from Oprah will do that.
After the chosen few gather in Los Angeles, she pairs them up and presents them with envelopes containing only a photo and the name of a complete stranger.
Their mission? Change this person’s life in just five days.
From there, Oprah exits, handing the reins to series host Nate Berkus and a three-headed judges panel consisting of Jamie Oliver (aka “The Naked Chef”), NFL star Tony Gonzalez, and Malaak Compton-Rock, wife of Chris Rock.
No word on how much more of Oprah we’ll see in the coming weeks, but apparently she’s sort of busy.
While “Big Give” is certainly its own animal, it does blatantly dip into the playbook of other reality shows.
In “Amazing Race”-like style, the contestants scramble to cover ground and locate their assigned charity cases. And similarly to “The Apprentice,” they must devise creative ways to raise money and resources in a short amount of time.
Along the way, you can’t help but fall hard for the people they’ve been directed to assist.
In the opener, we meet, among others, the widow of a man recently shot to death in the robbery of a hardware store, and a homeless mother of two.
Be prepared to watch much of “Big Give” through a pair of soggy eyes.
The show even contains a fun little twist: Unbeknownst to the contestants, one of them eventually will be pronounced the most productive benefactor of the bunch and receive a windfall of $1 million.
Unfortunately, this also has a way of introducing more generic reality machinations into a show that doesn’t need them as the judges are forced to assess performances and eliminate a contestant each week.
Apparently on television, it’s better to give than receive — and even better to be harshly critiqued while doing so.