I’m addicted to Undercover Boss.
I told my dental hygienist that she had to watch the one with Darius Rucker, former lead singer of “Hootie & The Blowfish,” who wears an elaborate disguise to find new talent in Texas bars and on street corners. As a country music fan, I know she’d enjoy Darius’ episode, which ends with a stunning reveal that I won’t spoil in case you haven’t seen it. It’s on CBS On Demand, but also on Peacock. I have no idea why.
I have what used to be called “TV eyes,” that dazed look from too many hours staring at the boob tube. I’ve watched more TV over the past year than in the last decade, catching up on shows and movies that escaped my notice when things were normal. The nap on the velour in my blue sectional is flattened and shiny where I sit, evidence that it needs to be brushed or vacuumed to conceal my addiction. Some people might call me a couch potato and that’s OK. I’d rather be on the couch than going into TJ Maxx shopping for things I don’t need, or sitting at a bar at the local pizza parlor sipping wine, at least until I get my Covid 19 vaccination next month.
The place where I work part-time is shut down due to a Covid 19 outbreak. Yes, the virus is still around and spreading like wildfire in some places. Please be careful and don’t let your guard down for a minute. This means that I’m in lockdown too, getting out only to grocery shop, hit the UPS store or take an occasional walk at a nearby state park. This means more TV, but I’ve given up on any notion of being above being a TV addict. Aren’t we all at this point?
I am now officially barred from choosing movies on Saturdays nights with the Curmudgeon and my son because I’ve got a lousy record that got worse with my last pick, The Shipping News. I never watched it when it came out in 2002 because my daughter Maura was 1, and had a habit of crying whenever we wanted to watch a movie. When she got older, she’d come in at the climax of the movie, standing in front of the TV screen with a question or comment. She still does this, though now it’s with phone calls from college in Washington, D.C.
I tried to save face with The Shipping News, pointing out the gorgeous views of Newfoundland’s jagged rocky coastline, but no. The movie was terrible in spite of its stellar cast: Kevin Spacey (before his legal troubles with two adolescent boys); Julianne Moore, Cate Blanchett and Dame Judy Dench, who I pointed out several times was a dame. It just goes to show that a great cast can’t save a lousy plot. I knew it was bad, admitted it was a dud, but the Curmudgeon looked up Roger Ebert’s review afterwards anyway, noting, “He gave it two stars.” Alright already. I guess I’ll be watching World War I movies and thrillers for the next few months.
Thankfully, there is Undercover Boss to keep me entertained. Clocking in at 45 minutes, Undercover Boss is a quick hit that always restores my faith in humanity, providing a needed shot of chills, endorphins and tears during the boss reveal at the end. I won’t lie: I’ve binge-watched this show, devouring up to five episodes at a clip to keep the endorphin rush going.
Most thrilling? Seeing places nearby featured, like the Mohegan Sun Casino, Subway, Modell’s (now closed) and a Milford bowling alley where I bowled a few strings with friends last February, my last fun outing before lockdown.
At the heart of it, Undercover Boss reminds me of all the good parts of working, that in the end what people value most is being appreciated and valued. Money is nice, but most employees tear up before they even hear that their boss is buying them a new car or house, promoting them with a 50 percent salary hike or sending them to Hawaii for a family reunion. Words of appreciation, of a job well done, mean something, perhaps because they are increasingly rare, particularly in these days of remote working and learning.
I need to see people being kind to others to give me, as Katy Perry would say, “good feels.” Human kindness and compassion are among the things I miss most about being confined to my house most of the past year. I didn’t realize how much I missed this until I began watching Undercover Boss and began getting that distinctive chill that runs from your shoulders to the top of your skull when you’re moved by something. This show has never failed to produce that sensation, the kind of feeling that makes you realize we’re all connected as human beings.
It also reminds me of the power of positive reinforcement, another casualty of this pandemic. With people confined to their homes, there’s far less human interaction, depriving bosses of seeing their employees first-hand and doling out compliments or even helpful suggestions for improvement. I’m someone who thrives on positive reinforcement: tell me what I’m doing right and I’ll do anything for you; criticize me and well, not so much.
Years ago when I was writing for a newspaper, one of my editors criticized my production. We were supposed to file two stories a day, but this was often difficult, particularly if I was covering a trial all day and then had to file the story on deadline. I refused to sign my annual review because I disagreed with her criticism, telling the manager editor that I felt unappreciated.
“You sound like my wife,” he said. He then admitted that he felt the same way at work. No real surprise there. That’s the curse of every editor who’s ever walked the earth.
What I know, what has been underscored by Undercover Boss, is that people respond to positive reinforcement and praise, that little things like thank you or good job go a long way in making a happy work environment. I don’t remember most of the criticism I received over the years – and believe me, there was plenty from bosses, colleagues and readers – but I do remember the praise:
- The hotdog shop owner who sent me a bouquet of roses after I wrote a feature article about him, writing simply: “It moved me.”
- The Sears Service Center customer who wrote a letter to my supervisor praising me for tracking down a part for his broken sprinkler system in his commercial greenhouse, saving him thousands of dollars in lost plants.
- The supervisor of eucharist ministers at the local church texting me that I did a good job, that I didn’t screw up the altar during Adoration.
There’s nothing monumental about any of these things, but I remember them because they reinforced my confidence that I’m doing something right. As a stay-at-home mom for the past 23 years and freelance writer, I’m my own boss, so there’s no one giving me the high sign or high five for a job well done. Every once in a while, someone will tell me that I’ve raised good kids and I hang onto that like the brass ring. Boy, that’s music to my ears.
For the most part, raising kids to be good adults is a very lonely proposition, the most difficult and overlooked job in the world. No one tells moms that we’re amazing, have a great attitude, deserve a raise or an Hawaiian vacation because of all of our hard work. It would be nice though.
So I live vicariously through Undercover Boss, marveling at most people’s deep commitment to their jobs and ability to overcome adversities like homelessness, mental illness, prison, cancer, death of loved ones and so very much sadness. Everyone has a story: sometimes, I can’t believe the obstacles people overcome to get to work to support their families, put a roof over their heads and food on the table.
But like the bosses, I learn about the people behind the jobs, the human interest stories that have captured my heart and fascinated me since I got my first reporter’s job at age 23. They’re the ones that give me chills, that bring me back to my shiny spot on the couch that’s getting a little flatter every day.The best part? Undercover Boss has been on since 2010, meaning there are 120 episodes and counting. I’m pretty sure I’m going to see each one.