Since its 2010 premiere, Undercover Boss has been a surprising reality TV hit that, despite its popularity, still leaves many viewers scratching their heads.
The show takes CEOs from major companies, from Cinnabon to 7-Eleven, dresses them up in ridiculous disguises and then makes them work "undercover" amongst their own employees. It sounds like a disaster waiting to happen, but each episode ends on a happy note, with the CEO revealing his "true" identity to shocked employees as he hands over checks to co-workers he thinks are the most hard-working.
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But despite the sappiness and the hilarity of seeing stuck-up bosses having to mop floors or serve french fries, most fans of the show have wondered if the show is real or not, among other things. Below we break down the most frequently asked questions we have about this bafflingly yet addictive show.
Well let's just get right to the chase, shall we? This is the question that comes up the most amongst fans. After all, there is a slight formulaic structure to each episode, with each boss working with an upstanding employee who has some kind of sob story. Are they all using the same script or something?
According to Vivint CEO Todd Pederson, who appeared on the show in 2015, he says it's not fake at all.
"I found it to be pretty real," he said at the time. "My responses, experiences with the employees, their background stories, etc. – all of that is authentic. I didn’t know anything beforehand."
Former participants also agree that the show is genuine.
(Photo Credit: Getty Images)
"The show is very real," wrote Megan Carolina during a reddit AMA. She appeared on the Retro Fitness episode in 2013. "I had no script. The only thing they told me was show him how you work here and share a life-changing event."
However, employees who have been featured on the show all say they were carefully vetted by producers and not chosen by random. They also had to submit an application and attend several interviews before being selected for the show.
Not really. According to employees who worked at companies where the reality show was filmed, they all pretty much knew what was up.
"We all pretty much knew it was Undercover Boss," a reddit user wrote about their experience at a Canadian company. "But the whole crew did a good job of playing up the fake back story. Some people even bet on whether or not it was the show."
A worker at GSI Commerce, whose episode aired 2010, said their company was more easily fooled.
"None of the gear or people implied that this was being filmed by a major network, though," one employee wrote in a reddit thread. "In fact, one of GSI's clients was PBS, so many of us assumed it to be one of their documentary series. When the CEO showed up and did the work, there were some people there that recognized him, but those of us that did assumed he was simply overseeing the production of the show."
(Photo Credit: CBS)
Every so often on Undercover Boss, the CEO-in-disguise comes across an employee who's either not following rules or even bad mouthing the company on camera. Those people are usually promptly fired by the CEO, who reveals his identity to reprimand the rowdy co-worker.
It feels like something producers would do to drum up drama, but it's not, at least according to the unfortunate people who've been canned on the show.
On the Boston Market episode, which aired in 2013, CEO Sara Bittorf fired a worker on the spot when he said, "I literally hate customers more than anything in the entire world." During an update for the show, cameras visited the infamous employee to see where he was now, and he said he was still unemployed.
Same goes for the employee terminated at Retro Fitness. During an update episode, she revealed she had found new work in the helping field.
"I am an adult now," she said about her public firing on the show. "You live and you learn."
In order to conceal their identities, in every episode the CEOs wear cheap wigs and ridiculous fake mustaches in order to look more like "Joe Nobody" instead of "Joe Millionaire." The goofy looks are so often mocked by viewers, many fans have questioned if they could truly fool anybody.
However, according to producers, it's the CEOs who create their costumes, not the show.
“We really want them to own it because if they don’t love [the alter ego], we don’t want them blaming us if it doesn’t work,” executive producer Chris Carlson said in 2016.
When CEO Doug Guller appeared in a 2010 episode where he proudly called his franchise a "breastaurant," viewers knew it was going to be controversial. At the end of the episode, he promised one waitress to pay for her breast implants if she improved her performance for six months and then he fired another waitress for refusing to wear a bikini on camera.
After the episode aired, the company experienced a social media backlash, forcing them to temporarily shut down their Facebook. However, the criticism left a lasting negative effect on the company, and today, the majority of its locations have been shut down. Considering that Undercover Boss is typically light-hearted with a heartwarming angle, it was definitely an atypical moment for the show.
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