Undercover Hunger Games


I recently watched an episode of the TV show Undercover Boss. I saw regular folks teaching their workplace superiors how to do menial work, and I smiled. When people with attitudes of entitlement realized that they had to learn something new in order to work on the front line, I was pleased.  It was fun to see the top brass playing the role of the new employee, then rewarding the people who were great workers.  I felt glad for the individuals who unexpectedly got recognition, praise, and $20,000.

But then, I thought “Wait a minute.” Shouldn’t all the employees be getting recognition, praise, and a living wage in the first place? Shouldn’t everyone get an opportunity to move up the corporate ladder? Shouldn’t everyone with a full-time income be able to afford a part-time education? Eventually it dawned on me: it is an allegory. Undercover Boss fulfills some of the same functions as tales like Animal Farm and Gulliver’s Travels. It stands for something beyond the obvious. It tells us that the gods can take human form, that good works lead to redemption, that perseverance leads to reward.

It encourages us to maintain the faith, to keep working hard, to obey the rules, so that one day we might be recognized and valued.  It also incorporates the same idea as the Biblical advice about entertaining angels unawares. Hebrews 13:2 says, “Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.” You never know when a beggar might be a prince, a homeless person might be a saint, or a new co-worker might really be the boss. So, just in case, you must always be on your best behaviour, be kind to everyone, and do your best work.

That is all very fine, but most of the workers on Undercover Boss don’t actually get to interact with the stranger. It seems fairly clear that the TV show’s producers have done their homework and know whose work they want to profile on-camera. The other employees may not have known it, but there was a competition to find out which of them was either wonderful or awful. Those people got their fifteen minutes of fame, but the rest of the staff were merely extras.

This reminded me of the movie Hunger Games in which young people compete to represent their sector. They will go on to glory or disgrace, depending upon how well they compete, and the people whom they represent are obliged to watch them on TV. The games are the subject of a great show, with lots of excitement and drama, personalities and stagecraft, and in the end the heroes are victorious.

While the workers on Undercover Boss don’t have the same bloodthirsty task as the competitors in Hunger Games, both shows are very dramatic. We see tension, stress, skills, and character. The workers on the TV show have to solve difficult daily dilemmas and resolve all sorts of interpersonal conflict. Only a few are selected for recognition, and they have to show superhuman character traits in order to survive. The employee who is targeted for fame on each Undercover Boss show is presented at their best or their worst while all their coworkers are effectively out of the picture since they are seen only peripherally. They and the wider audience can only watch, just as in the Hunger Games.

Clearly, we have to be determined, clever, talented, industrious, attractive, and charming all at the same time in order to get ahead. More significantly, we must be among the chosen ones, too.


Image source: http://astrologyanswers.com/11-astrology-dos-and-donts-for-getting-ahead-at-work/


  1. Thank you, once again for your thoughtful blog Anne, It made me pause today to really think about this. I believe we create our outcomes by our expectations, and that it’s entirely an inside job. That our outcome comes from within us, and has very little to do with anything outside of ourselves. If I am just a cog in the wheel, it’s because I expected that to be my lot in life. The exciting thing to me is believing that even if I’m in a pile of muck, I have…we all have, the ability to create something better by first changing our expectations and then changing out attitude and our actions. I believe we’re all one, and when something good happens to one, something good happens to all of us, it’s a good energy and all ships rise.

    • Sally, your drive and optimism are enviable. It is wonderful when we can be self-determined and forge our own paths. I absolutely agree that we are in many ways interconnected; both in good times and in bad.

  2. Are yo able to hear the applause? This is true and rather shameful if you look at the entire picture. Well said, my friend!

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