(by Dana Gee, The Province)
On paper the new TV show the Million Dollar Neighbourhood is a financial fix show.
The premise is straightforward: a neighbourhood of 100 Aldergrove families have 10 weeks to raise their collective net worth by $1 million.
Each week the folks take on challenges that will see their collective bottom line grow.
At the end of each one-hour episode one family will be awarded $10,000 for its efforts.
At the end of the series a family will also be awarded a whopping $100,000. The winners are decided by the others in the group.
But while better financial health and extra cash is great there is another pro to add to the list.
“Because of the show we know our neighbours now,” said realtor/office manager Mark Braun over the phone as he walked home from visiting a neighbour. “It’s been one of the better things about the show for sure, getting to know the people who live near us.”
The “us” he refers to his high school teacher husband Kyle Featherstone and now their brand new baby boy Tristan, who was born via surrogate on Boxing Day.
Braun says while he and Kyle weren’t in any big financial mess they still needed a bit of a wake-up call, a call that rang a bit louder due to Tristan’s arrival. But sound financial advice aside, Braun still says the bigger reward was the emotional one that came with being part of a community — something they weren’t sure was going to happen.
“To be honest we probably made a bigger deal out of being a gay couple than anyone else,” said Braun, who has lived with Featherstone in the neighbourhood for two years. “In the end we got very little reaction, not what we expected at all. We thought we would be a little bit on the outside and everybody was amazing and opened their arms and hearts to us and we have felt welcomed from Day 1. We now have these amazing relationships that will last well after the show.”
PR person Annette McArthur, who has lived in her Aldergrove neighbourhood for a little over a year, echoes her new friends’ community views.
“Somebody asked me recently if I had any regrets about doing the show and the answer is a flat out no,” said McArthur, the mother of two teenage girls. “I was also asked what was the best thing I got out of it. Well, imagine moving into a community that you don’t know a soul then all of a sudden you have not just one or two great friends, but dozens.”
McArthur says it was the challenges, which ranged from finding hidden money to holding the biggest garage sale to living a week without a car, that forced people to get to quickly know each.
“You’ve got people who you have shared blood, sweat and tears with,” said McArthur. “People you have a bond with. I can’t think of anything else that could have created this real closeness in such a short amount of time.”
And that closeness didn’t go away with the cameras. Braun and Featherstone had a baby shower that was packed with neighbours while McArthur added she had 23 people over to her house for a financial seminar.
“Do you know how hard you have to work to get six people to show up at a Tupperware party,” said McArthur, obviously proud of her neighbours and their continued commitment to their financial goals and each other.
“It’s a show about people changing their lives,” said the show’s producer, John Ritchie of Force Four Entertainment, who added that it was Aldergrove’s enthusiasm that got them the show.
Million Dollar Neighbourhood is not your usual reality program. It’s a show for the kinder, gentler Oprah Winfrey Network, so there are no boozed-up fame-seeking, Botox inflated bimbos or narcissistic over-developed steroid monkey men. These are real people with real and relatable financial issues. But that doesn’t mean that this neighbourhood is the Fraser Valley’s answer to Pleasantville.
According to Ritchie there were some people that “ended up hating each other.”
“Put people together and you are going to have differences of opinions, styles of doing things and agendas,” said a more diplomatic McArthur. “It’s TV — there is going to be some dramatic moments.
Speaking of dramatic moments, a few happen in tonight’s premiere when participants are asked by hosts Bruce Sellery and Dr. Joti Samra to pull out full financial disclosure and dig up every bit of paperwork and record of their financial lives. It is soon evident that opening up your books is a lot harder than getting into a hot tub in a barely-there bikini.
“People who would never talk about their financial situation have now agreed to basically strip naked and stand in front of strangers and expose the situation they are in, it’s quite amazing.” said Ritchie.
But even uncomfortable moments like that come nowhere near overshadowing the positive experiences of this 10-week sociological experiment, said McArthur.
“It was such a great experience,” said McArthur. “I joke and say when the series gets picked up in another city, I am moving there because it is so awesome.”
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