A&E’s six-part reality series “Jackpot Diaries” profiles several of the lucky and often truly deserving people who struck it rich playing state lotteries. The intrinsically voyeuristic nature of the show and its feel-good tales will likely make for its own reality TV goldmine, but without any counterpoint or perspective, series comes off as an elaborate ad campaign for state gambling.
The hard cold truth, which the show carefully sidesteps, is that people spend $45 billion a year to play the lottery, and the vast majority end up with nothing to show for it. But, of course, there’s no fun in watching that.
For a show about money, however, very little appears to have been spent on the production. Tech credits are pretty basic, while endless commercial recaps fluff out each hourlong episode. The format is not unlike that of other reality shows such as “Miracle Pets,” in which heartwarming stories are reenacted to full emotional potential. In “Jackpot,” there are no actors, only real people who painstaking re-create every moment leading up to the purchase of what turns out to be the winning lottery ticket.
For instance, Debra Cifelli stopped at a gas station to buy her lottery tickets and at the last minute decided to buy them at the liquor store instead. It isn’t exactly riveting television, but it does reinforce the notion of pure chance. Still, who could begrudge Cifelli, who uses her winnings to give dignified burials to abandoned babies, or the family that vows to make sure their deceased brother’s child gets a college education?
Most interesting are the 43 cotton gin workers in the economically depressed town of Roby, Texas, who banded together and won $50 million. Overnight, 10% of a town with an average yearly income of $11,000 became millionaires. Then there’s former Dallas Cowboy Hollywood Henderson, whose life was already colorful enough — he’d won fame and fortune in the NFL only to throw it all away on drugs. Now clean and sober, he wins the lottery and vows not to repeat his mistakes.
All of the folks profiled here are fairly responsible with their winnings. Almost everyone featured in the two episodes reviewed put their children’s college education as the top priority. The rest just want to provide a nice home for their families and loved ones or perhaps splurge on a Hummer or two.
The show would be equally gratifying, however, if we saw someone blow the cash on gold faucets and Cadillacs a la Elvis. Most, however, fulfill viewers’ wishful expectations and are happily better off. Henderson, in particular, seemed to have a foolproof plan for staving off solicitors by giving away $10,000 chunks of cash to all of his friends with a signed note saying, “Don’t ask me for no more damn money.”
Still, it’s not hard to be bothered by the underlying notion that life is based on a reward system or that performing good deeds isn’t reward enough itself. Any moral objections to lotteries and gambling is only briefly touched upon by one resident of the winning Texas town who thought the lottery stunt was very un-Christian.
It’s hard to tell here, since it’s never addressed in any statistical fashion, how much money in total these individuals have spent on lotteries before hitting it big, although Henderson reveals that he purchased $100 in tickets the day he won.
The arguments of those who say lotteries are addictive and take money from those who can least afford it are worth exploring. Any kind of editorial would provide some much needed balance to a very one-note show. Narrator Jim Forbes offers very little other than positive PR.