The hit reality-TV show, which features CEOs "learning" about the their own companies by working in disguise at low-level jobs, has generally been a fairly innocuous fairy tale whose central message is that CEOs are wizards who can make the dreams of hard-working people come true. Until now, it was a harmless diversion. But yesterday's episode featuring Kimberly Schaefer, CEO of Great Wolf Resorts (WOLF), required viewers not just to suspend their common sense but to obliterate it completely.
Everything about the episode featuring Schaefer, the first female undercover CEO, seemed fake. She came across as a driven, ambitious executive with a kind and supportive stay-at-home husband. "If it were up to me, I would work all the time," she says, adding without irony, "I feel like I need to have it all."
Once again, producers teamed the CEO with plucky employees who have sad personal stories. For instance, Bree, who ran a children's activity group, didn't know how she was going to afford college for her daughter with her husband out of work. Kelly is a young man who grew up without a father and now is supervising lifeguards at a water park after only a few months on the job. Front-desk worker Jackie kept a cheerful attitude even as customers grew surly about having to wait 15 minutes to check in. Server Deanna was grieving over the death of her daughter but nonetheless seemed to enjoy her job.
But like every other boss-in-disguise, Schaefer seems to know more about spreadsheets than people. She's surprised by things that should be expected, and she's unable to do the most basic tasks that her employees do every day. Schaefer is yet another CEO who's portrayed as hapless when confronted by the simplest jobs.
Kelly made Schaefer get an AFR (accidental fecal release) from one of the pools at the park. That made for great TV, but it probably happens every day at a business that caters to families with young children, some of whom may not be toilet-trained. Problems with the check-in process were well-known to the company. No doubt executives saw the negative online reviews such as this one from: "Let's start with saying don't believe it when they tell you [they] have early check in! 1pm check in turned into a 4:15 check in!"
At this point, I threw up my hands. Flying lessons? What possible business justification exists for funding such an expense that has nothing to do with Great Wolf Resorts? How do you explain such odd generosity to employees who weren't lucky enough to be featured on the show, who might want a paid sabbatical to hike the Appalachian Trail or to work on a novel?
It just goes to show that Undercover Boss itself is a work of fiction.