Kurt Warner knows a thing or two about second chances.
In 1994, the former collegiate quarterback tried out for the NFL's Green Bay Packers and was cut before the season began. He wound up stocking groceries in Cedar Falls, Iowa, for $5.50 an hour.
There's nothing wrong with working at a grocery store, of course. But Warner never gave up his dream of playing pro football. And after showcasing his talents in the Arena Football League and in Europe for a spell, the St. Louis Rams gambled on him—signing him as a backup quarterback. By 1999, Warner was starting—carrying the Rams to a Super Bowl title and being named the league's MVP.
How appropriate, then, that Warner—also a born-again Christian, speaking of second chances—would host a reality show built around giving folks a fresh shot at something they've always wanted to do.
The Moment allows Warner to waltz into someone's life and turn it, outrageously and often gloriously, upside down. The show's featured "contestants" are folks who work at one thing but have always dreamed of doing something else. There's the businessman who wants to compete in the Olympics. The IT guy with visions of becoming a top-notch chef. The aspiring choreographer who gave it up to care for her sick father and raise her own kids.
Most of these people had settled into their own lives just fine—until a family member or friend nominated them for The Moment. Then Warner whirls in like a beneficent Tasmanian devil, pulling them away from jobs and family to work with a world-class mentor for two weeks, after which they'll have a chance to interview for that dream job.
And there are times when they not only have the opportunity of a lifetime, but must deal with some serious psychological hurdles.
For instance: When aspiring photographer Tracie Marcum is asked to go to a skeet-shooting range for an assignment, we learn that her mother committed suicide by way of a gunshot. (It's something no one on the show knew until that moment.) She stands in the parking lot, weeping at the sound of shooting, until her husband gives her a pep talk over the phone. "Face your demons and they won't be your demons anymore, right?" She tells herself.
She completes the assignment and, as viewers, we know that even if she doesn't get her "dream job," she's already a victor of sorts.
It's all feel-good television at its most heartwarming and, in some ways, most manipulative. Watching, I sometimes found myself fighting off incredulity. After all, the people who succeed in reaching their dreams often work a lifetime to earn the right. So two concentrated weeks of catch-up seem pretty meager. Are that many different top-notch businesses and organizations really willing to offer gigs to reality show contestants?
That means that in some ways the show—as well-meaning as it is—short-circuits what made Warner's own story so fantastic: the years and years of hard work. Sure, the St. Louis Rams took a chance on an unknown quarterback … but it was Warner, through tireless dedication, who made it happen. Two weeks being tutored by, say, Dan Marino wouldn't have gotten him through the door.
Reality television simply doesn't have the time to follow its contestants around for years—particularly when some of the stories would have less-than-storybook endings. But to The Moment's credit, even in its concentrated form we see hints of real-world choices form around its fairy tales. When actually offered that "dream job," some contestants hesitate. After all, taking the job might mean relocation, time away from family or a cataclysmic change in lifestyle. And maybe they're beginning to see that they're living their real dream right now. It's not the one they might've thought they had … but God does funny things with us sometimes. Sometimes the lives we never dreamed of are the lives we secretly needed all along.
While Warner is as family friendly as can be through all of that, contestants and mentors aren't always. We hear misuses of God's name and some mild curses. More serious profanities—s- and f-words—are scrubbed from the sound, but the blanks in dialogue make it pretty obvious what's being said.
Of course this is still way more Undercover Boss than The Real Housewives of New Jersey. The people are likeable, the stories are compelling and Mr. Warner makes for a pretty inspiring cheerleader.
If Kurt and his television crew came into my cubicle and offered to try to turn me into a bestselling novelist or an NFL quarterback (I can dream, can't I?), I'd turn them down. Moments like that are not built by reality television. Not in my life, anyway. But if he wanted to sign this football I just happened to have under my desk—well, that'd be just OK.
"Sports Illustrated Photographer"
Tracie Marcum used to have her own photography studio but lost it in a divorce squabble. After several years in the corporate world, she's given a chance to be tutored by award-winning sports photographer Lou Jones and, at the end of two weeks, interviewed by the big-dog sports magazine.
Things do not start off auspiciously. Jones yells frequently. "She's got above-average skills, but that's not what's going to satisfy Sports Illustrated," he says, warning her that he'll be her "worst nightmare." Tracie sometimes breaks into tears while suffering under Jones' strict tutelage. But she's determined to work hard to make her family—especially her father—proud. And for her it really isn't all about "me" anymore. "Once you become a mom, you don't look out for No. 1 all the time," she tells the camera.
Warner steps in to offer words of encouragement: "You're not going to be defined by failure, because we all fail." But others step in to offer words of a more questionable sort: At least three obscene outbursts are censored, and we hear "d‑‑n," "p‑‑‑ed," "jeez" and more than a half-dozen misuses of God's name.