This week’s episode of “Undercover Boss” features a rogue elf from Santa’s workshop who has split off from the pack to deliver packages to one and all – grown ups and children! The naughty and the nice! He has shucked the bonds of Santa’s outdated mom and pop business model in favor of the corporate monster that will allow him to chase that sweet, sweet coin that eluded him for so long at the North Pole!
Watch out, Kringle, Rubin’s in town.
Some seriously foreboding music introduces us to Michael Rubin (Mikey from now on, because he looks like a CHILD), one of America’s youngest CEOs. I think when CBS was promoting the idea of one of America’s youngest CEOs, they were only doing so because it would be inappropriate to promote the idea of one of America’s tiniest CEOs.
You’d overcompensate too if you looked like him.
And is it just me, or does he look a little demonic? I’ve rewatched some of these earlier scenes a few times, I think he only blinks, like, twice. Not super important, but it stuck out to me immediately.
Typical shots of excess and achievement follow. Michael is founder and CEO of GSI – a shipping middleman that lots of big and impressive companies (NFL, MLB, Zales, Dick’s Sporting Goods) use to ship their products. GSI designs the online shopping websites, runs the phones, and manages the warehouses of anything purchased online from its clients’ companies. Mikey here gleefully informs us that GSI is so large and widespread that we’ve probably used it and not even known it! Okay, he might think that’s impressive, I just think it’s creepy, patronizing and kind of stupid. If I were a CEO, I’d kind of want the general public to be aware of my existence.
Mikey’s been interested in business since he was a wittle boy! He sold stationery at eight, started a ski-tuning shop at 14 and by the time he was 21, had a business that grossed over $100,000,000 a year. He is also incredibly impressed with himself and as far as I can see has not one ounce of humility. I have no issue with high-achieving people even though they make me feel bad about myself, but this man has obviously done one single thing his entire life, and it shows in his frighteningly focused stare, and naked, naked ambition.
Fun to Mikey is looking at his bottom line at work the way other people sneak onto Facebook.
Mikey knew from an early age that business was in his DNA, and it made him feel like a winner. He says it felt good to be a winner, and it’s chasing that feeling that drives him. What he doesn’t tell us is that before began the INTENSELY COOL activity of selling paper door-to-door at age eight, he realized that he sucked at everything athletic and social and that he’d never be able to get a girl with anything but money. More power to him, I guess. I know guys over thirty who still haven’t figured that out, and it’s just sort of sad at this point.
He works non-stop, and his assistant looks like she hates her life and has to day drink at her desk to get through it. I have a sick feeling she works really hard so one day he will recognize her similar drive and choose to mate with her.
Michele, as much as I feel for you, Mikey’s brass ring is currently gracing the pages of one or more porn magazines. Fix your hair.
AND WHOA! Mikey’s married! Mindfuck! I write as I watch, Guys, and as you can probably tell by the previous paragraph, I did NOT see that coming! Her name’s Meegan, and I’m trying really hard not to hate her just for that. (Seriously, though, whoever created that name was both lazy and stupid.) She carefully says that Mikey as a CEO and Mikey as a husband are one and the same. It’s important to note at this point how unhappy and, frankly, sedated she looks as she relates this fact and that look doesn’t fade throughout the rest of the segment. As she talks about what a workaholic he is, we are treated to shots of someone who either should be on antidepressants, or is and they’re not working.
Oh Meegan… I forgive you your name.
Mikey says that Meegan has always been supportive (haha, he says that like we’ll believe she has a choice), and he’s trying to balance work and family more than ever before. However, the competition is rough in his business, and while he doesn’t say outright that his family takes second place, I think we all know just how firmly ensconced in the backseat they are. The editor agrees with me as this statement is followed by a shot of Mikey’s daughter trying to put lipstick on him while he is working, and Mikey blowing her the fuck off.
Dude, she’s your kid, not a housefly.
Aaah, boardroom scene. Mikey thinks the executives are gonna think he’s nuts, and because his Napoleon complex rivals that of the dude from Corsica I’ve read so much about, I agree. This is not a man who gives up control easily, in case you haven’t noticed.
The execs seem genuinely shocked that Mikey would actually do anything so menial as actual labor, and I’m actually enjoying this board meeting more than any of the others. Mikey’s executives openly laugh at the idea of Mikey being anything but a self-important, overachieving little tyrant. Also, the fact that some of them say this right to his face, and he reacts not with offense, but a blank stare makes me think that Mikey is far more disconnected with reality than we realize. Like, I think Mikey’s seriously considered attempting to fly under his own power at some point in his life.
The only reason this picture is here is because the last line of the boardroom scene was this guy saying, “This is gonna be a disaster,” and laughing his head off. Awesome.
\Mikey’s cover is Gary Rogers, an average Joe who’s going to be participating in a television show about seasonal work. Actual seasonal work sounds more stimulating than that show, but it’s still the best cover story we’ve had yet. Hey, Mikey’s a winner! The reason for the season-al worker story is that Mikey’s going to be going undercover during the holiday season, or “Peak” as it’s referred to in the shipping biz. It’s GSI’s busiest time of year and the period during which they make 70% of their profits. While it may sounds like a bad idea to disrupt people’s lives and schedules for a self-serving TV show, Mikey explains that he can’t think of a better time to spy on his employees. In reality, I don’t think Mikey has the capacity to see flaws in anything he’s ever created, so this is not so much about quality control and improvement as much as it’s about him going on television to feed his ego more than it gets fed every day.
The deep, deep self-hatred that lies in Mikey’s heart takes this form, as well, but Mikey has run away from it for so long, he doesn’t recognize that he is now emulating it.
As Mikey checks into the grossest motel we’ve seen thus far, he confesses he’s a little nervous. Bullshit. I find it hilariously self-unaware of Mikey that even though he has spent the entire first segment of this episode illustrating just how close to God he really is, he expects us to believe he is nervous about doing things he so obviously considers beneath him. I think I would like Mikey more if he just said what he was really thinking which is probably something along the lines of, “I’m going to fucking decimate this shit. I’m going to decapitate Peak and eat its heart for breakfast so that I may gain its power!”
Job One: GSI Fulfillment Center in Richwood, KY. I really cannot think of a worse name than “Fulfillment Center” for anything one wanted taken seriously. Mikey, in a creepy child molester getup, explains to us that this is a giant shipping and receiving center that is the size of ten football fields and ships over 75,000 packages per day during Peak. And as impressive as that is, I hope Mikey understands that the only time anyone thinks about his company is when their shipping is screwed up. So go play some football in your fulfillment center and try to convince yourself that you’re half as important as you think you are.
I’m not wrong about the outfit, am I?
Mikey meets Matt, a supervisor who explains that Mikey will be loading trucks, and they go get changed. Apparently, GSI has 5000 employees normally, and they go up to 10,000 during Peak. Mikey says the seasonal workers are incredibly important and that he’s excited for the great opportunity to get more exposure to them. Rochelle is the seasonal worker whose special privilege it is to show Mikey the ropes for the day, and teaches him how to stack the first truck. A conveyor belt sends boxes at an alarming rate to the truck, and they are stacked tall and tight according to size. Mikey is of course overwhelmed in the space of ten minutes and Rochelle laughs good-naturedly at him. She’s been doing this kind of work for three weeks to help pay for her son’s college and is hoping get hired full-time. Mikey says she’s doing a heckuva job, and looking at the clusterfuck of mistacked boxes on his side as compared to hers, he’s right. Matt comes over and tells him he needs to be more organized with the arrangement of the boxes, and Mikey says this is the hardest thing he’s ever had to do. I wonder what Meegan’s going to think when she finds out that her husband has more respect for the difficulty of stacking boxes in a truck than he does for the harsh demands of balancing work and marriage.
And then he hits Rochelle in the face with a box! He asks if she’s okay, and she answers that she’s not really, but they have to keep moving. Matt stops by as they reach the end of the truck, and pronounces that everything has been stacked so poorly (all Mikey’s fault, not Rochelle’s) that he’s going to move both workers to sorting because loading isn’t Mikey’s schtick. Mikey looks like he’s going to cry or have a panic attack or something, and I really wish he would.
And then Mikey says the first honest thing he’s said the entire episode, and I’m sorry to say that it only makes him seem more obnoxious and staggeringly immature. “I thought that when I started doing these jobs that everyone would say, ‘Oh, look how good Gary’s doing!’ I was absolutely wrong.”
Absolutely wrong is right.
Mikey and Rochelle move to sorting, and Rochelle teases him that he just might be good at this. Mikey laughs after a split second’s consideration of whether or not to have her killed. They have to sort the boxes by location, and Rochelle explains to Mikey her system of scanning them in that is far more efficient than what the company normally does. I’d go into detail, but it’s shipping, and it’s boring, so suffice it to say, she impresses. And good on her, because she’s kind of awesome. Mikey is frigging floored by Rochelle, because anyone who comes up with something Mikey didn’t come up with first is elevated to godlike status in his eyes. He wishes all of his employees could be like her, and is in a much better mood for the rest of the job. I think that also has to do with the fact that he doesn’t fail miserably at this activity.
The only way Mikey can describe how he feels at the end of his first day is exhausted. He postures about how he never understood how physically taxing it was to do the jobs he participated in today, and he doesn’t even realize how motherfucking obtuse it makes him seem when he reveals he had no idea lifting heavy boxes for eight hours could be tiring. Thus ends Job One.
Job Two: Phone Support!!! At a shipping company!!! During holiday season!!!!!!! I don’t know why there isn’t a reality show about this job already, I really, really don’t. Mikey, his humble ego, well-honed skills in empathy and finely-tuned social graces should rock this shit. At the Melbourne, Florida call center, Mikey explains that most of the people who call the center are happy. The idea that a CEO of a shipping company thinks people actually call to compliment the company on the successful shipment of their packages, and do not, 90% of the time, call in a murderous rage because something has been screwed up is SHOCKINGLY deluded.
When Mikey looks behind himself, he is secretly checking to see that the sun still shines out of his ass.
He does seem aware however, that there are some unhappy customers, and he is going to work in the special department assigned to these calls – Escalations. I’m putting together a Reality Show Treatment in my head as we speak. God, I love corporate euphemisms. Adam is the bright-eyed and bushy-tailed phone guy that must have one of the most fulfilling leisure lives of anyone on the planet to deal with what he must deal with on a daily basis and still be this genuinely smiley.
Not to mention having time for a manicure.
Adam explains that the main thing they do in Escalations is apologize and also make sure that they ask at the end of each call if the customer was satisfied. Mikey’s going to sit and listen for the first few calls and watches as Adam knocks shit out of the park at every level. Mikey? That’s a man deserving of the ego you hold so dear. Trade, please.
And it’s Mikey’s turn!!! I made popcorn for this. Boxes have arrived crushed! Custom shirts are no good, and cannot be returned!! And while I wish I had ten more problems and angry callers to list, that’s really how far it gets before Mikey is throwing up his hands in defeat.
Why does my insincere apology and complete inability to fix your problem not satisfy you?!
He ums and stutters his way through a few more calls, before narrowly fixing one customer’s issue. Mikey is completely impressed by Adam, and mentions that it is in Adam’s DNA to solve problems of this nature. Yes, that is a compliment, but saying that customer service is in Adam’s DNA is kind of a backward way of excusing the fact that Mikey’s not very good at it. I mean, business is in Mikey’s DNA, not customer service, so really, could he have been expected to do well? Mikey? Not being great at being someone’s telephone bitch has nothing to do with DNA. It has to do with being unable to surround yourself with people you’ve paid to like you 24/7.
With that, they’re off to the breakroom so we can get at whatever tragedy might be lurking in Adam’s past. Adam’s been with the company for a year, after having been let go from a similar job at a cell phone company. He explains that his daughter passed away at birth due to unknown causes, and because the day he missed of work was Black Friday, he was let go. I would make a joke here, but basically, a man’s infant daughter died, and because he could not go do his part to feed the capitalist orgy that is the day after Thanksgiving, he was fired. I haven’t had much nice to say about Mikey since we met him, but I honestly don’t think he’d ever pull anything that fucked up. I feel like the cell phone CEO that presided over Adam’s termination is someone we should sic Oprah on. Can’t nobody rip a big man to shreds like Oprah.
And Oh. My. God. Adam and his fiancÃ© were going to get married after his daughter’s birth, but now they are putting off the wedding to save up to buy the two burial plots next to her. I almost don’t want to watch Mikey reveal himself to Adam, because I have a feeling our esteemed CEO, as much as he may think he understands Adam’s life is probably going to try and gift him with something material that will in some way minimize the loss of Adam’s daughter. God! I hate getting personally invested in these people and Adam is making it impossible! This segment needs to be over! Where’s the crazy lesbian I was promised in the promos?
Here she is. Just in time for my heart to remain two sizes too small. Thank goodness.
Danielle takes over Adam’s job and immediately senses that Mikey’s nervous. She tells him to fake the confidence because the customers can sense fear. Awesome. This is going to be awesome. Mikey looks a little taken aback by the stark contrast between Adam’s and Danielle’s styles, but seems willing to try and learn from her. Danielle talks a big game about how the operators are there to be punching bags and take shit, but given the excitement in her voice as she talks about receiving verbal abuse from people eight hours a day, I think she might totally relish having the power to make or break ten minutes of someone’s day.
The first caller is a woman who ordered something on sale on Black Friday, the order didn’t go through due to a setup error (i.e. entirely the company’s fault), and now she wants to pay the Black Friday price, as opposed to receiving a delayed credit for the price difference. Danielle starts shaking her head at the customer’s request almost immediately and mentally starts jumping around doing air punches to warm up. According to her, the system literally cannot give the customer what she wants, and you can tell she’s itching to take the phone out of Mikey’s hand and shove her superior rightness down this woman’s throat. Granted, this woman is bitching about waiting 48 hours to get a credit (which is fucking fast in my experience) and the whole issue is over a frigging GPS, but… this is situation is about 80% of customer service. In that field, you really can’t like saying “no” as much as Danielle seems to, or you’ll go to a pretty dark and power-hungry place. She’s the Vader to Adam’s Kenobi, is what I’m saying.
Danielle finally loses her battle with restraint, and takes over the call from Mikey. She proceeds to out-bitch and out-patronize her customer (no small feat considering the woman is epically pissy and incurs none of my sympathy, btw), to the point of flippantly suggesting to the woman that her real problem is with corporate, so maybe she could call them. At this point Mikey’s had enough and interviews that if it weren’t for the show, he’d fire Danielle’s ass right then and there. I thank Danielle heartily for entertaining me, but I can’t say I disagree. Oh, and that call ended in a hang-up, in case you were curious.
You weren’t curious at all, were you?
Danielle can tell that Mikey is uncomfortable with the way she handled the call, and tries to communicate to him that there are some customers that just can’t be pleased. I think there’s still some residual Adam dust on me, because I find myself wondering if Danielle’s life has been really difficult and while she needs a job, she’s tired of trying to please people. Mikey’s actually glad he met Danielle because she’s finally presented him with a problem he can solve, as opposed to making him feel shallow and inadequate. I don’t blame him.
Job 3: It’s back to Richwood! Really? Gee, glad we’re getting a complete overview of the GSI experience… He’s even back at the Fulfillment Center to get experience on the shipping line. I really hope they filmed the Richwood segments back to back, as opposed to wasting thousands of dollars on flights and whatnot.
Basically, this job is all about packaging – how fast and well can the boxes be wrapped and packaged, because the faster, the more output, the more output, the better the profit. Mikey wants to see if there’s a way to increase production during Peak. He meets Greg Rogers, the packing supervisor, and bald-faced lies to the man’s face claiming to be a fast learner.
Shannon’s the lucky lady who gets to teach Mikey how to pack 90 boxes in a single hour. Damn, that’s a lot of boxes. I’m thinking about how much tape, time and paper it takes me to get something ready to mail on my own, and literally shuddering at how fast I would be fired from this job. She demonstrates the steps for Mikey a few times, and the woman’s a fucking rockstar at packing boxes. I’m guessing Mikey is going to be her complete opposite, and that I will enjoy this segment immensely.
Mikey is hilariously bad at packaging, but I really can’t make fun of him considering he shows the same amount of dexterity with a tape gun as I do, if not more.
Not kidding, I can’t work those things to save my life.
Shannon tries to help Mikey as best she can, but by the time Greg shows up to check on him, poor Mikey’s only at 40 boxes an hour. Greg tells him not to panic, but that he needs to show improvement every hour and reach 90 boxes an hour soon. I’m guessing Mikey’s gonna top out around 50. He asks Shannon what happens to the poor, unfortunate souls who don’t make it to 90. “Tossed out back and ground into packing material! Aaaahhahahahahahaaaaa!!!” Is what I wish she’d said… But no, Shannon tactfully states that those individuals who don’t show enough potential for another position lose their jobs. After a while, Shannon asks if he’d like to go to lunch, and Mikey is all, “That would be GREAT.” Anything to escape the sense of impending doom as he is forced, for the first time, to realize his limits.
Breaktime is tragedy time on this show, and we learn that Shannon loves her kids, but is working seven days a week during Peak, so she doesn’t see a lot of them. She is, however, as involved as she can be in their extracurricular activities, and Mikey’s impressed by how much she can juggle at once – both in life, and on the line! I’m starting to realize that one of the functions of Mikey’s incredibly high-achieving, but also incredibly narrow life experience is that he’s very, very easily impressed. Shannon is fantastic, but her life is pretty normal for a lot of people, and Mikey seems blissfully unaware of her entire demographic. One of the things that bothers me about this show is that all of the CEOs seem shocked – SHOCKED – that there are people out there who have lives that are far more difficult than they are rewarding. They also never seem to get far enough past said shock to genuinely relate to these people. Methinks a week is too short for this experience.
Lunch is over and it’s back to the line. At three pm, Greg stops by with a performance report, and not only has Mikey failed to reach the desired rate of 90 boxes per hour, he’s mislabeled several. Greg is considerably less friendly this afternoon than he was that morning, as he straight up fires Mikey’s ass after seven total hours of work. Mikey expresses the appropriate amount of embarrassment at getting fired from one’s own company, and says a personal goodbye to Shannon, who’s sad to see him go.
Not that sad, though.
Job 4: Mikey arrives at another Fulfillment Center to learn how to be a “picker.” Worst job title on show yet. Cameron is Mikey’s training picker, and shows him how they get an order, locate the different items in the massive warehouse, and assemble the order in one package. Okay, this job actually seems kind of fun. The pickers get a cool hand device that tells them what they need to find, then they run around the warehouse and do it. I mean, I’m sure it gets old, but with that hand device it’d be totally easy to pretend you were in an action movie all day where you had to find bombs hidden all over a top secret government warehouse and ship them back to the terrorists from whence they came.
BOMB PICKERS: JUDGMENT DAY
Oh, and at some point they took a break – Cameron’s got a daughter he never sees, but who also adorably hangs out at work with him. I know this show is incredibly manipulative, but put a daddy/daughter scene in front of me any day of the week, and I’ll pull my heartstrings for you. Mikey even asks Cameron’s daughter if she knows why he works so hard, and she answers, “Because he loves me.”
My roommate just walked in on me, and I didn’t even pretend I was cutting onions.
Cam also lived on the streets from the time he was 15 to the time he was 17, and relates part of that back to not having a father figure, so he’s extra-committed to being there for his daughter in whatever way he can, turning the negative into the positive. Mikey’s heartstrings are as stretched out as mine by the end of this conversation. He’s really excited to let his daughter put all the lipstick she wants all over him when he gets home.
Mikey and Cameron get started, and Mikey gets the hang of picking pretty quickly. Not quickly enough however that he thinks he stands a single chance against Cameron in a picking competition. Which he doesn’t. Cameron schools Mikey’s ass in a way that hasn’t happened to our illustrious CEO since elementary school kickball. I will say this is a pretty funny montage and it’s the first glimpse of a Mikey not completely ruled by ambition. He relaxes, he has fun, and he even goofily tries to hide Cameron’s product cart in an effort to slow him down. His testimonial afterward about appreciating his own daughter that he routinely blew off earlier in the show is the same old schtick we’ve seen so far, but I think there’s hope for Mikey to piss me off less at the end of this episode than he did at the beginning.
Then again he felt the need for a professional hair brushing after seven days away from home. It could go both ways.
Mikey’s long journey is over, and as he puts on his suit and his ego inflates back to his normal size, he practically giggles at the thought of what his employees will think when they find out that all of his failures are moot considering he is their boss. Mikey’s getting his power back!
It’s Shannon, Adam, Rochelle, Cameron and Danielle who are the lucky five to receive acknowledgment from Mikey, and Danielle is by far the most nervous in the van on the way to headquarters. She’s a little more self-aware than I thought… Employee reactions are predictable – Shannon can’t stop giggling, Cameron can’t talk, Adam is agog and Rochelle asks if she’s fired. Rochelle’s up first, and her exchange with Mikey makes me think this experience really affected him in some capacity given that he’s SO much less of a creepy automaton/alien than he was at the beginning of the show. I also enjoyed the fact that Mikey actually used his unhealthy obsession with being the best at things to give Rochelle one of the best gifts ever on this show – a full-time position with benefits at GSI. Just the kind of thing that will change someone’s life for real. How novel.
Cameron’s next, and Mikey reiterates how moved he was by Cameron’s devotion to his daughter, and plays Santa better than any other boss on the show by giving his number one picker $1000 in gift cards for Christmas. And thank God he follows up with a management promotion because if Rochelle got a new job, and Cameron got a gift card, that’d be an awkward wrap party.
Onto Shannon, who so impressed Mikey with her pride in her job and work ethic, that he is giving her… $5000 toward her son’s football team. Okay, I get that that was very important to her (so much so that she can barely speak to interview after the meeting), but I think this lady also deserved a vacation of some kind. Here’s hoping the title cards at the end of the episode are as nice to her as they were to Igor and his new 7-11 store.
And now it’s time for Danielle, and the full-on crazy stare returns for this one, all trace of humanity gone.
I literally jumped when he entered the office.
Mikey introduces himself and Danielle’s face is worth another photo so soon after the last one.
As high as I jumped at Mikey’s face, I laughed louder at Danielle’s.
He tells her how much he wanted blow his cover and walk her out, and to Danielle’s credit she takes the criticism very well, explaining that she was pretty new to the job. Mikey understands, but reiterates that that’s no excuse to talk to a customer that way. Danielle surprises me again by saying she’ll do whatever she can to improve, and she doesn’t get unreasonably upset. I think Danielle might be kinda cool, but in the wrong job. Incidentally, no gift for her.
Adam is last, and Mikey tells him that his story broke his heart. No shit. That story broke a few diamonds that strayed too close to its sympathy radius. Adam receives $10,000 toward his wedding, and his humility is even more painfully evident as he wonders how Mikey could do something for someone so inconsequential.
Final speech time. There’s a lot of blah, blah, inspiration, wonderful experience, blah, more balanced life, more family time blah. You get the idea. When are the title cards?
Oh look, title cards!
Rochelle’s got a full time job, Cameron’s going to be a supervisor, and Shannon’s sons’ football teams are the “best dressed in the league.” Oh, sorry Shannon, I was pulling for a little extra for ya. Adam and his fiancÃ© have started planning their dream wedding – I guess that means CBS thought it was too morbid to allow more than one mention of saving up to buy burial plots next to your daughter, because no further is heard of that particular endeavor. Oh, and Danielle got more training, but isn’t with the company anymore. Here’s hoping she realized that there’s no shame in it not being in your DNA to eat shit from people 24/7 for crappy pay. Godspeed, Danielle. Go do something you like.