Secret Millionare

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Resident helps the needy as a “Secret Millionaire”

LAHAINA – “You can imagine my surprise when I received a phone call from a Los Angeles television casting company,” explained attorney Greg Ruzicka, co-owner of Island Spirit Yoga and Dance Studio in Lahaina.

“When they asked me if I would like to be a participant on the reality show “Secret Millionaire”, I thought it was a hoax; a crank call.”

But when the film crew showed up at his Maui home two days later, Greg was interviewed, filmed and given his assignment: live with your 22-year-old son Cole in an impoverished area for eight days and find three people to whom you would give $100,000 of your own money.

It was also up to Greg to decide how much of his $100,000 would go to each recipient.

“Secret Millionaire” is fashioned after a show that has been a hit in London, England for the past eight seasons.

During each episode of the new Fox show, a wealthy American millionaire goes undercover into one of the most impoverished and dangerous towns in America. Their job is to spend one week canvassing the town and meeting as many people as possible.

Some of the townspeople will touch the millionaire with their dedication to helping others, while some will have incredible stories of trying to overcome tremendous odds.

On the final day, the Secret Millionaires dress up, meet with their three chosen recipients and reveal their true identity and intentions: to give them a sum of money that will change their lives.

Executive Producers Chris Coelen, Greg Goldman and Bruce Toms hope the show will “engage viewers in important social issues, extol the virtues of volunteerism and change the lives of disadvantaged people – and the philanthropists who helped them.”

Greg and Cole, a college student, musician and aspiring model, spent eight days south of Imperial Beach, San Diego, the last city before the Mexican border, in early April.

The area was selected to match Greg and Cole to a community that they would have compassion for, explained Casting Director Sheila Conlin.

“We found Greg by searching for millionaires with an ability to connect with people in unfortunate circumstances. We saw that Greg had a special bond with his son Cole, so it was decided that they would be on the “Secret Millionaire” show as a team,” she said.

Greg and Cole left behind all their worldly possessions and were given thrift store clothes in a duffle bag and $150. They knew they needed to find work and a place to stay.

“We found a dilapidated hovel to stay in and jobs as day laborers, taking down drywall,” remarked Greg.

The supervisor on the construction site was Linda, who had been electrocuted on a construction job, causing her to fall off the roof. She survived but went into bankruptcy. What she earned did not cover her expenses.

Linda became the first recipient of Greg’s donation.

While getting supplies from a Quick Market, Greg saw a can on the counter asking for donations for Emily Bare, a victim of bone cancer. Her dad gave up his job as a tow truck driver to take nine-year-old Emily to chemotherapy and care for her. The family has no health insurance (to learn more about Emily, visit her website at

Emily was the second recipient of Greg’s donation.

While in a local mini-market, Greg spoke with an older woman, Katherine, who needed help placing groceries in her car. Katherine gave up her life to help runaway teens and needy kids at the Second Stop Home.

Katherine was an obvious third choice to receive Greg’s donation. “She was like Mother Teresa; very kind and was dedicated to those kids,” Greg commented.

Greg’s outlook changed after this experience. “I no longer make snap judgments when I see people in unfortunate circumstances. There could be any number of reasons why the person is in need,” he said.

The other episodes of “Secret Millionaire” will include an Internet mogul worth $300 million, a husband-and-wife team who own a multimillion dollar magazine publishing business, an owner of a restaurant empire, a Baltimore socialite and former NFL cheerleader, as well as a software inventor worth $50 million.

Each millionaire will change the lives of three people in an impoverished area, including a community devastated by Hurricane Katrina; an old coal-mining town in Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania; and areas outside of Los Angeles, San Francisco and Las Vegas, where people in need live just minutes from those in upscale, gated communities.

The first show aired on Wednesday, Dec. 3, as a two-hour special featuring Greg and Cole from 7 to 8 p.m. and another millionaire from 8 to 9 p.m. on the Fox Network (Channel 2 in West Maui). Another episode will air on Thursday, Dec. 4, from 8 to 9 p.m. The remaining three shows will air on Wednesdays from 8 to 9 p.m.

December 3, 2008