NASCAR boss almost exposed twice, but Undercover Boss ignores that

Last night’s episode of Undercover Boss followed NASCAR chief marketing officer Steve Phelps, who went undercover because the organization’s actual bosses are too well-known to try to disguise their identity. But even he is well-known, and almost got made twice. But the CBS reality show completely ignored that.

I find the show to be pretty terribly constructed–it doesn’t even try to conceal its fake voice-overs, fake reaction shots, and over production values–and have issues with its formula and its overall message. But all that aside, ignoring real drama like this is just inexcusable: Producers have built-in conflict that would ramp-up tension, and they ignored it, yet they manufactured drama by including a fake dubbed-in gasp over a reaction shot from a crowd that obviously wasn’t gasping or even pretending to act surprised? What?

Nascar.com reports that when he saw “Phelps working a blow torch on pit road as an assistant tire specialist for the No. 00 Aaron’s Dream Machine Toyota, Cal Wells openly asked, ‘Why is Steve Phelps dressed up in Aaron’s?’”

And later, in a segment completely edited out of the show, “Nationwide Series official Bill Whelan showed Kevin the ropes at the spotter’s stand high over the track” and then “noticed a team owner. ‘You gotta meet Roger Penske!’ Whelan said.” Because Phelps knows Penske, he “pretended not to hear” and “stopped and tied his shoes two times,” and then “pulled his cap low over his eyes,” NASCAR’s web site says, but that didn’t help. Penske told him, “You look awfully familiar, Kevin.”

While a close call with a team owner would have been amazing footage, and so it’s baffling why they chose to exclude that entire job, it wouldn’t have made sense to just include the near-miss and not the job. However, since we actually saw Phelps with the blow torch when he was recognized by Michael Waltrip Racing’s Cal Wells, it makes no sense at all that the show didn’t include that close call. Unless, of course, the undercover thing is just an excuse to manufacture some schmaltz.

about the writer

Andy Dehnart is a journalist who has covered reality television for more than 15 years and created reality blurred in 2000. A member of the Television Critics Association, his writing and criticism about television, culture, and media has appeared on NPR and in Playboy, Buzzfeed, and many other publications. Andy, 36, also directs the journalism program at Stetson University in Florida, where he teaches creative nonfiction and journalism. He has an M.F.A. in nonfiction writing and literature from Bennington College. More about reality blurred and Andy.