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Todd Herzog says the Dr. Phil show gave him vodka

Survivor China winner Todd Herzog being helped to the stage by Dr. Phil in 2013.

A Boston Globe and STAT News report published at the end of last week explored Dr. Phil McGraw’s relationship between addiction treatment centers and his show and products. One story examines how “the ‘Dr. Phil’ show has put at risk the health of some of those guests it purports to help, according to people who have been on the show and addiction experts.”

One of those guests is Survivor winner Todd Herzog, who appeared on Dr. Phil in 2013 in absolutely horrifying condition, and in an episode I found to be “both explotative and necessary.”

On the show, Todd said, “Today, I had an entire bottle—like a liter of vodka.”

Todd now says that while he’s “grateful in a lot of ways for the show” and for sending him to a treatment center, that bottle of vodka he drank actually came from the show.

In a video interview, Todd says he was sober when he arrived at the Dr. Phil studio, having detoxed over the two days between the intervention and the taping. But in his dressing room was vodka and Xanax, which he consumed—and which can be lethal.

In an on-camera interview, Todd says he showed up to the studio “completely sober” but “hurting,” and found “two liters of vodka and some Red Bulls and orange juice” in his dressing room. “I drank the entire bottle.” He added, “At some point somebody gave me a Xanax; they said, this will calm your nerves.”

“I get that it’s a television show and they want to show the pain that I’m in. However, what would have happened if I died there?” he said.

Dr. Phil declined to comment or be interviewed for the story, but Friday, the show released this statement:

“The Stat article does not fairly or accurately describe the methods of ‘Dr. Phil,’ the TV show, or its mission to educate millions of viewers about drug and alcohol addiction. The show does not give drugs or alcohol to its guests and any suggestions to the contrary is errant nonsense.

For the past 16 years, the Dr. Phil show has provided valuable information to viewers by telling compelling stories about people who are fighting the battle to overcome alcohol and drug addiction. Unfortunately, addicts often lash out at the very people who are trying the hardest to help them break the cycle of addiction. Although terribly unfortunate, this is an understandable part of the behavior of addicts on their journey to recovery. Deception, dishonesty and denial are hallmarks of addiction. It tears families apart and certainly creates levels of complexities when we produce these important shows. None of this will deter the Dr. Phil show from it’s commitment to continue to educate and inform the public about the worsening epidemic of addiction.”

But the person tasked with caring for Todd after the show, the director of the treatment center he was sent to, now says “I honestly regret having ever done” Dr. Phil because, the publications report, “he was so upset by the condition of Herzog on the ‘Dr. Phil’ show and the manner in which the show was conducted.”

It’s not clear what medical attention the show provides to addicted and/or detoxing guests. And The Boston Globe and STAT News report that the show’s representatives “offered a series of shifting explanations over two weeks regarding the medical oversight of guests when they come out to L.A.”

In addition, their extensive reporting reveals that having addicted guests on the show benefits Dr. Phil—and not just with ratings and media attention. For example, treatment centers get product placement in exchange for buying Dr. Phil’s stuff:

“The show’s addiction segments aren’t just compelling TV and good for driving huge ratings: They also serve to boost related businesses. Treatment center operators have been offered valuable endorsements in exchange for buying a new virtual reality product that features ‘Dr. Phil’ offering tips and coping skills to people in treatment.

Centers that buy Dr. Phil’s Path to Recovery, priced at $3,500 to $7,000 a month, have been promoted on the Dr. Phil show as well as on a second program called The Doctors that is owned by the production company founded by McGraw and his son, Jay.”

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