If the wife of an indicted, impeached politician offered you a chance to make $100,000 for your favorite charity, would you take it?
That was the choice facing Tampa's Children's Cancer Center last week when a representative of Illinois' former first lady, Patti Blagojevich, offered it a chance to receive money she would earn while competing on NBC's unscripted live competition I'm a Celebrity … Get Me Out of Here.
Two Chicago charities had turned down the proposal from Blagojevich's Tampa publicist, Glenn Selig, fearful of association with ex-Gov. Rod Blagojevich, impeached from office and indicted this year on corruption charges.
But the cancer center's incoming chairwoman, Tina Greene, who earned nationwide fame on CBS's unscripted competition The Amazing Race last fall, said her bottom line was simple: The money was coming from NBC, and it would help the center help families struggling with cancer.
"Every show is looking for some kind of sensationalism to get people to watch," said Greene, noting that The Amazing Race often showed her arguing with then-estranged husband Ken. "We chose to look at this as a positive step."
As part of NBC's show, which places D-list celebrities in a Costa Rican jungle competing in degrading challenges, the stars also raise money for charity. But Selig had trouble finding an Illinois nonprofit to take the Blagojevichs' money.
"The minute we left Chicago, there was no issue," said Selig, who approached the cancer center late last week with the offer, which he said could earn it a six-figure donation. "The real losers in this process are the children who could have been helped (by the other nonprofits)."
The Bear Necessities Pediatric Cancer Foundation in Chicago turned down Selig last week. Rod Blagojevich is accused of trying to extort a campaign donation from the foundation's sister hospital, Children's Memorial Hospital, according to the Chicago Tribune. Selig wouldn't identify the other Chicago charity that turned down the money.
Critics say NBC and the Blagojevich family are trying to camouflage the exploitative elements of the show, which had planned to feature the former governor until a judge denied him permission to travel to Costa Rica. Though Selig won't say what Mrs. Blagojevich is being paid, media reports said her husband could have earned up to $120,000 per episode for the series, which airs four nights a week through June.
The live show unfolds like a cross between Survivor and Fear Factor, with celebrities enduring deprivation and challenges such as eating awful stuff (Mrs. Blagojevich ate a tarantula Monday). The audience votes for celebrities to stay on the show, though participants Spencer Pratt and Heidi Montag quit Tuesday.
As viewers vote, they can also donate to a charitable fund. When the competition concludes, the first eight eliminated celebrities earn 6.67 percent for their charities. The next two earn 13.33 percent, and the winner earns 20 percent.
Given the tough economic times, the only criticism Greene has heard is from folks who mistakenly had heard the center turned down NBC's offer. "I'm a little surprised any money from a major network would be turned down," she said. "I just wish I had been paid like that to do The Amazing Race."