We’re Obsessed With McMillion$, HBO’s Look at How the McDonald’s Monopoly Game Was Rigged
There’s a new documentary series I’m gobbling up like fries fresh from the drive-thru: McMillion$. The series from HBO aired its third of six episodes last night and I can’t get enough of the saga of how the McDonalds Monopoly game was rigged for perhaps its entire run. Not only that, but the scam was tied to organized crime. I mean … what?!
If you were around in the 90s, you played Monopoly at McDonald’s. It was fun collecting the pieces and sometimes you’d win a free french fry or something. But there was always the hope that you’d complete your set, get Boardwalk and win that elusive million-dollar prize. But it turns out, that wasn’t something that any normal person was going to win. You had to know the right people and be willing to pay money and half your winnings to a member of the Colombo Crime family to win.
How did this happen and how did the FBI investigate the scam? That’s the story McMillion$ tells, starting from the Jacksonville Florida FBI office that began the investigation. It’s a brilliant and mesmerizing series because it puts you in the FBI agents’ point of view, slowly discovering the extent of the fraud after following up on an anonymous tip that several Monopoly winners were related.
From there the series assembles a compelling cast of characters, from overly confident young FBI agent Doug Matthews, to Mafia wife Robin Colombo and even the enigmatic man behind the scheme, “Uncle Jerry,” aka Jerome Jacobsen. The series mixes archival footage, including actual video from FBI stings, reenactment and interviews to take you on this bizarre journey and it’s incredibly fun in doing so.
It’s a story that seems too wild to be true and too massive to be unknown … until you find out that the news of scandal and arrests that finally resulted? Well, the trial in the case began on September 10, 2001. The story was pushed out of the news for good reason, but it still happened, and now it’s ripe for rediscovery.
But that’s why this show is such a great example of non-fiction filmmaking and how a great documentary show or movie can be made. Documentaries are best when they shed light on something that’s almost too outlandish to be true, but happened nonetheless, and when they do it is a fun and compelling way to explore our strangest manifestations.
McMillion$ isn’t just the story of a scam. You can find the information about what was done and how with an easy google search. Instead, it’s the story of the people behind it and the quest of a few dogged FBI agents to uncover the truth. It’s about the single mother who was pressured into becoming a million-dollar “winner” by her friend’s mafia husband. It’s the story of the wannabe cop who ended up with a chronic disease that placed him in the perfect place to commit these crimes. It’s the story of how McDonalds and consumers went about business as usual without ever knowing the game was rigged.
Shows like this aren’t just entertaining, they’re great because they show how fascinating real history can be. So give McMillion$ a look and if you haven’t, give more documentaries a chance. You may end up with a winner.
McMillion$ airs Mondays on HBO and is available to stream on HBO apps.
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