'Undercover Boss' Steven Foster: The Most Genial Secret CEO Yet

'Undercover Boss' Steven Foster: The Most Genial Secret CEO Yet
'Undercover Boss' Steven Foster: The Most Genial Secret CEO Yet

Steven Foster, the CEO of upscale bowling chain Lucky Strike Entertainment, was hands down the most easy-going Undercover Boss yet. The hit CBS (CBS) reality show is still as phony as the toupee he was forced to wear, but at least the episode was pleasant to watch.

Foster, 55, exuded an almost Zen-like serenity, though he did get emotional at times, particularly when he spoke about his recently deceased mother. The twice-daily mediation he has done for 41 years must help. And unlike many other Undercover Boss subjects, Foster doesn't need to prove anything to anybody.

He co-founded Lucky Strike in 2003 with his wife, Gillian, and by all accounts, it has been a rousing success. Hipsters, and those who aspire to be like them, are now going bowling. A quick glance at the company's website proves this point. Like many other businesses in its sector, Lucky Strike is being hurt by tightening corporate entertainment budgets and by consumers who are less willing to splurge on a night out.

Lucky Strike is not your father's bowling alley, and that, according to its detractors, is precisely what's wrong with the chain. Its alleys --- the company prefers the term "centers" -- are really night clubs that happened to have bowling lanes in them. Some old-school league bowlers consider Lucky Strike to be bowling's version of New Coke -- not the real thing.

Learning What He Should Already Know

Transforming Foster into a working stiff was a challenge that the producers did not rise to. He appeared ridiculous in his toupee, which looked like something crawled on his head and died. To his credit, Foster wore the dreadful hairpiece with great aplomb and did his best to pretend to be Aaron Johnson, a down-on-his-luck business owner who was supposedly competing for a job. The episode, though, was chock full of the attributes that have made the series so disappointing.

First, there are the problems that the undercover boss discovers that really shouldn't have been surprises to him. Foster gamely dressed up like a giant pin at the behest of Devin, a bartender at Lucky Strike's Hollywood location. He showed a real knack for mascot work, and it dawned on him that the chain might be able to make better use of the character. Really? That idea never occurred to Lucky Strike's marketing department?

And while Foster was at the chain's Manhattan location discovering that he'd make klutzy server, he also learned from server Brianna that the center had no break room. So, are viewers to believe that no one in management ever noticed this before, or that no employees ever complained?

Generous and Unrealistic Rewards

Foster has no business being a mechanic either. Angel, a mechanic at Lucky Strike's center in Nyack, N.Y., recommends that the moribund center try to attract some bowling leagues, an idea that's so obvious it surely must have occurred to management long ago. Jermaine in Houston points out that the reservation and scoring computer networks don't talk to one another. Again, this is a problem that management should have known about.

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As usual, the rewards granted by the undercover boss in the show's post-reveal phase were both generous and unrealistic. Devin was put in charge of a marketing team to devise new uses for Mister Pin, and his soon-to-be introduced companion ball character. He also was given a free vacation with his father.

Brianna, whose dream is to open up a day care center, will run a kids program called "Bowling with Bri." That's not as generous as it sounds: Night clubs are introducing family-friendly activities during the day time hours when their operation would otherwise be dormant. But Foster also will contribute $10,000 to her future day care center.

Jermaine, who is a graphic designer, will be able to make a T-shirt for Lucky Strike, and some of the proceeds will benefit his son, who is blind. He'll also help fix the computer problem. Angel was promoted to head mechanic and will receive $10,000 toward his daughter's education. He'll also put his bowling knowledge to work and market his center to leagues.

Regardless of the show's flaws, though, Foster won my respect when it was revealed that he continued to dress up as Mister Pin after his stint as an undercover boss was over. Somehow, I can't see Donald Trump doing something similar.

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