MANCHESTER, NH — When Dave and Cara Bronson signed on to participate in a new reality TV show, they thought it was going to be a documentary about life after war.
Dave, 49, a retired Iraq War veteran who lost his leg in 2005 in a roadside bomb blast, has endured 33 surgeries. Cara, 43, who was pregnant during filming, works the night shift as a nurse, and they live on a third-floor apartment with their 2-year-old son and dog.
Life has been tough.
“I lost my left leg and was shot in my right leg. It’s been an ongoing struggle. There are problems that arise, irritations with the leg, and the prosthetic. Every day is different,” says Dave.
But soon after filming began for “The Briefcase,” which premieres May 27 at 8 p.m. on CBS, the Bronsons found out they were in for much more than they bargained for.
“On the first day of filming the executive producer showed up at our house with the briefcase. That’s when the roller coaster began,” says Dave.
The show serves as a summer replacement from the producers of “The Biggest Loser” and will air for six weeks in the Wednesday “Survivor” slot. It is described by creators as more of a “social experiment” than a straightforward reality show.
In each episode, two “hard-working American families” who are experiencing financial setbacks are featured. Each family is handed a briefcase containing $101,000 and a potentially life-altering decision: keep all of the money for themselves, or give all or part of it to another family in need.
Each family got to keep $1,000. What they did with the rest of the money was up to them.
Dave says without knowing what they were getting into, everything went smoothly and — without giving anything away about their ultimate decision — says the outcome “was amazing.”
“We knew as soon as we heard there was $101,000 in the briefcase, that there was going to be some sort of twist,” says Dave.
“We filmed for a week, and we had 72 hours from the time the executive producer made the proposal to come to a decision about how much we were going to keep. Over that time we learned about the other family, the Bergins, from Matthews, NC, and some of the health issues and struggles they were going through,” says Dave.
Cara Bronson, who works the night shift at a local hospital and is the family’s breadwinner, said she spent a few sleepless nights during the decision-making process.
“It was a tough choice. We were in complete shock when we found out about the money. It’s not every day someone comes to your house with $100,000 in a briefcase. At first we were like, ‘Oh great, all this money would help pay off most of our debt.’ Plus, we’re building a house that’s specially adapted for Dave, and so we felt like going into the new house would be great if we could have no debt,” says Cara. “And then we realized there was a family we could potentially help. That’s when we took a step back to sort it out, and it was definitely a challenge, coming to an agreement.”
In the process, Dave said he and Cara say they learned a few things — like you never know what kind of struggles your neighbor might be facing in life, and that it’s important to consider how you might make a difference in someone else’s life.
Also, adds Cara, that money is “definitely not everything.”
Filming took place in March while Cara was 8-months pregnant. Since then, they’ve welcomed their daughter, Teagan, into the world, who is getting lots of attention from 2-year-old brother, Gavin.
Somehow they managed to keep their participation in the show under wraps until they got the green light a few weeks ago from CBS.
“Nobody really knew that we had done the show until the network released the trailer, and then it was an ‘a-ha moment’ for our family. They were like, ‘Oh, so that’s what’s been going on with you guys.’ They knew we were out of town, when we flew out to California, and they’ve been really supportive of it,” says Dave.
He said they bonded with the film crew, and still talk fairly regularly with the Bergins.
“Cara’s a nurse, and they’ve had some undiagnosed health issues with their daughter, so Cara’s been trying to help out with research,” says Dave.
Dave and Cara agree that, despite some of the negative things they’d heard about reality TV, theirs was a positive experience, and they have no regrets.
“In making the decision we made, we talked about the things we wanted versus the things we needed, and we also talked about what the Bergens were up against. We didn’t know that all the while, they were in same position we were. In fact, we started speculating that maybe it was going to be a complete ‘pay it forward’ situation, and that maybe based on what we did, then they would have to make the same decision and pay the remaining money forward to another family,” says Dave.
As of last week, they hadn’t firmed up any plans for a “Briefcase” watch party, says Dave.
“We know both our parents want to do some kind of viewing party, but we might just want to stay home with the kids and watch,” says Cara. “It’s going to be exciting to see how the finished product turns out, and to see how the other families handled it.”
“Yes,” added Dave, “I think everybody involved took something positive from the experience.”
You can watch the trailer below, and click here to see a teaser about the Bronsons.