By Karen Billing
Imagine being plucked out of your resort-like Rancho Santa Fe home and dropped in a run-down, dangerous neighborhood in New Jersey. Rancho Santa Fe resident Scott Jacobs and his daughter Alexa don’t have to imagine it, they lived it last year and their life-changing six days in the city-in-need will be nationally televised.
Scott and Alexa are part of the season-premiere episode of ABC’s “Secret Millionaire,” airing on Sunday, June 3, at 8 p.m.
Now in its third season, “Secret Millionaire” is a show that follows some of America’s most successful business people as they spend a week in the country’s poorest areas and ultimately give deserving members of the communities hundreds of thousands of dollars of their own money.
Scott, a world-renowned artist, and daughter Alexa, 20, can’t reveal the specifics of their gifts yet but can remark on what an incredibly emotional and powerful journey it was.
“The show really isn’t about us but the people we found and what they’re doing every day out of the love of their hearts, expecting nothing back,” Scott said. “They’re the amazing people.”
Scott will say every dollar he has earned came from a tiny brush stroke. A paintbrush is usually stuck behind one ear and his pants coated in paint splatters.
He owned his first art gallery at the age of 19 and began by drawing things that interested him, such as motorcycles and cars. A couple of Harley-Davidson paintings he did received the attention of the right people and in 1993 he became the company’s first-ever officially licensed artist. His photo-realist paintings now include not just the bikes but car art, lifestyle art, bar art and more.
His limited edition prints are in museums and private collections in more than 60 countries and imagery he’s created appears on everything from T-shirts to collector plates. He may only get 20 cents a plate, but he’s sold 5.5 million of them.
“Neither of us was born with a silver spoon in our mouths,” said Scott’s wife Sharon. “I’ve climbed up the ladder with him for the past 30 years.”
One of her favorite stories about Scott is that when he was 12 years old he used to tow a lawn mower behind his bike on a rope, a gas can strapped to the top so he could earn money mowing 42 lawns every week.
He worked hard for everything he earned.
Scott grew up in New Jersey about 20 miles from where they were filming. His parents were both alcoholics, his dad was abusive to his mother and his brother was also an alcoholic. He moved out of New Jersey as soon as he could.
The show often tries to bring people back to their roots and see if they can tap into those emotions. Scott said it definitely did.
“I cried and got choked up many times,” Scott said. “It’s hard to see people living like that.”
A Rancho Santa Fe resident for 16 years, Scott was approached to do the show about a week after he’d seen it for the first time. He wasn’t sure at first that he wanted to put himself out there in that way, but in conversations with his family, decided to do it.
The show’s staff interviewed both his daughters, Alexa and Olivia, as well as Sharon and selected Alexa to come on the show with him.
Alexa, a Torrey Pines graduate, is currently in college and working two jobs as well as doing freelance modeling.
Last July, after some initial shooting at their home, the show’s crew showed up at 4 a.m. to take them to their undisclosed destination. They couldn’t wear any clothing with logos on it, no jewelry, no makeup or nail polish for Alexa. Both of their cell phones were taken and they could have no contact with their family for the next six days of filming.
“I was terrified,” said Sharon of not knowing where they were or if they were safe. “Scott’s a lover not a fighter and I just started crying, telling them to protect my baby (Alexa).”
Once they landed in New Jersey, they were immediately struck by the abundance of camera crews following their every move. A taxicab took them to their new neighborhood, passing boarded up and burned up houses and projects that had become so dangerous that people no longer lived there.
“It was freaking me out,” Alexa said of the stories the cab driver told them of things that had happened in the neighborhood.
They arrived at their new home, an abandoned, boarded-up former crack house in Irvington.
“We had a disgusting couch that smelled like cat urine and two new cots with clean sheets and two box fans,” Scott said.
“We slept with the box fans at the end of the cots because it was so ridiculously hot and humid in the house and you couldn’t open any of the windows,” Alexa said.
They were given a “junky old car” and welfare wages for the week, $71.03. On their first trip to the grocery store, a man threatened to kill Alexa and the last gallon of milk they were able to buy came out in chunks when they got home to pour it.
Macaroni and cheese and egg salad sandwiches and cereal got them through most of their meals. They got by on just $48 for the six days.
Even though they had armed bodyguards with them at all times, Scott said the first few nights he didn’t get much sleep.
“I was in shock for the first couple of days,” Alexa said.
During the week they became Scott and Alexa Lee, two people filming a documentary on volunteering in America. Lying to every person they met was challenging, Alexa said, as they worked with three different charities and it was hard to keep their stories straight.
The experiences they had and the people they met will stick with them forever. Both vividly remember the homeless man they met who lived in a boarded up building, sleeping on garbage.
“That really hit home,” Scott said.
Often times after experiencing something particularly hard hitting, the film crew would pull them aside for “on the fly” interviews.
“They stick a camera in your face because they want that raw emotion at that moment,” Scott said.
Both were amazed that in all of those hours of footage the producers were able to whittle it down to 42 minutes — Alexa estimates she went through enough emotions to fill an entire season.
One of the hardest things was deciding how to split up the money between the charities they found, but the best thing was the big reveal, giving all that money away to people who deserved it.
“It’s a very emotional thing, one woman fell to her knees,” Scott said.
“For me it was a relief off my shoulders after working with them all week— telling them that you’re going to help them and do what you wanted to do the first day you met them all,” Alexa said. “I was so happy, we couldn’t stop smiling.”
When they returned, meeting up with their family and friends in South Dakota where they spend a great deal of time near the home of the annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, Sharon said the change could be seen in them immediately.
“In Alexa, I could see it in her face, it was just unbelievable,” Sharon said. “And Scott, he’s just a sap.”
Scott smiles and admits it’s true, anticipating tears when the pair does their publicity tour through appearances on Jay Leno, “Good Morning America” and “The View.”
“We should get our tear ducts removed,” Alexa joked to her dad.
Alexa obtained an even deeper appreciation of her family out of the experience, after speaking with people who had lost everything, including their families because of different circumstances.
“I’m not taking anything for granted,” Alexa said. “I’m thankful for what I have and I don’t look at people the same way. I don’t judge.”
One of the first things she did when she returned was volunteer with her sister at the San Diego Food Bank.
For Scott, he gained perspective from the people he encountered — he met a homeless man who had worked for 30 years at GM and lost it all and ended up living on the street. He met another man who lost all of his retirement money in 30 days because of drinking and making poor decisions.
“Anybody can have that reversal of fortune,” Scott said. “You’ve really got to be grateful for what you have and enjoy it now…And if you’ve got more than you need, there’s nothing wrong with giving back.”
To learn more about “Secret Millionaire,” visit
For more information on Scott Jacobs and his work, visit