The students thought they were on their way to the top selling these alarm systems in Fresno. They spent all summer knocking on doors, hoping to win the grand prize. Before the summer was up they realized not only had customers been scammed, they had too.
"What's up brother?"
These college students are meeting for the first time in months to retell their summer ordeal that began with a slick pitch.
"If you dream"
"of becoming rich"
"star on a reality show and win one million dollars."
The promises began at colleges in Arizona, and then continued through the Golden State.
The dream deal would end in Utah with broken spirits and broken backs, so to speak.
For many students it began at Arizona State University.
Tyler Heald, Arizona State Student: "This guy came up to me in the cafeteria, handed me a flyer and said, hey do you want to be on TV?"
Suffian Hamdan, Arizona State Student:
"They had this big display of like that says the prodigy and there was like music and a whole bunch of people out there cheering it up and stuff."
Students from around the country were invited to try out for a new reality show called "The Prodigy".
"Why am I the prodigy, because I'm the best salesman here and I have a great personality."
As many as 2000 students were selected to compete for a million dollar prize.
"That's the reason I got pumped up, that's the reason I went out a week early was because I'm like I want to be the best, I want to get a head start on all these guys, all these other schmos."
With shooting set to begin, students fanned out across the country.
Some ended up in Northwest Fresno crammed into these Heron Pointe Apartments, six to a room, each paying 100 dollars a week.
The first day of filming, no photographers showed up, no cameras.
"We didn't see a camera once, the whole summer."
The job they had to tackle, selling home alarms in Fresno and the Bay Area.
"Door to door sales, four grueling months all, going head to head for the grand prize of 1 million dollars."
Colin Greenbauer, Arizona State Student: "We'd pile into vans and they'd drop us in communities we'd never been in before."
We were told to tell people we were not salespeople, we were going to provide them a free home security system."
Consumers like 88 year old Aileen Spann of Fresno got caught up in the conspiracy.
Aileen Spann, Fresno Resident: "I think it's ridiculous, I feel really scammed. I've been lied to. It doesn't say anything about them not having a technician on duty all the time. What good does it do if they're not going to be here when I need them."
Fresno resident Tracy Tiscareno says she was conned too.
Tracy Tiscareno, Fresno Resident: "He really layed it on thick. They were really trained really really good to pull the smoke over your eyes."
Yard signs advertising the company are still stuck in their lawns, an agreement made in exchange for the supposed free alarm system.
Turns out it was the most expensive security Tiscareno ever paid for.
"We got charged not once, not twice but three times in the same month."
The alarms being sold were from a company called Firstline Security out of Orem Utah. Four weeks ago they cleared out corporate headquarters and filed for bankruptcy.
Cindy Sullivan is the Firstline Customer Service Director. She insists the students were not told to lie, or cheat to generate business.
Cindy Sullivan, Firstline Security: "We are founded on principles of honesty and integrity and the systems we sell have value and you don't need to lie."
In the past twelve months the Better Business Bureau has received 282 customer complaints against Firstline. 14 of the complaints came from the Central Valley.
Many filing complaints reported the systems never working, being overcharged, and unable to reach technicians to fix the problems.
Better Business Bureau executives say a simple phone call could've saved many consumers a huge headache.
Cindy Dudley, Better Business Bureau: "If they had come to us to check on the company they would have found that we already had an unsatisfactory record on the company and it would've given them the information to make an educated decision on who they should do business with."
In the end, it seems those on the selling and receiving end both feel really ripped off.
"We would take perfectly good systems out of people's houses and put in our crap."
"And they took advantage of quality individuals not just in Fresno and Concord and here, all over the country."
As it turns out, company representatives from Firstline say no one won a million dollars.
When the prodigy producer was contacted by phone, he told us the reality show was real. That it has not been aired but someone won. He would not say who.