The 5 Millionth Customer: An Ethical Dilemma

A burly young man, head shaved, holding a sandwich fresh from the deli department, walked toward the express checkout line at a suburban supermarket. It was lunch hour, and the place was crowded.

He walked up to a man dressed in work clothes, the logo of a gasoline retailer on his shirt. "Hey guys, can you do me a favor?" the man asked. "Can I jump in front of you? I'm late for a job."

Watch the story on ABC's "What Would You Do?" airing Tuesday, Jan. 13, at 10 p.m. ET

The man shrugged and let the fellow cut in front of him. The line moved slowly. "Come on!" he said in the direction of the cashier.

After a couple minutes wait, he finally reached the cashier. He put his sandwich on the counter and was about to reach for his wallet when an overhead speaker announced:

"Our 5 Millionth Customer!"

Marching music blared, strobe lights flashed and a mighty clamor erupted as cashiers and other store employees let out a cheer and shook plastic noise-making clappers.

The big guy looked around, wondering what all the commotion was about. What was happening?

He may have been clueless but the guys behind him, who let him cut in line, knew exactly what was going on.

"He stepped in front of you," a member of the group said to the man who had relinquished his spot in line.

Then, seemingly out of nowhere, a pretty young woman appeared carrying a bunch of colorful balloons and an oversize check.

"Congratulations," the young lady chirped. "You're our 5 millionth customer. And I'd like to present you with this check for $500!"

'He Cut Me in Line!'

The cheers continued. It seemed everyone was beaming, happy for the man and his good fortune -- everyone except the guy standing behind him, the one who let him cut in line.

"What do I get for letting him cut me in line?" the man asked.

"Well, he was our 5 millionth customer," the prize lady explained cheerfully. "How about another round of applause?"

"Bull***! He cut me in line!" the man shouted over the noise. But nobody, including his beneficiary -- now $500 richer -- paid any attention.

'I Should Have Won'

"You going to split it with me, or what?" the man asked, finally getting the prize winner's attention. "Hey, today's my lucky day, pal."

"Today's my s****y day," the man sputtered, slamming what would have been his lunch in front of the cashier and storming off. "I don't need this f***in' s***!"

When we finally caught up with John Conners outside the store, he admitted he was pretty steamed.

"I got upset because he won and I should have won," he said.

What Conners didn't know until now is that he'd walked right into one of our "What Would You Do?" hidden camera experiments. But how would shoppers react when they allow someone to cut in line in front of them only to have that person win $500 for being the store's 5 millionth customer?

The answer seemed obvious to Conners.

"I guess you got what you're lookin' for," he said.

Our experiment took place at Stew Leonard's, a supermarket in Yonkers, N.Y. In addition to the burly young man, played by actor Brad Lee Wind, we used a second character to cut the line, an older woman, played by actor Renee Queen. And of course, the winner's check was bogus.

Queen's Turn

When actor Queen, a grandmother, asked a woman if she could cut in front of her in line, she did so in a sweet, pleasant manner. "My husband's in the car," she said. "He gets so anxious."

"You got somebody out there?" the woman asked.

"My husband," Queen replied. To that, the woman rolled her eyes. "Say no more, say no more. That's a man."

Then the woman's friend joined the express line and they made small talk with Queen, mostly about the weather and items in the store that were on sale. But the conversation stopped abruptly when Queen reached the cashier. The music started playing, the lights flashed and the store staff surrounded Queen with cheers and noisemakers.

Queen, as directed by "What Would You Do?" producers, looked as though she didn't know what had hit her. She appeared dazed by the blinking lights and all of the cheering.

Happy for 'Winning Customer'

"Congratulations," said the prize lady, also an actress hired by ABC. "You're our 5 millionth customer!"

"No s***! That would have been me!" shouted the woman who relinquished her place in line.

But unlike John Conners, who'd given up his place for our male actor, this woman was smiling. Her friend, standing nearby, laughed in disbelief.

After presenting the check for $500 to Queen, the prize lady turned to the women who thought they'd just missed out on a big payday: "You guys were so close," she gushed, trying to be sympathetic.

"Actually, I gave her my spot," said Nellie Aviles, still smiling.

Time and again, fellow shoppers were angry when Wind won, and they were happy for Queen.

When we told Aviles about our experiment, she smiled.

"It's a blessing," she said. "I'll be blessed in another way."