Wednesday, September 11, 2013

NBC's Million Second Quiz is no prize

Posted By on 09.11.13 at 02:55 PM

Ryan Seacrest was born for this shit.
  • NBC
  • Ryan Seacrest was born for this shit.
Jeopardy! is in the midst of a seven-week hiatus and it's making my life miserable. Yes, Alex Trebek is getting tired and old—so old, in fact, that he can no longer chase sticky-fingered prostitutes without tearing his Achilles tendon (TRUE STORY). But it seems excessive, abusive even, to force regular viewers to either settle for reruns or to find something else to watch during dinner for a period of nearly two months. (Note: they're currently replaying this year's Tournament of Champions featuring Chicagoan and Man of a Million Facial Expressions, Colby Burnett—you should watch if you didn't when it originally aired in February.)

Anyway, it seems like a pretty opportune time for one of the networks to swoop in with a grandiose, multiplatform, overhyped trivia show extravaganza, which is exactly what NBC did. Filmed inside a three-story bent-steel, neon-lit hourglass sitting atop a building in Times Square, Million Second Quiz couldn't be more overblown if it were hosted by Ryan Seacrest. Oh wait, IT IS HOSTED BY RYAN SEACREST.

Here's how it works: around the clock for a total of a million seconds (or around ten more days) a steady stream of contestants will be paired up to compete against one another in timed trivia bouts. One person sits in the "money chair" and earns ten dollars for every second he or she continues to defeat competitors and retain the seat. Meanwhile, four people who've won the most money thus far are held captive in a backstage area where they'll sleep (maybe), eat (hopefully), and bathe (yeah right) until someone earns more money than they did and bumps them out one by one. And then there's the interactive mobile component. By playing at home, either from a computer or mobile device via a free app, people who can't physically line up outside the studio for a chance to get on the show can become "line jumpers" by scoring a certain number of points in the online game, filling out a casting application, and waiting patiently for a camera crew to show up at their home unannounced, then whisk them away to New York for a shot at the money chair. Oh, and when you're in the money chair, make sure to remember to "double" the stakes if you suspect your competitor doesn't know the answer to a particular question. Also, prepare to face one of the top four competitors at some point during your stint on the throne.

Confused? Well, that's because it's fucking confusing. The show's creators went to really goofy lengths to make this a game show unlike any other. Unfortunately, the ways in which it is like other shows are all the worst ones.

Like Who Wants to Be a Millionaire (an inexplicably huge hit that's since been relegated to daytime TV), Million Second Quiz is multiple choice. You don't have to actually know things, you just have to be decent at deductive reasoning. It's like watching someone take the SAT. An improvement over its forebear: contestants only have five seconds to answer, so they can't hem or haw or phone one of their college professors when they can't remember whether Robert Louis Stevenson or Daniel Defoe wrote Kidnapped.

Another flaw: Way too much time is spent on things that aren't trivia. I'm happy for the people who made it onto the show (this is a lie; if anything, I'm jealous) but I don't want to know them. Contestant Rick has been married to his wife for 40 years? Well, that's real sweet—now move on. A "line jumper" is being surprised live at her home in Salt Lake City? Great. You guys go grab her and I'll wait here in my living room answering trivia questions. Also, yes, the set is elaborate but I'm sick of talking about it. And I really don't care what the top four players are doing in their isolation booth or what their families have to say to them via Google Hangout. The nightly broadcast is only an hour long and a lot of that feels wasted. (Other people might've thought so, too: on Monday night, the already mediocre ratings dropped off in the second half hour.)

All of this said, I spent a lot of my Monday on the MSQ mobile app playing the game against strangers in order to build up enough points to qualify to become a "line jumper." If a camera crew shows up to bring me to NYC, I've already asked that this post be deleted and I'd appreciate if you wouldn't mention anything discussed herein.

If no one shows, then screw it. I just want Jeopardy! back.

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