#181: Million Second Quiz
2013-2014 Patrick Wayne Award Winner


NBC: (September 9th - 20th, 2013)

The term "Special Event" when it comes to game shows over recent memory has been a bit of a curse.  Shows such as Million Dollar Money Drop, Take It All and Who's Still Standing have been billed as such and were unmitigated disasters when they aired.  So when Million Second Quiz was being billed not only as a "Special Event" but as "The Olympics of Quiz Shows", I couldn't help but cringe a bit.  The entire idea of Million Second Quiz was to always be on.  When it wasn't on NBC Primetime, it would be streaming 24 hours non-stop through the Million Second Quiz App and on NBC.com.  When the show actually did make it to air on both NBC and on the internet, I was not that impressed with the show itself, but a lot of the critics were already claiming that this was one of the worst new shows of the 2013-2014 season.  Little did I know of the behind the scenes trials and tribulations of the show would help catapult what would have been a failed experiment for NBC into the biggest runaway we had for the Patrick Wayne Award.  Let's delve into NBC's latest disaster of a game show.

The whole crux of the show revolved around the Million Second Quiz app, which was released in the summer of 2013.  The app went as follows: Two contestants compete against each other in a 10-question face-off with the first five questions being worth 10 points, the next 3 being worth 20 points and the last three being worth 30 points.  The player with the most points won the game.  The app, while not much, was very fun.  I remember playing it a few times and it was worth the 4-5 minutes it would take to play a game.  Another good thing about the app is that players who got over a certain set amount of points would qualify as a Line-Jumper.  Line-Jumpers would be entered into a random draw and the winner of the random draw will be flown to NYC to appear on the show, and that will be explained a little bit later.  The app would also be the catalyst that the show would be built upon since the app itself would be used to watch the livestream of the off-TV games. 

The TV version of the app would air on September 9th and would be used to hype NBC's new slate of programming for the season after being hyped like it was the second coming of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire on all the NBC/Universal outlets and especially Ryan Seacrest's own nationwide radio show.  Which is to be expected since Ryan Seacrest would be not only the host of this show, but one of the four Executive Producers for the show alongside Stephen Lambert, Eli Holzman and David Hurwitz.

But now we talk about Ryan Seacrest as the host and it's now kinda weird to say this, but he's been hosting all forms of shows since 1994.  I remember him doing Gladiators 2000 back then and he hasn't stopped since then, currently being the host of American Idol.  It's gotten to the point where Seacrest could very well be a description of a host meaning, "solid & respectable, but not as great as his reputation would make him out to be."  I just wish that, as we break down the rest of the show and the rest of its many faults, he would have been a better Executive Producer and fixed a lot of the bugs that plagued the show.

One of the bugs that I have is the overarching aspect of the Money Chair.  The Money Chair claims to pay out $10 for each second a contestant is in the chair, meaning an hour pays off at $36,000.  Well, as many shrewd people say, "Don't believe the hype".  During the livestream, after the fourth game, the show takes an 11-minute break.  That wouldn't be bad, but the money chair freezes at that time as well, meaning the max someone could get paid off in the chair is around $30,000.  The important thing about the chair is that the top 4 money winners throughout the competition when the millionth second ticks off gets to keep their cash.  So that lost $6,000 could have meant the difference between entering the top 4 or not being able to cash in on hours of hard work in the chair.  What also gets me about this is that this part of the game is rendered meaningless when the TV show has their Winner's Defense round, but we'll get to that later on.

The next bug is the gameplay.  The app format was straight-forward, but wouldn't have been overly exciting if it were to be directly ported to television, seeing how it could lead to anti-climatic finishes if by question 10, the leader had a 40 point lead.  So now, the execs had to take the App format and make it TV-ready.  So, here are the rules for the TV game.  The host will ask a question.  If you know the answer, that's great.  You'll answer it.  If you don't know the answer or think the other player doesn't have a clue, you can dare them to answer it for double the points.  But be careful, because they could always double dare you back for four times the amount.  Then you either have to answer the question....and that's it. Sound a lot like the question format of Double Dare?  Well, it should, because that's where it's directly ripped from.  I'm not talking taking a mechanic, they ripped it off whole hog and copy/pasted it to the mechanics of the app and you now have your TV game.  Does it work?  Yes it does.  Is it lazy as all hell?  Yes it is. 

In the first 100 seconds of the game, each correct answer was worth one point, a challenged question was worth two points, and a challenge back was worth four. After 100 seconds, the questions increase in value by 1 until time runs out. When time runs out, the winner takes control of the money chair. It’s not bad, but it’s also a big disconnect from the app format and that the app was more of the “Olympics of quiz shows” feel the producers were proclaiming that this show was going to be.

Want to know what's also lazy?  The format for the livestream.  They took the format used on the TV show, and stripped away all of the drama and intriguing bits of the TV format.  Instead, the contestants play a 500 second game of basically "Who knows more" with each question being worth 1 point.  This leads to some battles being anticlimatic when a contestant has a good sized lead with about 80 or so seconds to go and the other contestant has no way to catch up.  Personally for me, I would like to see at least some consistency with each of the platforms.  Either make the Livestream format like the TV format or give the livestream format something that would make it so that people could catch up.

The version that we got on TV would feature 3 rounds with the first round being 300 seconds and the money tree facing off against a contestant who passed the on-site tryouts.  The second game featured the Line-Jumper, which lasts for 300 seconds in the first episode, but was expanded to 400 seconds.

Now, I'm not opposed to a mechanic of the Line-Jumper that could get a play-at-home contestant into the actual game.  What does make me chafe is that it's nothing more than a raffle.  You have players that rack up hundreds of thousands of points, and don't get a sniff of the show.  How I would fix this is that every day, the player with the most points gets to appear on the show as the Line-Jumper, pending if they passed all the legalities of being over 18, and the other fun legalities of being on a game show like this. 

The Winners Defense is the final game and it was a gigantic mess.  The first thing that needed to happen was to find the Power Player.  In the first episode, the Power Player was the person with the most money out of the four biggest winners.  In the rest of the episodes, the four biggest money winners would play along with the first two rounds and the one with the most correct answers would become the Power Player.  The Power Player would then have a choice:  Either face off against the person in the Money Chair or send another one of the big winners to face off against the person in the Money Chair.

After all of that, they play a 400 second round of the TV game.  The loser is out of the game and loses any money they would have accumulated.  The winner gets the losers money and control of the Money Chair, meaning they get to continue playing and increase their winnings to the point where it makes the other 23 hours and 50 minutes of the day meaningless, since with the max you can earn per hour in the chair is $30,000 and by day 4, the winners had at least $175,000 in their accounts, you would never be able to get into the top 4 logistically, unless you are in the Money Chair and win the Winners Defense round.  This round just kills anything the live-stream would have brought to the table and makes the rest of the game not worth watching.

So yeah, the Winners Defense and all that it entailed ruined a regular viewing experience, but what about the live-stream?  How is that ruined?  Well, how about that it was notorious for being glitchy, especially in the first few days where the app would crash when the servers couldn't handle the massive amounts of traffic to the app and the site.  This grinds my gears because you expected this game to be a smash hit, so you'd have to beta-test the stream beforehand and be prepared for the onslaught of people to your site.  Instead, you come off as second rate to independent pro wrestling organizations that can get traffic to an iPPV site and have that handle better than you can with 1/1000th of the budget that you have.  It got to the point where Ryan on Night 3 had to spin this in ways that would make cable news bosses proud.  He said, "Last night so many of you were playing along on your MSQ apps that you actually crashed the system. The good news is you made us the No. 1 free app on iTunes, But wait, there’s more good news. They tell me it’s actually fixed – I hope so."

If you want more reasons why this was voted by the readers as the Patrick Wayne Award winner, just look at the bullcrap ending that the show pulled off at the finale.  The ending saw series winner Andrew Kravis defeat his final opponent and win over $2.3 Million, but in the form of either stealing a record from a more relevant game show in Jeopardy or sheer arrogance, they hiked his winnings to $2,600,000*.  Look, I'm all for someone getting more money on a game show after winning, but to do it just for the sake of wanting seems petulant.

That in itself would win the Patrick Wayne Award on any given year, but what put it over the top for most was the way they treated potential contestants.  One potential contestant who passed the contestant interview and pre-test contacted me about his experience.  Here is his timeline:

After a contestant interview and pre-test on September 4th, 2013 I got paperwork from the "Casting Manager" Kacy Stravitz. I filled out and returned the paperwork and on September 9, 2013 I got another email asking if I knew any of the writers/researchers. I knew I was hosed and was honest and told Kacy who I knew. She told me to come down anyway. I went down to the hourglass the next day, filled out the paperwork again and was honest about my relationship with four people on staff. I signed an affidavit stating I did NOT have any conversation about the game with them at any time. After waiting a while, legal took me aside and stated that I was not eligible, handed me a stale Subway Sandwich, and shuffled me out the BACK door where no potential contestants could see me.

Here's a story from yet another potential contestant:

It was--without any hint of reservation or distrust--the Single WORST Experience I have ever been through in my entire life...To add fuel to the fire, the producers fed us an ample supply of Coffee, Soda, Energy Drinks, Various Snacks and "Subway" Sandwiches in order to keep our energy going...Which may sound good on the surface, but unfortunately for me, (1) I'm sure Subway is good, but I don't like Cold cuts, and (2) Yom Kippur began that night, and I'm not allowed to eat anything for 24 hours, but I can still have fluids. Long story Short, I'm Amazed I did not contract Type 2 Diabetes that night from all the sodas/coffee...and don't even get me started on the Product Placement for Subway that we had to invoke on the web feed. The Subway Logo had to be EVERYWHERE or else we might have violated one of the 672 million legal releases we had to sign. It's as close to being a "Whore" on 42nd Street as I ever got...which isn't that far fetched because this took place on 41st Street & 11th Avenue.

Eventually, after taking god knows how many rounds of quizzes/written tests/possibly being rejected because I did not have a so-called "Exciting" personality despite having a high IQ, I was dismissed from the Audition at 3:30AM Saturday (Arriving 12 hours earlier that Friday) due to the waiting time limit running out. Surprisingly, the whole Audition Process can be better explained in
this article I found. The only difference between me and him is that He eventually got into the "Money Chair", and that the process--had I continued--sounded like it was bordering on "Refugee Camp" territory.

Afterwards, because the first bus home didn't leave until 8:00AM, I had the unexpected thrill of wandering around Manhattan for several hours at a time when every conceivable kind of crazy person makes their appearances...Thankfully McDonalds is open 24 hours so I bounced around from one spot to the next around Times Square--but again, because of Yom Kippur, all I could have was Iced Coffee to stay awake--so I was Starving as well. I'm honestly amazed I never suffered a Diabetic stroke from all the Sugar I consumed that night.

Altogether, I had gone a total of 28 hours without any sleep--eventually crashing when I got home at 10AM Saturday, and just woke up at 4PM the same day........I don't think I'll audition for a game show for a LONG Time. At least "Millionaire" was an Easy-in/Easy-out process, This was simply unfit for human consumption. And if the ratings for the show were any indication, I think the rest of the nation would agree if They went through what I did.

So, let's talk about the other side of the coin referenced in the Slate article...it didn't sound like a grand time either.  Having the makeshift "green room" feel like a "refugee camp" doesn't sound like my idea of having fun on a game show.  Sure this was all done live, but to be perfectly frank, this seemed awfully slapped together, and I'm talking about how to handle the contestants and not the show.  Because calling this show slapped together would be over-selling it.  I do recommend reading the Slate Article reference by the former contestant.  It is well worth the read.

To say this was a giant bomb of epic proportions is also underselling it.  Critics slammed the show for being too-confusing, leading the Hollywood Reporter to quote one NBC Exec saying, "I work here and I don't even get how it works."  Shouldn't that be a key to it all?  If the exec doesn't get how the core gameplay works, then how would Joe or Jane Q. Public?  Various writers out there have tried to breakdown just what went wrong.  Christian Carrion of Buzzerblog speculates that, "Million Second Quiz made itself out to be a life-changing event, but in truth it was a silly trivia/reality game shoehorned into this huge, light-emitting, Seacrest-helmed space vessel. It was as if the producer walked into NBC’s offices, drew a building with an hourglass on it, said “HEY GUYS I WANT TO MAKE THIS,” and went home and built a game around it once everybody finished complimenting him on his concept and photocopying the drawing for the fridge.

Whether TV executives like it or not, game shows are about one thing first and foremost: the game. When the flashiness of a set overshadows what’s happening on that set, the game show turns into a sculpture, a pretty object from which one can expect no movement of consequence. As a lover of this genre, I long for the days when “thick” games—dynamic, intellectual activities with substance and intrigue—were the norm. However, until another major paradigm shift occurs in the fabric of television programming, game show fans may find themselves stuck in quite a few more hourglasses."

Mike Hale of the New York Times Artsbeat has some similar complaints to those listed above, giving us readers 4 reasons as to why it tanked, especially citing the show's confusing mechanics that the NBC website wouldn't clear up.  He also lists that the shows trivia was banal beyond belief, mentioning questions ranging from solid trivia questions to what Cathy did in her last strip.  The problem with the Cathy question was that the contestants were being sequestered during the time that strip rolled out, so the best they could do was blind guesses.  He finishes it up with the show not bringing anything new to the table and not being convergent.  Again, all true.  The money mechanic was done on Dollar A Second, and that show dates back to the fifties.  As far as not being convergent, he states that "despite all the numbers NBC can throw at us — 1.5 million home players engaging in 28 million games — there was no sense of being a part of anything besides a big bump in traffic for NBC’s Web site. Beating a succession of random foes on your laptop or phone may have been satisfying, but it gave you an infinitesimal chance (if any chance at all) of appearing on the show."

Folks, this show messed up everything.  The game, the treatment of the contestants, the livestream, you name it, they messed it up.  Let's just hope that the worst of 2014-2015 isn't as bad as this show was, both on and off screen. 

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