Thursday, February 3, 2011

Million Dollar Money Drop (FOX)

hosted by Kevin Pollak
debuted 12/20/2010; 60 minutes

"Million Dollar Money Drop" is another in a line of imported game show formats from the UK. Two players work as a team to protect as much of their opening stake as possible - $1,000,000 in cash - through seven questions. The first three questions have four multiple choices. After selecting from two possible categories, the pair have 60 seconds to decide how to divvy up their money. Moving the $20,000 bundles, the team can put all of their money on one choice or choose to spread it out. But they must use all the bundles, and they must leave one choice completely uncovered. Money on wrong answers drops by way of trap door, with money on the right answer moving forward to the next question.

The fourth, fifth and sixth questions have one fewer choice. The time limit increases as the game goes on. Throughout, the contestants have one opportunity to "quick change" and give themselves 30 more seconds to waffle. The seventh and final question has only two choices, forcing an all-or-nothing affair. Any money left is theirs to split.

Quickly, the title becomes a misnomer. The game is not about winning a million dollars, it's about survival. This is a sticking point for many of the show's critics, and initially it didn't bother me. As I watched more episodes, though, the dwindling fortunes became a downer. When teams don't completely lose, as it often happens, they scrape by with only a few bundles left. Teams who try to play smart and split when they're unsure HAVE to lose a lot to continue. The biggest rewards come to the biggest gamblers, and we all know what edge the house has in that.

Questions on "Money Drop" are not "what's the capital of" this or "what's the chemical symbol of" that. Contestants generally have to decide which option is the outlier - which of these TV shows was highest rated, which of these songs is longer, which of these was sold first. When that construct isn't used, surveys and statistics come into play, as couples wrestle with how many pairs of shoes the average woman has, or what activity more adults spend money on each year.

Again, many see this as a fault. I see it as a positive. It makes the show more engaging and accessible. If you ask a question about characters in a specific work of literature, you've already lost those people not familiar with the work. Ask that same audience to pick the most common computer password, and now there's discussion.

While the material provides good fodder for an at-home shouting game, life changing sums of money go out the door in the studio. Earlier taped games saw much more esoteric questions at crucial stages in the game. The producers look to be fixing that as time wears on. Another sticking point from the initial episodes was the pacing. At first, couples played the entire hour, and money dropped more often on a choice-by-choice basis. Later, especially on the early gimmes, the doors were opened faster. Two couples were now featured per hour. It's much more tolerable that way.

I have to give some credit to the casting department here. In the new school of game shows, a lot of broadstroke, stereotype-laden "characters" play the role of contestant. While it's still a reality on "Money Drop," a healthy number of teams demonstrate refreshing trivia aptitude. Faced with questions where you have to reason a choice, rather than outright know it, these teams draw upon facts they do know to help make their decision.


Kevin Pollak is a bright spot. He handles the proceedings with an appropriate amount of tension, and delivers the game beats in a convincing way. The dust-up over the Post-Its question is more of an unfortunate reaction by the press and those contestants than anything that damns the show. The biggest issue is the pacing, which is getting better. As it is, "Million Dollar Money Drop" works best as background noise, or as a conversation piece in a living room get-together.

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