Million Dollar Mistake

It was probably a drive toward democratization that game shows, aside from the ever more rare stalwarts such as “Jeopardy” started shying away from actual book knowledge and school smarts.

Quiz shows started to rely more often on pop culture trivia, polling and newspaper fun facts to move from the seeming elitism of actual knowledge. It also probably helped getting players, who may more easily name Angelina Jolie’s suitors than the wives of Henry VIII.

Sometimes the wealth of what ordinary people don’t know can astound you. In two examples that popped up on “The Amazing Race” in recent seasons, no racers knew who Sancho Panza’s master was, or could easily name Kafka in a five-letter word scramble in Russia.

Better to put movie releases in chronological order than books of the Bible.

But the limitations of that move can arise when the unfinished of modern day trivia – the Wikipediazation of game show inquiry —  is enlisted in high stakes game show.

It happened over the holidays on “Million Dollar Money Drop,” a show that was only more remarkable in its weeklong, six hour holiday week primetime blitz and its inverse approach to prizes: Rather than accumulate cash as you answer correctly, over-excited contestants start with $1 million, in dozens of bundled cash only to lose it as they go along.

And you know they’re going to lose it. Even if someone manages to answer the seven questions correctly, nobody would be so sure as to not hedge their bets a bit by putting some money on a second answer that might be right, so they can take home some money in case their main answer Is wrong.

The misstep during the week came in a question that asked which popular item was in stores first: Macintosh computers, Sony Walkmen or Post-It Notes.

Seems like it would be Post-It notes, but who knew for sure? Again, it’s not the thing they teach in schools. So the couple, Gabe Okoye and Brittany Mayi, put $800,000 of their remaining money on Post-its, only to see it go down the chute never to be fondled, smelt and flipped again.

The answer seemed wrong (to those who checked Wikipedia – sadly the source material for truth these days). But the network initially stood by its question.

But as what looked like a mishap ricocheted across the internet, they changed their mind, with producer Jeff Apploff releasing a statement:

Unfortunately, the information our research department originally obtained from 3M regarding when Post-it notes were first sold was incomplete. As a result of new information we have received from 3M, we feel it is only fair to give our contestants, Gabe and Brittany, another shot to play Million Dollar Money Drop even though this question was not the deciding question in their game. We would like to extend our sincere thanks to the viewers who brought this to our attention, and we’re thrilled to give Gabe and Brittany the opportunity to return to play the game.

It’s a solution that gets their show in the news one more day and makes Fox look good for giving them one more chance on an upcoming show (it returns Jan. 4).

Most recently Kevin Pollak, the latest second tier comedian to be made into a game show host, opined that the couple even if they got to keep their money from the Post-It quesion, they would have only lost it on the next question anyway.

But is it true? Hadn’t their confidence been shaken sufficiently by the getting called wrong on what they (and America) thought was right, were they now in a position of second guessing themselves?

Either way the couple hasn’t decided whether they will return or sue. In each case, they could lose it all, but one method would not involve a chute.

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