Taking Away Our Phone
long-running game show has something iconic. The Price is Right has the
Big Wheel, as does Wheel of Fortune. Jeopardy has the backwards phrasing
of correct answers.
And Who Wants to be a Millionaire had "Phone-a-Friend." A revolutionary
idea in 1998, it allowed the player the chance to ask any of his
pre-selected friends the current question, and they could discuss it for
30 seconds. The conversations ranged from the straightforward to the
tense, the comical to the commonplace, but it was an integral part of
On January 11, 2010, Meredith began the show by telling the next
contestant that Phone-a-Friend was gone. As a sort of mollification, the
player would be able to Ask the Expert at any point, instead of after
the fifth question as was the case before. The reason given was one of
fairness: many contestants were having their Friends using the web to
research the answer online, and some weren't.
I recall some contestants on the nighttime version using Phone-a-Friend,
and on questions worth $1 million. Anyone paying attention could hear
the clacking of the keys and the contestant saying "Search thus-and-so."
Anyone who thought ahead could (and should!) have had someone at a
computer terminal, with a handful of search engines open and at the
ready. I don't think this was cheating, but making the full use of the
Personally, I think that the reason behind the removal of Phone-a-Friend
had less to do with fairness and more to do with the prize money being
earned by the players. In the first series of episodes, the players
earned an average of over $32,000, but that number steadily decreased
over the next five, but in series seven, that amount increased $7,000 to
$27,000 (keep in mind that the second safety point was decreased to
$25,000 as well.). Players are winning more money since the show
started, and so future players are being punished for the previous
If the new players had gotten something back that was equally as good as
Phone-a-Friend, I'd be less irritated, but Ask the Expert is such a
crapshoot that I would rather have Switch the Question back.
Why so much caterwauling about one lifeline on a game show? Because back
in the early days, the show was taut, exciting and streamlined. Now in
the last year the lifelines have been changed up, that asinine
Tournament was created to ensure that someone would finally win a
million dollars, and instead of being able to make a useful phone call,
players now have to hope that their Expert is knowledgeable about the
topic at hand. The show has been rolling downhill over the last two
years, as if those in power were trying to gut everything associated
with the show, and I don't like it. The Millionaire of today is not the
Millionaire of even three years ago, and that's too bad.
You can have thirty seconds with Travis Eberle if you drop him a line at
make sure to ask him something he knows.