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Stop the Drop
December 31

Over Christmas week, Fox network aired an imported version of England's "Million Pound Drop", changing a few things, but the main idea was still there: start with a million dollars in $20,000 chunks, bet it all on seven questions, whatever is left after the seventh is for the team to take home.

The problems with the show started when it was apparent that we were going to meet just one new couple per show, and the episode would be stretched as far as necessary for that one game. It didn't help matters that the contestants chosen to play the game were ones that I wanted to strangle, more often than not. The pair would argue over things like which answer was right, how much money to place where, and then we had to wait several minutes to see what would drop.

That's bad enough, and the show would have quietly moved to the dustbin of American television history, but one incident has caused the show to remain in the public forebrain. On the VERY FIRST NIGHT, a couple of players were asked “which of these was invented first?” Since Gabe Okoye and Brittany Mayti had made it to the next round of play, there were three answers instead of four: Apple Macintosh, Sony Walkman, and Post-it Notes. Our pair parked $800,000 on Post-it Notes, and were inconsolable as the vast portion of their fortune dropped down the hole. Gabe and Brittany still lost anyway (you must correctly answer all seven questions to win any money, from twenty grand on up).

The day after the episode aired, there was a storm brewing: Post-it Notes were sold in 1977 in various test markets, but the Sony Walkman was sold in 1979. Gabe and Brittany were correct. There is now the issue of what to do: start the game over? Allow the team to play on as if they had held on to the $800,000? Some of the bubbleheads at Access Hollywood said that the couple should be given the eight hundred grand wad because “it was too close.”

I find that last bit laughable, but here's the rub: Gabe and Brittany had to play the rest of the game with four “chips” instead of the forty that they'd have if they hadn't been wronged. If given the chance, I think they should get to play again.

The problem is that I think the show as is remains unsalvageable. The questions aren't that interesting. The couples are instantly grating and make me want to stab out my eyes, not root them on to victory or share their sorrow in defeat. The game is constructed so that teams are having a chance to win an ever-decreasing prize, as opposed to winning bigger prizes along the way to a huge jackpot. It seems to adhere to all of the conventions of game shows that have been established by Deal or No Deal and its ilk, rather than trying something to be different and stand out from a crowd that looks all alike.

The whole thing becomes even more wacky when we find out that Gabe and Brittany are--wait for it!--out of work actors! We're now casting contestants for game shows not because they can play the game competently and that they can provide the home audience with a rooting interest. Oh no, we're picking actors from the local talent agency because they can take direction well. Gabe and Brittany will slurp up any camera time that Good Morning America et al will give them, because it gets their name out there for casting directors to see.

The really sad thing about this is that I remember the days when a game like this wouldn't make it to air. Problems would have been ironed out before the show got a spot on the schedule. Now, any ol' game show with six zeroes in the top prize gets on the air, and if there's a problem you just change up the rules to make it work. I am now to the point where I can zip through an episode of 1 vs. 100, Minute to Win It, or Money Drop in about ten minutes and not lose any actual content. I hope that the pendulum swings back the other way, and soon.

Travis Eberle can be reached at traviseberle@gmail.com.