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with Chris Wolvie
Five Days of the Same Contestants Makes One Weak
May 25
By the end of the week, one of these idiots will be crowned the Grand Savant, earning an awesome prize! Who will it be? Damned if I know...'cause I'm "The Brain" and this is (day 1/2/3/4/the 5th and final day) of...

AIR DATES: December 9, 1996 to April 25, 1997
CREATOR: Michael Dugan and Chris Kreski; MTV Productions
HOST: Greg Fitzsimmons (with Marc Price as "The Brain")
WATCH IT HERE: YouTube (Monday and Friday)


We end our look into the MTV/VH1 game shows that led to the end of video music channels as we know it with, perhaps, the most decorated of them all. Yes, "Idiot Savants" was the only one of the shows presented that won a CableACE award for "Best Game Show, Special or Series" in 1997. Of course, the show was cancelled by then but, hey, still quite the kudos. Except, the only two other winners were "Legend of the Hidden Temple" and a show that only lasted four episodes on Comedy Central. But, hey, c'mon, it's an ACE award! Which...were never presented again after '97 since cable shows were starting to make the Emmys. OK, so there's a little tarnish on the award. And, to be honest, it's a little surprising that they DID win because...well, it was a MESS! The game, the questions asked, the point system, the fact that the same contestants were there all week. What made MTV even THINK that this could hold the attention the average 18-to-35-year-old in the late 90s, when the internet was JUST starting to emerge from its underground roots? Oh, I thought it was pretty interesting back then. But, hindsight being 20/20, it WAS a cluster@#$% of a show.

Four contestants played an entire week of shows, like with "Jackpot!" or "Go". Each contestant has a "Savant Category", a particular pop-culture subject they say they are an expert of (like the first round of "Masterminds" or the bonus rounds of "ESPN's 2-Minute Drill"). Their scores each day accumulate until the final day where the one with the most points wins the grand prize for the week.

On Monday's show, a random contestant was given the first choice of eight categories. A toss-up question was asked with no penalty for a wrong answer. A right answer earned the contestant 100 points and first crack at a "bonus" question worth 200 points (which the other contestants can answer if the first one missed it). Answering the 200-point question right gave the contestant the option to answer a third question (the "Big Gamble" question) in the category for +/- 300 points (which, again, other contestants can try for if missed). The contestant can choose not to play the Big Gamble and choose another category. If no one gets ANY question right, the contestant who got the last question right chooses another category. When time expires on the round, the contestant with the lowest total is declared "The Dunce" for the day...but does not stop playing.

With The Dunce sitting in a corner, the other contestants play a round similar to Round 1 but with double the points (200 for the initial question, 400 for the bonus, +/-600 for the "Big Gamble"). "The Brain" also chose the categories, not the contestants. If, at any time, none of the contestants could answer a question right, The Dunce was given an opportunity to answer it, gaining the points for their week-long cumulative score. When time expires, the contestant with the lowest score is done for the day.

A series of rapid-fire questions are asked for 60 seconds (45 in earlier shows) for +/-200 points apiece under a similar category. The one with the most points at the end wins the day and goes to the bonus round. (Ties would be broken with one last Brainstorm question.)

Placed in the "Cylinder of Shush", the contestant are asked 60 seconds of questions on their Savant Category. For each one they get right, 200 points are added to their cumulative score. If they get ten right in the time alloted, they win a prize.

On Tuesday through Friday, The Dunce of the previous day picks the first category of Round 1.

ROUNDS 1 & 2
The cumulative scores of the contestants over the last four days are shown and the points on Friday are added to those. Rounds 1 & 2 are played exactly like Monday through Friday, except points for each round are doubled (200, 400, +/-600 for Round 1; 400, 800 and +/-1200 for Round 2). There is no Dunce this time; the player with the least number of cumulative points after each round is eliminated from further play. There is also no Brainstorm Round.

The trailing player goes through the entire 60 seconds answering questions from their Savant Category for 1000 points apiece. If they fail to surpass the leader, the game ends then and there. Otherwise, the other contestant has 60 seconds to answer enough questions to surpass. Whoever has more points wins the week and a large prize, like a trip or a car.

For an MTV show, they had some PRETTY smart contestants. They could answer questions about old books and art as easily as ones about rock stars or hit movies. And their Savant Categories ran the gamut from "Medieval England" to "Caddyshack"! These weren't kids who watched a lot of TV or listened to a lot of hard rock; they READ!

One of the coolest things about the show were the buzzer noises. No, really. Every day and every round, each buzzer was given a new noise. Sometimes it was a cartoon sound effect, sometimes it was a scream...and sometimes it's just a man saying "buzzer" or "yo, host" ot "over here!" Of course, in the later weeks, the sounds during the Brainstorm were defaulted to one saying "Idiot!" and the other saying "Savant!" least it was interesting wondering what sound each one will make.

Having a live band doing the theme song was a nice touch...and it was a bit better that, unlike "Turn It Up!", they STUCK to the theme and incidental music.

So...where to start? Greg Fitzsimmons was WAY too deadpan to be a proper host. He was acting like his intelligence was somewhere between the contestants and the people who did the skits for some of the categories. He seemed to go into each show like, "OK, let's get this over with."

Which brings me to said "skits". They worked for "Remote Control" but not here. Seemed like they were just there because the writers wanted screen time. They weren't funny like Cousin Flip or Stickpin Quinn on RC. And, as such, none of them were heard from again afterwards.

The scoring was confusing unless you watched five-days-a-week for several weeks, the categories seemd to drift all over the map (not in a good "Jeopardy!" way, either), the set looked a bit haphazard (what was the DEAL with the bottles and instruments on the host's podium? Were they WAITING for Greg to knock 'em over?!), The Brain looked stupid and acted the same way...not something a young adult would keep watching. Hence the cancellation, I'm sure.


Nah. Even kids are into Jeopardy! now so, without a channel with a specific audience in mind, there's no place for this. Oh, I liked it. And, as stated, it was good enough to win an award...but these days, it would be as much a novelty as it apparently was back then. So, once more into the "nice try" bin. Oh, and kudos for getting Stone Cold Steve Austin to stop by at the peak of his career for one week. :)

NEXT TIME: You know the name...but do NOT expect any "gak" in this version...

Chris Wolvie is an excellent game show reviewer...yeah, definitely, definitely an excellent game show reviewer. Follow him on Twitter @ChrisWolvie and e-mail him at