#telosvision: most depressing gameshow ever?

just when i thought reality tv couldn’t get any worse, the race for the bottom has been reignited by Endemol and Channel 4’s latest ‘treat’ The Million Pound Drop….Live! no doubt simply filling a gap in the schedule which will soon be gobbled up (along with almost all other slots) by the new series of Big Brother, this Davina fronted reality quiz experience pits the non-existant wits of ‘people’, who can only be described as morons, against some questions, with the additional pressure garnered by the presence of £1m (this time a million pounds, not ‘a metre of money’) which they are forced wager on their lack of knowledge.

the ghoulishly simple concept is that a pair of quarter-wits are given a million pounds (but not really), told that they’re now millionaires (although not really) and told that they have a chance of staying that way at the end of the show (although not really). they must bet the money that they’ve been leant on eight multiple choice questions. they must wager all the money each time, but can spread it about amongst four possible answers (although one answer must always remain blank). any money wagered on incorrect answers ‘drops’ from the large pedestal stage that the game is conducted on and into the eager arms of fat men in suits with black shades – security guards apparently. as the game continues the available answers reduce to three, then for the final question, to two, meaning that the final wager is an ‘all-or-nothing’.

the first depressing thing about ‘The Million Pound Drop…Live! is the way in which the contestants are made to handle the money, bundled in £25K stacks, as they bet it. to absolutely guarantee that they look as much like the desperate, stupid paupers that they are, scrabbling around on the floor begging for all the money back that the banks and markets keep losing, they only have one minute to decide how much cash they want to risk on each answer and physically pile it on top of the appropriate trapdoor. we have yet to discover what happens if the time elapses and some of the wadges have not been placed, but we have seen plenty gleefully literal money grabbing.

the next most depressing element is added by the fact that as the game continues and the number of possible answers reduces, the questions become ‘harder’ (although this is a relative term) and the available options more difficult to choose between. the concept on which the show was advertised was that you become less sure of an answer you think you know to be right if someone actually gives you a whole stack of real money to risk on it…live! this, however, has turned out to be (at best) only an aspect of the early stages of the show when the stupid contestants are remotely within the Jeremy Beadle-esque grasp of their scanty faculties. in any case, as the eighth and final question looms, the nature of the question and the possible answers left to choose between mean that the role of knowledge is reduced to about that required to guess how many sweets are in the massive jar at the school fete (‘Which of the Cheeky Girls has the longer left big toe?’). as such, the format essentially means that if anyone with any form of general knowledge ever did get on, although they could potentially use their smarts to get all £1m through to the final question, they would be forced to gamble the fruits of their labour on essentially a coin toss in the last round.

clearly what we’ve ended up with is a gentrified version of the show Channel 4 wanted to make in which the best the contestants can possibly stand to do is have a 50% chance of keeping whatever pitiful amount of shiny coins their limited faculties have allowed them to scrape together whilst scratching around with their mouths, like the worthless poultry that they are, on the shitty floor of ‘Davina’s Cash Barn’ – a kind of Jimmy’s Farm meets the end bit of The Crystal Maze. in fact, why not just go out into ‘the worse kind’ of council estates and offer the people the chance to play Russian Roulette with three bullets in a six-shooter? at the start they stand to win all their hopes and dreams, but by the end it’s 50/50 whether they blow their brains out, or win a badge that reads ‘I’m poor, kick my face’.

last night’s instalment introduced Will and Gemma who were either stooges drafted in to steer the so-far dismal ship back on the intended course (i.e. to get some money through question 3 or 4) or they were the most depressing contestants yet. they started off well, knowing the answers to the first few questions and either managing to successfully risk all the cash, or lose only small amounts to entertaining last-minute fits of one-million-pounds-in-live-cash related doubt. they were clearly not what you’d call bright, but they seemed to know at least eleven things which is more than can be said for any other contestants i’ve seen ‘take the drop’ so far.

the episode hit an unbelievable low, however, when the subject for their fifth or sixth question was selected as Science and the following question was revealed: Which of these events occurred first – Pierre and Marie Curie discover radium, Fahrenheit invents the mercury thermometer or Isaac Newton formulates the three Laws of Motion? Will, the proud holder of an A* in GCSE Combined Science, was initially drawn to Isaac Newton but could not give the inquisitive Gemma a satisfactory reason as to why. after discussing whether the Laws of Motion were ‘when the apple fell on his head’, as if being able to confirm or deny that was all they needed to help them to alight on the answer, they put the majority of their money on Will’s Newtonian ‘hunch’, shifting something like ‘only’ £125K onto Fahrenheit as a backup. “I just don’t think radium’s been around for very long” was a treat of a comment from Gemma.

as if it weren’t enough that there was clearly tension in the room and on the faces of the contestants which should in no way have been there (million pounds or not) given that Fahrenheit was born only one year before Newton published Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica, to make matters worse, the Fahrenheit trap was dropped first (thus revealing it as an incorrect answer). so, now they knew that the answer was either Newton’s Laws (on which they’d bet around £900K) or the Curies’ discovery (on which they’d wagered nothing), and yet they didn’t seem any more confident. the ‘tension’ was cranked up ‘even more’ by the revelation that they would be cutting to an advert break before revealing the next drop. the fact that they didn’t know for sure which had occured first between an event from 1687 and another from 1898, or even who was around first, Newton or the Curies, was depressing, but the fact that the producers obviously thought that their ignorance would be shared by the majority of the show’s audience was quite sickening.

to my mind gameshows are supposed to be about the opportunity to turn knowledge or skill into rewards. the audience attraction is the giddy thrill of rooting for (or, in the case of some, (not mentioning any Judith Keppels) against) the contestants as they put themselves to the test. this programme is really about degradation. we’re presented with cash-strapped simpletons who’ve agreed to exchange their dignity for the chance to desperately fumble around with big blocks of money they are never going to win and in the meantime we’re supposed to enjoy the suspense of not knowing who was born more recently Cyrus the Great of Persia or Timmy Mallett.

on the show’s promotional youtube video, one of the production team asserts “it’s a massively life-changing thing to think about. Actually if i think about it too much, it makes me want to cry.”

me too.

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  • Comments (2)
    • Kirsty
    • May 27th, 2010

    I saw the advert, and immediately dismissed any idea of ever watching it. Your review has changed my mind.

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