Wednesday, May 27, 2009

American Genius Dept

I first got to know the show Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? in its original British incarnation, with Chris Tarrant. This was back when Aquila had put my whole family on the expense account and set us up in a flat in Westminster, and we all got hooked. So we were delighted to find out that the show was going to the U.S.

What a disappointment, in two ways:

1. Regis Philbin? Regis Phrickin' Philbin? The guy who (for reasons I do not myself understand) makes me, at the very sound of his voice, want to find a blunt instrument and beat His Royal Smarminess to a pulp, even though I have no reason whatsoever to think he's actually smarmy? That wanker? (Oh, sorry, I had temporarily shifted mentally back to English standards of what constitutes polite language. Besides, sometime le mot juste...well, that's the word that just precisely sums up what he strikes me as.) My reaction is completely and utterly unfair to the guy, who may be the nicest man in the world...but that doesn't change the fact that I am as incapable of watching that little smirk of his, and that...I guess he would call it "amusing patter"...oh, Lordy, it's fingernails-on-the-chalkboard time. And I'm expected to downgrade from Chris Tarrant to that...that...[words, or at least polite ones, fail me]...that?

2. But even more striking: what was up with the questions? I mean, the questions you got in England were serious questions. But in the American version you could go for a walk until they got up to at least $100,000 because up until that point it was kindergarten time. Did the producers really think we Americans were that stupid?

So I didn't watch the American version, and I haven't in a while. But I had a sore throat this morning and was worried about coming into the office; so I've been pounding away all day in the coffee shop. And some of my software wasn't working a little while ago, and it was taking forever to download the patch; so I leaned back in my chair while I waited and glanced up at the muted TV. And there was this woman...

Well, let's put it this way. Supreme Court material, she isn't. I wasn't paying terribly close attention until they asked the following question:

Q. Which of the following American tourist attractions is man-made?
Answers: Brooklyn Bridge, Rocky Mountains, Grand Canyon, Yosemite Falls

This was even dumber stuff than I remembered from back in the day.

I shake my head and turn to talk for a moment to Miss Aileen, and then look back just in time to see the following question pop up:

Q. Which of the following pop stars shares her first name with the French name for the fourth month of the year?
Answers: Kelly Clarkson, Ashlee Simpson, Avril Lavigne, Beyoncé Knowles.

I start to roll my eyes -- but then it begins to sink in on me that the contestant looks distressed. And then she says something to the hostess, and the next thing you know the little Ask The Audience graph goes up, and I realize the contestant just had to use a lifeline.

I'm flabbergasted. I can't wait to see what comes next. And a moment later, here comes the next question:

Q. The New York Islanders logo features a silhouette of what island?
Answers: Long Island, Key West, Hilton Head, Nantucket

Hm, let's see: I never have bothered to watch hockey and couldn't pick the New York Islanders logo out of a lineup with the Three Little Pigs, the Three Blind Mice, and Randy Guidry's personal crawfish pusher. But I think it's a safe bet that the island on the New York Islanders logo is, you know, in, like, New York.

The next thing you know she's calling a friend. Her friend guides her safely past the bottomless pit of elimination by gently guiding her to the "Long Island" choice. And that brings us to the next question:

Q. On a standard QWERTY computer keyboard [when I was a kid it was the standard QWERTY typewriter keyboard, which just goes to show how old I am], which of the following letters is NOT directly above the space bar?
Answers: M, B, P, V.

She has one lifeline left: "2x." I have never heard of this lifeline, but it turns out to be basically that you get two guesses.

"V!" her lips mouth soundlessly, and the hostess looks at her pityingly as the V is removed, leaving her with one more guess and three choices to pick from.

"M!"

Um...thanks for playing. I guess.

I guess maybe the American producers knew something about Americans I didn't know?

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