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August 28, 2015

Why college students don't belong on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire

by Joel Keller, posted Nov 2nd 2009 4:29PM
Who Wants to Be a Millionaire logoSomething about the syndicated Who Wants to Be a Millionaire seems off this season. It might be the gimmicky "Tournament of Ten" that they've been building towards; it starts next week. Or it might be the bumped-up money tree they've instituted, paired with tougher questions; now it's easier to get the first safety level (now $5,000) but much more difficult to get to the second (still $25,000).

But what might also be off is that the producers have been mixing in some very young contestants into the show, and when they're on, the program screeches to a halt.

Why? They're too young. Even if they're the most book-smart kids on the planet, their knowledge of pop culture and historic events goes back maybe ten years, and those questions are a large part of the stack most contestants get.

Case in point: A few weeks ago, a contestant who was 18 needed to use up a lifeline (I think it was Ask The Audience) on a lower-end question about what show Brian Austin Green debuted on. Most people who have owned a TV over the last twenty years know BAG was on Beverly Hills, 90210. But this young woman had no clue.

Just this afternoon, a junior in college had to burn a lifeline on what hot-button issue gave us the term "death panels" (expert Deborah Norville very condescendingly decided to do a process of elimination for the guy even though she knew the answer was "health care"). He also didn't know that Cormac McCarthy wrote the novel that No Country for Old Men was based on, and he had to walk away.

I could maybe see the kid slipping up on the second question, even though the book was mentioned in every review of the movie when it came out way back in 2007. But the "death panels" question should have been an easy one, no matter if your most trusted news source is The New York Times or Jon Stewart. Hm... maybe Norville should have talked to him like he was an idiot.

The daytime version of Millionaire is more concerned with people's stories than their ability to get through the stack of questions. That's the only reason I can think of that such young contestants are passing through the selection process.

The fact that the questions get hard around the $12.5k or $15k level shows that the producers obviously want to give away less money per contestant. So it's no skin off their noses if some college freshman bolts at the $7.5k level because she didn't know that Nirvana was the band Dave Grohl was in before the Foo Fighters.

(I just made that question up, but I'm sure we'll see that eventually.)

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Sorry, this whole article has no point. Age has nothing to do with whether or not you know the answer to a trivia question. My mom doesn't even know who Brian Austin Green is--nor should she. The only argument you could make is that this guy shouldn't have been on the show because he couldn't answer the questions. It wouldn't be a very entertaining show if every contestant knew every answer. A good contestant on any trivia-based game show needs to have a broad knowledge of trivia, regardless of how old they are.

November 03 2009 at 11:23 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Axel Harris

Also a 19 year old college student, I could've answered all those questions except BAG. Which is probably because I'm a dude and I want to remember him for things like Terminator.

November 02 2009 at 9:04 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Holy crap Joel. Do you go to my school? That question about David Grohl was asked at my college the other day.

As another college student on this board I see your point, but its not all college students. I was 8 when Who Wants to Be a Millionaire debuted and was easily able to get up to the 32,000 question (Yes, I know the questions were easier back then.). I even knew the answer to the first million dollar question (Richard Nixon was the only president to go on Laugh-In.) at that age. Then again, I am also the kid who memorized all the presidents and the Guiness Book of World Records for fun.

I think the producers are picking college kids that only know things from their generation. These are the kids who are able to name all the teams from The Legends of the Hidden Temple, but can't name the host of Match Game.

November 02 2009 at 6:56 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

As a college student I feel the need to at least offer a small rebuttal although you obviously make good points.

Although I know you were not attempting to characterize all college student, I am 19 year old that thinks both of those questions are beyond easy. In fact I'm slightly embarrassed my fellow college students failed to answer those questions correctly.

Another way to correct this problem is to skew the questions for the college students, keep culture references in the last 20-15 years and try to keep the questions more current. It would be interesting if the use of college students were bought about by a slight change in demographic. As college students are known for watching TV in the middle of the day.

Thank you for your interesting and insightful article.

and the points you bring up in the last paragraph were the very first thing that occurred to me.


November 02 2009 at 6:02 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I'm sure you could find people of all ages who don't know that Brian Austin Green was on 90210. Or didn't have a clue about death panels. Their age has nothing to do with it.

November 02 2009 at 5:58 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to jds65's comment
Marcus Gorman

Not knowing "death panels" basically proves that one knows absolutely nothing about current events or anything pertaining to the world of politics. It's an embarrassing thing to proclaim.

November 02 2009 at 6:35 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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