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Who Wants to be a Millionaire? You don’t

Posted by on Sep 16th, 2009 and filed under TV. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

Here’s me nursing a Smirnoff Ice with Chris Tarrant in the bar after recording Millionaire with my friend Sital. I’m not overly proud of these facts, but I can honestly say I had a surprisingly fun day playing the role of ’ditzy friend in the audience’. Unfortunately my pal never got the chance to play for big money, but I did get to eat my bodyweight in chips and frozen cheesecake at the Elstree canteen. The programme team were so obviously a long standing family unit that the recording itself was a jolly affair that felt genuinely inclusive, with all the contestants rooting for each other, and the alcopops were free, so you’ll hear no complaints from me.

I do wonder, though, about the future of the format. Millionaire has to overcome the combined effect of two major problems: the difficulty of the questions – a necessity if they’re to avoid an all too-easy big payout - and the ‘current economic climate’. If you’re not a quiz junkie then the questions are just a smidge too tricky, too early - all our contestants bailed out around the £20k mark, even when they were pretty certain they knew the answer. The show still offers the biggest cash prize on British Telly, but, in these credit crunching times, few contestants seem willing to risk losing sizeable dollops of dough to win it.

Which brings me on to ‘The Cube’, ITV’s latest primetime flagship gameshow that could well be Millionaire’s deathknell. Presented by Philip Schofield in a manner at turns backslappingly chummy and pathologically serious, it sets everyday saps deceptively tricky physical tasks for increasingly tempting wads of cash.

The action takes place in the titular perspex cube, onto which are projected various swanky graphics to suggest it possesses a vaguely sinister artificial intelligence, an impression strengthened by the mirror-masked humanoid figure who demonstrates the tasks. These vary, from stepping on random squares within specific times, to navigating a tiny red ball into a chute using roller blind strings.

Last weekend an ex-Royal Marine almost had a nervous breakdown trying to complete the latter for £50,000. He was then offered a hundred grand just to bounce a ball into an umbrella stand, and that’s all it was - a simple test of motor skills that should’ve been within the capabilities of any Marine – and yet the gentleman passed; a testimony to the sly nature of the game and the life-changing nature of the money up for grabs, which is the attraction of both shows, after all; the chance for everyday people to walk away with a sum of money that will literally change their lives forever.

The Cube’s advantage over Millionaire? There are no questions. You don’t need to be a general knowledge sponge, or a member of the semi-pro Quiz Show clique, to win the money. The only intelligence you need is the nous to quit while you’re ahead, just like the Marine. Here’s the video of Phil offering him the chance to go for £100k:

His wife’s reaction to his deliberation is TV gold. You really feel how desperately they need that money. And then to have the cocky lady go on afterward and lose half her lives on the first task is another demonstration of the format’s strength: apparently simple, yet devilishly tricky, and within the intellectual bounds of almost everyone in the country. In that sense, The Cube is far more of an Everyman’s show than Millionaire ever was.

I’ll give Mr Tarrant one more season, at most, before ITV pull the plug. It’s not the event TV it once was, and it’s already cutting costs – all the contestants on our show, my friend included, were auditioned over a year ago, which suggests the production team are unwilling to splash out on even a fresh round of auditions. I’ll be sad to see it go – I had a great time at Elstree – but, after eleven years without a major revamp, I think it’s looking old.

Sorry Chris, but my money’s on silver Phil and his faux-robotic ‘Stig’.

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