The Million Second Quiz
TV Series Review
That's what contestants make every second they're in the "money chair" on NBC's The Million Second Quiz. With that kind of cash, you could buy a new Corvette Stingray every hour and a half, or a shiny new iPhone 5S in a little over a minute. You could pay for Happy Meals faster than you could even order them. Indeed, there's $10 million up for grabs here—not counting the $2 million add-on jackpot at the end. Theoretically, then, if you forsook bathroom breaks and was able to stay in that (admittedly comfy-looking) chair for the full 1 million seconds and win the jackpot, you'd haul away $12 million from the NBC offices.
Sure, that's about $49 million less than host Ryan Seacrest made last year, according to Forbes. But still.
Alas, there's more to this show than just sitting around. Most of us are incredibly skilled sitters, but rarely does anyone pay us for the pleasure. No, as suggested by the title The Million Second Quiz, contestants have to correctly answer questions to stay in that lucrative lounger—and not easy questions either, like "What's 2+2" (4) or "What color is a banana" (brownish-black, at least in my lunch box) or "Who's the greatest television critic in the world" (awww, don't make me blush). The questions can be deep or shallow, ancient or modern, Oxford English Dictionary or People magazine. You might need to know Newton's Laws of Physics or what Miley Cyrus tweeted last night. You could be asked about the invention of beer or what politician was busted for DUI just hours earlier. For this game, you have to be up on your Jane Austen, Stephen Hawking and Kardashian sisters.
To stay on your cushion of cash, you've got to take on all comers: Walk-on hopefuls who've been boning up on trivia for a chance at a few bucks, and "line jumpers" who've been playing the game's free app and have done so well that NBC's decided to fly them to New York. Oh, and you'll also have to tangle with the game's biggest winners so far—the folks setting up temporary residence on "winner's row" (complete with sleeping pods). Only the four people who make it to that row—and those who are still there when the clock strikes zero—are guaranteed to make any money at all. If you didn't? Well, thanks for playing … er, sitting.
There's one more thing to note: This "show" never actually stops, not until time runs out and that $2 million prize is handed out. Depending on when you read this, there's a good chance they're playing right now, and you can see it at nbc.com/million-second-quiz. That means those who "merely" watch the show during its primetime run are seeing just a sliver of the actual game … which makes this a classic example of a post-television television game show.
TV, as we've known it, has been in a state of transition. Many of us don't "watch" TV (on the broadcaster's schedule) as much as we record it or stream it or download it or buy it. We view episodes on our smartphones and tablets. A few of us have "cut the cord" entirely, seeing stuff solely on Netflix, Hulu and other Internet sites, and many believe that that trend will only grow.
The Million Second Quiz aims to be not just a television show, but a multimedia viral event: Watch the show on TV! Stream it on your computer! Download the free app on your phone and play along! And there's evidence it may be working. I don't know whether this "event" has satisfied the ratings-hungry suits at NBC, but the free app has been the top downloaded app on iTunes for a couple of days, and Seacrest admitted that so many people had gone to the Million Second Quiz website that the servers crashed.
But the show itself doesn't crash, at least by Plugged In's content standards. As with most game shows, negativity is light—sequestered to perhaps a mild profanity or an exclamatory interjection of God's name every now and then. There's no violence. (Too much sitting going on for that.) Sexual content is constricted to perhaps a slightly suggestive question or two and the intro's inclusion of this line from an Icona Pop song: "We could do this all night."
Sure, the game could inspire some greedy or covetous thoughts—a desire to sit in the money chair and watch as the dollars add up. But that's about the only big issue at play here, and it's no different than it's been for decades with the likes of Jeopardy! and Wheel of Fortune. You can either tune in to tone up your trivia muscles or you can dial it up to drool over the dollars. It's your choice. But if your instinct is the latter, then maybe you should be asking yourself this little question: Just how many Happy Meals can one person eat, anyway?