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The Million Second Quiz

Making Sense of a Confusing Game


The Million Second Quiz

The Million Second Quiz

Courtesy NBC

When NBC began promoting the Million Second Quiz, viewers were expecting a straight-up, 24/7 trivia game that would award over $10,000,000 to participants. What was actually delivered, however, was slightly different.

Million Second Quiz Fast Facts

  • Host: Ryan Seacrest
  • Executive Producers: Stephen Lambert, Eli Holzman, David A. Hurwitz, and Ryan Seacrest
  • Series Premiere: September 9th, 2013
  • Network: NBC
  • Duration: 60 minutes on television, 24/7 online for one million seconds (about 11 days).
  • Top Prize: Theoretically, $12 million. Realistically, about $2.5 million or less.

The Basic Game Viewed Online

The Million Second Quiz is essentially two different formats played as one game. There's the prime time version shown each night on NBC, and the ongoing trivia game that plays out live online. The 24/7 game is the basic version of the show.

In both games, the current trivia winner sits in the Money Chair and faces a stream of opponents, one at a time, in a series of trivia competitions called bouts. Anyone seated in the Money Chair earns $10 per second as long as he or she can stay there.

In the basic game that's played for the vast majority of the event, each bout lasts 500 seconds. Correct answers are worth one point each, with no points lost for incorrect or unanswered questions.

Million Second Quiz in Prime Time

Things start to get a little tricky when the game moves to prime time television for one hour every night. The bouts continue here, but the game itself becomes much different.

There are three bouts in this hour. These bouts are 400 seconds long, and the points per question increase as the time counts down. For the first 100 seconds they earn one point per question. When the clock gets down to under 300 seconds, it's two points. Under 200 seconds, three points, and in the final 100 seconds questions are worth four points each.

The bouts are as follows:

  1. The current Money Chair resident faces the Challenger in line.
  2. The current Money Chair contestant faces a Line Jumper, who is flown in to play based on scores (and a bit of random luck) from playing the online MSQ app.
  3. The current person in the Money Chair plays against one of the contestants in Winner's Row, in what's called the Winner's Defense. More on this in a moment.

The other major difference in the prime time bouts is the use of the Doubler. After hearing any question, either of the contestants can hit what's known as the Doubler. This doubles the point value of the question and sends the question over to the other player, who must either answer it or Double Back within five seconds. Doubling Back sends the question back to the opposite player, with the value once again doubled. When a contestant answers the question, if he gets it right he gets the points, but if he gets it wrong the points go to his opponent. Doublers are unlimited throughout each bout in the prime time hour.

Winner's Row

The four contestants who have earned the most money in the Money Chair get to move on to Winner's Row. Winner's Row is a room with four "pods" containing beds and television sets, where these four competitors reside for as long as they hold the top positions. The folks in Winner's Row can be unseated at any time if another contestant passes them in earnings.

At the end of the million seconds that the game actually lasts for, the four people in Winner's Row get to keep what they've won and then battle for an additional two million dollar prize.

The Winner's Defense

The final round of the prime time game is called the Winner's Defense. Throughout the day during certain time periods, the participants on Winner's Row play along with the game on their tablets. Their scores are tallied and whoever gets the most correct answers is named the Power Player. The Power Player can then choose to go back and take on the contestant in the Money Chair himself, or send another person from Winner's Row to compete.

Whoever wins this bout earns the combined total of both banks -- the money that the person in Winner's Row has accumulated, and the cash that has been earned thus far in the Money Chair. The winner then takes the Money Chair and continues playing, adding to the total as long as he can hold on to the chair.

The Hourglass Set

During prime time, the show is broadcast from an extremely impressive set. Shaped like an hourglass, the set has been built on top of a building in Lower Manhattan. It features colored neon lights, and contestants are actually playing outdoors so you can see the skyline, and what the weather is like.

The indoor set is used for the basic bouts, and was used once in prime time during a thunderstorm.

Criticism and Confusion

The Million Second Quiz, in its basic form as an ongoing, 24/7 trivia competition, is a great idea. Anyone can play and win, the rules are basic, and anyone watching can play along. With the added rules for the prime time show, which often seem to be made up as they go along, the game becomes confusing and questionable.

There have been many concerns since the game started. It doesn't seem fair that contestants in the Money Chair during prime time earn ten dollars per second throughout commercials and other segments. Situations in which time runs down in a bout have been handled differently, even though the situations themselves have been the same. Most damaging to the show, however, was the fact that the online component was completely inaccessible during the first two days of the competition. Therefore, no one knew how the game was supposed to work or how the prime time version differed when it actually debuted.

Though viewer numbers seem to indicate that the show may not be back for a second season, I think that would be a shame. With the kinks worked out and a new approach to solid rules, The Million Second Quiz could be a fantastic game show event on a semi-regular basis. The idea of the ongoing competition and the potential amount of money contestants can earn is enticing to both contestants and viewers. All it needs is some tightening of the rules, fewer prime time gimmicks, and a more reliable online component to be a great success.

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