Thursday, October 28, 2010

Well, It Is Better Than Minute To Win It...

"It gets worse, however, when we move from the network to game show fans, who immediately dismissed this show (an American format) as a ripoff of the British series The Cube. Every now and then, a show premieres in some other country that game show fans immediately latch onto, saying that when this show comes to America, it will forever change things. I remember when it was Millionaire (which lived up to the hype)...then The Weakest Link (which burned itself out pretty fast)...then Deal Or No Deal (ditto). I've heard a lot of game show fans say, essentially 'What is this Minute To Win It nonsense? We want the real The Cube!' What difference will it make? From what I've heard, the major difference between Minute To Win It and The Cube is that on The Cube, contestants do the stunts inside the eponymous Plexiglas structure. Is that seriously going to make a difference?" - From my review of Minute To Win It in March

Now that I've seen a couple episodes of The Cube...I guess it's time to try to answer that question.

The bare-bones description of The Cube sounds almost identical to that of Minute To Win It -a contestant starts out with nine lives. If this contestant successfully completes a game, we advance on the money ladder towards 250,000 pounds; if this contestant doesn't succeed, a life is lost. Quitting after successfully completing a game is of course an option, but once you say you want to go for it, you are committed to that game until you win or run out of lives. The contestant also has two lifelines - Simplify (which makes the game a little easier) and Trial Run (which allows you to try out a game once without fear of losing a life).

That's the format...so what makes this show different from Minute To Win It? Well for starters, the games don't seem all that similar to me. From what I've seen of Minute To Win It, it's mostly plain old Beat The Clock-type stunts. There are a few of those on The Cube, but also a lot that don't come close. An average contestant's game might include pushing a button to stop a light in a certain place, stepping over a barrier while wearing a blindfold helmet, and building a certain tower with wooden blocks within twenty seconds. One contestant I saw just had to catch a ball from a pitching machine for something like 10,000 pounds.

Of course, if you said "Just catching a ball for 10,000 pounds? That sounds dumb" you've captured the biggest problem here. The fact is that, while this show is mind-numbingly entertaining, it also contains some of the dumbest games I have ever seen, being played out in the most overdone way imaginable. Host Phillip Schofield talks to the cube. The cube talks to the contestant, addressing him\her by name. The games are demonstrated by "the body" (a woman in a mask who the cube intones is "an expert at all games played within the cube") and frequently shown in slow motion.

The padding is endless. Phillip has to resort to giving the contestant statistics like "on average, it takes 3.2 lives to complete this game, and women are 38% better at it then men" and constantly repeating "next time you walk out of the cube, it will be with X pounds...or nothing." Of course, all this padding has to be there - if they just played these games without it, the show would be fifteen minutes long.

If I'm making this show sound bad, I'm sorry. The fact is that Phillip is excellent and the show is really, really, incredibly fun to watch - way more so than Minute To Win It. While I'd love to see an American version, I'd love even more to see a game show that did something really unique - not follow the Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? model.

I usually point to Million Dollar Password as the ultimate proof that Millionaire clones have taken over the genre...well, here's an even bigger example. In March 2009, it was announced that NBC was producing a pilot for an American version of the British topical panel game show Have I Got News For You. The article contained the following sentence: "NBC declined comment on its plans for 'News,' but it seems likely the network will make some changes to the show’s format in order to make it fit with the big 'event' feel seen in most primetime reality shows."

There's your thought for the day.

Aaron

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