Thursday, February 23, 2012

Forget BBC Radio 4...

…I’m in Las Vegas!

Yes, an opportunity came up to go to Sin City, and I happily snapped up tickets to some shows, including The Price Is Right: Live In Las Vegas at Bally’s, a show that’s pretty darn famous among game show nerds. My show-by-show report, which came out to five pages when I typed it up in Word:

February 20, 2012 - Name That Tune: Live In Las Vegas at Imperial Palace
Name That Tune is the only other game show besides The Price Is Right to have a Las Vegas recreation right now. The producers announced it together with The Sing-Off: Live In Las Vegas, but that one is showing no signs of happening.

When I bought my tickets, I found there was a limited time promotion where you could get a guaranteed slot as a contestant. Naturally, I did it. I soon found out why this promotion was happening – after arriving half an hour before showtime for contestant registration and waiting another fifteen minutes to go into the theater, I found that said theater was about half full.

Anyway, the show began with a little video about the history of the TV show Name That Tune, after which announcer and DJ Jimmy Z introduced host Zowie Bowie (no, not Duncan Jones – his real name is Chris Phillips) and assistant Marley Taylor. The pair, apparently veteran Las Vegas entertainers, came on stage singing a terrible lyrical theme song, sang another song after the first two rounds, and occasionally sang bits of whatever song the contestants had just named.

The format then – while the ads I’ve seen for Name That Tune promise anywhere from fifty to one hundred contestants per show, at the show I saw there were “only” thirty, called out of the audience in three groups of ten. The first two groups called onstage play a round in which Jimmy Z plays songs one at a time, and the first player to buzz in with the correct song title gets one point. When you get two points, you move on the next round and leave your podium, and the round continues until three contestants have won. The third group does the same thing, only four contestants move on to the next round instead of three. For the record, I was in the first group and I did get one point. The twenty contestants eliminated in this round win some free tickets to other Las Vegas shows.

After all three groups have played, the ten remaining contestants are split into five pairs. The members of each pair play against each other in…no, not Bid-A-Note…Bid-A-Second. Zowie reads out a clue, after which the two contestants bid on how many seconds of the song they will need to hear to identify it (“I can name that tune in six seconds”, “I can name that tune in four seconds”, etc.). Once one player has challenged the other to name that tune, a correct answer is worth one point, while an incorrect guess awards the point to the other player. The first player to get two points moves on to the next round. The five eliminated contestants get a slightly bigger set of free tickets to other Las Vegas shows.

Once all five pairs have played Bid-A-Second, five giant whiteboard stations are wheeled out for the five remaining contestants to write on. Jimmy Z plays a thirty-second mash-up of snippets from ten songs connected by a common theme (as I was seeing this on President’s Day, the theme was songs about America). The contestants write down their answers while the mash-up is playing, and the player who gets the most songs correct is the winner for the show. The four eliminated players get…yeah, more tickets to other Las Vegas shows. Zowie also invites the audience to play along via pieces of paper and pens on their seats – you get free tickets to another Las Vegas show if you get eight right, which nobody did. The correct answers for this round are revealed via a giant screen that comes down from the ceiling, leading to a lot of jokes about this being the reason The Phantom Of The Opera is closing in Las Vegas. For the record, the real reason Phantom is closing in Las Vegas - at least according to rumor - is to make room for Spiderman: Turn Off The Dark. Honestly, my first thought upon seeing Name That Tune's answer board wasn't The Phantom Of The Opera's chandelier, but rather “The answers will now be revealed to the audience via the incredible Pentium-powered laser display board…”

The day’s winner then plays a bonus round in which you have sixty seconds to identify songs. When you think you know the title, you buzz in and the clock stops while you give your answer. You can also choose to buzz in and use one of your two methods of help – you can pass on one song and poll the audience on another (and by “poll the audience”, I really just mean Zowie turns around and says “Does anybody know it?”) If you give one wrong answer, the round ends immediately; if you get fifteen songs correct in sixty seconds, you win $10,000. This, as far as I can tell, is the only way you can win a prize that isn’t tickets to another Las Vegas show, and let’s face it, it isn’t going to happen (the guy I saw managed nine). I had fun, and being onstage was surreal, but there’s a reason the theater was only half full, and being a contestant would have been a lot more fun if I hadn’t reserved the privilege. 

I ended up walking away with vouchers for two tickets to another performance of Name That Tune (without the guaranteed contestant slot) and two tickets to another show at Imperial Palace, Divas (a show whose tagline is “You won’t believe your eyes because these girls are really guys!”). A $200 value, to be sure, but (A) the Name That Tune voucher turned out to have expired five days before I received it, (B) I couldn’t go to Name That Tune again anyway as it conflicted with shows I had actually paid for and (C) come on…the drag show? 

Thursday, February 16, 2012


I do try as best I can to keep this blog focused on game shows, but it's basically impossible not to occasionally branch off in reality-competition shows. I've already reviewed five talent shows on here (in order: Live To Dance, American Idol, The Slammer, Platinum Hit, and The X Factor), and I talked two weeks ago about how much I adore The Mole and Solitary. Well, now it's time for my sacrilegious announcement: I will be watching the new seasons of Survivor (which began on February 15, the day before I am typing this) and The Amazing Race (which begins February 19).

As if that weren't bizarre enough: I signed up - weeks ago - to play Fantasy Reality TV.

Go ahead, say something like "Fantasy Reality TV? What, like Fantasy Football? That is very, very strange." You're right, it's very, very strange - but CBS's site does indeed have a game. In fact, it has two separate games - Fantasy Survivor and Fantasy Amazing Race - and I've signed up for both. It was free and easy to do. You pick a starting lineup of four Survivor contestants and two Amazing Race teams, and gain or lose points based on a whole long list of criteria about winning or losing challenges and whatnot. After the new scores are posted each week (which supposedly happens by 6PM Pacific Time the day after each new episode is shown - in other words, the episode one scores aren't up yet as I'm typing this), you can swap out the players on your lineup, and some prizes will be awarded to the highest scores at the end of the season.

I thought this sounded like fun, but I also realize a few things...

  1. I'm going into this blind. If this was Fantasy Football or some other actual sport, I could pick my starting lineup based on each player's past statistics, but everyone here is totally new. While I can't speak for everybody, I just picked my starting lineup at random. 
  2. I have to keep in mind, unlike an actual sporting event, Survivor and The Amazing Race aren't broadcast live. They're taped months in advance, and countless hours of footage are edited down to ten or so one-hour episodes. The producers and the people running the Fantasy games likely know exactly how to score the most points. They aren't telling, of course, but it's something to remember.
  3. I really have no chance of winning anyway. I'm competing against approximately 5,000 other people, and most of those people have probably watched Survivor and The Amazing Race for years.  
So yeah. Like I said, it sounded like fun, and I'll give you an occasional update as the game progresses. The prizes, in case you are wondering...
  • Survivor Grand Prize: The highest scoring player at the end of the season (ties are broken via a random drawing) will win a trip to the South Pacific and $500. They don't say where in the South Pacific. 
  • Survivor Weekly Prize: After each episode, the player (or players in case of a tie) who scored the highest out of the total points possible from that episode (and only that episode, making perfectly clear that people running the game know all this in advance) will be entered in a random drawing. The winner of said drawing will get a viewing party to watch the Survivor Finale on May 13 (yeah, as if I know people who'd want to go to one of those). 
  • Amazing Race Grand Prize: The highest scoring player at the end of the season (again, ties are broken via a random drawing) will win $1,000. Honestly, that sounds a lot more appealing than either Survivor prize to me. 
I don't know...I'll keep you updated. The tribe has spoken, the world is waiting, etc..


UPDATE: As soon as I finished typing that, the Fantasy results for Survivor episode one were posted. I have 91 points. The leaders have 223 points. This is going to be one weird few months. 

Thursday, February 9, 2012

I Love British Radio, But...

In the unlikely event you haven't figured it out by now, I flat out adore British radio game shows. Despite this, I'm not always really clear on how the BBC picks the shows it wants to classify as game shows. Go to BBC Radio 4's website and click "Games And Quizzes", and you will occasionally find shows that simply should not be there. Nowhere is this more clear than with the new show The Kitchen Cabinet.

Jay Rayner plays host to four food expert panelists in an auditorium somewhere in Britain, in front of a live audience. Members of this audience ask questions about food and cooking, and the panelists answer with their best cooking advice. That's it. There's no scoring or anything. I'll be the first to admit that I occasionally use the phrase "game show" a bit too loosely, but even in my mind, this isn't a game show, it's a cooking advice show. Now do you get the title? The Kitchen Cabinet! Yeah, I wish I had thought of that name too.

I trust the BBC about most things, let me make that clear - but I will just plain never understand why The Kitchen Cabinet is classified as a game show and Treasure Quest, a massively entertaining radio scavenger hunt show broadcast on a few BBC local radio stations, is listed under "Entertainment." Guess that's the way of the world.

Incidentally, two more new BBC Radio 4 shows that the station classifies as game shows are coming soon - Wordaholics on February 20 and It's Not What You Know on February 23. I will have my reviews of both two weeks from today.


Thursday, February 2, 2012

No News, So How About Some Memories?

Memories of one of my all-time favorite television shows...
Yeah, I know that's stretching the definition of a game show a bit, but whatever.

I realize that anybody who's reading this blog probably knows exactly what The Mole is, but I like the idea of explaining it as if you've never heard of it, so here goes. The Mole is a reality-competition show that begins with your stock group of reality show contestants. These ten or so people travel around the world competing in challenges (of every imaginable type) that they must work as a team to complete. Success in these challenges is worth money, which goes into the pot for the of the contestants is the mole and has been carefully chosen by the producers to try to keep money out of the pot, and to do so as secretly as possible. The aim of the game is to figure out who that person is - and anything and everything could be a clue.

The show I described above aired five seasons on ABC between 2001 and 2008. During that period, it had three different hosts (if you must know - Anderson Cooper in seasons one and two, Ahmad Rashad in seasons three and four, and Jon Kelley in season five).  It wasn't a major hit. It was a cult show, in as much as a reality-competition show can be a cult show. I was part of that cult.

What made The Mole great wasn't the challenges. I'm not saying the challenges were bad - many were amazing - but what made this show special was the overall challenge. Viewers aren't told who the mole is. Not only do you have the usual reality-competition show suspense of "Who will be eliminated this week?", you're also playing along - and when I say playing along, I really mean it. I used to watch this show with my sister, and by season five we were taking notes and going through some scenes frame by frame. That may sound dumb, but I challenge you to watch a few seasons of this show and not starting doing something like that. Top it off with a great host (all three were good choices in my book) and what more could you want?

I could start complaining now about how much I want this show back, but that would be a waste of time. The Mole is canceled, and barring a miracle, it will stay canceled. I'll just say this - the Emmy Award for Best Reality Competition Show was first awarded in 2003. It should have gone to The Mole Season Three in 2003, The Mole Season Four in 2004, The Mole Season Five in 2008, and I don't care in the least what wins every other year.

I'll also suggest that the first Emmy Award for Best Reality Show Host in 2008 should have gone to Jon Kelley, but only because there was no season of Solitary that year. If you can give me a clear answer to the question of who does the voice of VAL, I'll make up an award and give it her, just so she can have one for that performance.