Photo: Ron Tom / ABC

500 Days Of Stalling

Über-Brit Richard Quest attempts to guide contestants through ABC's latest 'game show event,' and gets lost in a foggy marsh of rules and pointless blathering along the way.

New Show Attempted: 500 Questions.

Premise: It's a game show in which Mensa-level smarties answer trivia questions for money! What could be simpler than that?! If a contestant answers three questions incorrectly in a row, he or she is eliminated. The goal, presumably, is to get through 500 questions without being eliminated, although there's no extra money rewarded for reaching that goal. Just pride, I guess, and your name in Wikipedia forever.

How Far I Expected To Get: All the way. I've picked up a habit of falling asleep with the latest episode of Jeopardy! playing on my laptop. Unless a Daily Double catches me at the wrong time, I usually pass out somewhere during Double Jeopardy. Then, when I wake up, I try to find the last clue I remember being conscious for and finish the episode over a hearty breakfast. I justify the brain cancer I'll probably get from sleeping two feet away from my laptop by convincing myself that this ritual is improving my long-term memory. So, yeah. I like trivia.

The show is called 500 Questions. I don't have to check my TV Guide to know that this show should consist of 500 rapid-fire questions and little else. Like Barrett Strong once sang, "Questions about useless minutiae (that's what I want)!"

How Much I Watched


What Did It: The format is as convoluted as humanely possible. Here's a (very) rough summary:

Questions are broken down into ten rounds of fifty questions, and each round consists of ten categories that you can tackle in whatever order you see fit. You have ten seconds to answer each question. If you get a question wrong, "a wrong" is added to the board in the form of a big red X. Yes, on a show about geniuses, the word "wrong" is used incorrectly. If you correctly answer a question, your "wrongs" go away. If you get three "wrongs," you're out. You may be wondering why I needed to explain that again, considering that I essentially said the same thing at the top of this article using significantly fewer words, and to that I will say: now you know what it's like to watch this show.

You're allowed to take as many cracks at an answer during your allotted time, but you only earn $1,000 if you guess correctly the first time. There are other question formats, like the Top Ten Challenge ("Name five of the ten Best Picture winners from the '80s") and the Battle Questions, in which you go head-to-head against a challenger in a hot potato round ("Name bands that performed at the original Woodstock"). Oh yeah, you have a challenger -- let's call him Donnie -- who's also on stage just kinda hangin' out waiting for these Battle Questions. Sometimes, when you get a question wrong, host Richard Quest will turn to Donnie to see whether he knew it, and Donnie will be like, "Linda Ronstadt, you idiot!" If you get through a round of fifty questions, you save all of the money you earned in that round, and Donnie is eliminated and replaced with, let's say, Claudette. (I only got far enough to witness dudes, but I'm assuming ABC recognizes geniuses who are also ladies). If you do get three "wrongs," Donnie takes your place. Don't give Donnie the satisfaction!

Even with complicated rules like those, this didn't have to be as painful to watch as it is. A variety of types of trivia questions might still make for a captivating, albeit needlessly complicated, game show. Unfortunately, the show is way more interested in filling time than it is in trivia. I timed it, and the pace of the show is one question per minute (not counting commercials), and if we all pull out our Texas Instruments calculators, we can determine that that means there will be fewer than 400 questions asked over the course of the entire seven-night "game show event." So, unless the first contestant actually manages to hold on throughout all seven nights, he'll still have to insist that Richard Quest stop vamping and ask some fucking questions if he wants to reach this arbitrary goal of 500 questions.

Oh, Richard Quest. CNN's offensively English resident "expert" (read: yeller) on Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 is such an awful host that, once you get over the fact that 500 Questions is the not the trivia experience you were hoping for, watching him struggle to fill airtime between questions becomes a game of its own. I'd say a good three minutes of the twenty-three minutes I watched were devoted just to Quest opining about the logic of choosing to go first or second in the Battle Round questions. Even during the ten seconds when he isn’t required to talk, he still manages to infuriate by standing six inches away from the contestant and impatiently rotating his arm in that "come on come on come on" way. In case the show's post-Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? laser beam set design didn't convince you that this show belongs in 2005, consider the fact that Richard Quest introduces literally every commercial with a fake-out "I'm going to ask you this question...AFTER THE BREAK!" [audience groans] [audience dies]

Worth Taking Another Run At It? Nope. The perpetual reiteration of the show's many, many rules makes for one of the most awkward game shows I've ever seen. In that it's a show about geniuses for stupid people, it ends up being the Big Bang Theory of game shows.