Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Wall Nuts

Some game shows are essentially all skill.  The classic example is Jeopardy!.  Some game shows are pretty much all luck, like Deal Or No Deal.  Most fall somewhere in-between.

Which brings us to the new NBC Tuesday prime time game show The Wall.  I'd say it's more luck than skill, though both are required. It's an hour long, and, while not that complex, still kind of tricky to explain.

The centerpiece of the show is a huge pegboard.  You drop balls from seven different areas on top, and they bounce downward till they land in one of the fifteen slots at the bottom.  These slots each represent money, in alternating small and large amounts.

The host is Chris Hardwick, and each episode features a couple as contestants.  They last the whole hour (so far--it's possible to lose the first round and be kicked off, but I haven't seen that yet).

There are three rounds.  In the first, the show drops three balls as the contestants have to answer a question with two choices (by hitting a button).  If they answer correctly before a ball lands in a slot, the balls become "green" and the contestants gain whatever money amounts are listed.  If they get the question wrong, or answer too late, the balls become "red" and the contestants lose the same amount.

This round features five questions.  As long as the couple ends up with a positive amount, they can go on to the next round.  The money is not small, with the richest slot offering $25,000.  It's pretty easy to win money here since the questions are not hard and even guessing gives you a 50% chance.  Also, while you can lose money, you're not allowed to go below zero.

In the second round, one of the contestants goes into an isolation chamber to answer questions.  He or she will not know which answers are correct, or how much money is being won or lost, while the game is being played.

This time there are three multiple-choice questions, each with three possible answers.  The other contestant is shown the potential answers and decides how many balls will be dropped before hearing the answer, with an extra possible ball added for each new question.  If the answer is correct, the balls are green balls, if incorrect, red balls.

Before this, two green balls are dropped, and after, two red balls, from the same spots as determined by the contestant. The cash is considerably bigger here, with the highest slot offering $250,000.

The third round is similar, but there are now four choices for each question, four balls are dropped at the start and finish, and larger amounts are involved--the richest slot now offers $1,000,000.

At the end of these three rounds, it's possible for the players to be up millions of dollars, or have nothing.  There's one final twist.  The player in isolation is offered a contract which allows the couple to keep the money they won in the first round plus $20,000 more for each correct answer given in the last two rounds.

The isolated player already know how much was won in the first round, which is often a considerable amount.  Add in the correct answers and the contract will often be worth more than $100,000.

But the game potentially offers millions, so the most likely choice is to rip up that contract.  Sometimes this works, sometimes it doesn't.  In the first episode, the couple won over a million. In the second, nothing.  I'm guessing the producers chose the two episodes that would best represent the show, regardless of the order in which they were taped.

The questions are not really the main attraction of the show. The Wall is. Watching the balls bounce in unpredictable directions is exciting.  I'm reminded of a game I played as a kid, Avalanche.

But what really makes the program are the large amounts available--only possible in prime time, I suppose.  Most game shows are of interest (to me, anyway) because of the game itself.  Here, even though the contestants know they're on TV, you get real drama when you see people's lives potentially being changed.

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