2000s >> 2001 >> no-1160-march-2001

TV Review: Who wants to be a millionaire?

I have just witnessed what I can only describe as a truly sickening TV spectacle. No, not the Queen’s Christmas speech but an edition of the “couples” version of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?

Now, normally I enjoy quiz shows (provided they are genuinely based on general knowledge, rather than the truly inane “game shows” which are such a staple of prime-time TV)—indeed, I have been a contestant on Fifteen-to-One. Not because I expected to win it, but because I enjoyed the challenge of seeing how far I could go (not that far, as it happened).

I generally find Millionaire to be an enjoyably tense programme—cynics may sneer at the absurdity of becoming so improbably rich simply by answering quiz questions, but is this really any more absurd than being rich simply because of an accident of birth? Yes, it’s escapism but it offers a route whereby some may escape poverty—although, of course, a socialist society would have no need of such escape routes.

I sat down to watch the “couples” show tonight, naïvely not realising how much conflict might be caused if a couple reached the higher-ranked prizes. Silly me . . .

On two occasions, couples reached £125,000, knowing that a correct answer to the next question would win them £250,000, whilst an incorrect answer would drop them back to £32,000. In both cases, the wife was fairly sure (but not certain) of the answer to the relevant question; in both cases the husband was uncertain and counselled caution. In both cases, the husband got his way, and they took the existing prize money rather than gamble it. (One could speculate on what this may mean about the “normal” balance of power between men and women in contemporary capitalism . . .) However, in neither case was the decision reached smoothly between the couple. Given the potentially life-changing nature of such prize money for the contestants, it was clearly not an easy decision too make, but the almost unbearable tension between the couples was shamelessly played upon by Chris Tarrant as a source of cheap entertainment.

Of course the programme demonstrated quite graphically how the money system can poison human relationships. Knowing how Chris Tarrant enjoys teasing the contestants before giving them the answer, it was naïve of me not to anticipate that he would revel in the couples’ disagreements. However the sight of his grinning face (normally only a minor irritation to me) as he predicted “storms over Birmingham” (the home of one of the couples), or that “she will never forgive him for the rest of his life”, was, quite frankly, nauseating and disgusting.

No doubt Tarrant himself has long since left behind any economic situation where such an amount of money would be significant to him (as shown in a recent programme in which he was incredibly patronising towards a contestant who admitted to never having seen £1,000 before), but is it really unreasonable to expect him to act sympathetically towards couples who disagreed? Sadly, given the perversity of “entertainment” within capitalism, and ITV’s desire for ratings, the answer is probably yes.


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