Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Duel: Part Two

For my 500th post, I'm pulling out a piece that I've been sitting on for quite a few weeks now. Having mentioned quite some time ago that I'd tried out for the game show Duel, some of my friends were naturally expecting some follow-up. I didn't feel free to write more at the time for fear of jeopardizing my chance at being a contestant, having signed a non-disclosure agreement since my first post. Now that most of the second season of the show has actually aired, I feel that I can safely tell the rest of the story.

Let me take you back to early this past March, about a week after my earlier post. I got a call from one of the contestant coordinators from Duel at about 5:30 pm that evening, and was informed that I had been selected to return to the studio to have a second audition. They suggested a time of 2:30 pm the next day. I agreed rather quickly, knowing that I had not yet had a chance to actually get the time off of work, but fearing that if I asked for time to make up my mind, I'd lose my chance to audition. Thankfully, my coworkers were gracious, and I was able to make sure that someone covered my obligations for the day, so I once again braved the LA traffic (which I absolutely hate!) to head to the studio.

The second audition was a bit more game-focused than the first, and I was able to actually play a mock-up against a fellow would-be contestant. For those who haven't seen the game, here's the idea: two players are each given a total of 10 chips. They are then asked a series of trivia questions, each with four potential answers. The idea is to make sure that the correct answer is covered by a chip, but you can actually cover up to all four possible answers if you're not sure. If both contestants have covered the correct answer, the game continues, but any chips played on incorrect answers are lost, leaving fewer chips to play on future questions. The contestant that has a correct answer covered when his/her opponent fails to do so wins the game, and a cash prize corresponding to however many questions were asked in that duel (this is a change since the first season).

There were eight of us auditioning to be on the show at this particular session, and we played a total of six mock-up games between us. I only had a chance to play the last game, and I played it against a person who had won the previous four games. My game was one of the longer matches of the afternoon, and I was down to my last chip for a couple of questions running, but I nevertheless managed to eke out a victory. Having proven my ability to beat an obviously intelligent opponent in a fairly long game, I left the audition satisfied that I had done as good as I could possibly have hoped to do, and hoped to get another call back so that I could actually be a contestant on the real show and play for actual money.

It should be obvious to everyone by now that this call never came.

By the first five minutes of watching the first new show at the beginning of this past month, I was pretty sure I knew why I hadn't been chosen to play. Like many other game shows, the contestant coordinators were looking for "characters" to play the show. Players danced around, acted goofy, engaged in trash-talk, etc. Although I consider myself fairly... unique, this just isn't me, and I actually felt embarrassed to watch. Moreover, I was able to answer most of the questions with fewer "chips" than the contestants on the show most of the time, so I felt a bit insulted that these folks had gotten on and I hadn't. I fully admit that this is, at least in part, "sour grapes" (there were undeniably a few contestants this past couple of weeks that probably would have beaten me), but I still was bothered that the show had changed in this way.

I knew from my audition that a few changes were being made to the game play between the first season and this one. I knew about the infamous (among certain game show fans, anyway) "money tree," for example, and I knew about the "MAX question" would could double a contestant's winnings for the round. But we were told a couple of things that have apparently changed since my audition before the show got on the air. First and foremost, we were told that the prize for winning five games would be a million dollars, not the half-a-million that was eventually available. Also, if a contestant won a game and was given the choice of whether or not to challenge another contestant to continue, they would be only risking half of their winnings to that point, instead of the whole thing. Now, to be fair, neither of these might be actual changes, but may simply be the result of a misinformed contestant coordinator, but I really wish that they'd kept the rule about risking only half of a person's winnings. Anybody who's won a 5-digit sum of money in a single duel would, frankly, be insane to risk the whole wad on a second (of course, there were nonetheless a few folks who did so, and at least one I can think of off the top of my head that lost that huge amount). At least by guaranteeing the contestant half, the show would give much more incentive to actually take the risk.

Actually, on that note, that's been another trend in game shows in the past decade, whereby a contestant who's actually gotten on the show, no mean feat itself, often leaves with nothing. It used to be the case that even "losers" got "lovely parting gifts." Nothing special, of course: perhaps a toaster or some laundry detergent. But they got something (no doubt paid for by the advertisers) for their efforts. That's not the case these days, as often as not. As much as I wish I'd gotten on the show myself, I kind of feel sorry for these folks who got on, but still didn't win anything.

UPDATE: On the last episode aired to date as of May 15th (the episode aired on May 2nd), it was revealed that a player who had won three or more duels and chose to continue playing would only risk half their money, instead of the whole thing. That, at least, makes a bit more sense. You've gotta give someone an incentive to keep playing. The risk should be real, but not stupid....

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