Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Truth in Advertising? The Wheel of Fortune Million Dollar Prize

Wheel of Fortune started its 26th syndicated season this week. The main change this year: the addition of a million-dollar top prize. You've probably seen the commercials by now: "One Spin. One Solve. One Million Dollars!"

I beg to differ with the claim made in that commercial. In order to actually win that million, a contestant has to successfully complete each of the following steps.
  1. Land on the special "Million Dollar Wedge" located on the wheel during one of the first three rounds (Yes, you have to land in the part that says "One Million." Those "Bankrupts" on either side are there for a reason.).
  2. Pick a consonant. If it's in the puzzle, you may pick up the wedge. No other contestant will have the chance at the million this episode.
  3. Solve that puzzle correctly without hitting a bankrupt.
  4. Don't hit a bankrupt for the rest of the game.
  5. Win the game with more money than either of your two opponents.
  6. At this point, one of the 24 cards on the Bonus Round wheel is replaced with a "$1,000,000" card. You must spin to the space containing that card (Cards are closed before spinning, and not opened until after the puzzle is attempted, so contestants will not know if they got the right card until after they've already solved, or failed to solve, the puzzle.).
  7. Solve the Bonus Round Puzzle correctly.
The "One Spin, One Solve" bit only applies to Steps #6 and #7. It totally ignores the hurdles that one has to go through before that, just to earn a 1-in-24 chance of winning the million! Actually, it's considerably worse than that. The contestant who wins the game having successfully completed steps #1-#5 only has 1-in-24 chance of spinning the right card! And those Bonus Round Puzzles are hard! I think it's fair to say that most contestants fail to solve the Bonus Round Puzzle correctly.

I'm not at all bothered that the million is hard to win. It should be. In fact, it should be so hard to win that this whole year could conceivably go by without a single million dollar winner (For comparison, it's been over five years since a contestant won the million dollars on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire). But it's more than a little disingenuous to advertise the big prize as though it isn't all that hard, skipping HUGE steps one has to pass through in order to even be eligible.

Even worse, the Million Dollar Wedge replaces the similarly-designed $10,000 prize, which someone was able to win just by accomplishing the first three steps of this marathon in previous years. Anyone who is eligible for the Million would have had that $10,000 cash under the old rules. I'm sure more than a few of the more than 23-out-of-24 contestants (and there's no way to count how many people earned that $10,000 who would still have lost their million-dollar chance by hitting a bankrupt later in the show, but kept the $10,000 under the old rules) who win the chance to pick up that Million Dollar Wedge would rather have had the 10 Grand sure thing.

(UPDATE: 10/14/08, 7:55 pm - Game show producers just can't help but blab, can they? As was well-known even before now, someone won the million tonight. While I extend my congratulations to the lucky contestant, I'm pleased to note that the only time I heard Charlie O'Donnell say the "One spin, one solve" bit, it was actually relevant, since the contestant HAD passed steps #1-#5 by that point.)

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  1. Just wanted to let you know that Wheel actually gave away the million dollar prize tonight. If you missed it, they will be airing it again on saturday...

  2. And on top of having to go thru all those steps, I bet the $million is paid over 25 years.


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