Win Ben Stein’s Money (Comedy Central, 1997-2003)
I was thinking recently about TV anniversaries. I know some people might find them rather meaningless, but I wondered if any game shows I enjoyed launched in August 1994, 1999, 2004 or anything like that. And then I realised that this month is the 20th anniversary of the launch of Channel 5’s game show Win Beadle’s Money. I know that this was based on an American format, so I thought that I would review that to continue my series of looking at the original American versions of game shows that later came to the UK, and there are plenty of editions of this one on YouTube.
Win Ben Stein’s Money (Ben Stein being an awfully clever chap who has an interest in politics and practically everything else) launched on Comedy Central in 1997. The gameplay was just about the same, although the biggest difference was that there was $5,000 on the line (as opposed to the £1,000 with Jeremy Beadle). Three contestants took part in the hope that they could beat Ben at his own game. One thing’s for sure, it’s not going to be as easy as it looks. Keep watching and you might learn something.
The other main host for the early series was Jimmy Kimmel (in the UK version it was Richard Morton). In the first round there were five categories concealing questions with a value between $50 and $150. The questions are asked by Ben himself at this stage. Getting the right answer takes the money out of the prize fund, and then a supplementary question is asked for a further $50. All the questions appeared on a screen, but try to remember that you are not on Jeopardy!
The lowest-scoring contestant is eliminated, and any money they had is put back into the fund. In round two, Ben takes the eliminated contestant’s place, and Jimmy now asks the questions. Ben has no advance knowledge of what they are, honest. Questions are now worth between $200 and $500. If Ben gets it right, he doesn’t score anything, he simply stops the others from taking more out of the fund. There are no supplementary questions here. Again, the eliminated contestant’s money returns to the fund.
The winner keeps their money, and can now play for the full $5,000, deciding if they want to go first or second in the final. They both go into isolation booths so they can’t hear each other. The finalist’s booth was rather tatty, while Ben’s was very lavish. The finalist and Ben are individually asked the same ten fairly difficult general knowledge questions in 60 seconds. Wins didn’t happen very often though (make the inevitable “Ben should be a Chaser” comment here).
If the contestant did beat Ben though, they won $5,000. A draw meant that they won their money plus an extra $1,000. A defeat meant they only won the money they already had, and Ben keeps his lofty reputation. There were also special editions were winners could play again for $25,000. There were over 600 editions made of Win Ben Stein’s Money (a lot more than the UK version), it won plenty of awards, and it did come across as very entertaining and quirky.