Million Dollar Money Drop!

This is a shiny new game show which I got to watch a few times with my parents over break. It is pretty enjoyable! Here is how the various elements of the show break down:


The GIMMICK of the Million Dollar Money Drop is that they are LITERALLY GIVING YOU A MILLION DOLLARS SERIOUSLY IT IS ALL YOURS RIGHT NOW. The stacks of money are lined up right in front of you and you are handling them during the entire game. Then you go through a gauntlet of multiple choice questions, during which you physically place all your $20,000 stacks onto some (but not all) of the answer platforms and in some suspenseful order the money on the wrong answers will DROP INTO A BOTTOMLESS ABYSS WITH SCARY RED LIGHTS.

What I love about the GIMMICK is that it is pure in-your-face psychology designed to make the contestants feel terrible about every choice they make. Working your way down from a million is functionally equivalent to working your way up from zero, but try keeping that in mind while watching a pile of hedge money worth more than you make in a year drop into NOTHINGNESS. In literally every other game show the contestant can be all optimistic and, “Well, $2,000 is a lot more than I came in with!” but this show somehow manages to make $100,000 look pretty damn shabby-just five sad stacks of money that used to be part of a GIANT FUCKING PYRAMID OF CASH.

In the spirit of THE GIMMICK I will give MDMD 100 points to begin with, and it holds on to all of those points this round for sheer nerve!


2. The Contestants

Also unlike every other game show ever, the contestants are not single individuals, but couples! Well, maybe other shows have done this; I don’t actually watch a lot of game shows other than Jeopardy! and Are You Smarter Than A Fifth Grader. Anyway, this is great. Instead of watching a single person’s facial expressions as they grapple internally with the options, you watch an adorable couple bicker endearingly! However, I will be subtracting ten points for heteronormity and playing into gender roles in general because the categories (they choose between two at each turn) are  often one stereotype or the other, like “Girl Scouts” or “Indy 500” or “Celebrity Couples” or whatever.


3. The questions

Okay, I am somewhat divided on the questions, because they have one serious drawback and one serious advantage.

The drawback: They are often pretty easy.

The advantage: They are often pretty easy.

Actually, the advantage is not just that the questions are pretty easy, but also the order in which things are revealed: Question category, multiple choice answers, question. This means that with meta-game strategy, I can FREQUENTLY appear to be psychic when watching with my parents by either predicting the obvious question or picking the answer before the question is revealed. And since the kind of question is almost always of the “Which is the most popular ____ or Which is the oldest ____”, you can predict both the question AND the answer before seeing anything! For example, when the category is “Girl Scouts” it is pretty obvious that the answer is “Thin Mints” because the question can only be Which is the Most Popular Girl Scout Cookie.

I like being a fake psychic, but it gets old and winter break is over so now I’m watching the show with my cats, who have higher standards for incredulity. Do I feel good about myself watching this show? Do I feel elated and validated after knowing how to spell “BONO” on a cell phone keypad? Not particularly!

The converse of this is, sometimes I am pretty sure about an answer and it is WRONG, like when I was pretty sure “PASSWORD” was a more common password than “123456”. In the latest episode, the couple lost everything in their mistaken belief that teenagers spend more time on the internet than watching TV. THAT doesn’t make me feel good either, show! All that does is make me despair that I live in an irrational world. In addition, they really stretch out the suspense and deliberating, so there are only about seven questions, per episode. Jeopardy! manages to get up to 61 questions in half the time, which is really like having over SEVENTEEN times as many. Minus fifteen points!


4. The Time Slot

It’s on at a decent hour, but it comes on right after Glee, which means if I notice that it is on in five minutes I have to either watch another channel and risk missing the beginning of the show OR watch the last five minutes of Glee. Granted, the last five minutes of an episode of Glee are not as a general rule the WORST five minutes of Glee, but that’s not really saying much, is it? Minus five points!


5. The Host

The host wasted five minutes of my life being vaguely recognizable, so I had to go to to find out where I’d seen him before. I’m still not sure; maybe Doctor Doolittle 2? I’m not proud of that. Otherwise he is fine; not particularly charismatic, but not enragingly irritating, either. He is pretty invisible, and isn’t trying to be Regis Philbin even though the rest of the show is clearly trying to be Who Wants To Be A Millionaire II, so that’s nice. Minus five points for being Not Too Bad!


6. The MATH

To hedge or not to hedge? As a purely mathematical exercise, there is exactly no advantage to hedging. If you have no clue whatsoever, your expected value is 1/4 (or 1/3 or 1/however many multiple choices there are) of whatever you start with, whether you hedge or not. If you have any intuition or educated guess as to the right answer, hedging will ONLY lower your expected value.

For example, suppose you have options A, B, C and D. You think there is a 40% chance it is A, and a 20% chance it is any of the others. If you are betting $1,000,000 and you put it all on A, your expected value is $400,000. If you put $400,000 on A and $200,000 on everything else, your expected value is a measly $280,000! However, you only get to play the game once, not run a million trials, and thanks to the law of diminishing returns most people would choose to take a smaller (and let’s face it, still insanely huge) amount of money instead of risking it all for mathematically greater rewards.

In addition, the show does not allow total hedging, as the contestants must always leave at least one option free of cash. The options also go down, so on the final question they must risk it all on a 50/50 shot anyway. If you do as much total hedging as possible and never leave the correct answer empty, you wind up with about $4629.62, but you can’t even do THAT because the smallest unit of cash is $20,000 so by Question 4 you are down to 1 or 2 stacks of money.

In case you were wondering, your odds of never accidentally leaving out the right answer in a total hedge if you have no idea about any of the answers is 6.25%, so your actual expected value in this situation is about $289.35, which of COURSE is identical to your expected value if you guess randomly and place the whole $1,000,000 on one answer every time.

Again in the spirit of the thing, we shall wager ALL the remaining points on this final category! Will MDMD lose everything???








Nope! God help me, I love figuring out math shit. I am going to OWN my financial math and probability courses this semester.

Good work, show! You held on to more than most of your contestants manage to.




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6 responses to “Million Dollar Money Drop!

  1. Wow, it’s like they read a psych book and enacted one of the experiments! I suppose it’s also like a thought experiment in a math book, which makes it doubly great. I believe “Deal or No Deal” is the same way, in that it’s a very pure and simple and thought-experimenty kind of setup.

    Seven questions in an episode is rough, though. Even Millionaire does better.

    I could read math people explaining game show strategies all day! (hint)

  2. Lulu

    One question: what is expected value?

    • Alison

      A good question! Expected value is what you expect to get on average per time playing it. For example, if you are flipping a coin to win $100 your expected value is $50, because half the time you get $100 and half the time you get nothing. It is basically money X chance of getting the money. It’s arguably not super relevant when you only get to play a game show once, but if you are a habitual gambler it is terribly useful!

  3. I would have taken away significantly more points for the fact that there are so few questions per game. Most of the fun I get from watching game shows is from guessing the questions/answers ahead of time; very little is from watching people do stupid things on television. But I guess I am No Fun.

  4. Oh man I just watched this show. It was the “best friends” episode so it was all girl/girl pairs. It is interesting listening to them frenziedly try to justify their answers, e.g. when trying decide whether Chips Ahoy or Oreo is the most popular cookie brand, “They just came out with the mint ones!” (I’m not sure which side this was supposed to support.) Or when trying to decide which celebrity has been divorced the most number of times, “I just saw her on TV, she was wearing…”

    Meanwhile the host sort of strolls in the background while people are deliberating, upping the panic by keeping up a steady stream of unhelpful comments like, “There’s a lot of money to move!”

    I don’t understand the point of the “quick change” option, where once per game, after spending 30-60 painstaking seconds hauling your stacks of money onto the platforms, you are allowed to request 30 additional seconds to change your answer. If you didn’t know it to begin with, 30 more seconds won’t help! The girls I saw used it to shift two stacks from one of their hedges to another. I guess it is just another functionally useless way to make people suffer!

    I like when people go all in, although I’m not sure I would!

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