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Plenty of Sites for Would-Be Millionaires

Cybertainment

May 05, 2000|ERIKA MILVY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

At this point, most people have figured out that it's safer to be a millionaire than to marry one.

Who wants to be a millionaire? From listening to the chorus of quickened heart rates of the multitude of fans who tune in faithfully each week to ABC's popular rhetorical question, the answer is: Who doesn't?

Now, the next question is, who wants to fantasize about being a millionaire and perhaps demonstrate their acumen at millionaire-worthiness by answering the same questions that potential millionaires will answer--without ever actually winning a single penny? The answer, as inferred by the many Web sites where online contestants can virtually play the game for pseudo cash, is: plenty.

As Salon TV critic Joyce Millman elucidates, "Speaking as someone who is addicted to the online version, it doesn't matter that you don't win any money. The setup of the game--one question and you could be out--is a terrific challenge." (For more of Millman's acclaim for Regis' reign, see "For the Love of the Game Show" at http://www.salon.com/ent/col/mill/1999/11/16/greed/index.html.)

The powers that be at ABC have just launched an enhanced version of the online game (a la MTV'sWebriot). At http://heavy.etv.go.com/milnow/index.html, players who have their computer and their TV in the same room can play in sync with the televised game and possibly win loot like caps and T-shirts. Interactive and in real time, it lets millionaire wannabes type for T-shirts while watching their TV counterparts go for the big bucks.

At the official ABC site, http://abc.go.com/primetime/millionaire/mill_home.html, surfers need not wait for prime time to partake of the high drama of this mother of all game shows. Millionaire-aholics can rev up the mouse and don their thinking caps at any hour to get a fix of that suspenseful music and a peek at that high-tech gladiator arena that is the game show sound stage. Says Millman: "The online game is done really well, with the official theme music and all that. It does a good job of duplicating the TV experience, for those of us who are too chicken to try to get into the hot seat for real."

And for those who are too young to get into the hot seat for real, the online experience helps them while away the years till the age of consent. Matt Wilson, for instance, has set up an unofficial game at http://pub3.ezboard.com/bwhowantstobeamillionaire.html. Wilson, a 17-year-old Pennsylvania student, credits the TV show's success to the fact that "anyone can be a player." (Or, as one viewer put it, in a posting at imdb.com, "the contestants are 'regular Joes,' not some introverted, geeky scientists like 'Jeopardy!' usually has.")

Wilson's game gets between 2,000 and 5,000 hits a day. The questions (some 6,000) are written by him. In fact, Wilson's first questions are much harder than Regis': "What is the second largest of the Earth's four oceans and the most heavily traveled?" is the leading $100 question. ABC's $100 questions may as well be "What's your name?" (A representative one, culled from the Web site, is "According to an old expression, you can lead a horse to water, but you can't do what?")

While visitors to ABC.com can play the game in flash animation, they don't actually hear the voice of Regis unless they visit the downloads page and play the sound clip "Is that your final answer?"--which has been known to give some people goose pimples.

On this page you can also download video clips of "show highlights," such as John Carpenter using his Lifeline call to phone his dad to say, "I don't really need your help; I just wanted to tell you I'm going to win a million dollars."

Writer Austin Bunn considers the excitement generated in these ecstatic moments. In an article titled "Money Porn" (http://www.villagevoice.com/issues/9947/bunn.shtml), he writes, "Network TV has found a new G-spot: greed." The article equates the newfangled game show craze with sexual titillation.

Others are likewise critical of the lust for wealth that is sweeping the country and spiking the Nielsens. "Did you know that 90% of American wealth is controlled by 1% of the population?" informs Who Wants to Be a Billionaire (http://www.youcrazy.com/billionaire/index.php3). At this edgier Web game site, applicants are invited to team up to "target billionaires and disinherit them of their fortunes." The first target selected is a no-brainer: Bill Gates.

Other Web sites have commented on the "Who Wants" mania as well. "Russian Television Scores Hit With New Game Show 'Who Wants to Eat a Meal?' " reads a headline at the faux-tabloid humor zine, the Onion (http://www.theonion.com/onion3543/russian_meal.html). The article reads in part, " 'I would love to eat a meal,' said devoted 'Who Wants' viewer Sergei Kirasov, an unemployed Novgorod machinist who has submitted his name to the producers more than 600 times in hopes of becoming a contestant. 'That is truly the Russian Dream.' "

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