In most game shows, contestants have to achieve a difficult task or answer challenging questions to win prizes including trips, cars and, of course, cold hard cash. FOX's new game show "Million Dollar Money Drop" gives up a million dollars from the get-go and the goal is for two people to hold onto as much as they can through seven tough multiple choice questions. The duo has four money drops matched up to the four multiple choice answers where, under a ticking clock, they can divide up the money amongst any of the four answers or go for broke - literally - and place all the money on one answer. If they answer right, they get to keep any money on that drop. If they answer wrong, and have money placed on the wrong drop, their money disappears down a chute. Whatever they are left with after the seventh question is theirs to keep.
Trying to keep a handle on all the tension and stress of the proceedings is actor/comedian/internet chat host Kevin Pollak, who talked with our Jim Halterman last week about whether he's able to keep his cool while the contestants are freaking out, how tough it is for him to not throw out wisecracks in the inappropriate moments of stress and how he fell into becoming the host of his own online chat show.
Jim Halterman: How did "Million Dollar Money Drop" come along?
Kevin Pollak: The way they really got me was pitching me the game. I've been a fan of the trivia based-multiple choice question games for a long, long time and the mere aspects of this show are really what hooked me. The first aspect being you're giving the contestants a million dollars in cash! That's crazy and I knew that was the kind of thing that would change the playing field just a little. Then you also don't have to know the one correct answer and that's something I hadn't seen before. In this case, before the money drops you can put the money on any of those four drops. I liked that a lot that there was actually a game to be played and not just a correct answer game.
If you knew the correct answer, you could be bold and put all the money on it. Then my favorite part is that the contestants are all couples and they bring all their delicious baggage to the game. That is just fantastic! I don't know how you beat that! What happens is that there's so much money involved that it doesn't take them long to forget that we've got cameras on them just like at home when they think no one is watching. After awhile they start to work as a team and then somehow, strangely - dare I say it - they become closer from the experience.
JH: I was getting stressed out watching the show so I can only imagine the kind of pressure the contestants are feeling!
KP: There was one woman who was a pilot in the Air Force and had had four tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan and she said she had never felt this kind of stress in her life. She said, "I have more control than you think in my job and here it's just so much stress and pressure." You've got the ticking clock and you're literally moving a million dollars in cash and then you have a partner who you have to depend on in a certain category that you don't know.
JH: Are the couples always romantically linked or will we see friends or family members, too?
KP: I'd say 80-90% have been relationship couples but then some have been just friends, which is a different kind of baggage. We found it was a fun way to mix it up and much more interesting than we ever anticipated. There are also different stages of relationships - people who have been married a long time, people married a short time and people who are engaged and hoping to use this money for a big, beautiful wedding; every possible link to a chronological aspect to a relationship.
JH: From what I could tell, you seem very calm and collected standing off to the side but are you feeling some of the anxiousness and stress in the air during the show?
KP: I absolutely am! I'm not told the answers or even the questions beforehand so I'm going through what the audience at home is hopefully going through but I'm standing a foot away from it. Sometimes I have to pick these people up off the ground literally after the drops have cleared several hundred thousand dollars from the one million that they started with. It's devastating and to be that close to that human drama has been - no exaggeration - debilitating at times.
JH: I'm guessing personality has got to be key in being chosen for the show. Is that right?
KP: I'm not privy to the process but I've been told that certain important elements are people who care about each other and also who love the game playing aspect of it. It's one of the things they sold me on! I've loved games since I was a kid and I love playing games. I'm sure that's a big part of the interview process.
JH: Why do you think game shows have endured for so long on television?
KP: I think there's something about the combination of living vicariously through the various contestants and also being able to play at home. It's not just one or the other but it's the combination of both. Also, my experience now is that people at home are rooting against the contestant! That's part of the human element here and then it becomes a moment in the coliseum but I think that's a big part of success of all reality shows. We either root for people or we judge them for their ridiculous behavior.
JH: What's been the biggest surprise in hosting this show?
KP: I should say that I'm surprised how often I get the question wrong myself but I'd be lying. I'm not surprised at all. They didn't hire me for my brain or my looks so I'm not really sure what they're getting out of the deal! [Laughs.] The biggest surprise for me is just how much I get caught up in the drama of the game and how there's no avoiding that.
There's actually a chance to change people's lives with this amount of money and the thought of giving one million dollars in cash is surreal. I just thought I'd have a joke ready but there's nothing funny about it. It's instantly inappropriate to think funny thoughts because you're watching people's lives change. Oftentimes they're changing for the better but I have to be there at times to help people get through the devastation of losing 800,000 in one drop and then help them refocus that they still have 200,000.
JH: How difficult has it been to not crack a joke? I mean, you've made a career out of being funny.
KP: Don't misunderstand! I pick my moments and I pick them well, Sir! I will not hesitate to make fun of somebody if they've got it coming. I really try to represent the audience at home with what they're thinking, "Oh, you idiot!" That comes out of me and the producers say 'Oh! He just said that!'
JH: What made you want to start your online interview show?
KP: I don't know! I can't even explain it. I went to visit a friend/internet mogul Jason Calacanis at Mahalo.com and he showed me this little studio that was part of his facility there and they were doing "This Week in YouTube." I said, "What the hell is this?" and he explained it and before I knew it I said, "I want to be like Charlie Rose and interview people." I don't know why I said it. I hadn't thought of that exact sentence prior to that moment. It just came pouring out of me. He said 'How soon can you start?'' and there was no turning back.
JH: How is it for you to be the one asking the questions like I'm doing with you right now?
KP: Well, I was used to it first so it's more strange for me to be asking the question as opposed to being asked. I've been fortunate enough to have a career where I've been interviewed a number of times but I've enjoyed being on the other side of it with the chat show.
"Million Dollar Money Drop" premieres tonight at 8:00/7:00c on FOX.