February 16, 2007

Quiz Show

A man with social anxiety goes through a transformation on a TV game show, a young woman with high ideals has them dashed by a TV game show, and teams compete to solve some of the hardest puzzles in the world, for fun.
The secret life of quiz shows, the life behind the questions and answers.


Ira talks with Bob Harris, a former Jeopardy champion, about how he prepared to go on the program. He turned his living room into a replica of the real-life Jeopardy studio, taped a poster of Alex Trebek, the host of Jeopardy, in the exact spot where the real Alex Trebek stands, and even made a fake buzzer out of a ball point pen and masking tape. He wrote a book about his experiences called Prisoner of Trebekistan. Ira also mentions that there's something special about the act names in this episode. (5 minutes)

Act One

Gamester Of Ireland Is Fine

Roger Dowds won several hundred thousand pounds on the Irish version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire, which is why Ronan Kelly, the host an Irish public radio program, first went to interview him. During their talk together, it became clear that Roger was a very unlikely game show champion. Ronan's story about Roger Dowds first appeared on his own program called Flux. It came to the attention of This American Life after winning a prize at the Third Coast International Audio Festival. (26 minutes)

Act Two

Dire Enigmas For Elite Fans

Every winter, some of the world's best puzzle solvers gather in Boston for the MIT mystery hunt, a competition in which teams of puzzle enthusiasts spend between 24 and 72 straight hours trying to solve what just may be the hardest recreational puzzles in the world. This American Life producer Lisa Pollak hung out with one team (named Dr. Awkward...a palindrome) as they worked towards the ultimate answer, the location of a coin, buried somewhere on the MIT campus. Check out the puzzles from that year's hunt. (13 minutes)

Act Three

Girls In Need Of A Safer Time

Robin Epstein talks about her old job, as producer and chief question writer on a game show for teen-age girls called Plugged In. It was one of the first shows to air on the Oxygen network, the TV channel for women created by Oprah Winfrey. Robin had hoped that the show could serve as a role model for young women, showing smart teen girls answering tough questions. But in the end, it sort of did the opposite. (11 minutes)

By the way, the special thing about the act names...they're anagrams—they all contain exactly the same letters, just arranged into different words. They were written for us by one of the people on the Dr. Awkward team at the MIT Mystery hunt, David Ellis Dickerson.