October 7th, 2009
10:15 AM ET
My first game show experience came on the Regis Philbin version of "Who Wants To Be a Millionaire"... but not as a contestant.
In 1999, I received the call from Regis himself. I was on Phone-a-Friend (PAF) duty.
The contestant I was helping was a political analyst whose job required him to travel frequently and, at times, out of the country. As a result, his knowledge of recent U.S. pop culture was a bit spotty. That's where I came in.
Within a 30-second time frame, the contestant read me the question (What woman sang to Johnny Carson on his next-to-last "Tonight Show" episode?) I quickly replied that it was Bette Midler and that he should go for it. He got it right and, when all was said and done, left the stage $64,000 richer.
I've been on the PAF lists of six other contestants over the years, but haven't been selected since. And it appears I'll never be selected again.
During this week's taping of the syndicated version of "Millionaire", it was revealed that the Phone-a-Friend lifeline was no longer available for contestants. Instead, contestants will have just three lifelines to use - Ask the Audience (which is pretty useless on upper-level questions), Ask the Expert (which can be helpful or problematic depending on the "expert" the show recruits) and Double Dip (which some contestants pass on due to the fact that if you choose to use it, you must play the question out).
"Millionaire" getting rid of PAF is like "Jeopardy!" eliminating a Daily Double, or "The Price is Right" putting Plinko to the pricing game graveyard. It was an iconic lifeline that gave the contestant the power to determine his/her fate. The contestant, not the show, decided who to choose as a PAF.
You could ask the PAF to be prepared with reference books, a computer and fast typing fingers (in case you need to Google your answer). You could practice PAF techniques with your team, such as reducing a question to its root points, giving the PAF a few extra seconds to research the answer.
So why did "Millionaire" get rid of PAF? Perhaps the show thought the use of Google and other search engines made the lifeline too easy, or it wanted to save a few bucks by not having someone on staff whose role is to prep PAFs before and during the show.
Whatever the reason, "Millionaire" just isn't the same. I could handle the change in money tree and the time clock, but not the loss of a lifeline that made the show unique. What do you think?
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