Millionaire lacks gloss

STEVE TILLEY

, Last Updated: 2:23 PM ET

Call it classic Canadian cynicism.

Call it the result of an unfair comparison to its American stepdad.

Or call it a random attack of general grumpiness.

But unless there was something going on there that this scribe completely missed, the Canadian version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire proved to be painfully - almost criminally - anticlimactic.

With $64,000 as the largest amount given out over the course of two nights, and only one other winner bagging more than $1,000, the prizes were certainly in line with Canadian game show history.

All that was missing was a set of encyclopedias.

Two of last night's contestants - Shannon Sullivan of St John's, Nfld., and Andrew Heaman, of Victoria, B.C., - were tripped up by their $16,000 questions, and each was knocked back down to a mere $1,000 in winnings.

Alberta's sole representative, Curtis Arnold of Kananaskis, fared a little better. He went home with $16,000, tax free.

But even if host Pamela Wallin had been doing lap dances for the contestants in the hot seat, it's tough to believe the show could have been saved from boredom.

About the only dramatic moment in the entire hour was when Arnold phoned his dad in London, Ont., for help on a question about which Alberta political party proposed the "funny money" scheme during the 1930s.

Papa Arnold hemmed and hawed for a bit. Finally, he said, "I'm guessing here, I'm going to go with " BEEP BEEP. Out of time!

(Arnold used his 50-50 lifeline and correctly guessed Social Credit.)

Canadian content

Other Canadian content questions this time around included topics like the break-in at 24 Sussex Drive, the Toronto Blue Jays, The Beachcombers, Anne Murray, the metric system and something called Digby chicken, which is probably as well-known to east coasters as Ogopogo is to westerners. Or not.

Water-cooler buzz after Wednesday night's show suggested, to put it in the kindest terms, that Wallin just wasn't up to the task of filling American host Regis Philbin's familiar shoes.

Last night she seemed a little looser - maybe it was the cool blue suit from The Bay, over Wednesday's bright red number - though she'd still lapse into this weird sort of Regis-meets-mattress-pitchwoman persona. And the forced tension before revealing answers seemed even more, well, forced than it did last time.

Still, you can't necessarily blame CTV.

Few of the contestants, other than Quebec's Francois Laramee (the overall big winner, with $64,000 on Wednesday night's show), showed more than a glimmer of personality. And the all-Canuck audience seemed either asleep or dead.

Maybe we're just boring

Maybe it was just nerves, what with the historical significance of the show.

Or maybe Canadians are as boring as everybody says.

Does it matter? Apparently not.

As good or bad as audiences thought Canadian Millionaire was, CTV has already vowed there will be more.

Thanks to the network's record-setting ratings for Wednesday night's show - 4.17 million viewers tuned in, compared to 3.56 million CTV viewers for the highest-rated American episode - they're talking about doing more shows. Maybe stand-alone specials like these ones, but a regular series hasn't been ruled out.

Seem like a bad idea?

Do the math: 759,937 people called CTV's 1-900 number to try to qualify for Canadian Millionaire, at $2 a call.

That's $1,519,874.

CTV paid out a total of just $83,000 in winnings over two nights.

That's a profit of $1,436,874 on the phone-in revenue alone, to say nothing of the advertising bucks.

Hmm. Maybe we know who really wants to be a millionaire after all ...

The stumpers

With the high of winning big money comes the low of losing out (or bowing out) on a particularly tough question. These were the stumpers that sent last night's Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, Canadian Edition, contestants packing.

* Shannon Sullivan, from St. John's, Nfld., got this as his $16,000 question: "In Nova Scotia, the term 'Dibgy chicken' refers to what? A) Cured herring, B) Rubber duck, C) Smoked lobster, D) Cornish hen."

Atlantic boy Sullivan had no clue, and used his 50-50 to narrow it down to cured herring and smoked lobster. He guessed lobster - seemed like a rational choice - but it was wrong. Bye, bye. Winnings: $1,000.

* Andrew Heaman, from Victoria, B.C., also tripped on the $16,000 question: "According to Arthurian legend, who rules over Avalon? A) Merlin the magician, B) King Arthur, C) Morgan Le Fay, D) Queen Guinevere."

Heaman wasn't sure, so he phoned his sister Elspeth. She figured it was Morgan Le Fay. He wasn't buying it, so he 50-50'd the question, leaving King Arthur and Morgan Le Fay. He guessed King Arthur. The moral? Listen to your sister, dummy. Winnings: $1,000.

* Curtis Arnold, from Kananaskis, clawed his way to this $32,000 question: "Which pirate prowled the West Indies in a ship named Queen Anne's revenge? A) Captain Kidd, B) Anne Bonny, C) Blackbeard, D) Jean Lafitee."

Out of lifelines and with no idea what the answer might be, Arnold chose to walk away.

Winnings: $16,000.


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