Friday, March 21, 2008

PopQ: Like A Daytime Shelter For The Chronically Unemployed

One of the fortuitous things about being a student is that you're home at odd hours during the week. My schedule's given me a few free weekday afternoons when I've sat down for lunch and, with nothing else to do, turned on the TV while I ate my sandwich. But only recently have I caught a show called PopQ (also known as Brain Battle when the subject is divorced from pop culture). Apparently this thing has a cult following--and not just students and stay-at-home moms. Thousands of chronic gamblers, unemployed people, loners, and outport folk tune in every day at one o'clock to take a shot at the PopQ/Brain Battle pot of gold. I've seen it twice, and now treat it like a glass-shard milkshake. Stay away.

Here's how the thing works: They come up with a fill-in-the-blank question, and assign each correct answer a dollar value. All answers are concealed by slips of paper on the board, much like Family Feud. For example, a question/topic could be Michael (Fill-in-the-blank). So you might answer Michael Jordan (Jordan being the word that fills in the blank.) If that answer's on the board, you win the dollar figure to which it corresponds. There are ten spots on the board (four fifty bucks prizes, one thousand-dollar prize, and five slots ranging from a hundred to five-hundred bucks.)

The show is hosted by Jason Agnew and (sometimes) Stacey Englehart. Agnew is OK on his own, but bad things happen when they team up for an hour-long show. It's the constant, mindless banter--throwing it back to you, Jason. No, back to you, Stacey. Isn't that right, Jason? I couldn't agree more, Stacey--that really grates on you. They tend to be sweet to their callers, but you know they just want to tell them to get back to the mailbox and wait for that EI cheque.

But what kind of gameshow is PopQ? It's the kind you pay to play. You call, enter a "pool" of contestants, and then wait to be called back for your shot at a prize. Each call costs a couple bucks, and they call back around thirty persons per show. Rarely do they give away more than a few hundred bucks, meaning the prizes are actually paid for by the callers. The show is like a televised scratch-and-win ticket.

Some things that stick out: For some reason they're constantly going back and forth to the control room, showing their team of PopQ staff making phone calls and giving cues. There's a guy who sits on the right-hand side of the screen, a headset over one ear, and a perpetual scowl on his face. It's like looking at someone recently raised from the bottom of a lake. His name is Justin, and he's constantly being hectored by Agnew, who, offscreen, probably cuts a wide path around him. This guy's presence is enough to make you change the channel. He suffers through every hour, this sour look on his face, just waiting to mumble something about society not treating him right...a victim...revenge fantasies, etc.

But by far the dumbest thing about this show is its element of difficulty. Snow (Blank). Name a phrase or word preceded by "snow." Snow storm? No. Not on the list. Snow bank? No. Snow bird? No. Snow tires? No.

People, poor, gullible people, call in thinking they've got the answer, thinking they're going for the big money. It's so obvious, they're going to fill in that blank. Snow shovel? Not on the list.

The thousand-dollar answer: Snow report.

That's the genius of PopQ. To shepherd these fools in, to take their money, to give them hope, and then laugh at them as they guess at a word/phrase that doesn't really exist, or is beyond the realm of their experiential history. What is a snow report? It's a report on snow conditions. Wait, there's another blank--snow conditions. Just like ice (blank) could be ice report. Or ice block. So, you see, it's impossible to win.

Once they had Michael (fill-in-the-blank). Out of every famous Michael, ever, living or dead, you were looking for one. Guess whom the thousand-buck Mike was? Michael Ondaatje.

God, this show is awful.

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