Monday, September 05, 2005

AOL vs Who Wants to be a Millionaire

Do you watch "Who Wants to be a Millionaire"? Have you noticed that the AOL people who participate in the "Ask the Audience" segment are consistently DUMBER than the actual audience?

For those of you who have no idea what I am talking about - Who Wants to be a Millionaire is a TV game show where the contest is asked a series of multiple choice questions. If they get all 15 correct, they win a million dollars. They earn lesser, increasing amounts for each question, and they can stop at any time. If they miss a question, they fall back to one of three lower cash levels ($0, $1000, or $25,000).

For assistance they have what are called Lifelines that can each be used once. They can Phone a Friend who may know the answer. They can cut the answer choices from 4 to 2. Or they can Ask the Audience. In this case, everyone in the audience can vote for one of the answers. And they are most often correct.

So how does AOL come into this? Well, this year, they added the capability for AOL Instant Messaging users to vote as well. And they report the statistics on how they voted, separate from the stats on the studio audience. Now, I have not kept detailed stats, but I would say that 90% of the time, the AOL voters have a lower percentage of correct answers than the studio audience. If the studio audience casts 90% of its votes for the correct answer, the AOL voters will only be 70% correct. If the studio audience casts 70% of its votes for the correct answer, the AOL voters will only be 50% correct. Consistently.

Now, I guess there could be other reasons besides stupidity for this. They could be doing it on purpose, as a kind of joke. That means they are CRUEL rather than stupid. They want the contestant to fail. And it raises the question of whether it is a vast conspiracy on the part of AOL voters, or they are just a bunch of free spirits who all decide to screw with the system. Another possibility is that the studio audience cheats - if one person does not know the answer, they ask their friends, and correct answers get passed around. AOL voters, on the other hand, are a bunch of isolated loners, with no one to ask for help. Finally, the studio audience may be of above average intelligence - many of them are presumably friends of contestants, and maybe they learned something during training sessions.

But I prefer to believe that the AOL voters are just dumb. It satisfies my self-image as above the masses. Since I usually get the answers correct as well.


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