The $16,000 Question

I need water!!!

I need water!!!

As Leroy James and Casey Bell once sang in one of the greatest lost songs of the disco era, we’re livin’ it up, livin’ it up, oh yeah!  It’s Friday night!  Well, OK, it’s only Friday morning… unless you’re reading this later on, or maybe on a different day… month…. year… time zone?  Who cares… I just know it’s time for the next tantalizing installment of my Millionaire Journey!  Last week, we saw carryover contestant Ed Toutant start off the show with a bang, easily slam dunking the first six questions he was asked.  But the crazy thing about Who Wants To Be A Millionaire was that it was much like riding on board the Titanic… one minute you’re smoothly sailing along, then the next minute someone’s yelling, “Iceberg right ahead!”….

Only without the annoying love story.  Isn't it tradition that the leads should go down with the ship?

Only without the annoying love story. Isn’t it tradition that the leads should go down with the ship?

$16,000 – Scientists in England recently genetically altered what vegetable so it glows when it needs water?

A. Potato
B. Tomato
C. Cabbage
D. Carrots

The expression on Ed's face says it all...

The expression on Ed’s face says it all…

As this question came up on the monitor, Ed couldn’t have possibly looked more uncomfortable even if he suddenly realized he had been sitting in the Hot Seat all this time in his Underoos.  It was without doubt a wild, wicked, completely out of the wild blue yonder question to show up this early in the game.  For the next three minutes or so, all that can be heard in the studio is the mystical, monk-like music that was the theme for the show’s mid level questions.  Ed is either lost in thought, completely thrown for a loop by this question, or quite likely maybe a bit of both…

Why couldn't this question be about glowing squirrels?

Why couldn’t this question be about glowing squirrels?

Regis finally breaks the silence by repeating the last part of the question, “…glows when it needs water.”

Ed still looks as confused as a penguin lost in a rain forest.  He finally manages to break the tension with a nervous laugh, “This was in the news, huh?”

Regis replies, “That’s what they tell me…. I didn’t see it.”

Ed can only counter, “Neither did I…”

Apparently, the news was too busy covering less important stuff like drama in the Middle East and what Miley Cyrus' latest tattoo was.

Apparently, the news was too busy covering less important stuff like drama in the Middle East and what Miley Cyrus’ latest tattoo was.

Ed is likely going through the same debate in his head that I had stewed on during his Mugwumps question.  He obviously doesn’t know the answer… but is this a question he can trust the audience with?  Being an item that was supposedly recently in the news, one would think enough of the people who took time from their busy lives to watch today’s taping would have probably seen it.  However, Ed isn’t familiar with the story, and Regis doesn’t appear to be either.  Though we were warned to ignore any “help” Regis gave us during the course of the game since, unlike some game show hosts, he isn’t given prior knowledge of the answers… Regis was a veritable “fourth lifeline” since he seemed to enjoy playing along with the contestant.  It was quite obvious from how Regis was reacting to this question that he was just as in the dark over this glowing vegetable experiment as Ed was…

Aren't there more practical things to invent than glowing shit?

Aren’t there more practical things to invent than glowing shit?

After these two gentlemen traded a few more uncomfortable barbs about the very existence of a glowing vegetable, and Ed has exhaled enough carbon dioxide into the studio to have personally brought global warming five years closer to becoming reality, the flummoxed contestant finally decides to throw this question into the laps of the lovely studio audience.

These guys.

These guys.

So I get to see how the Ask the Audience lifeline works in real life for the first time.  A lot of filler is edited out of the final product that you can only experience at the taping… such as the fact that Regis reads the entire question and all four answers before voting is allowed, and the audience has 20 seconds to enter their selections… all the while that corny ATA music that the producers ripped off from some carnival skee ball tent is playing in the background.

At least it isn't Natalie Merchant music.

At least it isn’t Natalie Merchant music.

Somewhere in one of the back rows of the audience, my Dad is sitting along with all of the other companions of my fellow finalists.  They are debating this question among themselves while the voting is going on, and my Dad chimes in that the answer has to be “tomato”… it’s the only thing that makes sense.  From the very afternoon of the taping right up until today, 13 and a half years later, my Dad swears up and down that he managed to convince his entire row to vote for B. Tomato…

And Dad's never wrong..... is he?

And Dad’s never wrong….. is he?

And the results of the audience poll are in….

Way to go, Dad!

Way to go, Dad!

A whopping 64% of the audience voted for Tomato.  That seems pretty damn convincing.  As Ed talks through his train of thought leading up to using the lifeline, he validates the poor showing for Potato (12%) and Carrots (2%) since they are both grown underground, and it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to genetically modify a veggie to glow if you can’t see it in the first place.  So the poll put a nice bit of popular separation between the two above ground choices Ed had been debating, with Cabbage receiving just 22% of the total vote.

Now armed with a studio full of New York’s best and brightest backing him up, though still seemingly a bit wary, Ed goes on to offer an answer of B. Tomato….

Regis is solidly in Ed’s corner, and even offers up a good luck gesture as he asks Ed if that’s his final answer…

Either that, or the man has a bad case of arthritis.

Either that, or the man has a bad case of arthritis.

Regis Philbin is one of the most legendary hosts in television history.  He has won so many Emmy Awards in his prodigious career, that he doesn’t have room on his shelf for squirrels, ponies, skunks, or elves.  The man is a natural when it comes to handling the odd twists and turns that can come during the course of a television production… and it’s one of the reasons he was chosen to host ABC’s golden goose of a game show.  But even the mighty Reege was at an almost total loss for words when the mystery men in the booth revealed the actual answer to this question…..

The only word Regis could muster up was the shocking six letter answer that was about to spell Ed’s doom……

“Potato.”

Oh..... dear.

What!?!?!?

There was someone who was hanging around on the Millionaire message board at the time who was also in the studio audience for this taping.  As I was providing my insight after this show aired, he asked me, “Didn’t it feel like all of the air just got sucked out of the studio when that answer was revealed?”

I can’t think of a better way to describe that moment.  64% of the audience seemed sure, Ed seemed sure, and Regis seemed sure that the answer was the most logical one on the board…. Tomato.  88% of the audience didn’t believe it could be Potato.  Short of the sad little riff that played when a contestant missed a question, you could have heard a pin drop in that studio once it became clear that Ed’s seemingly good run had just gotten stopped dead in its tracks by a mid-tier question that almost nobody in the entire room knew the damn answer to…

Where's Cliff Clavin when you need him?

Where’s Cliff Clavin when you need him?

Ed and Regis slowly disembark from their center stage seats as the same audience that helped doom Ed dredged up some sympathy clapping for him.  Ed is quite clearly shell shocked by what just happened, and Regis is in a rather uncomfortable state of bafflement and disgust.

“I wonder how they see it underground?” Regis asks as he shakes Ed’s hand for the final time.

“I don’t know…” is all Ed can offer up as he slowly makes his way offstage.  Wow… how did it ever come to this?

You can't even lose $7,000 that fast at a casino.

You can’t even lose $7,000 that fast at a casino.

Oh well, shit happens and the show must go on, right?  Well, apparently even Regis has his limits over what he is going to stand for… and to say he was absolutely furious over what had just transpired is about as much of an understatement as saying that Justin Bieber may be a little annoying.  As clear as if I were still sitting there in Seat 9 right now, I can vividly envision Regis stomping around the studio, flailing his hands up in an obvious hissy fit for the entire audience to take in, and screaming…

“What are we trying to do now….. TRICK THE CONTESTANTS!?!?!?”

Uhhhhhh. C. A... um.. choice C which is A... er is it C which is letter A... um.... dammit!

Uhhhhhh. C. A… um.. choice C which is A… or is it C which is letter A… um…. dammit!

This was the transition point where Regis was supposed to deliver a short monologue on the aftermath of the final question before presiding over the search for the next Hot Seat player… but that quite obviously wasn’t going to happen until someone found a way to calm the multi-million dollar host down…

A friendly suggestion.

A friendly suggestion.

One of the producers hurried out on stage to settle down the riled up emcee, and brief Regis on what he is to say to the television audience as a post mortem on this rather sticky question.  All this seems to do is infuriate Regis even more, as apparently the official explanation they want Reege to give to the viewers is that they asked “what vegetable” and the tomato is actually a fruit, so it couldn’t have been correct anyway.  Regis called bullshit on this line of reasoning, and rightly so.  It’s hard getting anyone to come to a consensus on whether the tomato is a fruit or a vegetable… heck, botanically the tomato is a fruit, yet in the US, it’s legally considered to be a vegetable!

NTTAWW an identity crisis...

NTTAWW an identity crisis…

It’s at this point where I’ve gotta give it up for ol’ Regis.  There are a lot of game show hosts on TV who don’t seem too concerned over the fate of the contestants on their shows… and frankly, why should they?  The host gets paid whether the contestants do well or not.  Do you think Alex Trebek gives a rat’s ass when a contestant on Jeopardy is ruled incorrect because they didn’t pronounce some obscure French word correctly and it costs them the game?

You are not worthy of being on this show... and don't you EVER come to Canada!

You are not worthy of being on this show… and don’t you EVER come to Canada!

Here’s Ed…. an average, but likeable guy who seems pretty smart, and he gets bounced on a question that was so laden with obscurity and treachery, that almost nobody on the entire set would have been able to correctly answer it.  Regis is pissed because he wants to see the contestants do well, and more importantly, have the opportunity to do well.  Many, many others with high trivia IQ’s would have suffered the same fate had they run into that question… and Regis knew it, and wasn’t going to stand for it.  Good for Regis giving the powers that be on the show a piece of his mind that day, even if not a bit of it was going to end up on the air.  The little guy totally won my heart that afternoon…

That makes me feel so warm inside....

That makes me feel so warm inside….

Incidentally, here’s the actual story this question was based on.  Notice the date at the top of the article, 12/18/2000… exactly one month prior to the day this all went down.  Given the source where I found this, I would somehow doubt it was really big news at the time… but apparently the question writers all happened to see it on some news site in between their games of Freecell…

Ah, the good old days of boredom busting computer games.

Ah, the good old days of boredom busting computer games.

After some tense moments, things in the studio begin to settle down.  Regis finally (and reluctantly) agrees to cover for the question writers by explaining to everyone that tomatoes are supposedly not vegetables, and how scientists in England have apparently crossbred a potato plant with a damn jellyfish so that it glows when it’s thirsty…

Actually scientific footage of this groundbreaking experiment.

Actually scientific footage of this groundbreaking flora/fauna experiment.

As for Ed…. well, it turns out that WWTBAM hadn’t heard the last of him.  After doing a little postgame research of his own, he formally protested the question to the show’s staff and was granted the right to return to the studio (for the FOURTH time!) in June and continue on from that point with a different $16,000 question.  While this glowing potato question was certainly pesky and a bit controversial, you are now about to find out why I referred to it as maybe the most infamous question the show ever asked in last week’s cliffhanger.  ABC decided to air Ed Toutant’s return appearance as a half hour special almost exactly 13 years ago, on September 7, 2001.  I can’t find a full video of his return performance, but here’s the last few questions…

Well, how about that?  From barely squeaking into the Hot Seat, to being run on a poorly crafted question, to this…

And the extra $860,000 as spare change...

And the extra $860,000 as spare change…

Only nine players ever won the top prize during the original primetime run of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire in the United States.  Ed was the last, and only one to do so after challenging a bad question they had originally missed.  Good for Ed!  He’s been a member of the online community I’ve hung out on for a long time, and I was happy that he got the chance at redemption…

Though I still gotta hand it to Dad for helping get him out of that Hot Seat early!

Though I still gotta hand it to Dad for helping get him out of that Hot Seat early!

Which speaking of…. lost in all of the shock and awe and controversy that followed that one, solitary, nasty question that comprised the total of this week’s post was the fact that I was now going to get my first shot at a Fastest Finger question!  The Hot Seat is empty, and someone’s gotta fill it.  Who will it be……?

NOOOOOOOOO!!!!  Not another cliffhanger!

NOOOOOOOOO!!!! Not another cliffhanger!

Find out next Friday!!!

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About evilsquirrel13

Bored former 30-something who has nothing better to do with his life than draw cartoon squirrels.
This entry was posted in Millionaire Journey and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

31 Responses to The $16,000 Question

  1. Reblogged this on Linda's wildlife garden and commented:
    Awesome and have a blesses day

  2. draliman says:

    Yay for Ed, for not sitting idly by and finally winning his million! I don’t know who Regis Philbin is (apart from via your “Millionaire” posts) but he sounds like a good guy as well.

    Will it be you in the hot seat next week? Will it? 🙂

  3. NotAPunkRocker says:

    Alright, on what grounds did he “protest the question”? I need to research this…when I feel like it. Maybe.

    Potatoes are the only item that could really change a discernible color without looking rotten, so maybe via aquaculture (no freaking clue).

    • I was going to ask Ed himself the basis of his protest, but ultimately decided to just wing it since I wasn’t going to concentrate that much on his return… merely what happened that I saw myself. This is just speculation based on memories of when this originally went down, but I seem to recall the major factor was that he found there had been similar research on numerous types of veggies (and/or alleged veggies), and the question was somewhat vague based on the specific instance it was asking about. The article I linked to even mentions that another choice, carrots, were going to be a target of future research. It also clarifies that it wasn’t the potato itself that was supposed to glow, but rather the leaves… which of course would be above ground.

      At the very least, it wasn’t the most well thought out, well written question the show ever asked… and the way the show’s staff tried to explain its way around it on the air was enough reason for me to suspect they knew the question was BS in the first place. If tomato wasn’t the correct answer anyway, why reason that “Well, it’s not really a vegetable, so it couldn’t have been right!”

  4. 1jaded1 says:

    Good for Ed. Wow about Regis. I’m going to stifle my cynicism and say he’s decent. Based on previous answers to.your post, I’m gonna say someone else made it to the seat, but like EVERYONE else, I will know next week. Thanks for keeping us on edge.

    • I’m as cynical as they come, and yet I was incredibly impressed at Regis’ genuine act of anger over how that whole scenario played out. It matched with what other contestants had reported in earlier dealings with the host, that he truly did care about contestants doing well.

      I gotta keep up the drama…. 🙂

  5. Twindaddy says:

    Augh! The suspense!

    On a serious note, I’ve always liked Regis and this post reaffirms my opinion of him. That was a cool fucking thing for Regis to do.

    • It was! The guy was as genuine as they get. I think he was making something like over $10,000,000 a show at that point, and yet he still gave a rat’s ass and stuck up for a contestant getting an unfair question valued at a mere fraction of what he made…

  6. I’m glad he won his million, and it is just a shame Dad didn’t get a commission… as for the glowing jellyfish potato, I LIVE in the UK and never heard that one. Plus, knowing how the Brits live their tatties, if this story ever flashed in the proverbial pan at ask (which, btw, it did NOT), research would have ended at the hands ofthe Chip Shop lobby and jellyfish rights protectors chaining themselves to aquariums and sending petitions to the prime minister.

    • LOL!!! We don’t want to mess up the fish and chips with any glowing jellyfish genes.

      This was the kind of slow news day question that was popular in the syndicated version of the show, where they actively tried to keep contestants from getting close to the million since the show had a much smaller budget. But such fluff was rare to be seen in the show’s glory days when the publicity of a big winner was worth well more than the 7 figure check they were writing…

  7. WAIT A DAMN MINUTE. Potato? How MUCH does it glow? From how deep underground? What happens to our digestive tracts if we eat glow in the dark vegetables? Do they glow if you fry them? If McDonald’s used them, would they charge extra? So many questions …

    • LOL! Remember when I said your post on genetically modified crops was foreshadowing my Millionaire story? The “glowing potato” has to be one of the silliest agricultural tampering attempts ever! Since it was just the leaves that were supposed to glow, and not the tuber itself, that’s one of the poorly written aspects of the question. Still, that’s gotta be pretty freaking eating something from a glow in the dark plant!

  8. Crikey there is a lot to ponder in this installment. i have to do some digging. I never heard of this potato business and like a previous commenter, we aussies like our chips too and would have gotten excited with this awful news. I have a lot of respect for ED for doing what he did. Poor jellyfish. Leave jellyfish alone! Rights for jellyfish! 🙂

  9. ps. I have given up on time zones and Shane says “it is always Christmas somewhere in the world” this is from an A+ student in physics and science. LOL!!!

  10. PigLove says:

    Oh dear piggy heavens. Shakes my head. I gotta know. Who’s in the seat next? Who will it be? You gotta tell me. Give me something. A hint. An initial. TELL ME EVIL SQUIRREL! XOXO – Bacon

  11. markbialczak says:

    Isn’t it just so much easier to water your damn potato plants once a day? Tomato plants twice a day? Cabbage twice a week? Carrots every other day? I totally just made that watering timetable up off the top of my cantaloupe, which I’m pretty sure is not a vegetable, ESN. English scientists need a better to-do list, don’t we all agree? Good for Reeg for raising hell that night, good for Ed for filing a protest and winning his cool mil, and good for you for extending this feature into the year 2525, if man is still alive … wait, that’s just an old song by Zanger and Evans.

  12. Ed Toutant says:

    This post is insanely wonderful! Thank you very much for writing it. It’s great to read your perspective of that day, and I appreciate your nice comments, both about me and about Regis Philbin. I agree that Regis was a man of integrity who cared very much about the contestants on the show. He treated everyone with respect, kindness, and a good sense of humor. I will always be grateful for the way he treated me, and to you and a few other contestants who commiserated and helped me in the aftermath of my initial failure.

    For those who asked about my appeal of the bad question, here is an interview I did several years ago with some of the details, and a brief mention of the event on Wikipedia.
    http://www.triviahalloffame.com/edtoutant.php
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Broadcast_Standards_and_Practices_(US)#Who_Wants_to_Be_a_Millionaire.3F

    I loved your two posts about my experience on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire so much that I am now hooked on your skewed humor and wacky references, so I’ll need to do a reading marathon soon to catch up on what else I’ve been missing on this blog. I’ll also spread the word online to my most discriminating literary friends.

    Coincidentally, I only visited here tonight because I was searching online for any existing image of me and the question about glowing vegetables, and Google brought me here. I had been watching updates from Scotland’s election on independence, and it struck me that the subject was especially meaningful to me because the writers on WWTBAM confused England with Scotland when they wrote that flawed question. They referred to “scientists in England,” but the glowing spud work was done at the University of Edinburgh (Scotland), as mentioned in the article linked above.

    Thanks again, Bill!

    • Wow… thank you for the glowing (ha!) compliments, Ed! And it’s good to see that despite my pathetic attempts at SEO that Google directed you here… and I wouldn’t be surprised if I had the only screenshots of your question on the whole internet. And many thanks for filling in the details on what was involved in bringing you back to New York! I’ve obviously heard a lot about it from my many years hanging around the Bored, but until your comment, I was completely unaware the infamous research was done in Scotland! Wow, the writers sure were out to lunch in doublechecking that question for potential pitfalls…

  13. reocochran says:

    This still comes up in your box when you like mynposts. I had to chuckle all over again about your Dad convincing a while tow of people to vote for Tomato, when the weird answer is Potato. I also liked your accolades for Regis and how he doesn’t have room on HIS shelves for squirrels, unicorns and cute stuff. . . 😀

    • That’s because it’s the second most read post ever on my blog thanks to the fact that a lot of people search for the story behind Ed’s question, and Google et. al. have direct a lot of those people to me. I guess it’s nice to be the renowned leader in something other than squirrel cartoons!

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