Series: Win Ben Stein's Money
It's ALL about the Benjamins...
A Game Show
produced for Comedy Central
in the late 1990s
, hosted by deadpan actor
and former political speechwriter Ben Stein, and featuring radio personality turned late-night Talk Show
host Jimmy Kimmel as The Announcer
. Using the common "quiz show" game model, and sporting a humorous atmosphere (as befitting a Comedy Central program), the show might have been forgotten as merely another Jeopardy
clone if not for its unique concept — the contestants really were competing for Ben Stein's money.
The show offered a $5,000 prize pot which constituted Stein's paycheck for each episode, of which the contestants tried to earn as much as they could; the remainder of the pot went home with Stein, so in a very real sense contestants were taking money out of Stein's pocket. (Of course, Stein was also paid a normal salary on top of his "winnings".) note
The program featured another unique conceit: Since his own paycheck was at stake in each episode, Stein would actually turn the hosting/moderating duties
over to Kimmel during the game's second round and would join the contestants as a contestant himself. The Bonus Round
featured the winning contestant going head-to-head with Stein in a "Best of Ten Test of Knowledge", a timed rapid-fire questionnaire. Stein was no slouch as a contestant; highly competitive (especially when defending his earnings), he regularly trounced the actual contestants and rarely gave a wrong answer — although there were
quite a few times when he lost the entire $5,000 pot to some "superior intellect", as he would say.
Kimmel was eventually replaced
by Nancy Pimental, and later by Kimmel's own cousin, Sal Iacono. The show ceased production in 2003.
- All or Nothing: If the contestant who have lowest money at the end of the first two rounds, Ben Stein takes their money away back to Ben Stein's bank. And then during the Second round, Ben Stein becomes a contestant to defend his money.
- Bonus Round: The Best of Ten Test of Knowledge. If the player lost, they only kept any money they won previously. If there was a tie, the player would win $1,000 in addition to the money they've already earned. If the player wins, he/she won what remained of the $5,000 pot note
- Confetti Drop: If the contestant beat Ben, money fell from the ceiling.
- Double The Dollars: From $50-$150 per question in Round 1, to $200-$500 in Round 2.
- Promotional Consideration: From the show's second season onward.
- Sound Proof Booth: Where the contestant and Ben sat during the bonus round. Ben's room was an upper-class library, while the contestant's room was barren.
This show provides examples of:
- Author Tract: Whenever Richard Nixon was mentioned, Stein (who was a speechwriter for him) would usually say a word or two to defend him.
- Berserk Button: Never accidentally answer by using "What is".
Jimmy: That is the cardinal sin; does he look like Alex Trebek to you?!
- Violators had to wear a dunce cap until the next commercial break.
- Catch Phrase: Of sorts. When Ben lost the Bonus Round (very rare), he would say to his opposition "I bow to your superior knowledge! (bow) I'm humbled! I'm impressed! I hate you! Get outta here!" — and then hand that contestant that hard-won $5,000.
- In the lead-in to Ben's turn at the Bonus Round, after being informed of the score he needed to beat, Ben would usually say, "I shall do my best."
- Occasionally in the Best of Ten round, when told that the contestant had scored less than 5 points, he would say, "I take all challenges seriously."
- Celebrity Edition: Ranged from hosts of other Comedy Central programs, to political commentators, to porn stars.
- Dare to Be Badass/Throwing Down the Gauntlet: The Opening Narration from Stein.
Hello, I'm Ben Stein. And today, I'm going to make history. I'm putting up $5,000 that says I know more than you
. So if you're smart enough, fast enough, and if you've got the guts, you can Win Ben Stein's Money
"Hello. I'm Ben Stein. My brain is a miraculous instrument. It contains the information I use to protect my money—$5,000. I'll put it up, but I won't give it up without a fight. But if you're smart enough, quick enough, and lucky enough, you can Win Ben Stein's Money."
- A Day in the Limelight: Ben and Jimmy once swapped their traditional duties for an episode.
- Deadpan Snarker: Ben Stein.
- Dunce Cap: A contestant is forced to wear this if they accidentally tag "What is..." to their answers.
- Exactly What It Says on the Tin: It's a game show hosted by Ben Stein, and the contestants are literally trying to win his money.
- Flipping the Bird: Believe it or not, Ben's done this a couple times to the question writers.
- Game Show Winnings Cap: With VERY few exceptions, contestants only appeared once, and the most they could win was the complete $5,000 pot.
- Golden Snitch: The $400 and $500 questions. Despite the second round's dollar values being much higher than those in the first round, having Ben as a contestant made come-from-behind victories difficult to accomplish.
- There have been situations where a contestant behind by $450 won after responding correctly to a $500 question. However, these occasions were rare.
- Luck-Based Mission: The dollar values are never shown until the topics are chosen. It's not so bad in the first round, but in the second round, any lead of less than $500 can evaporate with just one question.
- Nintendo Hard: Round 2 and the Best of Ten. Ben Stein is smart, and more worrying, he is aggressive.
- Obvious Rule Patch: Originally, the contestants were to receive the full $5,000 prize if the contestant and Ben were tied in the Best of Ten Test of Knowledge. (At least one early contestant won the $5,000 this way.) However, the producers figured out that ties could happen rather frequently. As a result, if the contestant ended up tied with Ben, the contestant received $1,000 (which was added to what the contestant had already won).
- Oh, Crap: The look on Ben's face when he got a question wrong, occasionally resulting (especially during the Bonus Round) in a Precision F-Strike...although perhaps not that explicit.
- Once per Episode: Several:
- Public Domain Soundtrack: The theme song is "Ode to Joy", and the transition music consists of various classic tunes, such as "Eine Kleine Nachtmusik", "Ride of the Valkyries", "Russian Dance", and "Water Music".
- Rule of Funny: Many of the categories.
- Rule of Three: In one of the early episodes, a contestant accidentally answered questions with "What is" three times. After the third instance, Ben couldn't take it anymore.
Ben: Okay wait a minute, this is unbelievable. This is unbelievable!
Jimmy: (to contestant) We need a hammer, or something, to beat you with.
- Running Gag: Several.
- As Ben appeared on stage, he was often introduced in humorous ways, such as "The man who put the T&A in SAT..." and "I swear to God he dances naked in his dressing room..."
- Many contestants answered in the form of a "What is...?" question, either by accident or just to cheese off Ben. In either case, he'd respond by forcing said player to wear a dunce cap for the remainder of that round (except on the rare occasion where the contestant caught him/herself in the process).
- At the start of the Bonus Round, Ben would swear on something ridiculous that he had no knowledge of any of the questions to be asked.
- When Ben asked Jimmy to explain the Bonus Round's rules, the response would be something akin to "Yes, Nipple Nuts".
- If Ben was asked the questions second in the bonus round, Jimmy would ask an eleventh question if time had not expired. A few such examples:
Jimmy (if Ben won): Would you like to cuddle after the show?
Jimmy (during a Ben win): Are hookers deductible as "entertainment expenses"? (To which Ben answered, "Yes, of course."')
Jimmy (if Ben lost): How does it feel to lose $5,000?
- Smart People Know Latin: One of the categories is called "I speak Latin, ergo I am annoying."
- Sound Proof Booth: Used in the Best of Ten round.
- Those Two Guys: Ben and Jimmy played off each other quite well.
- Transatlantic Equivalent: Win Jeremy Beadle's Money aired on Channel Five from 2 August to 22 December 1999. Appropriately, Beadle was just as Nintendo Hard as Stein.
- Unwinnable by Design: On Ben's end. In the first round, the contestants can take his money unchallenged, which means that unless they all totally blow the first round, Ben's going to lose at least part of his $5,000.
- Even so, there were times that Ben didn't lose all that much money. The record lowest amount of money Ben ever lost was a mere $150.
- Waxing Lyrical: At the beginning of each show, Ben recites a pop culture reference in monotone before putting $5,000 up for grabs. Song lyrics are common.
- Who Wants To Be Who Wants To Be A Millionaire: One episode was a parody of the show, complete with lifelines.
Jimmy: If you are too stupid to answer the questions in this round, we've got three ways to help you cheat. Number one, you can dial 1-900-ASS-PARTY; they may not have the answers, but it is a lot of fun. Number two, you can poll our audience, but they're really only good if it's a drug question. And, number three, you can ask me, but that's not usually much help either.