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Series / Master Minds

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Do you have what it takes to beat the best?
Master Minds is a Game Show on GSN in which three contestants face off against a set of three resident trivia experts for a chance at $10,000 and, eventually, a spot on the show as a Master Mind themselves.

The series debuted on June 10, 2019, as Best Ever Trivia Show and was originally hosted by Sherri Shepherd. The resident trivia experts included Ken Jennings, Muffy Marracco, Jonathan Corbblah, Ryan Chaffee, Arianna Haut, Raj Dhuwalia, Susannah Brooks, and David Suchinsky. In this version, contestants and experts secretly locked in answers to multiple-choice questions over three rounds. The winning contestant faced off against the best-performing expert in the Ultimate Trivia Challenge, a five-question showdown. If the contestant beat the expert, they won $10,000 and got to play again. A contestant who beat the experts three times was invited to play as an expert themselves in future shows.

The series was renewed under the title Master Minds and debuted under this new title, with a new format, on April 6, 2020, with Brooke Burns replacing Sherri Shepherd as host. Jennings, Marracco, Corbblah, Chaffee, and Haut all returned as experts (now called "Master Minds"), along with newcomer LaKedra Pam. The third season under the Master Minds title replaced Ken Jennings, who was now too busy with Jeopardy!, with The Chase favorite Mark "The Beast" Labbett. The format was also retooled further, the biggest change being that it now only takes two bonus round victories to become a Master Mind. The following season introduced another new Master Mind, Monica Thieu.

This series provides examples of:

  • All or Nothing: Only the day's winner is mentioned as winning anything, and they receive $1,000 for their win. A Bonus Round loss means the contestant wins nothing extra, and they're off the show.
  • Ascended Extra: For the first three seasons, this was the prize for pulling off three wins against the experts/Master Minds (that and $30,000 in total winnings). In all that time, nobody ever won the full $30,000. Only three contestants ever made it to a third day, and only ONE of those three made it to the bonus round.
    • The third Minds season lowered the requirement to just two victories. So far seven contestants have pulled it off; Kelly Gerhold, Lauren Cusitello, and Cliff Galiher did so in the third Minds season, while Brendan Sargent, John Rhodes, Tim Mc Gaigue, & Amanda Graver did it in the fourth.
    • Muffy Marracco guest-hosted five season 4 Minds episodes due to Brooke coming down with laryngitis.
  • Bonus Round: The Ultimate Trivia Challenge. The format varied, but in all cases, both the contestant and expert/Master Mind faced a series of questions. If the contestant outscored the expert/Master Mind, or tied and correctly answered an extra question correctly (the so-called Ultimate Trivia Question), the $1,000 they won in the main game was upgraded to $10,000 and they got to play again, up to three times.
    • In Best Ever, the contestant and expert both answered five multiple-choice questions simultaneously.
    • In the first season of Minds, the contestant and Master Mind answered the same five open-ended questions separately (the Master Mind was in a Sound Proof Booth for the contestant's turn); the answers were checked at the end of the round.
    • In the second season of Minds, the contestant and Master Mind simultaneously wrote their answers to five open-ended questions; the answers were revealed as they went along. The third season of Minds used the same format but reduced the number of questions to four.
  • Bonus Space: In Best Ever only, if the expert assigned to play either of the first two rounds got the question wrong, it doubled the value of that question.
  • Double the Dollars:
    • In Best Ever, 50 points per question in round 1, 100 in round 2. These amounts were themselves doubled if the active expert missed the question. In round 3, 200 points if you chose to take the expert's answer sight unseen, or 400 if you tried to answer it yourself.
    • In Master Minds, 100 points per question in round 1, 200 in round 2, with 400 going on the last question of round 2. There were a few added caveats in the latter case: first off, the questions were open-ended from that point on, not multiple-choice. Secondly, the contestants and Master Minds had to buzz in for the right to answer and write their answers - only the first person on each side got to answer. Thirdly, wrong answers in this round carried a point deduction. The third round offered 500 for the first question, with the value going up 100 on each new question.
      • Starting with the third Master Minds season, round 2 no longer requires buzzing in; everyone writes down their answer, so everyone can now score on each question. Points are no longer deducted for wrong answers, as well.
  • Eliminated from the Race: After round 2 on Minds, both the lowest-scoring contestant and the lowest-scoring Master Mind are eliminated.
  • Game Show Host: Sherri Shepherd on Best Ever, Brooke Burns on Minds.
  • Game Show Winnings Cap: Unlike most GSN series, which are one-and-done, this show allows you to return for up to three games - provided you win the Bonus Round each time, which means potentially $30,000 - and that's without the salary you'd presumably receive for playing as an expert/Master Mind as a result of that. In the third season of Minds, the cap was lowered to two wins/$20,000.
  • In-Series Nickname: Similar to The Chase, each of the experts/Master Minds is referred to by a nickname.
    • Ken Jennings is "The Trivia Legend".
    • Muffy Marracco is "The Historian".
    • Jonathan Corbblah is "The Chess Wizard".
    • Ryan Chaffee is "The Scholar".
    • Arianna Haut is "The Headmaster".
    • LaKedra Pam is "The Doctor".
    • And naturally, Mark Labbett is "The Beast". Unlike his fellow experts, Mark's podium has that nickname instead of his real name.
  • I Want You to Meet an Old Friend of Mine: Muffy Marracco, Jonathan Corbblah, and Arianna Haut were previously contestants on the Brooke Burns-hosted version of The Chase prior to being reunited with her on Master Minds.
    • Mark "The Beast" Labbett joined the Master Minds in its third season, replacing Ken Jennings. Mark's first episode reunited him with Arianna & Jonathan.
  • Lifelines: In round 3 of Best Ever only, the contestants could choose to take the round's expert's answer, sight unseen, based on how confident the expert said they were. This did halve the potential points the contestant could earn (200, as opposed to 400 for answering it themselves).
  • Musical Spoiler: Tense music plays throughout the Ultimate Trivia Challenge. At the end of the fifth and final question, the music hits a long note just before the answer is revealed. In Best Ever and the first two Minds seasons, if you hear that note on a question before the fifth, the game is going to end right then and there without a need for any more. This was fixed for the third Master Minds season.
  • Nintendo Hard: The questions are not that easy in the first place, and they get harder as you go deeper into the game. Also, the experts/Master Minds are smart. Usually you'll need most of the questions right in the Bonus Round, if not a perfect score, just to get to the Ultimate Trivia Question. Beating them once is hard enough, let alone twice or three times. Six contestants have managed two wins... but the first three did so when the requirement was three wins, so they did not join the Master Minds. And God help you if you drew Ken Jennings as your opponent in the final round... During his entire tenure on Master Minds, Jennings was never beaten outright by a contestant; the only wins against him came via tiebreaker. He was beaten thrice on the original Best Ever incarnation, though.
  • Non-Standard Game Over: Round 3 of Best Ever usually consisted of three questions. If a contestant got an insurmountable lead at any point before the third question, the game immediately ended.
    • In all seasons except the first season of Minds, the Ultimate Trivia Showdown can end early if either side (usually the contestant) can't catch up.
  • Retired Game Show Element: The whole "expert got it wrong, so you score double points" mechanic applied to Best Ever only, as did the idea of blindly using the expert's answer as your own. The idea of isolating the Master Mind off-stage in Minds, and then bringing them back to play their round after the contestant finished, only lasted the first season of that run.
  • Retool: Oh yes. The title changed, the host changed, the format got re-worked, the set went from a rainbow motif to all blue... the only thing to carry over from Best Ever Trivia Show to Master Minds completely unscathed was the music package.
    • Further retooled in the third Minds season: everyone plays every question in the first two rounds, the Bonus Round has been reduced to four questions, and, most importantly, only two wins against the Master Minds are required to become a Master Mind yourself.
  • Smart People Wear Glasses: Marracco, Chaffee, and Pam all wear glasses, but Marracco in particular likes to make quips about her glasses being a sign of her intelligence.
  • Sound Proof Booth: In the first season of Minds only. The Master Mind was isolated offstage while the contestant took their turn.
  • Speed Round: In Minds, the third round consists of 60 seconds of questions on the buzzers for the contestants to get a winner between them, followed by 60 seconds of questions for the Master Minds to get the winning contestant someone to challenge. There is the requirement that the players involved wait for the question to be completed before they can buzz in. Also, these questions are quite a bit longer than on The Chase (which Brooke had previously hosted), and there is a need to announce the value of each question, since the value goes up as the round goes on (500 on the first question, going up 100 with each subsequent question). Net result: you're lucky if you hear nine questions during the minute, and more often, it'll only be seven or eight.
  • Think Music: Plays while the contestants and experts/Master Minds submit their answers.
  • Tiebreaker Round: The Ultimate Trivia Question is used if the Bonus Round ends in a tie. The question is directed to the contestant only, and if they get it right, they win; if not, they lose. When it crops up among the contestants, the procedure differed between Best Ever and Minds. On Best Ever, the contestants involved locked in an answer to one more question; fastest correct answer wins. On Minds, the contestants (or, occasionally, Master Minds) involved answered one question verbally on the buzzers; a wrong answer meant that contestant (or Master Mind) was out.
    • If this crops up on both sides in round 2, the question is asked to the tied players on both sides at the same time and they buzz in for the opportunity to write their responses.
  • Unexpectedly Obscure Answer: Crops up a lot, particularly in the Bonus Round.
  • Wins by Doing Absolutely Nothing:
    • Since answering a tiebreaker question incorrectly is an automatic loss, it's generally good strategy (if you don't know the answer) to simply do nothing and let your opponent defeat themselves.
    • In the first two Master Minds seasons, in the second round, only one player on each side (who buzzed in) could answer each question, and wrong answers caused points to be lost. A number of players secured their spot in the third round by not buzzing in at all while a poor-guessing player knocked themselves out by giving too many incorrect answers. This is no longer possible beginning in Season Three, as the round has been re-tooled so that all players must answer every question, and points are not deducted for incorrect answers. The only time the "buzz in to write your answer" rule is used now is when there is a tiebreaker needed on both the contestants’ side and the Master Minds’ side simultaneously at the end of the second round.