The object of the game was for a contestant to defend a "Money Chair" by competing in timed matches (referred to as "bouts") of multiple-choice questions against other contestants. If you win, you keep the chair. If you lose, the winner takes your place. For every second a player keeps the chair, they earn $10. Much like The Challengers, questions occasionally involved recent events. When you make it into the 8:00 p.m. hour (when the competition was aired in primetime on TV), things changed a bit; point values for questions begin steadily increasing throughout the round, and there's also the "Doubler"; which is basically a "dare" for your opponent to answer the question for double the points (or else you get them all). While the opponent can double-back at you, there is no option to take a physical challenge instead. If, when finally defeated, a contestant's score is within the top 4, the contestant moves into a residence known as "Winners' Row" with little access to the outside world until either the game ends, or someone else outscores or eliminates them.
The second matchup of each primetime show featured the "Line Jumper", a wild-card contestant flown in overnight who qualified by playing through the app. The final matchup is the "Winner's Defense" round; a Sudden Death match where that day's "Power Player" (a contestant in Winner's Row that did the best playing along with the matches happening before them using a tablet) - or someone they forcibly send in as a sacrifice on their behalf - has to play against the current holder of the Money Chair, winner take all. When the million seconds ended, the top four players won the money they had banked, and competed in a three-round, stepladder playoff (the fourth place finisher went against the third place finisher for a chance to play against the second place finisher. The winner of the match against the second place winner went on to face the first place finisher in the championship game) for $2,000,000.
The show also attempted to be trendy and emphasize interaction with through social media and the official app, where viewers could watch the proceedings live, Big Brother style, and even play the game themselves, either normally or along with the show.
Promotional spots for the show made reference to the largest prize in game show history - $10,000,000. This was a theoretical maximum that assumed 100% Completion, and isn't even the largest prize in the genre (a pair of Play For A Billion specials touted a $1 billion prize) or even the second-largest (Deal or No Deal once held a promotion offering $100 million). On top of that, the final winner (Andrew Kravis) got an extra $273,654 added to his winnings for a total of $2.6 million, likely to make sure he dethroned Ken Jennings' original run on Jeopardy! (where he won $2,522,700).
Game Show Tropes in use:
- All or Nothing: To an extent. None of the players got any money unless they ended up with one of the four highest totals.
- Golden Snitch: The Winner's Defense round had the possibility to turn into this, and actually it did so twice.
- Home Game: The show's official app allowed users to play the game itself against friends and other opponents from across the country; users could even play along live with the primetime show. The app was also one of two ways (the other being NBC's website) viewers could watch the aforementioned 23/7 live stream of the competition itself.
- Home Participation Sweepstakes: Playing the app enough allowed you to enter to become a "line jumper", a sort of wild card during the primetime show. Said player was surprised Publishers Clearing House Prize Patrol-style by an anchor from their local NBC affiliate, and flown to New York overnight. Of course, if you lived in New York City or were willing to spring for a plane ticket there, there was nothing stopping you from actually going down there yourself and trying out to be a contestant the old-fashioned way.
- Well, "surprised" probably isn't the right word, as in every case the person in question was dressed nicely when they were "surprised" and usually had a bunch of friends/family conveniently over at the time. In at least one case, you could clearly see the friends and family sitting in the background, waiting for their cue to come forward.
- Product Placement:
- Subway was the primary sponsor. As such, it was everywhere backstage.
- The "Winners' Row" facility had televisions permanently tuned to several NBC-owned channels, including CNBC, E!, MSNBC, and NBCSN. The logic was that the finalists could study potential question subjects by watching MSNBC and E! all day. There were even video questions featuring personalities from other NBC shows, such as The Voice and America's Got Talent.
This show provides examples of:
- Bladder of Steel: Partly averted. Although it isn't stated on-air, the player in the Money Chair gets a 10-minute bathroom break every hour. The padding during the live show probably helps with this too.
- Calvinball: Subverted; while the format is somewhat simple, how it was explained in the first few episodes was a tad disorganized, leading some viewers to declare it as such.
- Catchphrase: "Your time in the hourglass is up.", said by Ryan to each defeated contestant.
- Commercial Break Cliffhanger: Sometimes, Seacrest paused a round for commercials. The final bout on the first night (which was longer) had two pauses, but in any case, at least they weren't stopping in the middle of questions.
- Cosmetic Award: The majority of the contestants' "earnings" was, as only the top four winners (including the last player in the Money Chair) got to keep their cash. Anyone who made it into the Money Chair won a $5 Subway gift card.
- Curb-Stomp Battle: The championship game in the finale. Andrew pulled so far ahead of Brandon in the final seconds that Brandon just leaned back in the Money Chair and doubled on every question. And Andrew still got most of them right.
- Desperation Attack: Doubling and hoping for a double-back when you know the answer. You do it because you're running out of time and need the points, even if you think the opponent knows the answer. It can border on What an Idiot! at the very end of the bout, if the doubling player is too far behind to catch up with the extra points. Once the clock runs out, the opponent can guarantee himself a win if he doesn't double back.
- Fight Unscene: On the first two days of the stream, barely any matches were shown, at all. Games appeared to be going on, given that the official Twitter account was posting results, but you just weren't seeing them. Instead, viewers were treated to a live feed of people in the green room being told to throw away any beverage not provided by Subway. Then came a report from a contestant that alleged the show was literally doing matches inside an unfilmed "closet" with a cheap computer rig, flip card scoring, and controllers reused from the PlayStation 2 game Buzz!.
- Or in the words of a Twitter user, "The future of TV / social media integration is watching a live stream of people sitting around a table"
- There must have been something technically wrong somewhere in the system; by Wednesday, they finally managed to get the stream going correctly with live games going on, as promised. The show's biggest gimmick arrived three days late.
- Forced Meme: #GingerGenius
- Never Trust a Trailer: Suberted; initial publicity touted that the show would have the biggest prize in game show history, but this actually referred to the theoretical maximum $10,000,000 which would have required 100% Completion (and, as noted above, isn't even the second-biggest prize in the genre). However, they still managed to do so after all: Andrew Kravis finished with a grand total of $2,326,346, the largest single prize in U.S. game show history (the previous record was Kevin Olmstead and his $2,180,000 win on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?). Ryan then announced that his total would be increased to $2,600,000, guaranteeing that Andrew would surpass the $2,522,700 that Ken Jennings won during his original 75-episode run on Jeopardy! (the rest of his total came from tournaments, special episodes, and other game shows).
- Scenery Porn: Their set for the primetime show, which consisted of a giant hourglass-like structure built on the roof of a former Mercedes-Benz dealership in Hell's Kitchen (no, not that one), mid-Manhattan, which had a screen around the outside of its "rim" that displayed a scrolling countdown clock. A secondary, indoor studio was used for non-primetime activity (and the one night that it rained), which featured a duplicate of the podium portion of the set just steps from Winner's Row.
- Tick Tock Tune
- Timed Mission: The lengths of the rounds fluctuated wildly between scenarios.
- Trailers Always Spoil: Averted only by the mere fact that it was live on the east coast...and time-delayed for the others, meaning the stream stopped for three hours.
- Unexpected Gameplay Change: On the games outside of the primetime hour - no Doubler, all rounds are 500 seconds, and all questions are worth 1 point. Then again, if you're the one in the Chair, the sudden introduction of the Doubler, shorter rounds, and Seacrest is even more unexpected.
- Wins by Doing Absolutely Nothing: It was pointed out that all the padding in the primetime hour was really adding to the players' banks without them needing to actually play.
- Wolverine Publicity: Aside from being on every night for the duration of the competition (except on Sunday, because Sunday Night Football is still more important), practically every single thing that NBC owns was promoting for this show in some way, shape, or form. Seacrest even plugged it on SNF. In turn, the show was meant to provide some last-minute promotion for NBC's new Fall lineup.