Win Ben Stein's Money is a Game Show produced for Comedy Central from 1997 to 2003, hosted by deadpan actor and former political speechwriter Ben Stein. The initial co-host was radio personality turned late-night Talk Show host Jimmy Kimmel, who was later replaced by Nancy Pimental, and later by Kimmel's own cousin, Sal Iacono. 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 concept: Stein himself would enter the game. In the second round Stein would turn the hosting/moderating duties over to his co-host and stand among the contestants to buzz in and answer questions himself, denying them the chance to increase their score. After the second round, whichever contestant was left would face Stein head-to-head in the Bonus Round, the "Best of Ten Test of Knowledge", a Speed Round where they each had a minute to answer ten questions, and if they could answer more correctly than Ben they'd claim the entire prize pot. Stein was no slouch as a contestant; he proved himself highly knowledgeable and fiercely competitive, and regularly trounced the opposition. It was rare that a contestant would beat Ben in the Best of Ten Test and winnings tended to stall during the second round as Stein answered question after question correctly. As the opening of the show warned, if you wanted Ben Stein's money, you'd have to fight for it.
This show provides examples of:
- Affectionate Nickname: Kimmel frequently gave one to Ben before reciting the rules for the Best of Ten round.
- All or Nothing: At the end of the first two rounds, the contestant with the lowest score—or the loser of a Sudden Death question—is eliminated and any money they earned is taken away and returned to Ben Stein's Prize Pot. Averted with the last remaining player, who got to keep any money they already earned regardless of the outcome of the Best of Ten Test of Knowledge.
- The Announcer: Jimmy Kimmel, Nancy Pimetal, and Sal Iacono, though Jimmy is the most well-known.
- 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 "Who/What is...?" This would lead to the offender having to wear a dunce cap for the rest of the segment (unless, of course, someone else did the same thing before the round was over).Ben: Not "what is?"! This isn't Jeopardy!Jimmy: That is the cardinal sin; does he look like Alex Trebek to you?!
- Bonus Round: The Best of Ten Test of Knowledge. Each side had 60 seconds to answer the same 10 questions. 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 earnednote . If the player wins, he/she won what remained of the $5,000 pot. In at least one "champions" episode, the pot was upped to $25,000, and the contestant who faced off against Ben for it ended up winning the money, taking his total amount of money won from Ben to $30,000note .
- When Ben lost the Bonus Round (which was 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," or "I take all challenges seriously." (The latter was usually in response to the contestant posting a relatively low mark to beat - generally, anything under 5 right.)
- At the end of Round 1, Ben would say to the viewers "I am going defend my money by becoming a common contestant. Stay tuned, you might learn something!"
- After coming back from the first commercial break, he would usually say "We're back, with more of Win MY—Ben Stein's—Money."
- Before Round 2, Jimmy would say "Now we'll see just how smart Ben really is as we play more of Win Ben Stein's Money."
- Often, during the Best of Ten Test of Knowledge, when the contestant goes first, Jimmy will say to the contestant, "As the host, I'm supposed to remain neutral, but since Ben can't hear me right now, kick his ass."
- Celebrity Edition: Ranged from hosts of other Comedy Central programs, to political commentators, to porn stars.
- Clip Show: Jimmy Kimmel's last episode as co-host was celebrated with one of these, while he and Ben sat in a hot tub (Ben fully clothed).
- Confetti Drop: If the contestant beat Ben, money fell from the ceiling.
- Cosplay: Ranged from TV shows (including Gilligan's Island) to political figures (with Ben in drag as First Lady Barbara Bush).
- Dare to Be Badass/Throwing Down the Gauntlet:
1998-2001: 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!
- The Opening Narration from Stein.
2001-2003: 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.
(if the contestant lost or tied in the Best of Ten Test of Knowledge) That means today, I have successfully defended $<x> of my money, which I will use to take on my next opponents./(if the contestant won the Best of Ten Test of Knowledge) It's been proven that it can be done. (regardless) Therefore, I challenge all of you to write, call, or email at futility.com, in the hope, as infinitesimal as it might be, that on some distant planet on some distant day, you might Win Ben Stein's Money.
- The Closing Narration too, at least in the early days.
- A Day in the Limelight: Ben and Jimmy once swapped their traditional duties for an episode. After Jimmy only answered one question correctly out of three that ultimately ended up being asked in the second round, Ben, fearing for the rest of his money, took his normal duties back for the Test of Knowledge.
- Deadpan Snarker: Ben Stein.
- Double The Dollars: From $50-$150 per question in Round 1, to $200-$500 in Round 2.
- Dunce Cap: A contestant is forced to wear this if they accidentally tag "What is...?" to their answers.
- Early-Installment Weirdness: The first season had traditional pull cards for the categories as opposed to being done on TV monitors (additionally, the questions were not shown on-camera, being only read orally); the Best of Ten Test of Knowledge had the clock barely displayed on center stage, as opposed to two clocks, one for each booth. Also, the money didn't drop if a contestant won the $5,000 grand prize, and the logo was displayed differently (the second and third words in the center, with the first and last on the top and bottom respectively).
- 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.
- Facepalm: Not uncommon to see Ben do this at the start of the second round—especially when the fifth category had a really raunchy pun.
- False Reassurance: Inverted. Once Ben Stein steps down to become a contestant, the contestants are reassured that Ben has no advance knowledge of any of the questions to be asked from that point forward.
- Flawless Victory: The famous episode where Ben agreed to drop his pants if he lost the Best Of Ten saw challenger Bob achieve this by becoming the first person not named Ben Stein to score a perfect 10 in the round, guaranteeing at least a tienote and forcing Ben to accomplish the same feat, which he failed to do. Cue pants drop. (Jimmy offered to also drop his pants to get Ben to go along with it, and after both Ben and Jimmy dropped their pants, Bob joined in too!)
- Flipping the Bird: Believe it or not, Ben's done this a couple times to the question writers.
- Game Show Host: Ben Stein. After Round 1, The Announcer would host for the remainder of each show while Ben lowered himself down to being "a common contestant".
- Game Show Winnings Cap: With VERY few exceptions, contestants only appeared once, and the most they could win was the complete $5,000 pot. (And with the "Ben Stein's Cup", a single-game tournament which was only played twice for $25,000, the highest a contestant could win was $30,000 altogether.)
- Golden Snitch: The $400 and $500 questions in Round 2. 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.
- On at least one occasion, a contestant who was behind by exactly $450 won after responding correctly to a $500 question (which also happened to be the final question of the second round). However, comeback victories like this were rare.
- Head Desk: One of Ben's reactions to naughty-sounding category titles.
- Ironic Echo: In one episode from the show's second season, contestants Jason and Dave are tied at the end of the second round. The sudden-death tiebreaker question deals with one of the major players in American suffrage.Contestant Dave: Who is... Elizabeth Cady Stanton?
Jimmy: Who is leaving the show, Dave? The answer is you!
- Jaw Drop: When Ben gets a question wrong in the third round, he will often react this way.
- 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. (One early contestant won the $5,000 this way.note ) However, the producers figured out that ties could happen rather frequentlynote . As a result, if the contestant ended up tied with Ben, the contestant received a $1,000 bonus 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.
- This was another of Ben's many reactions to the really nasty-sounding category names.
- One contestant winced when he said "What is...?" before giving an answer. Ben pointed it out as he came forward with the dunce cap.
- Once per Episode: Several:
- Jimmy's, Nancy's, and Sal's humorous introduction for Ben as he walked out on stage.
- Ben calling Jimmy, Nancy, or Sal the <object> to his <related object> (such as "the Abbott to my Costello").
- In later seasons, Ben pondering why he's willingly gambling his daily paycheck, then responding to the audience's reaction.Ben: ...I'm putting $5,000 on the line, and I'm giving these three totally strange strangers a chance to take it all away from me. ... Why have I done such a thing? Call me crazy.
Audience: YOU'RE CRAZY!
- Ben's responses to winning, losing, and tying are pretty much the same throughout.
- The "from this point on, Ben has no knowledge of the questions or answers" disclaimer given after the first break, when Ben becomes a contestant.
- Ben almost always says "I will do my best" at the start of his Best of Ten round.
- Ben reacting with faux disgust to one of the bawdy category titles.
- Twice per Episode: Ben Stein often puts the money back in his vault via... interesting methods. Examples may include "I'm going to blow-dart my money back up on the board", pelvic thrusting it, yodeling it, and more. Essentially any verb one could perform, Ben would do that activity to put the money back. In the episode when Ben and Jimmy swapped roles for a day, Jimmy farted the losing contestant's money back in the first round, and snotted it back in the second.
- Precision F-Strike: Yep, in addition to Flipping the Bird, Ben even dropped a few of these during the course of the show's run.
- 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".
- Pun: Most of the category names consisted of these.
- 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.
- Rules Spiel
Ben Stein: All right, contestants. In the first round, questions are worth anywhere from $50-$150 of my money. Now every time you manage to answer a question correctly, you win money, and I lose it.
- Round 1:
Jimmy: Now we'll see just how smart Ben really is as we play more of Win Ben Stein's Money.
- Round 2:
Ben: Welcome back. As this rounds begins, Troper 1 has $<x> of my money, Troper 2 has $<y> of my money, and I have a mere $<5,000-(x+y)> remaining of my original $5,000 stake, which I will now defend by becoming a common contestant!
Jimmy: From this point forward, Ben has no advance knowledge of any of the questions to be asked. Isn't that right, Ben?
Ben: That is right, Jimmy. It's also right—well, it's not right, but it's a fact—that the questions in this round have risen to the <negative adjective> level of $200-500 of my money, that is if you get them right. If I get them right, my total stays the same, but thankfully, none of my money is taken away.
Jimmy: And whoever has the higher score at the end of this round, whether it's Troper 1, who starts edit wars for fun, or Troper 2, who had his life ruined by TV Tropes, will go on to play against Ben one-on-one for $5,000 of his money. Let's have a look at our topics. They are...
Ben: So far, you've managed to take $<x> away from me, and that is yours to keep, no matter what happens. But now you have a chance—albeit a small one—to walk away with all $5,000 of my money, which Jimmy is now wheeling towards us in this safe. And all you have to do is beat me in what we call the "Best of Ten Test of Knowledge." Would you explain it to the group, please, Jimmy?
- Bonus Round:
Jimmy: Yes, <insert inappropriate pet name here>. I'm going to ask <player> and Ben the same ten questions. <Player>, if you can answer more correctly than Ben can, you get his $5,000. Would you like to go first or second?
- Running Gag:
Jimmy (if Ben won): Would you like to cuddle after the show?
- 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 usually an Affectionate Nickname 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 (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?
- Serious Business: It's Ben Stein's money. He wants it to say that way, so from round two on, he'll defend it and show no mercy.
- This is part of the story behind his Best of Ten catch phrase, "I shall do my best". For all his good nature, Stein is known for being extremely competitive, and his reminder to himself to do his best was meant to keep him from taking the competition too seriously, especially should he need to be a Graceful Loser. It didn't always work; watch him in the booth when he gets a question wrong: That is not the face of a happy camper.
- Smart People Know Latin: One of the categories was called "I Speak Latin, ergo I Am Annoying."
- Sore Loser: Should he lose the Best of Ten: "I'm humbled, I'm impressed, I hate you, get outta here, you've done enough damage!"
Ben: I'm gonna protest this one, it's the only time I've ever said it. (...) I can't believe that. That has to be wrong. It has to be. (...) I'm not gonna part with the money this easily. (...) You might Win Ben Stein's Money, but Ben didn't lose this time.
- One of the biggest examples is when he got a question wrong about immaculate conception, and repeatedly protested that he lost the $5,000 because of it.
- Sound Proof Booth: This is used in the Best of Ten round where the contestant and Ben sat during the bonus round. Ben's room was an upper-class library, while the contestant's room was a barren cell.
- Streaking: During a third-season episode with a 1970s theme, the show's producer ran across the set naked.
- Subverted Catchphrase: Usually Ben says that one contestant might win his $5,000 if they're "smart enough, quick enough, and lucky enough", but in one episode he says they can win his money "if they've got the balls".
- Swapped Roles: The episode where Ben and Jimmy swapped roles and impersonated each other, though Ben did do the Best of Ten Test of Knowledge as usual.
- Tempting Fate: In a legendary second season episode, at the Best of Ten, Jimmy wheeled out the safe with Ben's shoes on it (they played Strip Ben Stein of His Clothes in Round 2, but the contestants only gave two correct answers during the round; Ben removed a shoe for each one), and asked Ben to drop his pants if he lost the final, saying HE will do it too. Cue opponent Bob becoming the first challenger in the show's history to answer all 10 questions correctly, and Ben missing one and ensuring a loss.
- Those Two Guys: Ben and Jimmy played off each other quite well.
- Title Drop: Occurred every time the show returned from commercial breaks.
- Too Kinky to Torture: On the second Ben's Cup episode:Ben: Why have I done this? Call me a masochist.
Audience: You're a masochist!
Ben: (naughty tone) Ooh, call me that again.
- Transatlantic Equivalent: Win Jeremy Beadle's Money aired on Channel 5 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 as long as even one question is answered correctly, 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.
- Wholesome Crossdresser:
- As mentioned above, Ben dressed up as First Lady Barbara Bush in one episode.
- Another episode had Ben, Jimmy, and the three contestants in gender-swapped clothes. Jimmy wasn't too keen to this.
- 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.
- Which also counted as Biting-the-Hand Humor; as explained above, Disney/ABC produced this show through their Buena Vista TV arm. Also counts as Hilarious in Hindsight now that Jimmy is the host of the 2020 ABC revival of Millionaire, which even features a new "Ask the Host" lifeline replacing Ask the Audience.