Lottery game show heavy on yarn-spinners, but light on winners

Nicky Byrne on his new gameshow

Pat Stacey

WAY back in the mists of the 1990s I found myself, on a Good Friday evening, in a strange place: the studio audience for Winning Streak.

My sister-in-law had scratch-carded her way onto a place on the show, so a gang of us went along to support her.

As I recall, she won £11,000 in old money; not a life-changing sum even then, and less than some contestants took home on the night, but still a reasonable haul.

Factor in inflation and it’s probably a better return than many of the poor sods on The Million Euro Challenge can expect to pocket. Since coming on air last month, RTE1’s latest  dismal attempt to freshen up the Saturday night National Lottery game show format has been under siege.

The peak audience for the first show was 487,000; last Saturday’s third outing drew 289,000. Even if you could never understand the appeal of National Lottery game shows (personally, I consider them torture-by-television), this is a catastrophic dip in numbers.

There have been complaints that the games are too complicated and the prizes too stingy. Admittedly, a mere 80 people contacted RTE to gripe after the first show, but the rapid slide in the audience figure suggests quite a few more viewers share the same opinion.

Host Nicky Byrne has also come in for criticism for being . . . well, probably for being Nicky Byrne rather than Mike Murphy or Marty Whelan, the two most popular Winning Streak hosts over the decades.

To be fair to Byrne, a personable if featherweight television presence who’s no better or worse than any number of bland

game show hosts on the British channels, he’s not the problem with The Million Euro Challenge.

The problem is everything else about it. Having forced myself to watch the whole of Saturday’s on the RTE Player, I’m on the side of the moaners.

It’s unforgivably awful, The studio set might be shinier and flashier than on previous efforts, and the whooping audience of friends and family members no longer get to wave their home-made “Good Luck, Granny!” signs at the camera, but in every other respect it’s boring old business as usual.

The games are indeed, as those 80 dissident viewers complained, convoluted, as well as painfully drawn-out. The first round, Crack the Code, a game of trial and error in which the three two-person teams try to arrange four numbers into the winning order – the amount of money they stand to win falling significantly with every failed attempt – drags on interminably.

The potential winnings are better in the Risky Business segment; here again, though, the actual game, which involves matching two symbols, is beyond tedious.

In the final big-money round (find eight straight zeros hidden behind 49 numbers), the odds are so heavily stacked against the players, they’d have more chance of scaling a real pyramid with their feet tied together than of winning the million.

If The Million Euro Challenge is short on entertainment value, it’s long on time-wasting chit-chat. The contestants are encouraged to talk about every detail of their lives, and then talk some more, to the point where you’re screaming at the screen: “I don’t CARE how many grandchildren you have, I don’t give a TOSS about how you met your husband – just effing PLAY!”

A cynic might conclude the entire show is a miserly exercise in filling up the maximum screen time, while giving away the minimum amount of money possible.

The Million Euro Challenge is on the RTE Player