‘The Wall’ evokes intense audience reactions

Commentary by

NBC must have run out of ideas for new game shows because “The Wall” is basically glorified Plinko. But this high-tech version of a Price is Right favorite is pretty exciting to watch.

“The Wall” gives teams of two the chance to win millions of dollars. It also seems every pair of contestants has an inspirational backstory on why they deserve so much money.

Remember how fun watching over-enthusiastic people strategically place chips at the top of a Plinko board on The Price is Right was? Well, this game is a thousand times more exciting and a million times more stressful.

In Round One: Free Fall, contestants answer general knowledge questions while three giant balls bounce down a four-story-tall pegboard toward 15 monetarily valued spaces ranging from $1 to $25,000.

If they lock in the correct answer before the first ball crosses a money slot’s threshold, the balls turn green and the contestants bank that money. If they answer wrong or do not answer in time, the balls turn red and that cash is deducted from their total.
The bank total skyrockets and falls back down to $0 and back up again.

The only way to make it to the next round is if the total is positive at the end of those first five questions.

The game gets more ridiculous and the cash values at the base of the wall get higher each round. Not taking this emotional roller coaster for a second ride would seem foolish at this point.

Host Chris Hardwick of Comedy Central’s “@midnight” somehow maintains his composure and does not stress sweat profusely.

Before Round Two, the contestants are separated and do not see each other again until the last five minutes of the show. One contestant gets locked in isolation and answers three more trivia questions while the other stays on stage to strategically place a ball, or two, or three, in one of the seven slots at the top of the wall.

The on-stage contestant is shown the answers to a multiple choice question the isolated player must answer and decides from which slot to release the ball. Depending on how confident the on-stage contestant is in the isolated one’s knowledge, he or she chooses a spot carefully.

Once again, correct answers turn the balls green while wrong answers turn them red.

“The Wall” has more ups and downs than an electrocardiograph.

Round Three is the same as Round Two, except the cash values increase even more, including a coveted $1,000,000 space.

Also, several guaranteed green or red balls fall at the beginning and end of rounds Two and Three.

By the end of this round, the bank total could be up to $12,374,994, but that will never, ever happen. The average final bank total after the first 10-episode season is $472,479.50. The total was $0 three different times.

The most stressful part of the whole game is next. The isolated contestant has no clue how much money is in the bank, yet he or she is given the option to sign a contract guaranteeing their Free Fall winnings or tear up the contract and go home with the final bank total.

Correct answers in rounds Two and Three also add $20,000 to the guaranteed total, but the isolated player is not told what he or she got right or wrong.

“The Wall”’s first two episodes perfectly captured how dramatic extreme pachinko can be. In the series premier on Dec. 19, John and Angel walked away with more than $1.3 million. In episode two, Chris and Kate blindly rejected the guaranteed $115,132 and walked away with nothing.

The wall giveth and the wall taketh away.

Hardwick teams with Maverick Carter, Andrew Glassman and Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James as executive producers. It is refreshing to see James genuinely want to help upstanding citizens with the cost of living rather than posterizing anyone who haphazardly stands under a basket.

NBC ordered 20 new episodes of The Wall on Jan. 18, so fasten your seatbelt and keep your arms and legs in front of the television at all times. Tuesday nights are going to be intense.

Strategy. Blind faith. General knowledge. Antiperspirant. Those are just a few of the things you need when competing on or watching “The Wall.”