If you’re a white male, your chances of getting on “Who Wants to be a
Millionaire?” just got a lot worse.

And if you’re a woman or minority, your odds got a lot better.

Just like affirmative action in college admissions and hiring, host
Regis Philbin and company now use factors like race and sex — in a big
way — to pick who gets a chance at the million dollars.

Today, if you try to qualify for “Millionaire,” your selection is based
on the “discretion” of producers during a personal or telephone
interview (after correctly answering qualifying questions). Women and
minorities are the reason for the big change.

“Millionaire” producers and Regis have whined incessantly about a lack
of them on the show. Of those who’ve qualified for “Millionaire,” few
make it to the hot seat. According to “Millionaire’s” website as of
last Wednesday, of 599 contestants who’ve reached the hot seat, only 125 were
women versus 474 men. More lopsided are winnings, with men garnering at
least $40 million and women just over $5.5 million. Of the eight $1-million winners, none are women. Only two of 15 $500,000 winners are
women, as are only three of 43 $250,000 winners and 11 of 82 $125,000
winners (even assuming contestants with unisex names like “Pat” and
“Jamie” female). And that’s with the benefit of affirmative action
contestant recruitment at play. Affirmative action doesn’t work.

In the fall of 2000, “Millionaire” producers began trekking the U.S.,
conducting auditions seeking minority and female contestants. Until
then, “Millionaire” was the only televised game show in which
contestants were picked based solely on merit. No surprise, then, that
“Millionaire” was also one of the few TV shows, reality or fiction, in
which men were portrayed positively — as winners and achievers. Alex
Trebek’s “Jeopardy” uses a written test. Those who pass are
interviewed/auditioned, and quotas are used to put more minorities and
women on the show. “Alex, the answer is: What is, Merit’s got nothing
to do with it?”

Until April, callers to “Millionaire’s” 1-800 number answered three
questions in increasing order of difficulty. Those who answered all
three questions correctly were entered into a random drawing. Those
chosen played a live phone play-off with five questions. Those
correctly answering the most questions became “Millionaire” contestants.

This was ostensibly fair. Those who qualified for the show based on
merit alone — their ability to answer “Millionaire”-like questions — made it
on the air. The others didn’t.

But even this selection process was not entirely objective. It was a
carefully crafted change from “Millionaire’s” original method of picking
contestants, which was re-engineered in fall 1999 in an effort to gain
more women and minority contestants. Originally, the qualifying phone
call wasn’t free and there wasn’t a one-call-per-day limit. When
“Millionaire” debuted in August of 1999, the show used a 1-900 number,
which anyone could call as many times a day as they liked at $1.50 a

Michael Davies, Executive Producer of “Millionaire,” felt this
qualification method hurt women and minorities. Women aren’t as
obsessed as men with getting the right answer, he reasoned, so they
wouldn’t call back after first failing to qualify. Plus, women
wouldn’t waste $1.50 to get on a gameshow, he claimed. They need the
money for their families (as if men don’t — especially the ones paying
child support). He likened it to video games, which women don’t like to
play and aren’t as good at. For a guy ostensibly concerned about women
and minorities, that sure sounds like a stereotype. Just like the ones
purveyed by the pimps and pushers of affirmative action.

If these inane excuses sound familiar, it’s because those who support
race-based preferences are constantly saying the same kind of stuff.
It’s the same kind of whining used by “civil rights” groups to demean
objective criteria, like SATs and grades in college admissions and
experience and qualifications in hiring.

Just like the merit-bashers on campus and in the workforce, Regis and
company sound like bigoted bashers of white males. There were “too many
white males,” Davies said in interviews and in magazines, including
People and US. “This is the thing I’m most uncomfortable about.”

“Another white male!” Regis once exclaimed after a white male won the “fastest finger” segment of the show to get to the hot seat. Regis then desperately begged female and minority viewers to “please call” the qualifying hotline. Hosting the show
because of his talent, Regis is funny quick, and has decades of
high-rated, TV-hosting experience. Yet, this $20-million-a-year
“Millionaire” employee — who got the job based on merit — wants underling
contestants to get their shot based primarily on skin color and
biological plumbing.

This begs the question: Isn’t it a tad hypocritical that privileged,
noblesse oblige white males at the top want to replace Joe Sixpack white
males at the bottom with minorities? With affirmative action in play at
“Millionaire,” why shouldn’t Philbin and Davies lose their jobs to
blacks or women? Especially since merit and talent are now out the

Affirmative action is always a bad solution. With race-based
preferences replacing merit on “Millionaire,” there are fewer high-dollar
winners and less interest in the show.

Ratings are the lifeblood of television (unless it’s tax-funded PBS).
And the show’s once unbeatable ratings are significantly lower with less
qualified, affirmative-action contestants.

Is that the Final Answer Regis was looking for?

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