Poker has always been attached to the stigma of gambling and unscrupulous behavior. This unwarranted bias has struck particularly hard in the land of TV, with station executives unsure about pumping such a questionable activity into living rooms around the county. In recent months however, there seems to have been a shift. Poker programing has traditionally revolved around large-scale tournaments or high stakes cash game action. High Stakes Poker and Poker After Dark are well respected shows, but are firmly aimed at the poker community.
Both the World Series and the WPT have some crossover value, but will still only appeal to those with at least a passing interest in the game. Both PokerStars and Full Tilt have set out to challenge that norm. Full Tilt cooked up Face the Ace, an ill-conceived heads-up game show where challengers would face off against three ‘Aces’ as they competed for higher and higher prizes. Ratings were very poor and the show has now been switched out of prime-time and onto a monthly schedule.
The PokerStars.net Million Dollar Challenge sees the biggest online poker site trying their hand at a poker-themed game show. It debuts tonight on FOX and is once again a heads up based competition featuring real people. While Face the Ace went for a straight heads up contest, PokerStars has added some extra elements. Most notably is the TV friendly Daniel Negreanu. He will coach the contestants on basic strategy while they go up against the likes of Chris Moneymaker and other Team PokerStars Pro players. If they make their way through two successful rounds the mentor becomes the opponent. The contestants must battle Daniel to win their way to the final.
After a short coaching session, the players make their way to the tables with Negreanu to face off against a celebrity opponent. Although present at the table to give advice, Daniel is unable to see either hand. If victorious, the contestant picks up $5,000 and moves on to play a PokerStars sponsored pro. This time Dan is stuck inside a sound proof box, hooked up to his proteges via an ear-piece. However, twice per match the opposing pro can press the “Dome of Silence” and cut off the connection between master and pupil. Make it through that test and the player will have a choice. Leave the studio with $25,000 or play Daniel for $100,000 and a ticket to the million dollar final episode.
“I had a blast doing the show and definitely think there are some great moments,” Negreanu reported on his blog. The first contestant is sure to pique some interest, a Catholic priest by the name of Father Andrew Trapp. This paintball loving holy-man is nicknamed “Father Rambo” by his parishioners at the St Michael Catholic Church in Garden City, South Carolina. In predictably pious fashion, Father Trapp plans to donate all his winnings to his church restoration project. He also hopes to use the show as “an opportunity for people across the country to see there are still young men choosing to be priests.”
The show is scheduled to air today, shortly after the Sunday football concludes on FOX.