Congratulations! You’ve been selected to be a contestant on a game show, you’ve been kicking butt, and now it’s the final round. You could win the jackpot, you just have to correctly answer the final question, and then…
Sorry, you got it wrong! And all that money has vanished before your eyes!
We all know it’s thrilling to win money and devastating to lose it, which is part of the draw behind these TV game shows. Here’s a look back at some of the biggest TV tragedies.
—On Wheel of Fortune in 1985, a contestant named Terry racked up a whopping $62,400 in one round, but she couldn’t win the money until she solved the puzzle. Almost all the letters had been filled in, but she didn’t know the answer. Terry spun, guessed a letter, but unfortunately, it wasn’t there. Another contestant solved the puzzle and Terry lost. Ironically, the puzzle was “The Thrill of Victory and The Agony of Defeat.” That about sums it up.
—On Who Wants to Be a Millionaire in 2009, a Harvard Law grad named Ken Basin was in the hot seat and doing well. He nailed the $500,000 question and went to the big $1,000,000 question. He confidently called out his final answer, Meredith Vieira locked it in, and… well… you can bet a million bucks on the fact that he didn’t get it right. But hey, he walked away with $32,000 and that’s still pretty… okay, it’s not a million dollars.
—On Jeopardy in 1990, a Boston mailman named Cliff Clavin… Okay, so this isn’t exactly real. Cliff was a character in the sitcom Cheers, but anyone who has seen that episode knows about Cliff’s epic fail. When it came time for Final Jeopardy, he was so far ahead that he didn’t have to bet anything, but for some reason, he decided to bet it all. Poor Cliff lost $22,000 and went back to his apartment where he lived with his mother. A double loser.
There is actually a sobering reality check that comes with these examples: Winning on game shows isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. For example, taxes are taken out of the prizes, so winners often spend more than they can afford on a big ticket purchase such as a vehicle, home or home renovation. “You’re mentally spending $100,000, but you don’t have $100,000,” says Susan Bradley, a certified financial planner and the founder of the Sudden Money Institute. “You have maybe $70,000.” Winners rarely ask the important questions on a big purchase even if their winnings can cover it. “Can you afford the taxes, the insurance, the upkeep,” asks Bradley.
There are numerous stories of winners ending up in debt due to poor money management. This is partially because in game show land you play with house money; in real life, you have to put up your own funds. People often use their credit cards to keep living the life —after all, when you win big you believe it can’t run out that quickly, or that you’ll end up winning again.
Like with anyone living off credit cards, it can lead to bankruptcy (not a great idea) or working with a debt settlement company. This latter option is a good one because it can offer significant savings without damaging your credit rating like a bankruptcy does.
While most of us won’t ever get the chance to win a big jackpot prize, perhaps that’s a good thing. Basin, who felt bad enough after losing on Millionaire, woke up to comments on his personal site like, “Kill yourself,” “You’re an arrogant douche. People like you give lawyers a bad name” and “You are greedy and stupid!!!”
As the saying goes, you can’t win for losing.