The tension builds. Foreboding music rumbles in the background. The moment has arrived for Question No. 12 on the Feb. 8 broadcast of "Who Wants to be a Millionaire?"
"What company´s longtime mascot officially is known as Bibendum?" the show´s host, Regis Philbin, asks the contestant. On the line is $125,000 and a chance to continue toward the million-buck payoff. Lose, take your $32,000 in winnings and go home.
Michelin´s nail-eating, baby-saving, mummy-like mascot? What a softball! This is why the game´s insurance carrier is suing "Millionaire," the most popular television show in the universe. It already has made two people millionaires, and the insurance firm says the questions are too easy.
But can you believe it—the contestant never heard of Bibendum.
Instead, he used one of his "lifelines" to call a friend to help pick one of the multiple-choice answers. This show, as described to me by our managing editor, Bruce Meyer, has some intricate rules, like lifelines. (Bruce, by the way, is a walking American demographic, with a lovely wife, 2.3 well-behaved children, a dog and house payments. He knows all there is to know about these game shows, and keeps trying to phone in to be a contestant. He knew who Bibendum is.) But I digress.
The contestant´s friend also apparently lives in a cave, too, and didn´t know the answer. The irritating music rumbles on. (OK, so I watched five minutes of the show once. Six, tops.)
The contestant turns to his "50-50 option," through which two of the incorrect answers are discarded, leaving only Michelin and Birdseye. And he chooses Birdseye!
Come on, buddy. Bibendum the Birdseye Man? You must be kidding!
At least another contestant got the other rubber-related question right—what do you call those rubber thingees that are worn over shoes in bad weather? Galoshes, of course.
But to miss Bibendum. Sheesh. I wonder how Michelin feels about all this, after the millions of francs it´s poured into making Michelin a (not quite, I guess) household name? Does the company suffer from this miscue? Or did it just get some free advertising?
We´ll wait to see if ABC sends Bibendum a bill.
Noga is editor of Rubber & Plastics News.