"Bracket Genius" Review

Set Design- 6
Gameplay- 10
Show Flow- 9
Potential Viewer Ratings- 5
Play-Along Factor- 10
Host- 8
Overall Rating- 8.0

Premise: In each game, two teams of three undergraduate college students compete against each other in one five-minute quiz round. Each question is a toss-up and the 101 (easy) questions are worth one point, the 201 (medium) questions are worth two points and the 301 (hard) questions are worth three points. The game starts with a 101 question and the contestant who buzzes in with the correct answer selects the difficultly level for the next question. Incorrect answers allows the opposing team to confer, answer and potentially steal the point(s). No points are deducted for incorrect answers. The highest scoring team at the end of the game wins and advances to the next round of competition.

Sixteen teams play throughout the single-elimination tournament and the champion receives the grand prize of $100,000. The four finalists have a chance to win up to $25,000 in the Extra Credit episodes. A member from each team competes in three sudden-death rounds. Correct answers keep the contestant in the game and incorrect answers knock the contestant out of the game. The last contestant remaining in each round wins bonus cash for their team. Round one is worth $2,500; round two is worth $5,000 and round 3 is worth $7,500. The team who has answered the most questions correctly throughout the episode wins $10,000.

Review: I love the simplicity of the network creating Bracket Genius as a straight-forward, general knowledge quiz show. The pace of the rounds is akin to Jeopardy! in the sense that the five-minute, non-stop, quick-fire trivia periods will fly by before you know it. Aside from the March Madness college tournament theme, I was surprised at the healthy array of subjects the quiz show covered and how a majority of the questions did not revolve around sports trivia as we have previously seen on other ESPN game shows including Sports Challenge, ESPN’s Trivial Pursuit and 2 Minute Drill. In addition to the simplicity of the bracketed event and game format, I also appreciate the absence of a studio audience or canned applause for a low production show like this. This opened the opportunity for host Trey Wingo to ask more questions during the short five-minute games without waiting for audience’s applause to die down before resuming the quiz. The absence of a studio audience – canned or otherwise – is an under-appreciated element that is not often seen in American studio-based game shows and is sometimes needed for the sake of speeding up overall production and/or the pace of the game, depending on the format.

The suspenseful Extra Credit bonus games are a nice touch to give the Final Four teams a chance to win big bucks before the big game, even though it contradicts the tournament’s winner-take-all sentiment.

Trey Wingo is a great choice to host the show. He does an excellent job of taking time to get to know the contestants briefly before gameplay, inserting clever and quippy one-liners throughout the show, trying his best to squeeze in as many questions as possible per game and reinforcing the rules when needed, such as Wingo reminding the contestants to waiting until their name is called before responding during the first couple of episodes.

As a quiz show aficionado, I enjoyed watching college quiz teams battle it out on every episode for a shot at cashing in on a six-figure payday in the championship round. Whether the games were hotly contested and close or big blowouts. This quiz show is cleverly – yet simplistically – designed where the margin of error is slim and if you allow your opponent a minimum four-question streak of correct answers, it will more than likely lead to your demise. It has been fun watching these students exhibit their depth of general knowledge. Having said that, I do not think there will be an influx of regular average joe/jane sports fans who will go out of their way to tune into a run-of-the-mill, minimalistic quiz show, compared to the rest of the programs the network has to offer.

I hope to see this series again next year at around the same time and I predict ESPN2 will renew Bracket Genius for a second season mainly on the basis of its low budget and maintenance to produce a season of shows, as well as how it is an excellent offshoot event to look forward to during the March Madness tournaments.
Stay tuned for the $100,000 Championship season finale of Bracket Genius Tuesday, April 4 at 7:00pm on ESPN2! Catch up on the rest of episodes of the series online on WatchESPN.
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