Set Design- 7
Show Flow- 10
Potential Viewer Ratings- 7
Play-Along Factor- 10
Overall Rating- 8.8
Premise: Two teams comprised of a civilian and two celebrities compete against each other in a series of three rounds. In the first and second rounds, the cluegiver on each team are shown a list of five answers and alternate wagering how few words they can get their teammates to guess all five answers in 45 seconds starting at around 25 words. The cluegiver who wins their bid must get their team to guess all five answers in the time limit without making any gestures and using only the number of clue words wagered to earn 250 points. Otherwise, the points go to the opposing team. The third and fourth rounds are played the same except the points are doubled to 500.
In the fifth round, the civilian contestants are shown five groups of three words and must build their own answer list by selecting a word from each group. Each trio contains an easy answer worth 250 points, a medium difficulty answer worth 500 points and a the hardest answer are worth 1,000 points. Once the lists have been assembled, the cluegiver has 45 seconds to get their teammates to guess all five answers using only 20 clue words or less. Correctly guessing all five answers wins the team a 1,000-point bonus. The team with the highest score wins the chance to play the bonus round.
Should a tie occur, the host will become the cluegiver to the civilian contestants for one final answer. If a contestant buzzes in with the correct guess, they win the game; otherwise, their opponent wins the game.
In the bonus round, the cluegiver has one minute to get their teammates to guess all ten answers in 25 clue words or less. Guessing all ten answers correctly wins the civilian contestant $10,000. Failing to guess all ten wins the contestant a trip as a consolation prize.
Review: A few minutes after I received the news about the new syndicated game show a month before the series premiere – especially after reading former Millionaire host Meredith Vieira would be taking the helm for the trial run series – my eyes widened with excitement and I was filled with joy and anticipation awaiting the arrival of 25 Words or Less. This is the first series since Nickelodeon’s revival of Double Dare I have genuinely looked forward to watching because it is reminiscent of a bygone era of word association game shows like To Say The Least, Password and The Object Is, which featured intellectually-stimulating and clever, communicative gameplay. My only fear about this show was the execution of format, which was gradually alleviated after watching the first few episodes of this terrific game show.
On the surface, 25 Words is designed in a simplistic, uncomplicated manner which makes the game easy for anyone to play like most word association games today, such as numerous mini-games on Hollywood Game Night and Celebrity Name Game. However if you delve deeper into the nuanced elements in the format, you will quickly discover the show has more of a multifaceted, deceptively challenging format akin to a Sudoku puzzle. In addition to its frantic, fast-paced gameplay, the word-wagering element to open each 45-second round makes 25 Words more engaging for the contestants and viewers. It’s very interesting, and sometimes amusing, to watch the contestants boldly bid and bluff their way through this portion of the game in an attempt to psych out their opponent by lulling them into a false sense of security or even screw them over by shrewdly forcing a difficult low word bid. Like Jeopardy! and Texas Hold ‘Em, good wagering and a stoic poker face could be crucial factors between winning and losing this word game. This game also subtly borrows elements from Password by barring the cluegivers from using gestures to describe words, and from Celebrity Name Game by throwing in a tie-breaker where the host gives the clues in the same one-word style to the contestants.
Looping back to my fears about the execution, 25 Words did an excellent job of ensuring the format is not tiresomely redundant. I love how the fifth and bonus rounds are slightly altered from the first half of game to increase the difficulty, especially when it comes to the catch-up round. Kudos to the producers for their creativity when conceptualizing the penultimate round of the show. This a la carte round not only allows trailing contestants to make a comeback, it also requires contestants to play more strategically. There are several variables at play when contestants contemplate how they assemble their lists from selecting words based on their teammates’ word association abilities to playing it safe with picking only 250 and 500-point words in hopes of nabbing the 1,000-point bonus to selecting a majority of the dauntingly difficult 1,000-point words to earn a larger payout. Adding seemingly minor details like what the show has done for the fifth round this makes for more exciting finishes that will give you more reasons to stay tuned in.
Speaking of incentives to watch this show, Meredith Vieira is showing us all once more why she is an excellent game show host and why her irreplaceable presence is truly missed on Millionaire. She does a masterful job of controlling the show whenever the contestants get too excitable and boisterous, and has a warm, endearing demeanor while speaking to the civilian contestants to make them feel more comfortable and relaxed in addition to her a sneaky sense of humor.
Another reason to love this show is – like The Joker’s Wild and Double Dare – no one leaves empty-handed. Losing contestants receive respectable small prizes like a steak restaurant or a LobsterGram gift card and even champions who fall short in the end game walk away with a great trip in lieu of a few hundred dollars. The underappreciated art of consolation prizes is truly a lost one in today’s era of game show. This is the type of generosity rarely seen on most newer series nowadays.
Overall, 25 Words or Less is a brilliant, well-produced word game that will make you want to buy the eponymous board game which inspired the series. The main appeal of this show is how fun it is to play along at home to see if viewers can match wits or outdo the contestants in giving five and ten-answer lists in the most efficient and abbreviated way possible. Even though 25 Words is sticking around for a four-week trial in a select number of major markets in syndication this time, I’m going to make a longshot prediction that we will see a full season order of the word association game show. This game is seriously too good to pass up.