What do you call a game show in which contestants on ladders must pull items from a 16-foot-tall stack of stuff without it falling over? An oversized game of Jenga, perhaps?
“I will not say that word,” said Janelle James, host of ABC’s latest competition series “The Final Straw,” “but yeah, that is a fair assessment.”
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In the 10-episode half-hour program that premieres Sunday, James (“Abbott Elementary”) presides as four teams of ordinary folks vie in four rounds without upsetting the works. Each tower is themed, ranging from basketballs and small kitchen appliances to wedding items and groceries. The team that can make it through all four rounds with their stack left standing wins a $250,000 grand prize.
For James, whose background is in stand-up comedy, this represents her first gig as a game-show host, which she found intriguing partly because it enabled her to use a lot of the same skills she uses on stage — thinking on her feet, reacting in the moment and being funny off the cuff. Or, as she says with a hearty laugh, “getting paid to talk (expletive). … That’s what stand-up is and that’s what a game show is, as it turns out.”
She also found the game itself fun.
“The show is set up to look easy but it’s pretty difficult to do,” she said. “And there’s also an element of danger to it because there’s all these objects and then these things do fall over. And so yeah, it’s pretty tense. It has its tense moments like any good competition does and then you win a lot of money. You have the potential to win a lot of money in the end.”
The rounds are tiered, so players can win $5,000 each in the first and second rounds, $10,000 in the third and the big prize of $250,000 in the fourth, also known as the “Mega Stack.” They can also lose all the money they’ve won in previous rounds if they elect to advance and their tower falls on them. So teammates can find themselves arguing on camera over whether to move on or stand pat.
Which is where things can get interesting, says James.
“Hosting a game show is like a novel way to watch relationships either blossom or fall apart in real time based on money,” she said. “That’s my favorite part, is just seeing people argue about not only what they will do with the money if they win but how much money they’re going to walk away with.”