Intensities in Ten Suburbs

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For the Love of God: Get Rid of the Pass in Stump the Schwab

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on February 13, 2008

“And remember…”

Re-runs of Stump the Schwab on ESPN Classic have quickly become one of the must-watches of my weekday TV schedule. Except for the first round, I can’t really play along for shit–I’m better now than I was when I first started watching, but especially in that all-deciding final round, I’m lucky to know the answer to one or two of the questions. Still, it’s one of the best-formatted Game Shows out there, the Schwab has deservedly become one of the greatest trivia icons in the country, and frankly, it’s the only straight pop culture trivia show that I can think of on TV right now, so I’ll take what I can get.

There’s one thing about the show, though–besides host Stuart Scott’s dehabilitating reliance on go-nowhere catchphrases, anyway–that drives me absolutely fucking nuts. The structuring of that all-important final round is generally pretty smart–four different categories of questions, with three questions in each worth 1, 2 and 3 points respectively, and your opponent chooses which questions for what point values you have to answer. Three incorrect answers and you’re out, otherwise, the player with the most points at the end win. It allows you to play a fair amount of strategy, in figuring out what you think your opponent will know vs. what you’re pretty sure you won’t know, weighing the value of points vs. the value of an incorrect answer, etc. But ESPN couldn’t leave well enough alone, so they introduced another strategic element to the proceedings, as contestants are frequently reminded by Scott:

And remember, you do have a pass…

The pass. Hand the question over to your opponent and force them to answer. If you don’t know the answer, this should be the ideal solution right? Not only get out of answering a hard question yourself, but potentially force your opponent to get one of his three strikes admitting that he doesn’t know the answer either. It should be that necessary additional element of strategy to take the final round of Stump the Schwab to the next level of intensity, to make it that much more of a roller-coaster ride.

Only one problem: It makes no sense whatsoever. Unless used in a very specific set of circumstances, the pass does virtually nothing, and actually has far more potential for harm than it does for good. Mostly, that’s because 95% of the time, the pass is met with a very predictable response: the pass back. ESPN set the rules of Stump the Schwab so that the great majority of time the pass is used in the show, its effect is instantly nullified–your opponent says “OK, he clearly doesn’t know this one, better make him answer,” and passes it back, putting you right back where you started. How fucking productive. And if your opponent doesn’t pass back, that’s even worse, since generally it means he knows the answer, and can lay claim to the points your knowledge was insufficient to claim for yourself.

What’s more, even if your opponent has already used his pass and has no choice but to answer the question you send over his way, most of the time it still isn’t advantageous to do so. When I was watching tonight, contestant and Schwab were tied at six, with no strikes for either, and only four three-point questions (two for each player) left on the board. Then the contestant got a question he didn’t know the answer to, and Scott was instantly in his ear, reminding him of his potential to send the question elsewhere. And naturally, he ended up doing it.

But what on earth was the potential advantage of doing so? The contestant had no strikes, so even if he got the question wrong, there was only one question to go, and thus he was at no risk of getting the three strikes to force him out of the competition. And even if he doesn’t pass it back, and even if he doesn’t have the answer, and even if he gets it wrong–that’s only one strike for the Schwab, meaning he also has no risk of getting the fatal third strike. The only scenario that actually would make a difference? Schwab actually answers the question, giving him a three-point advantage going into his next question, and making you look like an asshole.

So are there ever circumstances when using the pass is actually advantageous? Well, when your opponent has already used his pass (without you passing back), and he’s already in strike trouble with a couple questions to go. But this set of circumstances is as rare in Stump the Schwab as a contestant that actually wins. Otherwise, it’s as pointless and stupid a device as exists in all Game Showdom.

(Postscript: Does anyone know if this show is still/ever coming out with new episodes? Admittedly, I might be a little too late with this imperative0

3 Responses to “For the Love of God: Get Rid of the Pass in Stump the Schwab”

  1. Ria said

    I’ve never watched Stump the Schwab so I could be entirely wrong here, but this sounds a bit like the screw in You Don’t Know Jack. It works mostly the same way – buzz in, use your screw and force your opponent to answer – but they can’t screw you back whether or not they still have their screw, since you only get one screw per round. If you only have one pass in Stump the Schwab, then it makes sense, because you could pass it back to them after they’ve used their pass. If not, then it’s just stupid.

  2. Josh said

    how often has the Shwab actually been beaten? I think I’ve watched this show roughly a dozen times over the past few years and I’ve never seen it happen, which is just kinda depressing. Schwab > Ben Stein in this respect.

  3. intensities said

    Much to my surprise, it actually does happen now and then–I’d say I’ve maybe seen him be beaten about a half-dozen times. Most of those were just bad luck on the Schwab’s part, catching a couple bad strikes and simply losing before having a chance to put his opponent away–but a couple times he has legitimately been outsmarted, and those are always fun to watch.

    Think of it this way, though: this guy is probably one of the best in the entire world at Sports Trivia. He’s supposed to know more than anyone–that’s quite literally his job. Ben Stein’s a smart guy, but he’s never claiming to be #1 in his field, which is also significantly broader than Schwabbie’s. The fact that ANYONE has beaten him is somewhat shocking.

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