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TV Game Show Contestants Sue Over 'Trick Question' About Most Common Computer Password

The couple who appeared on the debut episode of Fox's "Million Dollar Money Drop" say they lost $580,000 down a trapdoor thanks to producers' deception.

Million Dollar Money Drop Key Art - P 2012
Mike Yarish/FOX

Here's a question worth more than a half-million bucks in a new court case:

According to the data-security firm Imperva, what is the most common computer password?

Choose one of these three possible answers:

  1. "Password"
  2. "123456"
  3. "I Love You"

On the premiere episode of Fox's Million Dollar Money Drop -- which ran for 12 episodes from December 2010 to February 2011 -- contestants Andrew and Patricia Murray decided that the answer couldn't be "I Love You." They opted for "Password" and bet all $580,000 they had remaining from the $1 million they started with. They could have split the money between answers No. 1 and No. 2, but they were feeling confident.

The Murrays guessed wrong. Or did they?

Now the couple is suing Fox Broadcasting, Endemol USA, Brigadier Productions and Apploff Entertainment for the money they lost, saying it was a trick question. They are looking to penalize producers for humiliating them on national television.

The Murrays allege in a lawsuit filed Monday in Los Angeles Superior Court that producers "deliberately obfuscated" the question by not including relevant and pertinent information to make the question fair.

The problem, according to the couple, is that "Imperva can hardly be considered a pre-eminent, well-known and reliable source to give a definitive answer" to the above question.

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The Murrays say they relied upon their knowledge and experience and gave a truthful answer but that the game was asking them to figure out what some obscure company had decided was correct. "This made the question unfair and/or a 'trick' question," they say in their complaint.

After losing the money, the plaintiffs apparently researched this further and discovered that Imperva did not conduct its own, objective survey of computer users. Instead, the assertion that "123456" is the most common password was based on an analysis of a hacking incident involving a website, Rockyou.com. The Murrays say the question should have read, "According to a hacking incident involving the inadvertent leak of user passwords on the website Rockyou.com..."

Sounds like a pretty clunky question, but the Murrays say it would have given them a more legitimate chance of winning a game show where contestants answer a series of questions, put money on trapdoors and walk away with whatever money doesn't drop as the result of incorrect guesses.

Andrew Murray is a veteran of the game show circuit, having previously been a contestant on 1 vs. 100. He asserts his "talents as a contestant were valued, unique and sought after by Defendants to boost interest in their show and their ratings."

Any exaggeration notwithstanding, the Murrays have obstacles much greater than the subjective nature of truth in winning their lawsuit. To be on the show, they signed a 13-page, take-it-or-leave-it "Contestant Release Agreement" plus a 16-page "Million Dollar Money Drop Official Rules."

Thanks to these agreements, the contestants consented to release producers and network from liability and damages, including over such claims as personal injury, wrongful death, defamation, false light, right of publicity, invasion of privacy, embarrassing private facts, fraud, breach of contract and negligent or intentional infliction of emotional distress. And if that's not sufficiently scary, there's also arbitration provisions.

In the lawsuit, the Murrays say the terms of the agreement to appear on the show are "unconscionable" and that the release and rules "render benefits of the bargain for plaintiffs to be illusory."

Failing that argument, the couple say that prior to the taping of the show, they were promised there would be "no deceptive, subjective or trick questions and that they should 'go for it' on each question if they knew the answer." The Murrays believe that this "admonishment" counts as either being part of the written contract or constituting a separate oral contract.

We have a feeling that "What's the most common way to beat an iron-clad waiver?" will make it onto a law school exam one day. According to John Roberts at Ball & Roberts, who is representing the Murrays, the answer is intentional and negligent misrepresentation, breach of written and oral contract, negligence and fraud. All of the above. This one isn't multiple choice.

E-mail: eriq.gardner@thr.com; Twitter: @eriqgardner