This week, I wind up my chat with 26-year-old Alex Dusek, winner of $307,000 on the Australian quiz show Million Dollar Minute. And we’ll jump right into this final instalment with some very handy tips and hints that you (hopefully) really want to know….
SH: What would be the three most important things you’d say to anyone who wanted to go on Million Dollar Minute?
AD: Staying focused. I would say from the moment that Simon asks the first question to the moment that the final buzzer sounds, don’t look towards your opponents and don’t engage in any conversation. Not to be too stand-offish, but for your own mental relaxation. I think that is important.
Secondly, I’d say just be yourself, because that is going to show through. If you are yourself, you will naturally relax when you need to.
And thirdly, I would say don’t buzz in earlier than you need to. Only step up your game and reaction time when you are forced to. I have seen a lot of good players continue to play at higher and higher levels and shoot themselves in the foot, so to speak.
SH: That’s interesting. So they are trying to beat themselves, or just trying to freeze the other person out?
AD: Yes, both those things. Trying to freeze the other person out and control the game too much. At the end of the day, there are only so many questions that can be asked, and if you get too many of them wrong, you haven’t got the leeway to come back. I think in your final episode you got something like 10 right out of the 12 you answered. You want to keep that percentage high. If you answer too many wrong – but more to the point, if you buzz in too early – you are putting yourself under unnecessary pressure. If your average buzz time is 4 seconds and you are getting a lot right and building a lead, then things are fine. If you suddenly cut that to 2 seconds, well you’ll be getting a bigger percentage incorrect. If you were building a lead at 4 seconds, don’t alter things of your own volition, do it if the other person changes their game and comes at you.
SH: That was one thing that really happened that I was perversely grateful for in my last episode of Temptation; that’s what my opponent Drew did. Particularly in the last Mad Minute – the Fast Money – he was buzzing in at any cost, in order to lock me out and to get the first crack at the answer. But he overdid it, and buzzed in too early for himself before the answer had come to him, repeatedly and that did him disservice.
AD: Absolutely. That would be the classic example. With Temptation, what were you risking each night in your progression from the first episode the to the seventh episode?
SH: Fabulous prizes. As you can see if you watch that last episode, there are all the levels of prizes. I don’t remember what order they went in, but there was a kitchen renovation valued at $10,000 and the prizes increased in value and then there was a lounge suite and then there was a $30,000 watch. You come back each night and you accumulate them along the way. If you choose to leave on any night, you take everything you have won so far; this prize plus this prize… Then on the second last night that it’s possible to play, you have all the prizes (including the car). And then on the final night, it’s all the prizes plus the $500,000 in gold bullion.
Also along the way, after the three-person contest there was the additional ‘safe money’ thing that we had. You keep any cash that you have accumulated along the way there, as well. It’s the same principle as Million Dollar Minute, but with prizes instead of cash.
AD: One topic I could talk about was people having meltdowns on the show; big champs coming undone. Often I think filming 5 episodes in a day… when people got to the 4th and 5th, and the 9th and the 10th episode, after two days of filming, that was often the point where people would start to unravel. There have been excellent champs on the show, who kind of lose all their powers. Their recall disappears and they buzz in on questions and they seem to kind of stare into space and not be able to recall anything. That tends to happen at the end of a filming day.
SH: You played 9, didn’t you?
AD: I played 9. And in that 9th episode, that was the first time in my time on the show that I buzzed in on questions that I knew, and couldn’t pull the answer out of my head. There was one on Barry Manilow and there was one on Kurt Vonnegut that I would normally know. And I’m sure it happens to a lot of people where they buzz in, they know and then they can’t recall. So that started to happen on the ninth. You’re kind of really helpless if even on the questions that you know, you can’t actually get the right answer out of your mouth. Lisa, who played for the million on the show… she was a real quick draw the whole way through and then towards the end in the final episode she played, she just seemed to unravel. She must have played something like 13 or 14 episodes, which is off the charts. Tim Ratcliffe was a machine, and then on his last episode he finished on 20 points; the night before that he scored something like 160. He just seemed to be a different man and it just seems to be like a threshold people get to, and then it can drop away. So it’s important as a player to recognize that you have a peak period for a certain amount of time. And missing out on the Minute, especially on a silly mistake, only heightens things.
SH: I haven’t seen Lisa’s episodes, but to be playing for one million dollars, and then to walk away with whatever it was; $75,000 and a bit? How heartbreaking would that be? My goodness.
AD: Yes. She played for the million three times.
SH: Really? Wow.
AD: It’s kind of like – not particularly her, but just in general – it’s like in Gladiator when Commodus stabs him in the end, and then he has to go out in the arena and fight as if he is the same person. What I was thinking was, if I had to play that tenth episode, that when I’d be going out there, I probably wouldn’t be the same; I wouldn’t be the same person. Because when you asked about why I didn’t play for the $500,000, one of the reasons was that with the gap in time… I remember you saying you had to wait a week before that final episode?
SH: It was two weeks.
AD: Two weeks?
AD: I think that is incredible, to be able to come back after two weeks and still get the job done. Pierre had to do the same thing, he had to take a week off. If I had played on that tenth night and gone for the $500,000 and won the episode and missed the questions, it would have been a week of being in that limbo of not knowing whether you’re going to win the big prize or walk away defeated. What can start off being a fun game becomes too business-like and too stressful. It can affect you too much, so you might just want a definite result on the day.
SH: When I chatted to some of my future opponents, when we were still preparing to do the show and people would say “oh, it’s general knowledge; you can’t study for it, can you? This is all a bit of fun, isn’t it?” I just thought there is an awful lot more to it than meets the eye and I gather that you analyze the show; you can probably tell us how many questions there are in Round One, how many questions there are in Round Two, what sort of ‘Snapshot’ questions they ask here and here… All the information of analyzing the show is available to everyone who watches it, you’ve just got to watch it cleverly.
AD: When you were on your episodes, did you look at (Temptation host) Ed when he was asking the questions? Because I notice that when some people played the game, they had their eyes closed and they looked down at the buzzer. I found that if you looked at (MDM host) Simon’s mouth, you’ve got that extra intuition of what’s going to come next, based on what position his mouth was in for the next word.
SH: Did you read my blog? That’s exactly what I did. I looked at his mouth. I always looked at his mouth. Maybe someone told me because before I went on I spoke to Russell Cheek and I had spoken to Matt Parkinson – both big winners on the show – and I think they’d said “just focus in on the host”. I always looked at this mouth because often it is just that visual cue of a sentence, of the way it is structured. You can work out what word is coming next, and – as you know – even half a second can give you the advantage.
The other thing that I would do is – because similarly to MDM, no one can see their own scores – when I was offered the Gift Shop and “it will cost you 15 points to do this”, I would always say “Sorry, how far ahead am I, Ed?” Of course, I had a rough idea; I just wanted my competitors to hear it. And then I would say “No thanks,” and they would go “Oh, man!”
So I always made sure that my two opponents knew how far ahead I was, at the time when I was refusing to give up my lead.
AD: That is clever. I never thought of that.
SH: Well, there you go. It is a little bit of psyching out.
AD: Hey, thanks very much for this interview today. I’ve really enjoyed chatting about it. It’s close to my heart.
SH: Me too. I think your approach is sort of similar to mine; insofar as it’s really thoughtful and analytical, and there were some really good tips there too. That’s what the site’s supposed to be all about. Thanks a lot.
AD: No problems at all! Have a really good weekend.
SH: You too. Cheers, Alex.
And there you have it. I’d like to thank Alex again for all his time and his very considered and engaging responses to my questions. It was a real pleasure meeting him, and I look forward to seeing his nascent career as a filmmaker go from strength to strength. If he approaches it with half as much discipline, enthusiasm and intelligence as he approached MDM, he’ll be just fine!