For Venezuela's 'Millionaire' Contestants, Winnings Amount To A Few Bucks : Parallels Venezuela produces its own version of the hit game show franchise Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? In a country with runaway inflation, the top prize of 1 million bolivars is worth about $2,000.
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For Venezuela's 'Millionaire' Contestants, Winnings Amount To A Few Bucks

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For Venezuela's 'Millionaire' Contestants, Winnings Amount To A Few Bucks

For Venezuela's 'Millionaire' Contestants, Winnings Amount To A Few Bucks

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

You know that TV game show, "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?" - the contestants on the quiz show have the chance to walk away with a lot of money. Well, it goes down a little differently in Venezuela. It's a country with runaway inflation. And as Reporter John Otis found, the winnings have lost their value.

JOHN OTIS, BYLINE: Nervous contestants gather at a Caracas TV studio to tape an episode of "Wants to Be a Millionaire?". Some borrow fancy clothes from the studio wardrobe. Other get last-minute touchups to their hair and makeup. Then the show begins.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "WHO WANTS TO BE A MILLIONAIRE?")

ELADIO LAREZ: (Speaking Spanish).

OTIS: Host Eladio Larez asks multiple-choice questions about geography, history and Venezuelan culture for escalating cash prizes. Contestants must correct answer 15 questions to win the jackpot. But this turns out to be a poor man's version of the game. The problem is Venezuela's currency. The bolivar has collapsed amid a severe economic crisis. Now, the grand prize of 2 million bolivars amounts to just 2,000 U.S. dollars. Most of the prizes are much smaller. Getting past the first question earns contestants 500 bolivars, the equivalent of only 50 U.S. cents. They get another 80 cents for nailing question 2. It goes on like this. Contestant Angel Mora, who works for a trucking company, does well until flubbing the ninth question. His total take amounts to 12 U.S. dollars - maybe enough to buy a simple lunch for a family of four.

ANGEL MORA: (Speaking Spanish).

OTIS: Backstage, Mora says his real earnings will be even less because 34 percent of that $12 goes to taxes. Larez, the dapper, silver-haired host, would like to offer life-changing sums of money. But due to Venezuela's economic meltdown, businesses are shutting down. And that's squeezing TV stations.

LAREZ: (Speaking Spanish).

OTIS: "Every day, there are fewer TV ads because advertisers face critical problems," Larez says. The result is cash prizes so devalued that the name of the show ought to be changed, says contestant Adi Slivvka, who's here with her husband, Jesus Guillen.

ADI SLIVVKA: You win, like, $2,000. That's not being a millionaire.

JESUS GUILLEN: The program's name must be another.

OTIS: Like who wants to be a thousandaire?

GUILLEN: Yes, yes, something like that because "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?" - it's not true.

OTIS: Still, hundreds of people call the studio every week, clamoring to participate.

REYNA MOGOLLON: (Speaking Spanish).

OTIS: Show producer Reyna Mogollon says the thrill of being on TV and playing "Millionaire" is often prize enough, but not for contestant Aiskel Seijas, a 58-year-old security guard.

AISKEL SEIJAS: (Speaking Spanish).

OTIS: Seijas says she needs a new pacemaker. Her plan was to pay for the thousand dollar operation with a big check from the show.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "WHO WANTS TO BE A MILLIONAIRE?")

OTIS: For a while, her scheme works. She's finally ousted on the 10th question, when she names Atlanta rather than Memphis as the city where Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. But even though she made a deep run on the program, the pacemaker will have to wait because her total take is just $19. For NPR News, I'm John Otis in Caracas, Venezuela.

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