Awake: The Million Dollar Game Show—Getting Paid for Sleep Deprivation

The impossible Netflix game show where you deprive yourself of sleep for a chance at 1 million dollars.

By Loren Bullock

What would you do for 1 million dollars? Contestants on Netflix’s new show “Awake: The Million Dollar Game Show” answer that question with sleep deprivation. On this show, contestants must stay awake for 24 hours straight then compete in a series of physical challenges until there is only one left who has a chance at that million.

The reason this premise works so well is because it highlights the dangers of sleep deprivation then uses them as a wacky obstacle sleep deprived contestants have to overcome. But what exactly does the game entail?

The Game

Round 1

First off, 7 contestants must spend 24 hours counting quarters and then putting them into a basket. This tedious task isn’t just arbitrary work to keep them up; the contestants must remember their quarter count throughout the course of the game, as it becomes increasingly important. Host, James Davis, is cracking jokes to the audience as each contestant stays awake counting.

After the coin counting, each contestant must guess how many quarters they actually counted. The contestant that counted the least and the contestant that is the furthest off are immediately eliminated.

Round 2

The 5 remaining contestants must compete in a series of ridiculous challenges. In the first episode, they had to chug a slushie as fast as they could and in 2 minutes, thread as many needles as they could with a brain freeze, then pop balloons and catch the money that falls out.

After each of these rounds, the contestants are given the option to Buyout of the competition (usually offering an amount starting at $2,500, then going up as the game progresses). If none of them take it, the person with the worst challenge score is eliminated until there are two people left.

The Final Two

The final 2 contestants are offered a Buyout of $10,000. If neither one takes it, the contestant whose quarter count was the furthest off is eliminated, taking nothing home.

And Then There Was One

The final contest has some decisions to make. They are asked to guess the entire sum of money they acquired throughout the course of the game. And they can pick one of two options:

  • Option 1: Walk away with that amount of money.
  • Option 2: Risk it and see how accurate it was.

If the figure is off, they go home with nothing. If the figure they guessed is within $500, they get another choice to make.

  • Option 1: Take the money and run.
  • Option 2: Bet that your guess is within $25 and win 1 million.

What would you do?

Effects of Sleep Deprivation

The reason the game show, Awake, works so well is because sleep deprivation has some gnarly side effects on your body and mind. First off, it relies almost entirely on your ability to make decisions, and when you are sleep deprived, your prefrontal cortex suffers. This part of your brain houses all of your decision making, so when it doesn’t have time to recharge, your ability to make decisions falls out of whack.

Sleep deprivation also messes with your memory. As you sleep, your short-term memories are turned into long-term memories (which are obviously easy to hold on to). Without that time to store you memory, the things you saw, heard, or learned are easily forgotten (such as how many quarters contestants counted).

Here are some other crazy effects of sleep deprivation:

  • Moodiness
  • Clumsiness
  • Reduced concentration
  • Reduced reaction time
  • Hallucinations
  • False memories

Awake: The Million Dollar Game Show on Netflix, uses those dangerous effects of sleep deprivation as a competition tool. They have to work through lagging decision times, lack of coordination, and a messed up memory. Is this something you would do for 1 million dollars?


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