Contests, Money, Reality TV, Television

Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? Ken Basin, Harvard Law ’08, Sure Does.

Kenneth Basin Kenneth D Basin Ken Basin.jpgMeet Ken Basin. This legal prodigy, just 24 years old, is an associate at Greenberg Glusker, one of the top entertainment law firms in the country. Basin graduated last year from Harvard Law School, magna cum laude and with a Sears Prize, at the tender age of 23.

Basin isn’t just a handsome legal genius; he’s also a trivia ace. Back in 2003, he made it to the semifinals of College Jeopardy (which, incidentally, his girlfriend won back in 2000).

On Sunday, Basin was back in the hot seat. He made it all the way to the million-dollar question on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?

So how did things turn out for Ken Basin? Did he join the ranks of lawyers who have won seven-figure sums on television — e.g., Victor and Tammy Jih, of Harvard Law School and the Amazing Race, and Yul Kwon, of Yale Law School and Survivor?

Find out how he fared, after the jump.


Here’s a video clip of Ken Basin grappling with the final question. Although Basin himself is easy on the eyes — he reminds us of Elijah Wood, who’s positively dreamy — the video is almost painful to watch, due to its sheer suspense:

The best part of the video takes place around the 3:55 mark, when Basin says:

In law school we would say that people who went to law school went there because they were risk-averse, and the people who were risk-loving went to business school.

I went to law school. Maybe I should have gone to business school.

This macho-sounding declaration is greeted by applause from the audience. Regis Philbin exclaims: “It’s getting more exciting by the second!”

Having resolved to take the risky path, Basin goes on to answer this question:

For ordering his favorite beverages on demand, LBJ had four buttons installed in the Oval Office labeled “coffee,” “tea,” “Coke,” and what?
A) Fresca
B) V8
C) Yoo-hoo
D) A&W

Basin selects Yoo-hoo. We would have guessed V8. The correct answer: Fresca.

One tipster’s take:

This attorney was on Who Wants to be a Millionaire [on Sunday] night. He won $500,000. Very impressive.

But then, after discussing how he went to law school because he was risk averse, he risked it all on a COMPLETE guess on the million dollar question, and ended up walking away with only $25,000.

But did Ken Basin “guess”? He strenuously objects, via a status update on Facebook:

Ken Basin’s only regret is not making clearer the thought process behind his answer to the million dollar question. It was not a blind guess, people. If anyone cares about my reasoning, I am happy to share. But while I’m happy to be accused of poor judgment (I’ve certainly accused myself plenty), I don’t like this talk of guessing.

This piqued our curiosity, so we reached out to Basin via Facebook message. We introduced ourselves and Above the Law, then asked about that final question. He kindly responded:

I’m very familiar with ATL and your work on it. Actually, you gave a talk to my Legal Profession class during my 3L year at HLS (David Wilkins was the professor)….

On my reasoning: I viewed my answer as a calculated risk. I immediately eliminated V8 (cannot imagine LBJ touching the stuff) and A&W (did not seem likely that A&W and Coke would both be on tap, and I had zero feeling about the choice, unlike the other two options). I remembered a photo — it may not be real, and I haven’t been able to find it online since, but it was in my brain somewhere — of LBJ meeting the Beatles, drinking a Yoo Hoo. And the audience, while notoriously unreliable on Millionaire’s third tier questions, was not a usual audience: my taping was populated with former and future Millionaire contestants, many of whom were very successful on their own runs. That the audience confirmed what I thought independently gave me a lot of confidence. In the end, I estimated that I had about a 70-75% chance at it. Most people have to risk bankruptcy to take a shot at a million dollar payday…I just had to make a calculated wager with found money.

Basin’s reasoning, in essence: a 70 percent chance of winning $1 million is more valuable than a 100 percent chance of winning $500,000 (which is what he effectively had before answering that final question).

Still, losing out on almost $500,000 has to hurt. How does Basin feel? He told ATL:

The show taped about 3 weeks before it aired, so I have had ample opportunity to digest what happened. Do I regret going for the last question? I sure as hell regret getting it wrong. And let’s be real, whatever my lifetime earning potential, $500,000 is real, meaningful money (though it didn’t feel like real money until about 6 hours until after I’d actually lost it).

But I don’t regret the way I played the game. I took a calculated risk and it didn’t pan out, but it was that same willingness to take calculated risks that got me to the million dollar question in the first place. If I was put in the same position again, I can’t say I would play it differently.

Good for you, Ken. More lawyers should be willing to take risks; we applaud you for having guts. And congratulations on winning $25,000 — it may not be $500,000 or $1 million, but it’s a nice chunk of change. So kudos on your fine performance!

P.S. For a more detailed postmorten, check out Ken Basin’s blog.

UPDATE: Think we’ve been too nice to Basin? For a harsher take, which also includes a behind-the-scenes look at how Millioniare contestants are selected, see this Gawker post (by our former Wonkette co-editor, Alex Pareene). Or check out Michael Starr’s article in the New York Post, “Kid Blows $475G on ‘Yoo-Hoo.'”

Kenneth D. Basin [Greenberg Glusker]
Who Wants To Be A Millionaire–Ken Basin’s $1,000,000 Question [YouTube]
Official postmortem [Begging the Question]
The chance to be a ‘Millionaire’ [The Marquee Blog / CNN]

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