500 Questions Is the Ultra-Marathon of Quiz Shows

500 Questions Premiere
Adam Taylor/ABC
500 Questions Premiere

Finally, a solution to the age-old problem of how to keep intellectual heavyweights stimulated when they’re not busy designing rocket ships or collecting Nobel Prizes. 500 Questions—a new “event” game show from executive producer Mark Burnett (Survivor) that’s hosted by CNN anchor and correspondent Richard Quest—aims to take eggheads to a place they’ve never gone before in the quiz genre: complete and utter mental exhaustion. “You don’t just have to be clever to do this,” Quest says cheerfully. “It’s a challenge of stamina.”

In order to win, a contestant must correctly answer 500 questions over a wide range of topics. Sound easy? That’s probably ’cause you’re not as good at math as these smarty-pants, many of whom have already fattened up their retirement funds on less rigorous turf like Jeopardy! and Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. The questions are doled out 50 at a time on boards featuring 10 categories with five questions each, and if you get three wrong in a row, you’re outta there. If you get a lot right, it’s still gonna take a loooooong time to reach the promised land. “When I update them on their progress along the way—because every five questions is only 1 percent of the goal—there’s this dawning realization about what they’ve gotten themselves into,” says Quest.

Naturally, there is money to be earned—the exact amount is calculated by a complicated algorithm that factors in missteps along the way—but that’s secondary to the pride on the line. “This is about whether or not they can do it,” says Quest. “I’ve seen certified geniuses almost in despair because they realize they’ve dug themselves into a hole. Or worse, they know the answers, but they can’t get them out because they’re so weary.”

All the Sisyphean drama will play out over seven episodes filmed in a flashy arena reminiscent of the Colosseum, a fitting venue for the task at hand. “We’ve taken the brightest people in America, pitted them against some of the hardest questions you’ll ever find, and done it in the most daunting circumstances possible,” says Quest. “It’s gladiatorial!”

500 Questions, Series premiere, 8/7c, ABC