LOS ANGELES - It didn't take a rocket scientist to win the online pop-culture game Gold Rush, but the Tennessee man who claimed the grand prize of $1 million in gold comes close.
Michael Kearney, 22, of Nashville, with a resume that includes a college degree before he became a teenager and two master's degrees by age 18, emerged as the winner Thursday after 18 finalists were brought to Los Angeles to compete face-to-face.
"Life has always been weird for me," Kearney said in a statement. "I graduated college at 10, so I was always the weird kid. Now I'm the weird kid with money."
Twelve players, including Kearney, won $100,000 in early rounds that led them to gold bars. Six wild-card players joined in the final rounds.
Kearney, who is pursuing a doctorate in chemistry at Middle Tennessee State University, participated in a media experiment: Gold Rush, created by reality TV king Mark Burnett ("Survivor") and AOL, is part of the quest to meld the Internet and television.
The game required players to answer questions about music, movies and other elements of popular culture using clues scattered throughout CBS programming, as well as in magazines, radio and on AOL.com.
The Gold Rush finale taped Tuesday was to air Thursday on "Entertainment Tonight" and be shown on the Gold Rush site throughout November. The game that started in September was hosted by "Entertainment Tonight" co-anchor Mark Steines.
"We broke new territory by bringing a fast-paced, multimedia reality game to the masses and now someone just got rich," Burnett said in a statement. "We look forward to launching another exciting season of Gold Rush next year and make yet another lucky person a millionaire."
More than 11 million people spent an average of more then 16 minutes on visits to Gold Rush, significantly longer than on other sites, said Kevin Conroy, executive vice president of AOL, who lauded it as a "new kind of experience."
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