Last night I had a dream that I was going to be a contestant on a game show (something like Jeopardy! or Who Wants to be a Millionaire?). I was very excited... and Tina Fey also figured into the dream somehow? Anyhow, I was slightly disappointed when I woke up and realized I was not really going to be on any quiz show and thus I had no chance of winning cash prizes anytime soon. But then I thought "whatever! Even if I got on Who Wants to be a Millionaire? chances are I wouldn't make it into the 'hot seat' which is the only way you can win anything."
This got me thinking about my aunt and uncle (Aunt Ro and Uncle Pete, if you will) with whom I have fond childhood memories of watching many a game show. If you've viewed any of these shows semi-regularly you can't help but develop your own theories about how the show works and your own strategies for what you would do if you were ever a contestant. I figured it might be fun to share my aunt and uncle's pet theories (and my impression of some of these classics) so here it goes...
The Price is Right
Ah, the granddaddy of all game shows (in my mind at least). Can you believe it's still on the air? The Price is Right kind of hearkens back to the fifties (when it originated) what with how it asks contestants to speculate on the price of washer/dryers and shit. It also kind of makes me think of like Sabado Gigante or something what with how it throws together and mixes up all kinds of different games (e.g. plinko, that alpine mountain climber dealie, the big wheel).
My aunt was convinced that the audience members who were chosen to "come on down" to contestants' row were totally not selected at random (for the record, I don't think that the show ever made this claim). First off, she was convinced that there was some kind of affirmative action policy in place as maybe the audience often seemed to be mostly white people but the producers liked to show a higher degree of diversity among contestants. Maybe. She also pointed out that audience members who were in the armed services (preferably in uniform) or who were like college students in a big group all wearing matching Ohio State sweatshirts seemed to have a greatly increased chance of getting called.
Aunt Ro was also a big advocate (in the hypothetical situation where one found oneself in the position of a contestant on the Price is Right) of listening to the audience when you don't know what to bid. It seemed like the hive consciousness in that studio usually had a pretty good idea about how much crap cost.
Oh and do you remember the Price is Right girls (or "Barker's beauties" I guess they used to be called)? I remember my aunt and I agreed that Kathleen, who at the time was the "foxy" black model, was the most beautiful. Also, there was that blonde Dian who accused Bob Barker of sexual harassment! Shockingly, I feel like I remember hearing that Barker's "defense" to the allegations wasn't even that none of it happened but that whatever flirting or grabbing or whatever went on was consensual! (I really don't think I made that up.)
Like I said, I can't believe this show is still around (and why are we not watching it?)
The $25,000 Pyramid
This was that show that played kind of like the board game Taboo, where someone had to get her teammate to guess a word without saying it. And then in the final round a member of the winning team had to get her teammate to guess categories like "things you find in a bathroom." They would always have these C-list celebrities teamed up with ordinary people (Betty White was a mainstay).
I just wanted to mention how this was perhaps the only game show that was basically impossible to play along with at home since they would flash the answers across the screen the whole time. You have to think that was a big con when they were pitching this show back in 1973 or whenever. It's kind of like how Columbo was a detective show with no suspense given that you saw the murder (and the murderer) at the beginning of the episode. No, I never got into watching Columbo.
Wheel of Fortune
I always thought this was the most boring game show. Do you remember way back in the day when the winner would pick crap to spend their prize money on, and you'd see him in an oval at the corner of the screen (like someone signing the news for the deaf) as the camera spun around some lame looking showroom? I guess the producers wised up to how boring and tacky that part was as it was edited out at some point. And then there was the bonus round where the winner could win some big prize if he could solve the final puzzle: he was asked to pick five consonants and a vowel, and everybody always picked "R,S,T,L,N and E" since they're the most popular letters in the English language (and I guess everybody who appeared on the show knew that).
So anyway, my Uncle Pete would shout at the screen anytime someone would "buy a vowel" perhaps employing an amusing phrase such as "you stupid broad." His point (and it was a very good point) was that if you know that the missing letter in "TH_" or whatever is an "E" why bother spending your money to uncover all the "E"s. More recently, I remember discussing Wheel of Fortune -- for some reason -- with my friends in college. The consensus seemed to be that maybe they don't pick the brightest bulbs in the set to compete on that show.
Ah yes. The thinking man's trivia show that requires contestants to answer in the form of a question and which drilled phrases such as "daily double," "potent potables," and "final jeopardy" into our heads. Uncle Pete would always decry Jeopardy! as the "cheapest game show on television" due to the fact that only the winner got to keep the prize money racked up during the show. If he ever made it to final jeopardy, Uncle Pete would just bet it all because, if you get the question wrong and come in 2nd place, it doesn't matter whether you have $80,000 or $10 you still go home with the same thing. This was another good point, although I think my aunt would point out how the runner up seemed to win something like a trip to Acapulco whereas the third place contestant got nothing but a hot-curling iron or whatever junk the sponsors' were pawning off (V05 maybe). So keep that in mind as well I guess. A lot of the contestants are wusses about betting though.
I always fancied that I could probably make a decent Jeopardy! contestant what with my wealth of useless information and my usually pretty good showing at Trivial Pursuit. My biggest problem with the show is, of course, the host, Alex Trebek. He always comes off as such an asshole what with the condescending way he reads the answer to the questions no one gets right. "And, of course, that man was Cecil Rhodes." He really does use the word "of course" like that sometimes as if this were common knowledge. This begs the question of whether he really knew these things himself or whether it's just something he's reading off a cue card (I actually don't doubt that he's a smart guy, but still). His tendency to pronounce foreign words with a bit too much gusto can also grate on one's nerves. I don't know if the Jeopardy! jerkfest is brought on by old age or the high brow air of the show, or if it's like written into his contract that he must act like a pompous asshole, but if you ever watched him host an episode of Classic Concentration (that matching/rebus show) back in the day he came off as much more affable and funny.
I feel like one time I heard that Trebek was being obnoxious to a flight attendant and maybe even said something along the lines of "do you know who I am?" but I couldn't find any reference to this incident on the internet so maybe I just want that to be the case. We do, however, have video footage of him cursing and sort of losing his temper. Also, when Who Wants to be a Millionaire? was the next big thing, Trebek said that its questions were too easy and that host Regis Philbin was not that smart. OK, Alex, maybe you are smarter than Regis but that was still a bitchy thing to say.
Moving on from Trebek, I also think that sometimes the unseen judges can be very nitpicky about what answers they will accept -- like with song titles ("I'm sorry but you answered 'Somewhere Beyond the Sea,' the title we were looking for is 'Beyond the Sea'"). And how about the part of the show where we learn a little bit about the contestants? That's always a snoozefest, like "so Mary you've been a librarian for 20 years? I hear you have a story about the wildest book you ever checked out for someone?"
Heheh, the sad thing is that I could go on with this topic (Press Your Luck, anyone?) but I'll stop right here for today.
Images: screen capture from Season 37 of CBS's the Price is Right found on wikipedia; image from NBC/Merv Griffin Production's Jeopardy!; image from $25,000 Pyramid with Dick Clark found on tylersmagicalblog.