Just the other day while I was watching a mind-numbing reality show on TV that I would never admit to watching – not to a human, to my dog, to a rock in the road or otherwise - a profound realization washed over me. I’d love to share it with you. Are you paying attention? Are you sitting down? Seriously, get ready. Game shows were to people of yesterday what reality shows are to people today. There you go. Feel free to discuss amongst yourselves.
Sure, today we have Who Wants to Be a Millionaire Fifth Grader something or other, but how can these shows adequately compare to those of the Golden Age, back when game shows dominated daytime television?
Much like the reality shows of today, game shows once offered Average Joe schmucks like me that exhilarating opportunity to see a real person (the Snookis of their day, if you will) in the midst of a riveting internal battle. And we, the viewers, got the pleasure of witnessing the emotion and suspense of that conundrum playing out on our television screens. What would I do? I’d go for it. No way. He needs to stay where he is. What are you doing, brainless? Buy a vowel! That Chevy Malibu is worth way more than that. Didn’t you see its vinyl seat covers? One dollar! One dollar!
I watched a lot of game shows as a kid. A lot. In fact, much of my pre-cable summers of the 1980s were spent watching Family Feud, The Price is Right, Super Password, Press Your Luck and, despite never understanding one bit of it, Sale of the Century. In 4th grade, I even might have stayed home “sick” one day so as not to miss Hollywood Squares. Okay, if you must know, that week featured Florence Henderson in the center square.
To further illustrate the prevalence of game shows in my young life, I’d estimate the breakdown of my television-watching as such:
10% Dallas, (If you’re outraged, you haven’t read Uncensored Cinema.)
20% kid shows (i.e. Saturday morning cartoons, Sesame Street, 3-2-1 Contact, Electric Company and the like),
20% evening sitcoms, and…
50% game shows – yes, game shows!
Ugh, this category is purely awful.
I’ll admit, when watching game shows through Kid Vision, perception is a bit skewed. For one, I was devastated to learn that the contestants on Let’s Make a Deal didn’t actually get to take home the loser prize (also known as the “wah-wah-wah-waaaah” prize) behind curtain number three. Many times these “prizes” in my mind were by far the most desirable. Give me a fedora-wearing camel over some crummy solid oak bedroom set any day.
I also believed Press Your Luck was much less about winning money than about anticipating the Whammy to appear doing something completely off-the-wall funny. The pinnacle of that of course would be appearing in drag. My personal favorite: Whammy as Boy George singing “Do You Really Want to Hurt Me.” That’s good old fashioned comedy right there, folks.
And then, I always felt very strongly that if I could have a word with The Price is Right producers, I could convince them that the grand prize winner of the Showcase Showdown should have had the chance to exchange their loot for one of the game displays. If, for example, I had won the Plinko board that I could’ve later erected in my basement to entertain visiting cousins or slumber party guests, I would’ve easily one-upped the kid with a Dukes of Hazzard pinball machine in his bedroom.
Game show hosts, hostesses and contestants, much in the way of reality show stars today, were no strangers to me. Indeed, they were extended family. Vanna White was like the cool babysitter I wished I could one day be, the one who would french braid my hair and let me eat popcorn for dinner. Wink Martindale was like a gentle, surrogate grandfather who’d no doubt spend Sunday afternoons with me at the ol’ fishing hole. Richard Dawson was like a dirty, old uncle, the kind who’d probably get drunk at family reunions and tell insulting jokes.
"Help control the pet population." Bob, I think we both know who should've been neutered.
My brother, in a rare moment of vulnerability, once confessed to me his undying love for Diane, inarguably the prettiest of Barker’s Beauties on The Price is Right. (Side note: Barker’s Beauties – hello, women’s lib, are you kidding me?) With that juicy admission, for the first and perhaps only time in my life I possessed a truly lethal chunk of psychological warfare to inflict on Tony.
Perhaps no game show was more influential in my life than Family Feud. My dad once charged me with writing a letter to Richard Dawson to finagle our way onto the show. He laid it all out for me as such: 1.) Write Mr. Dawson a letter. 2.) Ask if our family can be contestants on the show. 3.) We’ll get a free trip to Burbank, California and a three-night stay in a five star hotel. 4.) Maybe if there’s time we can swing by Disneyland. I’m sorry to admit I dropped the ball on this. Later on, my friend Kelley swore up and down to me that her enviable collection of Hello Kitty merchandise was a result of her own family’s appearance on Family Feud. From that day forward, I could not help but torment myself over what might have been, wondering where my path in life might have led if only I had written that letter.
One Family Feud contestant inspired me and my brother to coin a new word that quickly took off in urban street slang. Biff, meaning to slip or, by our definition, the act of being a ridiculous buffoon. Biff was the name of a member of one unfortunate family on Family Feud. And he could not answer his way out of a wet paper bag. Suffice to say, he blew it for the Jarvis family.
Question is, what are the top six things you’d find in an office?
Um, Planters Peanuts?
Is that your answer, Biff?
(Family members are shaking their heads and waving their arms with bewildered looks on their faces.)
Yes, Richard, that is our answer. I always keep a jar of Planters Peanuts in my office.
Okay, Biff. Survey says? Oh, I’m sorry. The survey says you’re a freaking idiot, Biff.
My brother and I took a particular interest in the blunders of Biff and soon “Biff” was immortalized in the spoken word. As in, you sure biffed it on that answer, Biff. (Mary Kate, if you’re reading this, it’s true and one day I’ll prove it to the world.)
Now, considering the ample hours of game show-watching of my younger years, why did I not morph into some sort of hyper-intelligent superhero, as you might expect? Surely this was not all time wasted. For example, why am I not a renowned expert on Rice-A-Roni (which is not only the San Francisco treat but was incorporated into every game show I ever watched)? Perhaps I could have also traveled the country guessing the prices on various canned goods to a crowd of adoring fans. (Granted, inflation would have assured this to be a short-lived stint.) On the contrary, my husband will attest I am the Rain Main of grocery shopping. How much is a gallon of milk? About two dollars. How much is a package of chicken thighs? About two dollars. How much is a 10-pound bag of water softener pellets? About two dollars.
And I can also tell you I have never found an appropriate forum to showcase my ability to name a tune in five notes or less. Radio call-in shows, perhaps. But winning two tickets to see Meatloaf live in concert at the State Fair hardly competes with a chance to significantly advance my financial lot in life.
So rather than turn my game show proficiency into fame and fortune, I must instead live vicariously through other Average Joe schmucks on reality TV who get their own amazing opportunities of a lifetime. Yes, I’ll just sit back with my Taco Flavored Doritos and an episode of…nope, still not telling. Although, if you would happen to be offering me a lifetime supply of Rice-A-Roni, I may reconsider.