By now, many of you know me as a devotee of bad television, one of the boob tube’s biggest boobs, reveling in all that is unfortunate, mystifying, and downright tragic in television’s shallow history.
I simply can’t help myself -- I’m drawn to tacky programming in the same inexplicable way other men are drawn to, well, women. Growing up, television was one of my best friends (and, during those awkward, acne-and-Frito years, one of my only friends), a reliable source of comfort in world where people looking for companionship are forced to settle for government interns. A pleasant by-product of my teenage angst is my personal library of nostalgic references, for time transforms the tragic into camp. Staring at the television from 1978 to 1986 has made my memory banks a playground of schadenfreude, confirming a belief that many other people exist merely for my personal amusement.
A special corner of this amusement park is predominantly reserved for the genres of daytime television: soap opera (yes, I watched Loving), talk shows (“No, Phil, I didn’t know my passive-aggressive lesbian lover enjoyed dwarf tossing and is a transvestite who once fathered half-Eskimo triplets!”), and, especially, game shows.
I love game shows. Without reservation, hesitation, or mitigation, the sound of buzzers, the flash of lights, and the impending distribution of Turtle Wax thrill me to the core of my cold, dank soul. As a child, I would occasionally fake being sick on a weekday in order to fill my hours with an unhealthy dose of Sale of the Century and The Price is Right. (Question 1: Name the original three “Barker’s Beauties.”) Even now, when the tribe has spoken, my heart beats light.
Nevertheless, game shows, like sitcoms, can miss the mark or emerge in retrospect as silly or demeaning. Herewith, television’s ten stupidest game shows: a retrospective of the questions and contests, the slick hosts and cheesy models, the silly sights and sounds endured by millions of lever-pullers, plunger-slammers, and buzzer-ringers. (Question 2: In the early versions of Wheel of Fortune, after a contestant won a round, he or she used the winnings to shop for prizes. When the remaining money was less than the cheapest prize [porcelain Dalmatian], the contestant had two options for the remainder. What were they?)
10. Road Rules. Not a conventional game show, in that it has no studio format, no toothy host, no pre-fab set -- yet the show requires participants to perform “missions” to win prizes. So much has been written on this site to excoriate Road Rules that there’s little more I can add, except to explain why it makes the list. In a word: laziness. It’s “let’s-take-the-rejects-from-Real World-and-stick-them-in-a-Winnebago-and-make-them-humiliate-themselves-for-money.” This is how we laugh at people desperate to be on TV in the post-Gong Show world. Road Rules is self-reverential and devoid of all shame. It’s replete with predictable stunts in a Beat-the-Clock-for-the-Pepsi generation way. And it brought us that Veronica girl, a transgression for which there is no proper punishment. (Question 3: Did anybody watch "Semester At Sea"? Ick.)
9. Card Sharks. Here we go -- eighties game shows at their dumbest. ["I thought Card Sharks originated in the seventies. Huh. You learn something new every day." -- Sars] I suppose that when weekday mornings required the folks at Goodson-Toddman to fill three or four hours with game shows, the creative juices slowed after a while. First of all: who thought this up? The premise seems straight out of my seventh-grade lesson on probability (Question 4: In a standard deck of cards, what is the probability you will draw: a red card? An eight? The jack of stars?). And what did they reject in favor of Card Sharks? Dice Sharks? Flip-A-Coin Sharks? Basically, contestants had to be familiar with playing cards and know how to guess. Also, the contestants would whip themselves up into a froth over paltry prize money and yell out cheesy catchphrases. “Change that card!” “Freeze!” Also, the host gave me the creeps, and the girls who flipped the cards looked like hookers.