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I Look Forward To, Some Day, Reading the Inevitable Tell-All Book Which Will Confirm My Suspicions That Everything I am Currently Seeing On Television Now is Faked

July 15, 2010

Look, I’m not stupid. I realize that things purported to be “real” on television often aren’t. For instance, I realize, full well, that the entire Bachelor and Bachelorette situation is played up. I know that Bret Michaels isn’t really going to marry someone from Rock of Love. And I know that The Hills, while perhaps based on some bizarre reality of real life people who likely off-camera act similarly to how they act on camera, is embellished to a higher degree of space-wasting (this was, in fact, confirmed by Kristin Cavallari).

But pardon me for preferring my game shows to at least have some standards. After all, game shows are a pop cultural staple dating back to 1941’s Truth or Consequences. I’ve always enjoyed the medium of the game show, giving regular, non-Hollywood folk chances to win fabulous prizes. Who among us didn’t grow up on Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy, or to a lesser extent Joker’s Wild or $25,000 Pyramid, those gloriously cheesy competitions with their gloriously cheesy sets and gloriously cheesy hosts? Many of those programs, still, can be watched on the Game Show Network — and although they may be extremely dated, they at least seem somewhat legitimate.

We also know that these classic game shows of the past were legitimate because there were actual scandals wherein contestants figured out how to crack the codes. After all, you may recall Michael Larson, a 1984 contestant on the popular Press Your Luck who reportedly memorized the patterns of the “Whammy Board” to the extent that he won several elaborate trips and thousands in prizes. Esquire, just this month, ran the strange story of Terry Kniess, a former Las Vegas weatherman who committed several prices to memory and, as a result, make a Price is Right Showcase Showdown bid of the precise number of the prize package.

There is precious little, however, that rings true and real of today’s popular primetime network game shows. Last night’s Minute to Win It, inexplicably hosted by chef Guy Fieri, featured a couple named Kim and Aaron — the full episode is available here — who are only two games away from winning the coveted million dollar prize. They are, supposedly, a young engaged couple who needs money to get married. The problem is that nothing rings genuine about the pair at all (and, honestly, what kind of wedding are you planning if you need “at least” $50,000?). Between games, we’re privy to the couple’s bantering, all of which looks like a terrible improv scene from an L.A. acting class (“You two are an engaged couple. You need money to get married, and you’re competing in a game show. And…scene.”) It appears, absolutely, like two people pretending to be engageed. The falseness of the show was only compounded by the “surprise” choosing of one random person to complete a million-dollar stunt from the studio audience, a young lady who leapt up surprised, thrilled, fist-pumping…and seemingly completely make-up ready for television.

Howie Mandel’s Deal or No Deal was guilty of such malfeasances as well — routinely the briefcase game of luck featured contestants who had some extraordinarily trumped up stereotype about them — the adorable hayseed from a town no one has ever heard of, the New York guido wearing his skintight tee and gold chains — and proceeded to play those stereotypes out to the highest degree, making for adorable/heartwarming/exciting/heartbreaking television. I don’t believe for a second these were real people, they seemed more to be the product of a call to Central Casting: “Do you have anyone who can do a great southern accent? Or how about someone who can play a Detroit gym teacher/widower raising three girls on his own?”)

One late night, while flipping channels, I came across an early 2000’s game show called Russian Roulette, wherein contestants answer questions until they’re eliminated, at which point a trap door flips open beneath them and they fall through the floor dramatically. The contestant on that particular episode looked familiar; though he was supposed to be a regular joe from wherever, the repeat — I believe — revealed the ruse. This person, I’m still convinced, is currently a featured supporting character on CSI: Las Vegas. He wasn’t this lucky schlub, he was just a struggling actor at the time, and this was just a gig.

I realize game shows are entertainment, and that perhaps as our tastes grow harder to please, primetime game shows are merely answering that call by doing what they can to trump up the storylines and emotional levels. But in doing so, the networks are just seem to be creating an embarrassing farce wherein Hollywood’s extras try out their character development skills on a nation which I can’t believe is buying it. If the game shows of the 70’s and 80’s were largely fixed, I feel like in this day and age, we’d have learned that by now. Instead, we’re just going to have to wait out the confidentiality agreements which the contestants of the 2000’s are undoubtedly signing and hope they feel the need to clear their respective consciences.  And I can wait. The satisfaction of knowing that I’m right about this will be worth way more than a case of Turtle Wax.

  1. Paul permalink*
    July 15, 2010 2:17 pm

    Great post.

    Please tell me you’ve seen the movie Quiz Show.

  2. July 15, 2010 2:25 pm

    Definitely. Great flick. And your’e right, another example — perhaps the best — of such hoodwinking. I love that the fix is put in place in that story because the sponsors basically demanded it. I’ve always wondered about the Jeopardy/Ken Jennings situation, to be honest.

    If you have the time, however, do read the Esquire story linked here, it’s almost stranger than fiction.

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