There isn’t much television content that can excite TV executives like a popular game show. Even with lucrative prizes being doled out, game show programming is extremely cheap for the network, leaving them without many actors to pay, temporary sets to design or writers to hire. That’s why shows like The Price is Right, Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy keep churning out new episodes and remain some of the longest standing content on television. It’s also why producers will continue cranking out half-baked ideas for game show pitches, many of which could well end up airing.
Because of the fringe benefits in producing a game show, the filter on what passes for TV-worthy content isn’t always quite as tight as maybe it should be. At their core, most game shows are pretty dumb. Family Feud evaluates you on your ability to align your thinking with a random 100-person opinion poll. Survivor has seen countless contestants voluntarily dropped onto a remote, desolate island in order to engage in back-stabbing, manipulative relationships with fellow contestants. The Gong Show involved a gong as its main hook, and then proceeded to last 13 seasons. Even Jeopardy, when you break it down, is based entirely around the flimsy concept of answering in the form of a question.
And those are the more popular ones! More forgettably, television history has seen its share of truly awful game show concepts. Although some received a ratings boost from a curious TV audience and a few were undeniably entertaining, these 10 game shows clearly were intended to appeal to the lowest common denominator. Here are the 10 stupidest game shows ever:
10. My Dad is Better Than Your Dad
This 2008 NBC game show seemed eerily similar to the “MILF Island” type shows that were satirized on the Peacock Network’s own 30 Rock. As the title would suggest, father/child pairings would square off in a bid for both a $50,000 cash prize and, ostensibly, for schoolyard bragging rights. Rather than base the show around a comparative evaluation of parenting skills, the Dan Cortese-hosted program served up challenges like dodging airborne newspapers and swinging your kid onto an oversized dartboard. Unsurprisingly, it was cancelled after one season.
9. Supermarket Sweep
Lifetime network game show Supermarket Sweep was even lame by the standards of its early 90s era. Ugly sweater-ed host David Ruprecht presided over a madcap dash through supermarket aisles to wrack up some major grocery receipts on a game show that was stylized with cheesy graphics and big-haired contestants. While it was an entertaining guilty pleasure for many to see people frantically stuff their carts full with turkeys and milk cartons, it was undeniably dumb. There were even corny costumed characters who ran through aisles to wreak havoc on the contestants’ efforts.
8. 101 Ways to Leave a Game Show
This ABC program is what happens when you focus solely on the gimmicky consequences of losing a game show at the expense of the actual game, itself. 101 Ways was an all-too-simply quiz show comprised of easy questions and little imaginative flair. That’s because the true appeal of the show came in witnessing the eviction of show losers, who, as the title indicates, were sent off in a variety of elaborate, fun ways. But for as enjoyable and YouTube-friendly as it was to see contestants sent away via jet pack, catapult or vicious pit bull, it wasn’t enough to build a compelling show.
7. The Chair
The John McEnroe-hosted 2002 ABC game show The Chair decided that simply answering trivia questions in front of a live audience and with big money prizes on the line wasn’t enough pressure. Here, you had to answer the questions amidst some genuinely terrifying environments (a released alligator, anyone?) while locked into a chair that measured your heart rate. The winner was able to answer the questions correctly while staying (relatively) cool by keeping their heart rate down. The show lasted just two months, probably because ABC realized that it was one heart attack away from a major lawsuit.
Televised cruelty made its way to Comedy Central in 2005 in the form of Distraction, a UK import that was clearly more mean than funny. Contestants were tasked with answering questions while being bombarded by unpleasant distraction after unpleasant distraction, some of which included dog collar shocks, paintball attacks and being poked by cactus plants. To add insult to injury, the final round saw the contestants handed the prizes they were set to win, only to have those prizes upheld for another round of questions, with wrong answers prompting the destruction of the prize.
5. Hole in the Wall
You can almost picture the pitch meeting that birthed Hole in the Wall, which spent one season on Fox before switching over to the Cartoon Network for two underwhelming seasons. “Hey, wouldn’t it be funny to create a hole and make contestants try to contort their body to fit through it?” This decidedly uncomplicated premise was amusing enough at first, but simply didn’t have the legs to last long term and the game got repetitive in a hurry. The show lives on in YouTube clips, where you can laugh as some contestants make it through and some get knocked into a pool of water while wondering how this was ever on the air.
4. Do You Trust Your Wife?
Early in its seven-year run, ABC changed the name of Do You Trust Your Wife? to Who Do You Trust? But a name change alone hardly served to make the 1950s game show any less sexist. Here, married couples were presented with a series of questions to answer with a cash prize on the line. The catch, however, was that the husband had to determine based on the category of the question whether it was his to answer or his wife’s. The “trust” referred to in the initial title had less to do with honesty and more to do with expecting one’s intellectually inferior wife to be capable of answering a trivia question.
3. The Chamber
They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but there was simply nothing flattering about Fox’s The Chamber, which came along at roughly the same time as ABC debuted The Chair. So why does “Chamber” rank a whole four spots ahead of its game show doppleganger? Where “Chair” went relatively tame with pressure-packed distractions, “Chamber” introduced contestants to electro-shocks, hurricane-force winds, ice storm simulation, water torture and even earthquake vibrations. Fox got through exactly three episodes before cancellation.
Someone at the G4 network decided there was money to be made through a reality show that captured the grossness of Fear Factor‘s eating challenges without the compelling sense of witnessing people face their fear. Instead, Hurl! literally dared people to hold down their food, feeding them copious amounts before forcing them to endure stomach-churning activities like roller coasters or extreme activities. As the title of the show indicated, not all contestants were able to hold down their meal, making for some awfully vile television.
1. The Moment of Truth
There’s something refreshingly simplistic about the No. 1 game show on this list. The Moment of Truth didn’t present any obstacles or challenges to its contestants beyond their own morality, essentially daring them to sell their souls for cash. In the presence of family and friends, contestants were hooked up to a lie detector test and asked questions about sensitive topics for a cash prize of up to $500,000. It should come as little surprise that the show created plenty of trouble, even irreparably damaging a marriage when the wife acknowledged that she would leave her hubby for her ex. Trash TV at its finest.
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