Thursday, July 29, 2010

Welcome to the Wipeout Zone - JMR's List of 6 Favorite Game Shows

Listening for some music in my car one Saturday afternoon, I came across a fascinating piece on WBUR about Michael Larson, who "cheated" his way into winning more than $110,000 on Press Your Luck back in 1984. Not a lot of money these days, but back 25 years ago, $110,000 could go a long way.  In fact, when asked about his plans for the money, Larson's brother commented that he was going to invest it in some real estate projects.  Although real estate isn't what it once was, $110,000 is not going to get you that much these days.

How did Larson do it?  By watching, taping and rewatching show after show until he figured out that the Press your Luck board was lit in patterns.  Once you learned the patterns, I'm sure he thought, you could land on the squares that didn't have a Whammy.  Ingenious, really.  Watching the special on the Game Show Network on Youtube the other day, it was funny watching his precision by landing on the same two squares dozens of times in a row; finally passing his remaining spins when it appeared he was about to keel over in his seat.  I was talking to the computer (as I usually do) when the boys came up to me, asking me what I was watching.  They didn't seem that impressed as I was explaining the show and his strategy to them, but as they continued to watch Larson land on the same square time after time with the host Peter Tomarken incredulously asking Larson if he wanted to continue, the questions began.  What's a whammy?  Why is he passing his spins?  Why are their clothes so weird?  Then it occurred to me that these kids love game shows.

Which ones you ask?  Based on a review of my TV's DVR listings, the following are the six most popular game shows with six and eight year olds.

6.  Wheel of Fortune.  I'm not sure when the last time this show was watched, but there are 30 of these shows taped.  Pat Sajak and (I guess) Vanna White still host this show.  Ridiculous gimmicks make this show virtually unrecognizable to someone who hasn't watched in 15 years.  I can't put this game show any higher.

5.  Family Feud.  J. Peterman now hosts this game show.  Which is an improvement over Louie Anderson and the unfunny sidekick from Home Improvement, I suppose.  I still like this show if only to test my clicker reaction time if a double entendre or suggestive question requires me to mistakenly - yet quickly - fast forward the show past the offending question/answer. 

4. Brainsurge.  I don't know what this is.  But it's on Nickelodeon.  That's all I need to know.

3.  America's Got Talent.  The boys both HATE Piers Morgan.  "Why does he always buzz everyone?  He's so mean!"  I tried to explain that he's there to create tension - and that's he's English.  They didn't really understand what I was talking about except to know that I was saying "Dad" things again.

2.  Minute to Win It. We watched breathlessly this evening as the bartender from California was playing extreme quarters for $1 million - trying to bounce a quarter off a table and get it in a 5 gallon water bottle 15 feet away.  This isn't even the game show part; this is audience participation.  I know a couple of guys who could give that game a go, though. 

We watched the actual game show portion tonight and I can confirm (after watching, taping and rewatching) that the last guy, when the Diners and Dives guy asked him "Blueprint or Greenbacks?" He said "Greenbacks."  (They went to the next blueprint anyway.)  All-in-all, this is a great show because it gives us game ideas for our son's next birthday party.

1. Wipeout.  The Mother of all gameshows.  Ripped off from a foreign gameshow? Yes, absolutely.  But still the sight of out of shape non-athletes flying off of obstacles into the water at all angles entertains us.  We watch the same show over and over until the following week, when a new show appears on our DVR. 

The show is simple.  24 contestants are put through an obstacle course in the Qualifying round.  This round usually includes contestants who clearly don't care about winning (who are quickly whittled down) and contestants who are serious about winning the $50,000 grand prize.  The highlight is the obstacle known as the "Big Balls," which requires contestants to bounce across four red large rubber balls to the other side of the platform.  If anyone hesitates, he or she is moved onto the obstacle by the "Motivator."  Why these people don't know it's coming is beyond me.  The 12 fastest then move on to the next round, whittled down further, and then sent on to the final qualifying round.  Usually three people make it though the final qualifying round into this final round - known as the Wipeout Zone.

Needless to say, we are all enthralled with this show.  Between me laughing at all the poor saps who twist awkwardly into the water and mud, and the true athletic competition that begins in Qualifying Eliminator Round 2, we are all sitting on the edge of our seats waiting to see what happens next.  The Wipeout zone usually includes the contestants literally being launched into the pool.  From there, they must manage their way through a number of difficult contraptions, usually trying to avoid the shaving cream and suds that cover each obstacle.  They don't listen to our pleas to figure out the Gauntlet, which includes a puzzling Crank Shift and the Blade of Fury.  Why?  Why don't they listen to us?  Ultimately, we end each show cheering everyone on, asking each other who we think is going to win.  It certainly beats sibling fights.

I'm sure the Top 6 will increase as we go along this Summer, but I wonder who's going to win the Blind Date Wipeout episode that we're going to watch tomorrow morning, again?

photographs courtesy of and (via ABC)

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