The Nine Worst Game Shows Ever
This is my list of what I think are the worst game shows ever. Game shows are supposed to fun, exciting, and a positive experience for everyone, even those who don’t take home the championships. Here are nine that really missed the target, badly.
9. Dirty Rotten Cheater (US 2003, UK 2007)
The show started with six (US) or five (UK) contestants trying to answer a Family Feud style question. Only one of the 10 most popular answers awarded money, with the most popular awarding the least. The trick is that one player is secretly given all the answers.
The first mistake was the first elimination round, which I think happens too soon. The first elimination was given only after one question (I would have liked to see at least two go-arounds before the first elimination). Depending on what country, the voting round was played differently.
US: The player with the most votes was eliminated. If the cheater was eliminated, his/her money was divided among the others. Otherwise, everyone’s money was halved.
UK: The group must reach majority, or it was automatic win for the cheater. If the cheater wins, the player’s money were halved, and the cheater (unknown to the players and the host) eliminated one player. Later rounds gave the vote to the audience (no halving penalty occurred during such rounds).
Here’s is where Dirty Rotten Cheater landed on this list: needless padding. It was bad in the US version but in the UK version, there was more padding then game show. This show could have easily been a half-hour show instead of the hour time slot it was given.
8. The Later (Non-Syndicated) US Seasons of Deal or No Deal (2005 – 2009)
When Deal or No Deal premiered in the United States in December 2005 and was picked up as a regular series in March 2006, this game show had so much promise. The game is simple. Pick which one of the 26 cases you believe has $1,000,000. Round by round, you eliminate a set number of cases and based on your performance, the banker made you an offer to buy your case. Of course, you try to eliminate the lower-dollar cases to improve the offer. Then you are asked “Deal or No Deal”? Take the offer and leave or continue playing. An hour show could hold one complete game and a good portion of another.
Then came the Sheetal Shetty episode in 2006. Sheetal, a great, likeable constant, did great, winning $375,000 on a board that had $0.01, $400,000 and $750,000 left. But the episode dragged on and on and on and on and on… with needless commercial breaks, lengthened padded between picks and reveals, and extra long calls from the banker. The padding became the norm after this episode. Pretty soon, a complete game took an hour to complete. Gimmicks, such as “dream” offers (a pony, a lime-color Escalade, a spot in the Dallas Cowboys fantasy camp for example) and the ill-fated Million Dollar Mission, became a regular feature. Without a grand prize winner, NBC was getting so desperate that it actually advertised (spoiled) a grand prize winner before Deal or No Deal’s third season.
By the third season, any of the fun and fast-paced game play was sucked out of Deal or No Deal. Games gone by so slow that you could go to the local DMV and come back before the third round was completed.
The syndicated version (2009-2010) brought back some of the fast-paced fun but that came a season too late.
Side tip: The best versions of Deal or No Deal were the UK version with host Noel Edmuds (2005 – 2016?) and Australia with Andrew O’Keefe (2003 – 2013). YouTube is your best friend.
7. Pointless (UK) (2009 – present)
I like the game’s concept: name something that fit a category and tried to find the most obscure answer. This is the inverse of Family Feud. The game started with five pairs of contestants. The object was to give a “pointless” answer, which is a correct answer to a question that no one else out of 100 people thought of. Incorrect answers carried a 100 penalty. The pair with the most points were eliminated after each round, with a playoff between the final two pairs. Each “pointless” answer given during the main game added £250 to the bonus jackpot.
Why is Pointless is on this Worst Game Shows Ever list? The hosts drag each question with endless dribble. Furthermore, everyone is quiet, monotone, no excitement in the audience.
The bonus round is sad as well. The only way any pair was winning any money was to win the bonus round, which started as a paltry £1,000, plus any bonus money won during the main game. Each time the bonus game was not won, the jackpot increased by £1,000 for the next show. The consolation prize was a nice crystal trophy.
I guess the super low budget is what kept this show going for over seven years and counting.
6. Friend or Foe (2002-2003) – (USA)
First, Kennedy was insufferable. Next, the game play.
How was the money won? Three pairs competed in a set of obscure multiple choice questions. The first round’s questions were worth $500, $1,000 for the second round. Originally the pairs were spotted with $200. The pair with least money was eliminated and was sent to decide how they want to split their winnings (more on that later).
The pair that made it through Rounds 1 and 2 played a bonus round called Right or Wrong. This time each question had two answers. The goal was to answer 10 questions correctly in 60 seconds before getting three questions wrong, which I don’t believe was ever done. Winning the bonus round doubled the trust fund. Each correct answer added another $500 to their trust fund.
Now came the time where the pairs split their money. Forget the (thankfully) relatively small stakes, this show is all about the infamous Prisoner’s Dilemma. Here is how it works:
Two players chose Friend or Foe. If both players chose Foe, any money built in their trust fund was lost and both players left with nothing. If both players chose Friend, their trust fund was split equally. The last combination was the most frequent outcome: One Foe and One Friend, where Foe takes it all, Friend goes home with nothing, less dignity, embarrassed, and shafted. Before the decision, Kennedy (often) gave the two contestants a chance to convince the other of why they should vote Friend. However, it quickly the object quickly became: lie to your opponent, convincing them to choose Friend while you press the Foe button. Succeed, you win all the money.
Friend or Foe became predictably stale after several weeks.
5. Divided (UK) (2009 - 2010)
If you want to watch three constants endlessly bicker over a question or how they split they money they won, this is the show for you. Questions start at the set amount and decrease in value the longer it takes the contestants to answer it. Three incorrect answers and the contestants go home with nothing. At set points the contestants can choose to stop and split the money.
If only the constants went home with equal shares of the money earned, that may have saved the show from being on this list. But that’s not the case! The pot was split in unequal portions, with A offering the most (60% - 70%) of the jackpot, B getting a decent share, and C’s share was laughably low. The contestants were forced to agree who gets shares A, B, and C. Oh, and they had 100 seconds to do it as the money dwindled by 1% for each second that passes by. This means that one contestant would have to settle for C and be extremely humble (and perhaps underpaid). I would not find it fun to watch my money being thrown away due to endless arguing. Craptastick!
4. Let's Go Back (1991-1993)
The game itself wasn't bad, it is mostly a direct port a Jeopardy! The game had six categories and four decades: 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s. The questions were for points, not dollars. The player had the most points had the advantage in the advantage of the final round. The final round was a "race to zero", and you reached zero when you correctly answered the required number of questions (4 for 1st place, 5 for 2nd place, and 6 for 3rd).
What killed the game was the boring game show host and the ridiculous prizes. The secret prizes were things you could pick up from your local swap meet, like an old political pin, a Happy Days toy car, or an old lunchbox, valued at no more than $25. And what does the winner get? $500 cash! Pretty cheap considering the show’s announcer was Charlie O’Donnell.
3. Shafted – UK (2001)
It wasn’t just the contestants getting shafted, it was the people viewing it. The first round was, how much money you wanted to bet to six contestants. If you bet too much, then f*** you, you automatically lose. If that didn’t want to make you immediately either change the channel or down vote the YouTube video, you must have an iron stomach.
The next rounds were your standard bet-question rounds. The highest bet got the question. After a set amount of questions were asked, the player in the lead got to choose which of the remaining players got eliminated. The game continued until there were two players left. The final round was the bad-old Prisoner’s Dilemma. Shafted got four shows on the air before thankfully itself got shafted.
2. Golden Balls – UK (2007 – 2009)
Do you have the balls to lie? If you do, you could win a good, maybe a great sum of money. The only good thing about Golden Balls was it host, Jasper Carrot. Carrot was charm, witty, and the only person on the planet who could make four otherwise greedy, insufferable contestants look remotely human.
The game starts with four contestants getting four balls of various dollar amounts and Killer balls. Two of them were revealed and the contestants had to bluff their way to the next round. One player gets voted off and that player’s balls were also eliminated. The next round had the remaining three constants getting five balls apiece. One more round of bluffing and voting one unlucky contestant off.
The final round was in two parts. The first part was the Bin or Win round. 10 balls plus one more Killer ball were in play. One player chose one ball to bin (discard) and one ball to win (hopefully it was worth a lot of money). The process was repeated five times. Any Killer ball won reduced the pot by a factor of 10 (ouch!).
The second part is the one constant that has been a stable on this list: The Prisoner’s Dilemma! We know the drill by now, two contestants chose how the money was going to be divided, by use of the Split ball (the Friend) and the Steal ball (the Foe). Often this lead to one of two endings: (a) someone always stole leaving the virtuous player who chose Split or (b) both players choosing Steal and leaving with nothing. Seriously, is there any creativity in the Game Show department?
And now to the Worst Game Show of All Time:
1. Take It All (2012)
I hate everything about it: the ridiculous large prizes that almost no one would use in real life, the endless padding, and the horrific "Prize Fight" end game.
The front game is a high-stakes White Elephant game. Note that the White Elephant game is only fun when the prizes consisted of holiday decorations and Starbucks gift cards where the value is anywhere from $5 - $20. This isn’t the case where $51,000 Porsche, $33,000 submarines, and $100,000 trips that should cost no more than a few grand are concerned. The object is to get the biggest prize either by selecting it from the Dream Board or stealing it from another player. The player stuck with the lowest valued prize (albeit would be a nice one to win) is sent packing with nothing. No consolation prize, nothing. Hence, some prizes featured on Take It All was just throw-away because they could never be won. The front game starts with five contestants and two rounds of elimination occur. The final two go to the “Prize Fight”.
The “Prize Fight” takes the Prisoner’s Dilemma and turns it up to 11. The players take their prizes and a cash prize (selected at the Prize Fight) and then choose whether they get to be a Foe (choosing Take It All), or Friend (Keep Mine). Only contestants with no consciousness win here, outright lying to the other players. Being sympathetic to a player who was bullied and plan to donate their cash to a charity, or to a player whose career is being Santa Claus, screw that! The stealer would lull their victim by saying how much of a Christian he/she was and how they care and want people to succeed, only to choose Take it All and humiliate the other player. I only saw the premier episode and was enraged. I am grateful no objects to throw at the TV were nearby.
The weirdest part was Take It All premiered aired in December: the freaking holiday season! What the absolute f***! Thankfully Take It All was promptly thrown in the garbage can after six episodes. It should have never aired at all!
Howie Mandel's career pretty much went in the toilet after this debacle.
It’s clear that I think that the Prisoner’s Dilemma is the fastest way to ruin a game show.
So that is my list of the worst game shows ever. What do you think?
This blog is property of Edward Shore. 2016