America, rejoice. Game shows are back in full force. Thanks to the ever-cyclical nature of popular culture, Americans can once again relish in the joy of watching half-assed contestants test their wits, with the ultimate hope of going home rich. While I might not be able to explain what makes those fly swatter-like plastic slip-ons called Crocs popular, I do know that Americans will forever have a soft spot for game shows. That they’re back again after a brief lull lends credence to the old cliche that if it worked once, it will work again. Television executives know this about as well as anyone. A few years back ABC and talk show host Regis Philbin turned “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” into an insanely popular game show. Board and video game versions were made, celebrity specials were broadcast and the seemingly ageless Philbin became a living legend.
In no time at all, game shows were popping up on every network as stations jumped on the bandwagon, hoping to build off the success of “Millionaire.” Few were as terribly awesome as “The Chair,” which monitored contestants’ heart rates as alligators crawled underneath them and host John McEnroe served tennis balls over their heads. Fortunately, for Alex Trebek and Pat Sajak, ABC ran “Millionaire” into the ground by airing episodes every night of the week. As quickly as the show exploded into the mainstream, it faded away, carrying with it all the rest. Regis quit, being replaced by an annoying Barbara Walters wannabe who came across faker than those tans girls mysteriously spray on during the winter.
The first show to usher back the game show boom was “Deal or No Deal,” which has propelled the laughable Howie Mandel to fame. Keep in mind this is the same Canadian who had made a career out of using his nose to blow up a latex glove stretched over his head. That is until he burst his sinus. Regardless of his past, this show is still hugely popular, mainly because it requires no talent. All contestants do is pick out numbered briefcases, which would be incredibly boring to watch if these briefcases weren’t being watched over by painfully hot women who would put any Miss America to shame. Not since back to school night have I seen that much hotness in one place. The contestants themselves are almost always bumbling morons, which I guess makes the show watchable for women.
The game show that stands out to me the most, however, is “Identity.” In this one, the contestants have to guess the identity of 12 strangers, based solely on their appearance. In the politically correct age we live in, it’s completely beyond me how this show is still on the air. Nevertheless, I love it. All it does is play to stereotypes. A NASA engineer is presented wearing spectacles and a cardigan, while a swim instructor is shown as a Slavic-looking woman with her tits hanging out of her dress. Nothing beats eye candy, right? It’s understandable that the nerdy and overweight contestants are automatically overlooked as swim instructors because society tells us that these types of people would rarely hold that kind of job. But when the one Asian guy is automatically associated as the Rubik’s Cube master, or the tattooed tough guy is singled out as the biker, the show is helping cement deeply ingrained stereotypes. If I were on the show, I’d think the exact same way, but that these people are being showcased on national television is wrong. Looking at it in another way, it’s a great social commentary on how influential of a role stereotypes play in our everyday lives. But would the creators ever bring that up? Of course not. They’re just trying to rake in the dough.
With “Deal or No Deal,” “Identity” and a new show, “Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?”, where contestants battle wits with top-of-their-class elementary school kids, it’s clear that game shows are back to stay, however temporarily. So, start filling out those applications now. There’s money and 15 minutes of fame to be had.