originally published November 19, 2012
When I was a kid, on those glorious mornings when something – a cold, a flu, that time I walked up to the makeup counter at the Bay and ate all their lipstick – would keep me home from school, I loved to watch game shows. There was something about seeing ordinary people win home appliances that inspired me. Even the people who lost, they were sent away with the home version of the game. The home version! I wanted that more than any of the washer/dryers or Buick Lesabres they offered in the bonus round.
So when Ms. Wiki’s animated Whammy danced across my computer screen and offered me the chance to write about some game shows from around the world, I had to slam on my proverbial plunger and yell, “Stop!” The list in question contains numerous international (meaning not American – those get their own list) shows. Most of them are foreign versions of the shows we all know by heart: Wheel of Fortune, Jeopardy, Who Wants To Be A Millionaire and so on. But some of them are truly unique concoctions.
Between 1987 and 1990, Canadians with nothing better to do would watch pairs of players compete to decipher vanity license plates on the show Bumper Stumpers. This show taught me a few valuable lessons. First, vanity license plates are far more interesting than the normal ones. Second, Canadian game shows don’t have a lot of money to give out. The top prize on Bumper Stumpers was about $2000. Compared to the truckloads of prizes at the end of The Price Is Right, the drama was somewhat reduced.
Also, these things could be monstrous to figure out. Even now, looking at the two plates in that photo, I’m at a loss. “By Ellie Jean”? “Two to Dan White”? Maybe my brain was simply younger and much more agile back then.
On Spanish television in the mid-1990s, viewers could tune into El gran juego de la oca, or “The Great Game of the Goose.” This was a brilliant mix of people walking around a giant board game and undergoing bizarre stunts. Certain squares on the board prompted specific stunts, such as eating five bites of a cooked rat, chopping a bunch of watermelons with a machete, keeping one’s heart rate down whilst someone did a strip-tease for them, or getting one’s hair cut off.
I’m actually quite disappointed that this game never received a North American adaptation. I know – the golden age of game shows died out by the turn of the century, leaving us with prime-time spectacles which are little more than dressed-up game shows and reality drek. But come on, we need more accounts-managers from Tuscon waving machetes around on daytime television.
Those folks down in the Philippines now how to put on a game show. Wowowee was more like a variety show with prizes and weirdness. They had a segment in which someone would stand in one of those capsules with money blowing everywhere, trying to grab as much as they could. They’d bring members of the audience on stage to dance and yell either “Hep Hep” or “Hooray” at the right time or face elimination. The prize was often a video karaoke machine, which I believe is prized like jewelry or untraceable bearer bonds in Philippine culture.
Actually, they’d also give away cars and big money on the show too, as well as houses. You ever notice they don’t give away houses on North American game shows? Hell, why not an abandoned factory or an empty former Home Depot? With this economy, game show producers can get creative.
In Belgium, they tried to base a game show on the popular video game of Tetris. On the show Blokken, Contestants answer questions, and for each correct answer they can drop a block onto the Tetris board. Clearing a line earns a point bonus. How stupid does this sound? Well, Blokken has been on the air since 1994, so my guess is they found a way to exceed expectations and make it awesome.
There are a few things I really like about Blokken, apart from the brilliant melding of video games and a game show. First, if you mis-pronounce even a single letter of the answer, you get it wrong. You don’t get a chance to correct yourself, and if it was a sports or entertainment question, host Ben Crabbé is known for getting visibly irritated with you. Also, a Viking is randomly placed behind the host. I don’t know why, but maybe we should be asking why more shows don’t drop Vikings around the set. I think Alex Trebek should battle one after every Final Jeopardy round. Ratings would skyrocket.
Over in Finland, they know how to make a game show. Räsypokka aired between 2001 and 2003, and featured four competitors, two male and two female. They would play strip poker, right down to full frontal nudity. I have no idea if there was a cash prize involved, or if the whole thing was staged so that people could be rewarded with not being naked on national television, but I don’t care. Finnish TV is apparently awesome.
Front Page Challenge was a Canadian game show that never interested me. It was a panel show, in the style of What’s My Line?, in which journalists tried to guess which news story the mystery guest was linked to. They asked questions for clues to the answer, then would interview the mystery guest once the mystery had been revealed.
The journalists were generally old, stodgy and uninteresting to the young, game-show-loving version of me that passed this show by. Also, the idea of melding a game with world events and topical interviews paled in comparison to the flashing lights, Plinko discs and giant novelty playing cards on other game shows. In short, I didn’t care.
But Canada did. Front Page Challenge aired on CBC from 1957 until 1995. They also snagged a pretty impressive roster of mystery guests, including Eleanor Roosevelt, Boris Karloff (hey! I just wrote about him!), Gordie Howe, Pierre Trudeau, Indira Gandhi, and Malcolm X (pictured above).
This was the game show for the Canadian intellectual, which – at that time – I was most certainly not. Although, given the fact that even now I’d much rather watch an episode of Räsypokka today, I guess not much has changed.