Stupid concepts, stupid costumes, stupid contestants. TV game shows are often guilty of more than one of these inane infractions. Save for reality shows (and perhaps cable “news”), no genre of television has contributed to the dumbing down of culture more. And while there are certainly a few great ones—Jeopardy first and foremost—there are many, many more mind-numbing ones.
Here are the ten dumbest TV game shows ever. When you”re done reading, our parting gift is an all-expenses-paid trip to the comment thread.
10 Press Your Luck
“No Whammies, no Whammies… STOP!”
Press Your Luck could also make a list of the ten best TV game shows—for the simple reason that Whammies are friggin’ awesome. The pleasure derived from watching those little animated devils wipe away a player’s cash and prizes is some truly satisfying schadenfreude.
Still, the show—which, despite its pop culture legacy, only ran from 1983-1986—was idiotic on two levels. One was that the reward for answering questions was more spins… which may or may not be advantageous. Sure, someone with earned spins could pass them to a competitor, but that, too, could backfire based solely on luck. The problem with Press Your Luck was that champions were determined purely by… well, luck.
That is until one guy figured it out. A computerized board in the mid-1980s? There’s probably a pattern there. Sure enough, Michael Larson avoided the Whammy for a seemingly miraculous 45 spins, winning over $110,000 ($323,500 today). Larson noticed only five board patterns that, once recognized, dropped the chances of a Whammy wipeout to near nil. This assessment did not take a rocket scientist; Larson was an ice cream truck driver.
Press Your Luck was rebooted in 2019, with actress Elizabeth Banks as host. The board’s programming has become more sophisticated. The contestants, not so much. And, of course, Whammies still kick a** and take cash.
9 Family Feud
Survey says: Stupid!
Every family has a dullard black sheep. Family Feud proves that, often, there are actually four or five of them.
Granted, this doesn’t shine through in the bonus round, where two members from the winning family are asked the same series of questions in a time crunch. Anyone can get a little nervous and give a dumb answer in that situation. Recently, a contestant almost blew it after her adult daughter racked up 193 points—just 7 shy of the 200 needed to win. She gave just one viable answer and squeaked out a victory.
No, the idiocy on Family Feud comes when the contestants have ample time to consider a question with several viable answers… and respond with guesses that leave viewers wondering how on Earth they function in society. Lowlights:
Host Steve Harvey: “We asked 100 women to name something of Leonardo DiCaprio’s that you’d like to hold.”
Contestant: “The Mona Lisa. His painting.” (His family then claps and yells, “Good answer!”)
Harvey: “Name a kind of suit this isn’t appropriate for the office.”
Contestant: “Chicken noodle.”
Harvey: “Name something a man might be willing to go to prison to get away from.”
Contestant: “The police.”
And of course, because ‘murica:
Harvey: “Name a country whose men women find sexier than American men.”
Contestant: “The United States of America.”
Going broke, eh?
Before he became the most beloved and esteemed game show host in television history, Jeopardy mainstay Alex Trebek was the emcee of a Canadian program he later called “one of the greatest tragedies of my life.” That’s saying a lot, considering his tough task of beating back eye-rolls and laughing fits during rounds of Celebrity Jeopardy (more on that later).
Trebek is Canadian, as is Pitfall, which aired from 1981-1982. But unlike Trebek, Pitfall was ridiculous and moronic. And as we’ll see, it’s also infamous.
In Pitfall, contestants guessed at studio audience responses to questions about lifestyle and personal preferences. So basically, they tried to guess the likes and dislikes of folks attending the taping of a stupid game show.
Anyway, the winner continued to the Pitfall round. Or rather, they ascended there—literally taking an elevator with Trebek to a bridge with a series of stages called “pitfall zones.” They answer questions to advance to the next zone… except that some are “pitfalls” that take them down a level. It’s basically both stupid and complicated.
The show was… well, just awful. It was also expensive. Unable to keep up with the costs of maintaining what passed for a high-tech set in the early 1980s, the show’s production company went bankrupt and most contestants never received their cash or prizes. Even Trebek was stiffed of his salary.
Airing for just 11 episodes in 2008 on America’s G4 Network, Hurl! answers the urgent question of what would happen if contestants in the July 4th Coney Island hot dog eating contest were then shaken violently for several minutes. It’s basically a half-hour long recreation of the pie-eating contest scene from Stand By Me.
Hurl!’s premise is simple: extreme eating + extreme activities = extreme nausea. Its first round is a five-minute feast in which five contestants must choke down as much grub as possible. The three biggest chowhounds advance to the next round, while the other two escape with some sliver of dignity intact.
The next round involves a physical activity that, importantly, entails a whole lot of spinning. This lasts another five minutes—or until one contestants pukes. Crucially, only vomit that leaves the mouth counts, meaning you can gag as long as you swallow it again. The fact that this is an actual rule to an actual game should be red flag enough.
Regardless, the two finalists than gorge themselves for several more minutes before the final sloppy showdown: a sudden-death hurl-off. The first one to lose his lunch loses. Often, contestants are blindfolded for that extra equilibrium-robbing touch.
6 Red or Black?
For the better part of two decades, a friend and I had a running $10 bet: coin flip of the Super Bowl, heads or tails. At one point, my friend beat me 15 times in a row. The chance of that happening is 0.0000305176%, or 1 in 32,768.
There was, of course, no skill involved. It was dumb luck—just like the UK game show Red or Black?
Named for the colors of a roulette wheel, the show—which lasted only 14 episodes—drew over 100,000 applicants seeking a chance to win the grand prize of a million pounds. Each show featured huge groups of people with the mindless task of guessing between the two colors, with a wrong answer meaning elimination.
Cue gimmicky, random stunts like guessing which of two skydivers—one with a red parachute, the other a black one—would hit the ground first, or which color-coated motorcyclist could jump through an ever-narrowing space. Or which golfer would hit a bullseye first from 100 yards out.
The most mindless of these guessing games might have been the car joust, which combined the childishness of Medieval Times with the revved-up idiocy of bro culture. Contestants chose between the red and black knights, while viewers at home likely rooted for a high-speed bloodbath, which (I think?) would have meant red wins.
5 Candy or Not Candy?
Perhaps even more vexing than the choice between two hues is the all-important assessment of whether something is—or is not—a confectionary.
There’s some crazy stuff (literally—see the next entry) on Japanese television, where many game shows revolve around personal injury or humiliation. In fact, the inspiration behind the American obstacle course-centric show Wipeout is a Japanese program called Takeshi’s Castle, where contestants are challenged to storm a fortress-like structure by overcoming a series of intimidating and potentially injurious pitfalls.
But hey, at least those folks are getting bruised for a purpose. Such is not the case with another program. Aptly named Candy or Not Candy?, the show invites contestants to chomp down on a random, potentially tooth-chipping item… which may or may not actually be a sculpted piece of candy. Doorknobs, picture frame, table corners, shoes… could be chocolate or could be a trip to the dentist.
For a final flourish, those contestants wrapping their mouths around a non-candy item also get blasted in the face with something white, a parting shot reminiscent of… well, never mind.
4 Be Cute or Get Pie
We’re not done with Japan just yet, because it’s a game show nightmare over there.
For one, Japanese game shows are often revoltingly misogynistic. In The Bum Game, men are asked to identify their significant female others from a set of three—you guessed it—naked rear-ends. To help narrow it down, they’re allowed not only to look but also touch, grope, lick, and kiss the bare bottoms. The game is seldom fun for those fondled; it is even less enjoyable for those doing the fondling when, as sometimes happens, the rump they’re smacking and smooching belongs to another guy.
But one show is even creepier—and more moronic. Be Cute or Get Pie starts with a bunch of attractive women sleeping on mats on the floor. Then, one by one, some weirdo in a wig startles each from her slumber—sometimes by doing something rape-y like ripping the buttons off her pajama blouse.
Immediately upon waking up, the girl has about a millisecond to look or do something cute. If not, she gets a pie in the face, which given the show’s creep factor, is actually preferable to whatever seemed likely to happen next.
3 The Price Is Right
Come on down! You’re the next contestant on a completely moronic show! For one, the long-running daytime program is second only to Wheel of Fortune in knowing its audience—let’s kindly call them “average Americans”—and tailoring its contestants accordingly.
Structurally, the stupidity starts right from the first round, where four contestants, freshly drafted from a drooling studio audience, guess the retail price of some mid-range appliance or gadget. However, contestants can’t go OVER the price, meaning that a previous guess can be blocked by adding $1 to it. It’s basically the original game show d*ck move.
Whoever emerges from this sh*tshow plays their own game, which may or may not involve any skill whatsoever. While some require a smidge of savvy, many rely almost exclusively on dumb luck. In Plinko, contestants drop a chip that meanders through pegs en route to columns marked with various cash prizes, which is akin to a blind person throwing darts. In One Away, contestants are given five numbers representing the price of a car. Each digit is either one above or below the right column… as if anyone can know whether a Ford F150 costs, for example, $25,176 or $25,354. Random=dumb.
Then, three geniuses spin a big, uncontrollable wheel twice a show to see who advances to the finals. It’s all just luck—a dumbed-down game for a dumbed-down audience.
2 Celebrity Jeopardy
Answer: “This show confirms what you long suspected about many famous people—that they’re total dummies.”
Question: “What is Celebrity Jeopardy?”
At first pass, Celebrity Jeopardy is straightforward, perhaps even inevitable. Three celebrities (albeit typically of the B-List variety) play the most beloved quiz game in television history, with winnings going to charity. It started innocently enough when, in 2009, Jeopardy hosted the Million Dollar Celebrity Invitational. While not quite as cerebral as the typical game, the questions were no joke. Michael McKean, later of Better Call Saul fame, took top honors.
The problem, of course, is that most celebrities aren’t anywhere near as bright as an average Jeopardy contestant. Nor are they as smart as the average Jeopardy College Tournament contestant… or even Teen Tournament participants.
For a decade running, then, the result has been a brand of Jeopardy so dumbed down that it was persistently satirized on Saturday Night Live. Will Ferrell, playing the uber-dignified host Alex Trebek, is unable to contain himself amid a multitude of morons like Burt Reynolds, Keanu Reeves, Catherine Zeta-Jones and, of course, the late great Sean Connery. “Suck it, Trebek.”
Good news for fans of foolishness: Later this year, Celebrity Jeopardy will be launched as a standalone program. The show will air on Sunday nights on ABC, sandwiched between the intelligence-challenged America’s Funniest Home Videos and—God help us—Celebrity Wheel of Fortune.
1 Wheel of Fortune
Wheel of Fortune is the stupidest game show in TV history, and it’s not really that close. For starters, it doesn’t help that, in most U.S. markets, Pat Sajak, Vanna White, and their daily trifecta of troglodytes air immediately following TV’s smartest game show, Jeopardy. The vibe goes from collegiate to kindergarten in the span of a commercial break.
But the main reason is… well, the players, who seem pre-screened to filter out anyone halfway decent at word games—or, for that matter, anyone with an IQ over 75. No wonder the show calls itself “America’s game.”
So stunning is the stupidity Sajak has felt the need to save face on social media. This past March, ol’ Pat took to Twitter to defend three contestants who needed ten tries to solve the head-scratcher “ANOTHER FEATHER _N YO_R _A_.” I’d like to buy a vowel and some vodka to numb the pain.
In January, a contestant tried to solve a song lyrics category puzzle missing just three letters: “TH_S _AND _AS MADE FOR YOU AND ME.” Her guess? “This band has made for you and me.” Some called it the stupidest answer in the show’s 47-year history.
Oddly, Sajak inadvertently showed his cards while host-splaining his show’s dearth of brainpower. “Truth is, all I want to do is help to get them through it,” he began, before some honesty snuck out, “and convince them that those things happen even to very bright people.”