This summer, there is a preponderance of game shows in primetime. Of course, there’s always been room on television for the game show. CBS’ Truth or Consequences was the first game show to air on commercially licenced TV in 1941. And the format’s popularity grew from Day One.
Daytime game shows featured smaller prizes for the stay-at-home viewer (a.k.a. the “lady of the house” or in my case, the kid at home without a babysitter). However, primetime game shows featured larger stakes as quiz shows became the new fad. Unfortunately in the 50’s, the discovery that most of these shows were biased and sometimes even scripted, led to huge scandals and cancellations.
Fast forward to 2021: throw together a little global pandemic and Hollywood’s Covid-challenged production schedule, mix in a stressed out adult population in need of some fun – not to mention a financial windfall that could solve all their problems – and you’ve got summer games coming out the TV-whazoo! And we’re not talking about The Olympics, folks.
Let’s start with American Ninja Warrior. The playground obstacle course on steroids is once again open for men, women, and now teens as young as 15. In fact, one father-daughter duo trained together to compete on the same night. Sure, there’s a cash prize at the end, but this show is all about the challenge and earning that title.
For those who think American Ninjas is an elitist club, we have an alternative. Wipeout has its own heavily-padded obstacle course made for the rest of humanity who don’t train eight hours a day and don’t mind ricocheting off the equipment.
Or there’s Small Fortune’s version. This bizarre, miniature-sized challenge involves no physical training, but requires a really, really steady hand.
For the creative sort, LEGO Masters takes the beloved hand-me-down blocks of my youth, with which I spent quiet hours building windowless houses and cars with square wheels, and turns it into a cash cow. Here, adult teams are creating earthquake-proof complex scenes worthy of an action movie. I just want to know how many crew members have maimed themselves, stepping on one of those sharp pieces during production.
Mental Samurai quizzes players while they ride a Tilt-a-Whirl made for one. Apparently, thinking and not vomiting is an acquired skill.
One of the longest-running games, The $100,000 Pyramid, is back. And Amy Poehler and Nick Offerman’s DIY series, Making It returns for another season of weird craft challenges with a dandy prize package at the end.
Of course, money isn’t everything, right? So The Celebrity Dating Game foregoes the cash and sends contestants home with a whole other person instead.
Ironically, these shows are hits with viewers despite the fact that we, the viewers, don’t have a shot in hell at any of the prizes. But living vicariously through each contestant’s drama has the power to momentarily unite us as a nation despite our differences.
Plus, it’s fun. And the inner child in all of us could use a little more fun.