Top 10 Awesome Game Show Moments

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Audiences have been tuning into game shows since the popularization of television because they are not only exciting, but educational.  This staple endures because it is win-win:  easily produced in Hollywood, and easily produces in viewers the desire for positive life change.  For over 60 fun-filled years, these programs have made us cheer as we share victories and mourn defeats.  The following is a list of the Top Ten Game Show Moments, ranked in order of awesomeness.

10.  The Price is Right Nudity

While December 16, 2008’s awesomely-perfect showcase bid shocked Drew Carey and halted the show to assure fair play, nothing beats the hosting prowess of Bob Barker on the old TPIR.  A longtime defender against animal cruelty and sexual harassment suits, Barker was always warm and funny during his 30-year run on the program.  He was particularly on top of his game when Yolanda Bowsley popped out of her tube top on her hurried dash to Contestant’s Row.  Barker would later quip, “she came on down, all right, and they came on out!”

9.  First American Million Dollar Winner

In his flashy monochromatic tie and shirt, Regis Philbin, host of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?, awarded the first million dollar prize in U.S. game show history on November 9, 1999.  John Carpenter did not even need to use any of his Lifelines to answer the questions– his Phone-A-Friend was spent calling his parents to announce his impending victory.  The cocky IRS collection agent later parlayed his fame into making multiple television appearances and co-authoring a book on trivia.

8.  Most Enthusiastic Contestant

While many people pine for the old version of Wheel of Fortune in which eager contestants immediately shopped for prizes, the game show is still known for its overly-excited guests.  Chicagoan Raymond Taylor displayed an impressive (but strange) level of mania during his three day reign which resulted in more than $80,000 in cash and prizes.  But his zeal did not end there:  He moved to Los Angeles hoping to become a “permanent” member of the Wheel family.  After unsuccessfully hounding the studio for full-time employment, a restraining order was issued banning him from the property.

7.  The Newlywed Game Unusual Response

Relying heavily on sexual innuendo, The Newlywed Game’s bread-and-butter was provoking naïve couples to reveal embarrassing secrets.  Social mores of the 1960s and 1970s required strict censorship, toeing the line between forbidden and funny.  In 1976, ten-year veteran host Bob Eubanks did not anticipate the response he got to his query, “where specifically is the weirdest place that you personally, girls, have ever gotten the urge to make whoopie?”  Even after being prompted for a physical location, the new bride maintained her highly-specific answer.

6.  Winning Against the Odds

In an effort to compete with new primetime mega jackpots, executives at Wheel of Fortune threw a $1,000,000 wedge into play in September 2008.  Odds of getting that prize were extremely low:  a player would have to land on the space in regular play, win that puzzle, be the overall winner of the game without hitting bankrupt, land on the one envelope out of 24 containing the million-dollar prize and correctly solve the Bonus Round puzzle.  Nonetheless, within weeks of the change, 24-year-old floral designer Michelle Loewenstein hit pay dirt.  This feat has not been repeated.

5.  Twenty-One Scandal

Wildly popular in the late 1950s prior to the scandal, Twenty One’s answer-rigging nearly killed U.S. game shows entirely.  After the first episodes demonstrated the questions were too difficult for contestants, producers placated angry sponsor Geritol by choreographing the entire program.  The triumph of handsome challenger Charles Van Doren over unpopular champion Herbert Stempel was loosely portrayed in the 1994 movie Quiz Show.  Stempel’s complaints to federal investigators were not given credence until Van Doren admitted under oath to a House Committee that he had been given the answers in advance.  In 1960, the Communications Act of 1934 was amended to outlaw game fixing but duped audiences were slow to embrace the genre for years.

4.  Serial Killer on The Dating Game

The Dating Game was frequented by many notables trying to bolster their careers including Michael Jackson, Steve Martin, Farrah Fawcett, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Suzanne Somers.  However, no such contestant is as notable as serial killer Rodney James Alcala, who appeared in the midst of his murderous spree in September 1978.  Eerily charming, Alcala was chosen by the bachelorette to go on a whirlwind day of tennis lessons and amusement park rides.  Luckily, the date never occurred because Cheryl Bradshaw refused to go with the self-described successful photographer because she found him “creepy.”

3.  Funniest Game Show Moment

The British game show Catchphrase required contestants to identify a familiar phrase from animated cartoon characters, often involving the Twinkie-shaped mascot Mr. Chips.  The November 18, 2004 episode featured a puzzle wherein the catchphrase was “snake charmer.”  To the delight of the audience, pieces of the puzzle were revealed in a manner which seemed to place Mr. Chips in a highly compromised position.

2.  Press Your Luck Outsmarted

Michael Larson wisely spent his free hours as an unemployed ice-cream truck driver memorizing the five recurring patterns on Press Your Luck’s Big Board.  His May 1984 appearance garnered him an unprecedented $110,237 in cash and prizes and incensed CBS producers, who initially refused to pony up.  After realizing that he had not cheated but merely outwitted the system, Larson was paid but not allowed to return to continue his streak.  The mastermind later lost his post-tax winnings to a $40,000 house break-in and a real-estate Ponzi scheme.  After going into hiding for his illegal involvement in a foreign lottery swindle, Larson died of throat cancer at 49.

1.  Ken Jennings Loses on Jeopardy!

With 74 wins under his belt, it appeared that trivia master Ken Jennings might become a permanent fixture on Jeopardy! until he finally lost on November 30, 2004.  He was taken down by Nancy Zerg (who would place last the following day) on a relatively easy Business and Industry question.  After winning $2,522,700, Jennings was squarely defeated by Brad Rutter in the special 75-show Ultimate Tournament of Champions, spurred into creation by his remarkable run.  Jennings went onto pen three trivia books and, thanks to an appearance on Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader?, is the all-time leading money winner in American game show history.


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8 Comments

  1. I watch Wheel of Fortune from time to time and was not aware someone claimed that million prize. It just seemed so impossible to me. Well looks like only one person ever did it so it is indeed a tough one.

    And no matter how many times I watch number 3, I never fail to laugh, it is a classic and usually always mentioned on tv game show lists.

  2. a very fascinating list…when i saw the title the first one that popped in my head was the Press Your Luck incident..the documentary that explains how he did it and actually featured the other two contestants n that episode was very well produced and worth a look. the others on the list are a great read as well..very cool list.

    • oh and one more thing…surprised that none of the crazy Family Feud answers that have been shown over the years wasn’t an honorable mention..some of those were just hilarious!

  3. That is a very interesting list. I agree with almost all of them. I would put Dr. Kevin Olmstead’s legendary win on Who Wants to be a Millionaire on this list somewhere. I am glad you mentioned Michael Larson and Ken Jennings. The Michael Larson fiasco on Press Your Luck was the darkest moment in game show history since the quiz shows scandals of the 50’s. Ken is a living legend and deserves to be number 1. Overall this is a great list and a job well done!!

  4. Don’t forget that Jennings competed in a special Jeopardy event pitting him against Brad Rutter and IBM’s Watson super-mega-genius computer. Watson, despite thinking that Toronto is a city in the USA, beat them both handily. Jennings’s Final Jeopardy answer included the quote, “I for one welcome our new computer overlords,” in a tip of the hat to the Simpsons. I watched the event at RPI in Troy, NY. It was pretty cool.

  5. The press your luck piece was awesome. I never knew about that story and was blown away by it. Amazing what that guy did.

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