TV game shows are the one place left in the world where you think everything would be on the up-and-up. Regular, hard-working folks earn the chance to win huge amounts of money and prizes in front of an audience and millions of viewers at home. It’s everyone’s dream, right?
Well, believe it or not, there’s quite a sinister underbelly in the game show world. There always has been, but the glitz and glamour of Hollywood do a good job of deflecting the scandals. Here now are some of the biggest controversies to ever come out of popular game shows.
10. Guy Hacks Press Your Luck
Press Your Luck was a hugely popular show in the 1980s, revolving around contestants answering questions and then hitting a button to stop at a random point on the board. A bad turn would result in a “whammy”, which would then trot out the show’s adorable little animated goblin mascots, who would do some kind of funny act, while also erasing the contestant’s current winnings.
An Ohio ice cream truck driver named Michael Larson figured out how to hack the seemingly-random game board, after analyzing it for some time. He noticed the lights and patterns on the board actually had some methods to them. So he got on the show in 1984, won over $100,000 dollars and a vacation to the Bahamas, but the network didn’t seem to think it possible his odds could have been as good as they were. While they were right, they couldn’t prove it, but the producers did reprogram the game board soon after. The show would fold three years later.
9. Pasapalabra Contestant Cheated With Her Phone During The Show
The Spanish quiz show Pasapalabra teams up regular folks with celebrities in an assortment of games and tasks. Correct responses build up a time meter, which is then used in the final round to correctly guess specific words. One celebrity who appeared on the show was model Adriana Abenia, whose beauty belied a shockingly bad proficiency for cheating.
Abiena was involved in a music listening trivia segment where the participants had to guess a song after hearing only a short snippet. What no one knew at first was that she had her iPhone open between her legs, with the Shazam song recognition app pulled up. Too bad she received a text message during that time, which set the phone off with lights and vibrations. The host quickly saw this and playfully called her out, and you have to almost admire the sheer ballsiness of it all.
8. Who Wants To Be A Millionaire Cheater
The British version of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire is exactly like the American version you’re probably familiar with, but with 100 percent more cheekiness. Contestants answer a series of progressively-harder multiple choice questions, on the way up to potentially winning a million dollars.
Charles Ingram, a former member of the British Army, appeared on the show in 2001. Funny enough, Ingram’s wife and brother-in-law had previously been on and won their own money. When Charles came on, he had his wife in tow, as well as a college professor planted in the audience. When the multiple choice answers were read aloud, one of them in the audience would cough, and Ingram would know the correct answer. It worked, at least initially. He won all the way to the million mark, but they were found out somehow. All the money was suspended, and they racked up all sorts of fines and assorted (suspended) jail sentences.
7. Who Wants To Marry A Millionaire Guy Wasn’t A Millionaire At All
The name of the show itself is cringey enough as it is. Who wants to watch a cast of ladies show just how shallow they are to try and marry a man for money? And what kind of guy would allow that to take place in front of him? Hollywood doesn’t care! That was the show: purported rich man Rick Rockwell had to sift through 50 women to pick the true love on the reality show.
We say “purported” because ole Rick already had a history of being less than stellar. There’s the story of him being abusive to a former girlfriend of his. And the fact that Rockwell wasn’t even his name, and he wasn’t even a real estate giant like he claimed. He was actually a part-time stand-up comic. Darva Conger, the “winner” of the show, found all this out after the fact, and it didn’t take long for her to seek an annulment for the wedding.
6. Super Password Contestant Was Actually A Wanted Fugitive
Patrick Quinn appeared on the game show Super Password in 1988. He was introduced as a systems analyst for the government, and then proceeded to win over $58,000 that day. The thing is, he wasn’t a systems analyst. He was a wanted fugitive.
Quinn thought he wouldn’t be discovered. He told the producers after the show that he needed to pick up his winnings quickly, as his job was taking him to Turkey very soon. What he didn’t know was that people watching the show recognized him. Quinn, real name Kerry Ketchem, had apparently racked up some forgery and fraud charges in his home state of Indiana, and some of his victims called in to alert the showrunners. When Ketchem arrived at the show offices to receive his money, two Secret Service agents were there waiting for him, handcuffs in hand.
5. Price Is Right Keeps Firing Pregnant Models
The Price Is Right has been the perfect sick day accompaniment for decades now, but it hasn’t always had the most storied history. Going back to the Bob Barker days in the ’80s and ’90s, there have been allegations of sexual harassment and abuse from the host towards the show’s models. Time hasn’t necessarily helped the program learn from its mistakes, either.
There have been numerous stories in recent years concerning the models on the show becoming pregnant and then subsequently losing their jobs. Brandi Cochran was one such model who filed a lawsuit in 2010 after the show dismissed her. Another former employee, Shane Stirling, filed a suit that same year, also claiming a firing after her own pregnancy. The judge on this case, however, deemed that the show changing hosts from Barker to Drew Carey was sufficient reason for her dismissal.
4. Dating Game Winner Wins A Date With A Serial Killer
In 1978, Rodney Alcala appeared on The Dating Game, the famous show where people are blindly matched up with a set amount of hungry bachelors. The lady who would get to choose the best man on this particular episode was Cheryl Bradshaw. After she asked each bachelor a series of questions, she eventually picked Alcala as the best of the bunch.
Too bad Alcala was already convicted of raping an eight-year-old girl a decade before. He quickly showed his true self to Bradshaw after he was unveiled. Immediately backstage, he began giving Bradshaw the chills, and she declined to go on an official date with him. He didn’t take that rejection well, and within the next two years, Alcala would become a legitimate serial killer, murdering at least five people.
3. Bullseye Contestant Was A Murderer, Went On To Murder Again
Many murderers have shown a shocking ability to lead what appears to be a normal life. Most of them don’t have the kind of sheer fortitude to land on a TV game show in the middle of their killing sprees. But most killers aren’t John Cooper. Cooper was a contestant on the darts-centered Bullseye show in 1989, and already had plenty of blood on his hands. In fact, the episode he appeared on would be used to help track him down and convict him.
In 1985, Cooper had shot a farmer and his sister to death. And merely a month after he was on Bullseye, he shotgunned down a middle-aged couple, after robbing the husband and raping the wife. Years later, police would use a tape of the show to see that he actually mentioned the area where he would go on to kill the couple. They also had a sketch from 1989 to compare his onscreen face to, and it led to him finally being jailed in 2011.
2. Man Studies Price Is Right And Wins To The Exact Cent
The Showcase Showdown is the final stage of The Price is Right, where the final two contestants guess the price of a package of extravagant prizes. If their guess is higher than the actual amount, they lose, but that’s rarely a worry, because most people aren’t even close to being right. One man figured out a way to hack into the game show’s process and get the amount right to the exact dollar.
Terry Kneiss and his wife Linda had a couple of gifted brains for seeing patterns in things, and they watch the show obsessively to learn how things worked. Finally Terry got onto the show and made it all the way to the Showcase Showdown. When the other finalist passed on guessing the price of a karaoke machine, pool table, and camper, Terry conjured a price seemingly out of thin air: $23,743. It was exact to the cent, something that had never happened on the show before. The show was cut short, host Drew Carey was visibly irritated, and allegations of cheating already started to fly around. There was even a side story of a possible plant in the audience. Eventually, Kneiss was awarded his gifts, but the story remains shrouded in suspicion.
1. Twenty-One Was Totally Rigged, As Were Most Quiz Shows In The 1950s
You may have heard about the film Quiz Show from 1994, directed by Robert Redford. In the film, a man wins a game show called Twenty-One, but it’s revealed after a series of scandals that the winners were told the answers beforehand. That show was a real thing, and those scandals really happened. And they’re almost crazier than the movie version.
The NBC show Twenty-One saw its downfall begin after an episode was won by Herbie Stempel in 1956. Stempel, it was found out later, had been coached on the answers by the show in order to help him win. But the sponsors of the show wanted someone more appealing in the limelight, so another contestant, Charles Van Doren, was coached even harder to overtake Stempel’s throne. During the next few years, it was revealed just how many of Twenty-One‘s contestants were helped along by the show to get rigged results. And it was rampant among the game shows of the time: The $64,000 Question blindsided contestants with much harder questions if they were on a winning streak. Dotto on CBS was found to be giving out questions to contestants beforehand. These stories began to trickle out, and that spelled the end of the game show bubble for quite some time.