Game shows are microcosms of the American psyche: average person is faced with challenges, may need to compete against others, has potential to reap huge reward—all conveniently condensed into 30- or 60-minute blocks for consumption by the masses. For decades, this format has produced some successful, long-running shows . Some of these shows require actual brain power and knowledge, in others one only needs to make some lucky guesses.

Right around the dawn of the 21st century, Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? came along and started the game show genre’s downward spiral. Fomenting what would eventually become the attractive element of so-called “reality” shows, Millionaire introduced a level of theater and drama typically reserved for CSI interrogations. The show became less about the individual player and more about the suspense. The other new annoyance feature of the nouveau game show is the contestant’s external internal monologue. For example:

REGIS: Ok, Mildred, for $3000, what color are oranges? Is it A) Blue, B) Green, C) Orange, or D) Purple?

MILDRED: Oh, geez, I know this one, I just had orange juice this morning with breakfast, but you know, OJ is kinda yellow and I don’t see yellow on there, so , oh man, I dunno, maybe, uh, ummm–

REGIS: Remember, you still have two lifelines; you can ask the audience or use the <Corporate Sponsor> Phone-a-Friend™. [Author’s note: Amazingly, Regis can verbalize the “™” symbol, it’s guttural, but distinct]

MILDRED: Hahaha, yeah, oh man, I know I should know this, I love orange juice, but I haven’t had an orange, like, you know, just an actual orange in a while…hmmm, lemme see, well, I don’t think it’s orange because that seems too obvious–[audience claps supportively]–maybe it’s green? Things that grow out of the ground are green, right? Are oranges the entire plant or are they like a berry on a bush? Oh, wow, this is such a stumper so early on…

[And so on]

I have to speculate–based on the difficulty of the questions–that the producers of Millionaire probably aren’t looking for the Ken Jenningses of the world. This lowest-common-denominator contestant casting is also apparent on shows like Deal or No Deal, and (not surprisingly) Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader? A math whiz, or anyone with a background in probability and statistics could maximize his earnings on Deal or No Deal. The mouth-breathers on this show also get to bring along three friends who stand off to the side and shout conflicting information about which case to pick next or whether or not to take the deal offered (c’mon, we all know who the banker really is). Basically it amounts to an hour of rednecks-gone-wild hollering at attractive briefcase-wielding models who dramatically reveal numbers printed on posterboard. How is this entertaining? What does the viewer gain from watching this tripe?

Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader? takes the loyal Deal or No Deal viewer and actually makes him/her think. Of course, there are some 10- and 11-year olds on hand to help. This show makes me weep for humanity. It’s basically the same schtick as Millionaire, except Fox is unabashedly acknowledging the expertise of both the contestants and their “help.” Like Deal, this show also wastes takes up an hour of primetime that could be filled with more entertaining programming (like a sitcom about a group of white people living in an urban setting offering comedic commentary on the mundane things in life…what? that’s been done? oh). But no. Instead, Large Corporations™ pay for advertising time knowing that the people watching these shows can’t be any smarter than the shows’ contestants, and thus are probably not very discerning consumers. Ergo, bad beer, erectile dysfunction drugs, unnecessary hair products, bubble gum, soda pop, and fast food continue to intoxicate the masses and retard society’s progress.

We need to return to a simpler time, where game shows were truly American and focused on the cash money prizes! Where people won things for answering a question, or solving a puzzle, or wearing odd clothes. We’re individualistic and don’t care about the contestant’s thought process! Prizes now! Talk later!

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