Biggest Game Show Scandals
The game show equation is fairly simple. Assemble a treasure trove of must-have prizes, cast a group of seemingly ordinary yet slightly wacky contestants, hand a microphone to a male or female with an expensive haircut, and hit record. It’s a formula that works. At least, it must work considering how many game shows still, to this day, rake in the nightly viewers.
Every once in awhile, though, things can go horribly, horribly wrong. Maybe the host crosses a line too far with their supporting cast. Perhaps, a contestant crafts a way to cheat the game. Or, possibly the question-and-answer guys get it wrong and cost a contestant their prize.
When you look through the history of the ever-popular genre, a few notable scandals rise to the top. Today, we take a look at some of the most talked-about game show scandals in the history of blinking lights, scantily clad sidekicks, and cash prizes. These are the biggest game show scandals of all time.
Who Wants to Marry a Multi-Millionaire?
You can be forgiven if you can’t quite remember the one-off, TV dating show Who Wants to Marry a Multi-Millionaire? The show only lasted a single season after all. In reality, the show’s largest contribution to the annals of pop culture ended up being the controversy that surrounded it.
Similar to popular shows of today like The Bachelor, Who Wants to Marry a Multi-Millionaire? set out to find love for a wealthy entertainer (Rick Rockwell) on the national stage. Rockwell would be presented with a cast of potential life-partners and go about systematically cutting them out of the picture, eventually picking one to marry.
The controversy arrived when Rick’s shady past began to surface. Rick’s ex had issued a restraining order against him. Plus, many believed that he wasn’t even an actual multi-millionaire.
Eventually, Rick and his TV bride would split up.
The Cough Scandal
Self-made millionaires unanimously agree, to make your first million you must get creative. I doubt they had this in mind, though.
On the British version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, Charles Ingram, a former major from the British Army, was accused of cheating his way to the grand prize. While on the show, Ingram stood accused of conspiring with his wife, who was in the audience. She would cough any time the correct answer was mentioned.
Ingram would go on trial and was eventually found guilty of the dastardly deed.
What Came First, the Post-It or the Walkman?
Remember the Fox game show The Million Dollar Drop? Perhaps you need a bit of a refresher.
On this popular quiz show, two people with a pre-existing relationship were given $1,000,000 in 20 dollar bills. They were then presented with seven questions. In order to win the money, the couple would have to bet as much of the money that they wish and hope that they guess the correct, multiple-choice answer.
On one particular episode, married couple Gabe Okoye and Brittany Mayt bet $800,000 with confidence. The question was, “Which device was sold first?” Their choices were the Macintosh Computer, Sony Walkman, and Post-It Notes. The couple chose Post-Its and were quickly told that their selection was wrong.
The thing is, the couple was actually right. The Internet exploded and Fox was forced to apologize and give the couple another crack at the big prize.
Spayed or Neutered
Bob Barker may have been a strong advocate for animal rights over the years, but he wasn’t without his faults. The legendary Price is Right host apparently had a history of inappropriate behavior.
The most recent evidence came in the form of a lawsuit that was filed on behalf of a former model on the show. In this case, the model sued a couple of the show’s producers for wrongful termination and sexual harassment.
But the scandals don’t end there. In 1994, Barker himself was sued by model Dian Parkinson. She claimed that Barker forced her to have sex with him to keep her job. Due to a combination of dismissals and a lack of legal fees, the case was eventually dropped.
Either way, the stain that it left on America’s favorite game show endures.
Don’t Press Your Luck
This 1984 scandal involving an ice cream truck driver, the game show Press Your Luck, and a cash prize of $110,237 is easily one of the wackiest game show scandals of all time.
Press Your Luck invites contestants to answer trivia questions, then risk all their winnings on a seemingly randomized flashing game board. I say “seemingly randomized” because it actually wasn’t random at all. Michael Larson, an ice cream truck driver, discovered the pattern and exploited it, racking up over $110,237 in cash and prizes.
Larson was able to keep his winnings, but not for long. He lost a portion of them in a radio-contest scam and the rest when his house was burglarized.
Super (Max) Password
Pro-tip, if you’re a fugitive, don’t go on a nationally televised game show! It’s a sound piece of advice that, for one reason or another, never made it to Kerry Ketchem.
Using the alias Patrick Quinn, Ketchem appeared on four episodes of the ‘80s game show Super Password. Getting seen by everyone you know on national television should be a positive, but not for Ketchem.
Patrick Quinn was quickly identified as Kerry Ketchem, a man wanted in fraud investigations in Alaska and Indiana. He was apprehended and charged of his crimes not too long after his episodes had aired.
Take This Job and Shove It
The Gong Show was the 1970s equivalent to America’s Got Talent. The amateur talent competition gave average Joes a national audience to perform whatever they wanted to. The amateur performers would take the stage in front of a panel of three celebrity judges. If they sucked, one of the judges would bang the on-stage gong and kick them off the stage.
The show didn’t have much staying power though as the show was canceled after two years. On the final episode of the show, host Chuck Barris took the stage as a special performance. And oh, what a performance it was.
Knowing that this was his last day on the job, Barris sang a country tune entitled, “Take This Job and Shove It.” Needless to say, he got gonged too.
The Dating Game Killer
On The Dating Game, love-sick singles set out to find the love of their lives on national television. Well, some of them do. Others, they use The Dating Game to find their next victim.
Like every episode, the one that aired on September 13, 1978 featured a female deciding between three eligible bachelors. However, there was something different about this episode. One of the eligible bachelors, Rodney Alcala, was in the middle of a horrifying murder spree.
While nobody knew at the time, Alcala had killed four women before becoming a contestant. After he was caught, the “Dating Game Killer” would go onto claim that he killed between 50 and 100 people.
The 1950s Quiz Show Scandal
The 1950s was about much more than pleated pants and TV dinners. The decade certainly had its fair share of scandals. One of the most earth-shattering scandals of the ‘50s involved the possible scripting of television game shows.
In the ‘50s, shows — like The $64,000 Question, Twenty One, and The Big Surprise — were fighting tooth and nail for the attention of primetime viewers. The high-octane competition caused a few showrunners to take things a different route. The scripted route.
It wasn’t long before someone began telling the tale. Herb Stempel, a loser on Twenty One, went to the media with tales of pre-determined winners and contestant coaching. The issue was so huge, that it was even discussed in front of Congress.
I keep telling people, don’t go on national television if you’ve murdered people. But, they just won’t listen.
Years after his appearance on the show, investigators recognized the man from a composite sketch. On the show, Cooper admitted his familiarity with the area that the murders took place. One thing led to another and the investigators were able to lock this creep up for good.