The passing of original Family Feud host Richard Dawson had us reflecting on game shows. Most test your knowledge. Some test your sense of timing, ability to gamble with prize winnings or tolerance of Pat Sajak’s tuna breath.

But occasionally, a game show requires an unusually specific skill set, like the ability to decode vanity license plates or remember your own life. For viewers existing in a state of esoteric dementia, these were the game shows of choice.  

8. Bumper Stumpers (1987-1990)

A favourite of Canadian kids who could only dream of cable television, Bumper Stumpers challenged contestants to decipher vanity license plates. That’s about it. It was all the fun of Wheel of Fortune without the wheel ... or the fortune (winners got $500, a.k.a. airfare.)

In effect Bumper Stumpers was a glorified road trip game, albeit one in which nobody went anywhere and your driver – former local news weatherman Al Dubois – was practically asleep at the wheel.

7. Make Me Laugh (Various incarnations)

Unlike most game shows Make Me Laugh tested contestants’ ability to not do something. Guests were plopped in front of America’s comedy elite, like the guy who voiced the Taco Bell dog, and forced with all their iron will to keep a straight face. Perhaps sensing a lack of inherent difficulty producers searched high and low for contestants ready to lose their shit at the slightest hint of observational wit and wordplay, people who found the very idea of being told a joke hilarious.

6. Tutti Frutti (1990-1993)

In the early '90s, European television bridged the gap between sexual exploitation and family fun, airing a game show in which contestants earned points to remove the clothes of strippers. He who had the most naked stripper at the end won, but of course everyone won. It was popularly known for its German incarnation Tutti Frutti (orig. Lassensieunsausnutzenfrauenmitgroßenbrüstenfürspaß.)

This already flimsy premise required the least amount of contestant effort imaginable, with a round of “hot and cold” guessing in place of trivia questions and jiggly boobs in place of a “game.”

5. Supermarket Sweep (Various incarnations, the one you remember aired 1990-1995)

The Price is Right spun television gold by letting contestants guess prices of generic consumer goods, but that relatively boring activity was only a setup for better games.

Supermarket Sweep did Bob Barker one worse. After a lightning round of generic consumer goods-based trivia teams were let loose in a fake supermarket to pile as many items as they could into a shopping cart. The team with the highest dollar total of items won. The challenge wasn’t even adding up prices as quickly as possible (you were given like 90 seconds at best) but literally the physical effort of retrieving diapers and meat. It combined the fun of shopping with the screeching panic of a nuclear apocalypse.

4. Amnesia (2008)


We watch game shows because they offer challenge without pressure. In other words, we like to shout answers at the screen. The short-lived, Dennis Miller-hosted Amnesia bypassed this obvious truth by having contestants answer questions about themselves, a game you can play with strangers on the subway if you feel like it. Not surprisingly, a game with an enjoyment ratio of 1 per 7 billion viewers didn’t lead to compelling TV and Amnesia was ... wait for it ... quickly forgotten.

3. The Big Moment (1999)

While we’re on the subject of game shows that utterly failed to combine the fun of doing something with that of watching someone else do something, anyone remember The Big Moment? The short-lived ABC show gave contestants a week’s preparation for some unbelievably boring specialized task, like memorizing pi or doing a magic trick.

The concept could have worked with more interesting challenges, like boxing a grizzly bear or walking a tightrope over a pit of lava. “NO!” said ABC, “GIVE THEM THE PERIODIC TABLE!”

2. I’m Telling! (1987-1988)

I’m Telling! was a child-sized version of The Newlywed Game, which pitted siblings against each other instead of couples (always brother-sister pairs, because it wasn’t creepy enough already.) Also Giovanni Ribisi was on once.

Yes, contestants were tasked with recalling facts about the person they probably hated the most. The real goal became, therefore, not remembering what favourite toy Susie stole from you and broke because she’s stupid and ugly, but containing the immature rage children are so uniquely capable of expressing.

1. The Game Game (1969-1970)


In the annals of strained game show concepts, nothing quite equals Chuck Barris’s psychological mess The Game Game. Like a sociopathic cousin of Match Game, it invited players to rate themselves with generic personality questions (“How Impulsive Are You?”) and predict whether their answers would be higher or lower than those of celebrity guests. To make any sort of competitive sense The Game Game required an intimate knowledge of people who spend their lives trying to be avoided, and create public perception likely miles away from their actual personalities. Sure, The Game Game is a stupid name for a show but imagine tuning into The Totally Random Wild Guess Game For Stalkers.

R.I.P. Richard Dawson!

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