As a child of the 1970s—the golden age of quasi-celebrities trading quips before a studio audience for Cracker Jack-level prizes—I got all misty-eyed reading my colleague Noel Murray's remembrance of game shows past
in the Onion AV Club today. It reminded me of everything that makes the shows so great: public humiliation, forced jocularity, colon-clenching scrutiny and the chance to sacrifice your dignity before a tribunal of Dick Gautiers and Jaye P. Morgans. What is today's American Idol
but yesterday's The Gong Show
, with fame and embarrassment adjusted for inflation?
But not even Chuck Barris—the man who pitted wives against their husbands' secretaries in the memorably appalling 3's a Crowd
—would have hit upon the masterstroke of setting various ethnicities at each other's throats, as on this coming season's Survivor
. Sure, Dork Nation disapproves
—leave it to him to read something racial into a contest between segregated groups of whites, blacks, Latinos and Asians. But even I must confess that the idea lacks the old Game Show Network...pizzazz
. Taking a cue from Noel's article, here are some tips to lively up Survivor
's coming race war.
Remember these little jokers from Press Your Luck
—the gremlin-like critters that would plow an animated lawnmower through your winnings whenever you (inevitably) screwed up? Imagine how cool these would be, say, every time one race robbed another's supplies. 2. Gene Rayburn.
Possessor of a leer that acknowledged no racial boundaries, only breasts, the suave Match Game
host with the mile-wide polyester lapels let women of all ages, cultures and skirt lengths bask in the glow of his good-natured sexual harassment. Whenever the Survivor
situation starts getting that Lord of the Flies
vibe, just have Rayburn digitally appear from behind a coconut tree, cock an eyebrow toward the heavens, and whisper the magic words: "There was a young man from Madras / Who had lightning shoot out of his [blank]
."3. A C-list tribe.
Celebrity is essentially an ethnicity by this point, right? (Celebrities certainly seem to think so.) Construct your own model minority of '70s game-show panelists, who can testify first-hand to the indignities of being identified only as, "Hey, weren't you the guy who sat next to Brett Somers?" The dream team: Charlie Brill, Joyce Bulifant, Richard Dawson, Scoey Mitchell, and of course Charles Nelson Reilly—who, come to think of it, would also be my guests if I could have a dinner party inviting anyone from history. Plus Jesus.4. Cheap-ass prizes.
Nothing will show these uppity contestants their place like getting them to lay bare the nation's simmering prejudices, resentments and hostilities, only to be rewarded with "Rice-A-Roni, the San Francisco treat!" or "promotional considerations by Dicker & Dicker of Beverly Hills!" Then again, what are viewers afraid of—that the contestants will behave exactly as bigots would expect, or that they won't?
Gosh. It was a simpler world back in the days of Win, Lose or Draw