Opening the Box

In the last few weeks I’ve watched more game shows than at any time in my life. Some of this is pure accident. I’ve been going to the gym at 9 the morning just as the mounted screens capture the moment that network TV is taken over by previously respected comedians taunting hysterical kleptomaniacs dressed as food. Now that I’m working out regularly I can sit through The Biggest Loser without feeling I should be doing so from inside an exercise wheel. It’s also partly about the age of television that we live in. The contestification of reality TV means that if you want to watch a cooking programme you have to endure some laborious competition while foraging for crumbs of culinary information under the table. Plus The Bachelor is back, which is the slowest game of Guess Who? ever played. Here’s some of the winners, losers and returning contestants:


Let’s Make a Deal/The Price is Right (CBS, mornings)

Wayne Brady withholds money from old white lady-you make up the caption!

Essentially the same programme from two parallel dimensions where the only difference is who people liked more on Whose Line is it Anyway?, these two shows feature audiences whose enthusiasm wouldn’t look out of place at the Nuremberg rally attempting to turn their capitalist pre-conditioning into prizes. In the former, incest love-child of Uncle Ben and Aunt Jemima Wayne Brady sells the public toxic assets while looking offscreen for his credibility. The latter has the master of weight-to-spectacle ratio Drew Carey rewarding conspicuous consumption. Brady’s fancily dressed studio audience appear to have been plucked from a Twilight Zone episode where it’s Halloween every day and Carey’s contestants are so elated by being selected you’d think the alternative was The Running Man.

The Winner is: Free enterprise.

The Loser is: Market regulation.

Returning Contestant?: Until the gym shows something other than Bones.


The Taste (ABC, Thursdays)

‘Ok is it an animal that flies or grazes?’

It’s quicker to replace the word ‘voice’ with ‘taste’ and apply everything you know about NBC’s The Voice than to describe this primetime cooking competition. Plagiarism aside, The Taste is closer to the spirit of the blind judging concept than its sensually conjoined twin, which has ironically produced more conventional-looking winners than the image-obsessed American Idol. The judges continue to taste blind even after selecting their teams, which often results in publicly humiliating their protégés. It also reveals the astoundingly poor palettes of those in the food industry, as they bemoan the lack of protein in desserts and consistently lose at ‘guess the animal’. The lack of prejudice in the selection process is offset by the judges’ freely expressing their sexism and dietary bigotry.

The Winner is: Whoever gets the leftovers.

The Loser is: Any vegetarian.

Returning Contestant?: For as long as Anthony Bourdain is there.


The Biggest Loser (NBC, Tuesdays)

‘Why do I have to have my shirt off again?’

One mustn’t scoff at an American game show where the prize is better health instead of more stuff. But don’t be naïve enough to think this is public service television. Underneath the noble purpose is a ‘watch fatty jiggle’ voyeurism which forces contestants to turn their bodies into freakshow curiosities before losing weight. The show is padded with needless challenges and needlessly complicated rules tenuously linked to some sort of obesity fable that only makes weight loss harder and more arbitrary. And if the thing you need to lose weight isn’t made by a sponsor, forget it. The ongoing weight loss is undoubtedly a serial hook here, and the perverse satisfaction of seeing a body waste away is what keeps you coming back.

The Winner is: Subway.

The Loser is: Whoever Subway’s competitors are.

Returning Contestant?: Either that or my TV’s screen ratio keeps changing.


The Bachelor (ABC, Mondays)

‘I need that in the form of a question’

If the holiday you won on a game show turned out to be to a leper colony or the games room you risked everything for was just Ker-Plunk in a box, you probably wouldn’t go back as a contestant. However, despite former ‘winners’ chalking up an abysmal tally of estrangements, broken engagements and divorces, people keep wanting to be and wanting to be on The Bachelor(ette). Even having been a contestant seems to be life-threatening these days. Unlike other game shows, The Bachelor(ette) likes to invite its losing contestants back to occupy more senior roles in the programme, like Juan Pablo who was sent home in a previous season and is now the bachelor. It’s like losing Final Jeopardy and then next day replacing Alex Trebek.

The Winner is: Rose-growers.

The Loser is: Divorce statistics.

Returning Contestant?: I’ve watched so much I’ll be the next bachelor.

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