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COME ON DOWN!!! A Look At My Favorite TV Show Growing Up!

The Price is Right
Frederick M. Brown, Getty Images

“GI Joe.” “Transformers.” “Thundercats.” What ties these three things together? They are three products of the 80s that I never got into as a child.

While other little boys were out playing cops and robbers, or cowboys and indigenous people of North America, I was firmly planted in front of the TV, watching (what I consider to be) the greatest television genre of the past 60+ years.

 

I was a game show geek. That’s right. The genre normally reserved for stay-at-home wives and retired people appealed to my young mind in a way that bored the snot out other kids my age. Why? Maybe it was the flashy lights. Maybe it was the sound effects. Maybe it was the music (many years later, I actually bought a CD of famous game show theme songs. Adios, cool factor). It didn’t matter what the game was, who the host was, or who the contestants were. If there was a game being played for money in front of cameras, I was glued to my seat, Hi-C and Doritos in hand.

 

You had “Hot Potato,” with Bill Cullen, which I LOVED because the benches that the contestants sat on would slide left and right. Fun fact: not only did Bill Cullen host more separate game shows than any other game show host in history, he did it all from the confines of a chair, due to being crippled from Polio as a child. Although he could walk, you never saw him do it on camera. They would always have him seated or standing behind a short wall. Tricky.

 

You had “Scrabble,” hosted by Chuck Woolery, who was doing double duty on “Love Connection” at the time. You know that button that the contestants use to buzz in? Chuck Woolery always called it a “plunger.” My young, still-learning-proper-vocabulary mind could not figure out how that button was the same thing that you use to unclog a toilet.

 

You had “Press Your Luck,” which is legendary in it’s own right. Screams of “No Whammy!” or “Big Bucks!” filled the studio, as well as living rooms across America. Incidentally, if you’ve never read about Michael Larsen’s run on this show, look it up. The biggest case of gaming the system that the game show industry had seen since the quiz show scandals of the 50s.

 

However, one show survived the slow death of daytime game shows. Now running 43 seasons strong, “The Price is Right” has been a favorite of everybody, from kids who are home sick from school, to retirees looking to pass some time. When I was born, “The Price is Right” had already been on the air for about ten years. I’ve never known the show as being less than an hour long (it started as a 30-minute show). I’ve never known the show without the Big Wheel (added when the show expanded to an hour). And for the first 25 years of my life, I never knew the show without the legend himself, Bob Barker.

 

My fascination with “The Price is Right” knew no bounds. When my parents were sitting in the living room, I’d steal my dad’s dress shoes from his closet, and grab a long, skinny fireplace tool to use as my microphone. I’d hop up on the hearth in front of my parents and ask them, “What do you bid?” When we would go to a grocery store that had the two automatic sliding doors, I’d make my mom introduce me as the host of “The Price is Right” as I strode through the doors with a showmanship that would have raised Bob Barker’s eyebrows. For my 4th birthday, I got a board game version of “The Price is Right,” and immediately made adjustments to make it more like the real show.

 

There are 70+ games currently in the rotation on “The Price is Right.” Games that take true skill and true pricing knowledge. Games where, if you are a shopper who is aware of prices, you can use that knowledge to win some really great stuff. In short, games that pay you for your effort.

 

However, as the years have gone on, a certain phenomenon has taken hold in the fans of “The Price is Right.” A game that is both colorful and onomatopoedic. A game loosely based on the old pachinko machines. Of course, I’m talking about “Plinko.” Premiering on January 3, 1983 (my first birthday, by the way…send presents), “Plinko” has taken on a life of its own. The “Plinko” board is revealed, and viewers go nuts. People with only a passing knowledge of “The Price is Right” know what “Plinko” is. Heck, they recently aired a whole week of episodes where they played nothing but “Plinko,” six games a day, five days straight.

 

But is it that great of a game? It’s a game that, once you win your chips, everything is left up to chance. You have zero control over how much you win. Sure, maybe you knew the price of the egg beater, the mop, the Gatorade, and the fruit snacks, but that doesn’t matter. Your winnings are now in the hands of those unrelenting sisters Gertrude Gravity and Phyllis Physics. As a result, nobody has ever won the top prize on “Plinko.” That is to say, nobody has ever dropped all five chips into the center spot with the big money. The chances of doing so are clearly better than those of the lottery, but many a contestant over the past 31 years has dropped five chips and walked away with less cash than they spent to get to the studio that day.

 

So, why “Plinko?” With its element of chance, lack of true challenge, and poor probability for a big payout, it seems like an unlikely choice as the object of America’s affection. But in the same vein, you could ask, “Why game shows?” Why not watch more educational, high-brow programming? Because watching people win, watching people who hold the potential to change their life in an instant, and enjoying that familiarity is comfort food.

 

When people cheer for “Plinko,” they aren’t cheering for its probabilities or its odds. They’re cheering for its familiarity. They’re cheering for all of the memories that they have of sitting at home as a kid and hearing the chips go “plink plink” down the board. For a moment, they are reminded of a simpler time in life when they could, literally and figuratively, let the chips fall where they may.

 

This is Justin Tate, reminding you to help control the pet population. Have your pets spayed or neutered.

 

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