Part of the weekend was spent watching old, hysterically funny game show clips from Brian’s mammoth collection. Three highlights must be shared.
First, and my personal favorite, is a woman named Beverlie Peters, and her appearance on the game show Press Your Luck. As you may recall, in this game one answers trivia questions, and with each correct answer, one earns a “spin” of the large prize board. On the prize board are… uh, prizes, as well as whammies that must be avoided lest they bankrupt you. It became a near-religious ritual for a player to say “No whammy, no whammy, no whammy” any number of times before striking the plunger and freezing the board.
Press Your Luck had a tendency to cast, shall we say, enthusiastic contestants, and none more so than Beverlie. The first time something moderately exciting happened, I sat up a little straighter in my chair and said, “What is wrong with her face?” She had gone, for one fleeting second, crosseyed. But rather than crossing in, like someone trying to look at her own nose, they crossed up, like she was trying to see her brain. It was freaky. And it was only the beginning.
A few minutes later, Brian skipped to the moment where she wins a fairly large prize. The result is a woman clearly in need of immediate medical attention. Her eyes cross again, and… her mouth doesn’t merely widen in surprise. Rather, her entire lower jaw nearly detaches itself from her face. Taken out of context, the viewer would not be sure if she has just won a substantial amount of money or is about to eaten by Godzilla.
Oh, look! Here’s a pic. She’s the one on the left.
Next up was another Press Your Luck contestant, Karen Martin. As Brian found the right show on the disc, Trip said, “I think this woman is drunk or high.” After I’d watched Karen’s performance, I had to disagree. I thought it more likely that Karen Martin is simply, clinically, crazy.
She is also the walking personification of pure, undistilled game show greed. If you showed the Karen Martin episodes to Ebenezer Scrooge, he would say, “Damn, this lady has a problem.”
As I’ve already noted, Press Your Luck contestants had a habit of “talking” to the prize board in a superstitious effort to avoid the whammies. This usually took the form of, “Big bucks! Big bucks! No whammies! And… stop!” as they pushed the plunger and stopped the board.
For Karen, that was simply a starting point. The longer the show went on, the more unhinged became her monologues, until she was nearly screaming: “I WANT BIG MONEY! I WANT TO BE RICH! I WANT TO BE FILLLLLTHY RICH! WHAMMIES YOU CAN DROP DEAD! I WANT THE MONEY! GIVE ME THE MONEY! AND…. STOP!!!” Each success was greeted with what can only be described as a primal scream. And there is a moment, after she does indeed get a whammy and loses everything, where I thought she was going to kill the first person she could get her hands on.
Let’s see if there’s some video online… ah, yes, here we go.
Finally, Brian shared with me a game show of such breathtaking stupidity that I can still hardly believe it. There was some discussion afterward of bringing this video to a National Puzzlers’ League convention, so if you’re an NPLer and think you might want see this thing one day, and don’t want the surprise ruined, stop reading now.
The game show is called Winning Streak, and aired for about six months in late 1974. The bonus round for this show works like this: The contestant chooses a numbered tile, which is flipped over to reveal a letter. Let’s say that letter is “N.” The contestant then performs the following amazing feat: He has to think of a word — any word — ANY WORD AT ALL — that contains the target letter. On! No! Gun! Hand! Pen! As long as the word contains an N, the round continues. (At this point I jumped out of my chair shouting, “Get the hell out of here!”)
The contestant then chooses a second tile, and has to name a word containing both target letters. That’s right! An N and an R. Sure, it sounds easy, but… uh… No, it’s easy. Indeed, for a game show to get any easier, it would have to be called Tie Your Shoes For Money.
The cherry on the cake, however, is this: Contestants would quit after, like, four letters. They’ve got an N, R, E, and a T, and they quit, taking their winnings rather than choosing a fifth letter and possibly losing everything. And perhaps for these people back in 1974, that was the right strategy. After all, I watched one woman, faced with U, M, G, and N, offer up the word “UNMUG.” She lost everything. Two or three hundred dollars, gone!
You could show take the transcript of this game, cast it with modern actors, and show it word for word on Saturday Night Live, and no one would believe it to be anything other than a zany sketch. I still like it better than Deal or No Deal, however.