A History of Game Show Scandals More Serious Than Bristol Palin’s


Bristol Palin caused quite a stir by moving on to the finals in Dancing with the Stars, despite low scores from judges, potentially due to an outpouring of support from fans of her mom. Some folks were upset enough to take a shotgun to their TV. “This year has not been about the dancing,” one oddsmaker told Bloomberg. “This year is about popularity.” In light of the “scandal,” DWTS is changing their voting system to give the judges’ votes more weight. Of course, any time we see people succeed on TV contests, we may become jealous and start looking for foul play. Here are five cases where viewers really did have a reason to be suspicious.

Twenty-One: Busted

Twenty-One was a trivia show first aired in 1956, just as the quiz-show craze was hitting America. The game pitted a returning champion against a new opponent. Contestants could choose questions worth one to 11 points, with the first one to reach 21 — or the closest after five questions — declared the winner. While one contestant selected the difficulty of their question and answered it, the other player was kept in the dark, literally, in an isolation booth. The winner took home $500 for each point he or she had won by.

The problem came when, in the pilot, contestants just didn’t know enough. With Geritol, the show’s sponsor, unhappy, producer Dan Enright decided not only to “fix” the show, but to effectively script the entire show. Three months later, in December of ’56, returning champion Herb Stempel was scripted to lose to Charles Van Doren. After the taping, Stempel went public. He was quickly pegged as a sore loser until, in 1958, James Snodgrass, another contestant, cleverly mailed himself the show’s answers in advance. That was enough to get Congress to investigate, eventually amending laws to prohibit the fixing of quiz shows and putting a cap on game-show winnings. The scandal was the subject of Robert Redford’s 1994 film, Quiz Show.

Michael Larson Presses His Luck

In June 1984, Michael Larson was unemployed and thus had a lot of time on his hands. He used to watch episodes of the game show Press Your Luck, pausing recording at crucial points with his VCR. He soon found a pattern governing where the money could be found on the 18-square “Big Board” that the show revolved around. Larson went to Los Angeles to appear on the show and quickly won $104,950 in cash, plus a sailboat and two trips. Producers suspected something was amiss, but there was nothing they could do about Larson and his winnings.

Charles and Diana Ingram Cough to a Million

It looked like Charles Ingram, a former army major, was going to win one million pounds on the British version of Who Wants to Be Millionaire on September 9th and 10th of 2001, when he correctly identified the number one followed by one hundred zeros as a googol. As a jury later found, he actually had his wife Diana and an accomplice, Tecwen Whittock, in the audience, cough as he read over the correct answer. The threesome was found guilty of “deception,” given 18-month sentences, and ultimately paid £115,000 in fines and legal fees. They maintained their innocence throughout.

Britain’s 2007 Phone-In Controversy

When a show, like DWTS, uses phone-in results to affect the competition, there’s plenty of room for fudging numbers. In 2007, a series of investigations into such shows was triggered when Richard & Judy, a show on Britain’s Channel 4, was accused of encouraging viewers to call into their “You Say We Pay” game segment after the day’s winner had already been picked. This deception was made worse by the fact that callers were charged one pound. When other, similar British shows were investigated, more damning evidence was found, including overcharging callers and creating fictional winners.

Our Little Genius: The Cheating the Wasn’t

Fox had been planning a quiz show featuring children to air last January called Our Little Genius. The show was going to have children between the ages of 6 and 12 answer multipart, open-ended question in attempts to win money prizes. However the show was pulled a week before its debut when a letter from one of the contestants’ parents surfaced, alleging that a few days before a taping someone from the show called to make sure their child knew about the British system of naming musical notes.