The Weirdest Game Shows of All Time


Have you found that adult life involves far too few childhood party games? If so, then The CW has the answer to your prayers with Oh Sit!, which premieres tonight at 8pm and is billed as a “high-stakes, high-octane musical chairs competition, in which 20 thrill-seeking daredevils race head to head through five physically demanding, obstacle course-style eliminations as they each compete to claim a chair, to the sounds of a live band.” Fusing a preschool pastime with extreme physical challenges seems unlikely, but it’s hardly the weirdest game show premise in history. In celebration of its debut, we’ve rounded up some of the silliest and most bizarre examples of one of American TV’s oldest genres (we’re not even going to get into Japanese game shows here, because that’s a whole other can of weird). Meet a talking Olmec head, relive a slacker classic, and experience a show where John McEnroe tries to get your blood pressure up, after the jump.

Remote Control

In 1987, when MTV was still great, the network premiered what you might call a meta-game show. The purposely DIY-looking Remote Control was supposed to be set in the basement of its host, Ken Ober, a guy who wanted so badly to be a game show host that he created his very own TV studio. With a young Colin Quinn as his sidekick, Ober quizzed college-age contestants with questions from nine pop-culture categories represented as “channels” on the TV behind him. Midway through the game, competitors were treated to a snack (which was often simply dumped on their head), and sometimes the disembodied voice of Ken’s mother contributed her two cents.

American Gladiators

If you don’t remember American Gladiators being particularly bizarre, perhaps this video compilation of the show’s intros will jog your memory. “Capable of producing emotional moments,” eh? And although its title and premise has become such an accepted part of American pop-culture kitsch that no one really thinks about the meaning anymore, let’s talk about what it means to model your game show after the death matches Romans held among slaves for their own amusement. Is there any better way to announce that your society is in decline?

Legends of the Hidden Temple

We’d like to meet whoever was in charge of developing Nickelodeon’s game shows in the ’90s, because, whoa, were they fabulously strange. There was the one where contestants got slimed and also rooted around in a giant foot’s toe jam. There was the one where we watched kids play video games and then actually step inside in a virtual-reality video game. And, of course, there was the one where teens from different countries competed in extreme sports and then climbed up a crazy in-studio mountain called the Aggro Crag. But by far the weirdest ’90s Nick game show was Legends of the Hidden Temple, a quasi-educational competition where teams of kids navigated obstacle courses and answered questions related to history and mythology asked by a giant talking Olmec head named Olmec.

Supermarket Sweep

If you were a kid in the ’90s, you may have caught this one on cable while you were home sick from school. Originally aired on ABC in the mid-’60s, Supermarket Sweep was revived by Lifetime in 1990; five years after that version’s cancellation in ’95, PAX picked it up for another few seasons. That’s right: three different networks have broadcast a show in which teams run around a supermarket throwing Butterball turkeys into shopping carts.

Shop ‘Til You Drop

Of course, Supermarket Sweep isn’t the only strange shopping game show in history. Another entry in the sub-The Price Is Right canon is Shop ‘Til You Drop — a show that also skipped around from Lifetime to the Family Channel to PAX between 1991 and 2005. This exercise in conspicuous consumption found teams of two competing in pop-culture challenges and racing around a totally ’90s two-story mall set (that bore more than a passing resemblance to the board game Mall Madness) like crazy people to collect prizes from faux stores.

Fear Factor

Just as the reality TV craze began to sweep network television around the turn of the millennium, NBC got in on the action with Fear Factor — a game show that, despite welcoming new contestants every week, took on the new format in an attempt to win over Survivor fans. In each episode, players competed in a series of three extreme challenges. The first stunt was a straightforward test of physical ability, while the final one involved navigating a Hollywood stunt-style spectacle. But the weird part came in the middle, when Fear Factor contestants had to do something disgusting — like eating blended-up rats or swimming in worms. We chanced upon these scenes so many times that it came as a great relief to us when the show was canceled in 2006. We will be forever thankful to the American viewing public for ignoring the show’s 2011 revival, which only last eight episodes.

The Chair

Come to think of it, the early aughts were a particularly sensationalist time for game shows. A year after Fear Factor debuted, we got The Chair. Hosted by notorious tennis hothead John McEnroe, the show had the fairly straightforward, multiple-choice question format most recently popularized by Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?, with one major twist: contestants in the chair had their heart rate monitored, and lost points on each question if they went over a “redline” number. But it wasn’t just the stress of answering tough questions on TV that could raise their pulse; in segments called “heartstoppers,” The Chair tested players’ calm with a scary surprise. In the clip below, the show’s first-ever contestant was confronted by a shower of sparks.

Lip Service

Years before RuPaul’s Drag Race commanded contestants on the verge of dismissal to “lip-sync for your life,” MTV had an entire show devoted to the practice. Lip Service, which ran between 1992 and 1994, pitted college teams against one another in choreographed lip-sync competitions. Jay Mohr was the game show’s original host, and Spinderella often showed up in the DJ booth. But if, in this world of endless reality dance shows, that doesn’t sound too wild to you, we invite you to recall where music and fashion were at this point in time and watch the video above, in which a coed team lip syncs to White Zombie’s “Thunderkiss ’65.”

Repo Games

You know what would be hilarious in the midst of a global economic crisis? Oh, we know — a game show where two repo men show up to take some family’s car but give them a chance to save the vehicle by answering a series of trivia questions. Yup, that seems to be in perfectly good taste to us, Spike TV. Who could ever have predicted that one unwitting contestant would face attempted murder charges after shooting at Repo Games‘ production van?

The 5th Wheel

Dating games have a long history on TV, and reality shows like The Bachelor have taken them to an extreme in the 21st century. But just a year before that series premiered, in 2002, we got a syndicated oddity called The 5th Wheel. This low-budget gem boasted a half-hour in which “strangers become friends, friends become lovers, and lovers become bitter, suicidal exes all on the same show.” Sounds fun, huh? Here’s how it worked: a double date turned competitive when a “fifth wheel” was added to the mix, forcing singles to slither all over each other in hopes of convincing the opposite sex contestants to pick them over their more modest competitors. To make everything more awkward, The 5th Wheel also featured pervy animated captions, in case you didn’t pick up on the sexual innuendo underlying each and every interaction that happened on the show.