This year New Zealand television seems to be returning to yonder year of traditional family-oriented game shows such as Family Feud and Mastermind. So what other game shows could we see back on our screens? With the help of NZ On Screen, we revisit some of our old favourites.
Hayden Donnell on Tux Wonder Dogs
Conventional game shows are marketed on the possibility of success, but are mostly made up of disappointment and shame. Who Wants to Be a Millionnaire: more like Who Wants to Be Viewed 4 Million Times On YouTube Getting Out on the First Question under the heading ‘Moron Doesn’t Know Where Spain Is’. Game shows are like Lotto, just with less upside and a bonus dose of unending public humiliation if you fail.
Tux Wonder Dogs was different. Its contestants weren’t stymied by our ugly greed, our exhausting efforts to save face. They were never ashamed. Shaming them was impossible. They danced through obstacles and herded sheep, inspiring us with the faintest glimmer of intelligence. And if they failed at the end, they didn’t mind. They still got a small meat treat. If only we could be so satisfied with our lot.
This is the Internet age. We have a popular Twitter account solely dedicated to rating dogs. You can’t tell me no-one would watch a show entirely dedicated to celebrating them at their best. It would spawn 20 hours of gifs in a week. We’re all hurtling toward the abyss. At least give us something happy to watch on the way.
Alex Casey on The Chair
Long before he bought his first BMX and discovered the beautiful, serene stretch now known as Ponsonby Road, Matthew Ridge was the host of New Zealand’s most absurd game show. The challenge? To keep your heart rate down whilst sitting within a fiery ring, in a repurposed dentist chair, in front of a huge studio audience, whilst Matthew Ridge yells Russell Crowe trivia questions from a giant screen like a deranged Wizard of Oz. Ah, relaxing. Practically Bali.
“$50,000 – but only if you can keep your heart under control” Matthew sneers, introducing the first contender in this total eclipse of the heart. How are you supposed to slow down your heart? I thought heart alterations were reserved solely for surgeons and that special margarine that you always hear people harping on about. But apparently we are a nation of pioneers, able to SLOW our own HEARTS like bloody bears going into hibernation.
And how much did that set cost, about $5,000,000? There’s Matthew’s coffin of dreams, that could well be a stolen panel from The Classic comedy bar:
A strange blue chamber from where the chair ascends like a precog enclosure in Minority Report:
The format goes from the more sedate trivia round to the cardiac-killer ‘Heart Stopper’ round. Wait, is somebody going to actually die in that chair whilst answering a question about the statue of David? What a way to go! With every heart rate increase in this round, you lose $100 of your previously hard-earned cash money. Even writing that sentence makes my body convulse, so I still have absolutely no idea how these zen masters managed to stay collected. At the end of the triple quiz bypass, they are freed from the arena and led into what can only be described as a hallway to heaven.
Imagine if this came back to TV. Be still my beating heart.
Calum Henderson on Sale of the Century
All I remember – perhaps all anybody remembers – about Sale of the Century is host Steve Parr’s trademark run-and-slide across the polished studio floor at the start of every show. How did he get so much distance out of such a minimal run up? TV has come a long way since 1993, but we have yet to see a better slide, and we probably never will.
The stakes are unusually high in this final episode. Reigning champion Tony from Wellington looks incredibly uncomfortable. He doesn’t know what to do with his face; his eyes dart nervously around the studio. He has good reason to be nervous: if he wins tonight he could add a “brand-spanking new” Mistubishi Mirage (valued at the strangely specific sum of $28,856) to his existing bounty of prizes, which already includes a $16,000 US holiday and an $8,500 hand-knotted rug.
Unfortunately an Auckland ESL tutor called Richard smokes him in the first round. Judith Dobson offers him the show’s first sale: a Chicago Bulls Starter jacket and cap (“American baseball is proving very popular indeed in old Enzed!”). It’s valued at $300(?!) but it could be all his for a mere $6 off his game total. A middle-aged man in a full khaki outfit, Richard has no use whatsoever for street apparel, but with the offer sweetened by $500 cash from Steve Parr, he takes it.
In the next round Richard is also the first to correctly answer a ‘Who Am I?’ question about Paul Gauguin. He gets to “go to the board” – nine panels populated by photos of celebrities from other TVNZ shows, an early form of the type of cross-promotion MediaWorks would later master. He avoids Ren and Stimpy (“the repulsive chihuahua and the moronic cat,” Parr describes them) and instead chooses news anchor Anita McNaught. Her square revolves to reveal his prize: a selection of Columbine hosiery to the value of $150.
Between Steve Parr’s slide, the celebrity board, and the extraordinary selection of prizes – each one demonstrated by the show’s versatile team of models – Sale of the Century was, and maybe always will be, New Zealand’s most lavish game show.
It all ends in a storm of confetti, with Judith Dobson wishing a happy birthday to some viewers who had written in – “Ray Harris of Henderson, keep smiling” – and a sentimental rendition of ‘Auld Lang Syne’. Then, the great New Zealand voiceover: “This is a Grundy Television production for Television One. Grant Walker speaking.”
Don Rowe on Celebrity Wheel of Fortune
With a single syllable every bit as powerful as his legendary left hook, David Tua confirmed to the world that a lot of incredible athletes just aren’t that smart. A genius of timing, movement and the sweet science of boxing, Tua nonetheless made a pretty monumental cock-up, completely botching the spelling of a two syllable word on live TV. O for awesome.
It was a mistake that cost him this shot at gameshow glory, a mistake that was later even canonized as a meme at a Warriors game. Kevin Barry was also out there that day, rubbing his hands like the snitch bug from Family Guy.
José Barbosa on It’s Academic
The 1983 Regional Final of It’s Academic looks pretty much what I imagine life would look like if I had my eyes replaced with two soaked packets of Benson & Hedges: everything appears brown. The two level set, no doubt intended to evoke some kind of higher learning spacecraft, looks like it’s been stained through years of smoke damage.
Out of all of this beams the host, Lockwood Smith; he pushes through the drab corduroy and caramel haze like a toothy dolphin breaching the surface of the ocean. His blue suit almost seems to shimmer, his hair is like palatial topiary and he forcibly exudes positivity: “Very quick, Jim wasn’t it?! Great way to end the round!” Jim from Wellington College, still ruing an earlier mistake about the date of the Kennedy assassination, bursts out a dismissive nod in affirmation to Lockwood like someone being asked inane questions by a bank teller.
Jim feels everything. When answers from his team are wrong he grasps his head like a man who feels beset by idiots. At one point George, the team Captain, starts panicking and begins rambling about submarine shelfs. Jim elbows him in the side. You can only just see an inaudible “ffffuuuuucccckkk” leave his mouth.
Over at Newlands College Helen, the team captain, refers to Lockwood as “Sir” but at 03:21 you can clearly hear her mumble something along the lines of “His head’s too big.” Or something to that effect.
I love them all, but Onslow College is my favourite. Unlike the other two contesting schools, Onslow’s representatives are in mufti – no doubt some sort of progressive institution. Perhaps they lost their school uniforms in a high risk game of chance in the dark alleys of Lower Hutt? Whatever it is, they’ve seen some shit during their trip Avalon Studios as they spend most of the time shellshocked. Blair mostly stares off to the side and Jane frowns, bewildered. Most of the heavy lifting is done by Phillip who manages to get them in the lead by halftime. But in a dramatic turnaround they lose most of the points in a later round. Jane squirms, Blair stares, Phillip looks embarrassed.
Ultimately Wellington College takes out the final with 135 points. Jim looks like he’s about to mess his chair.