In general, we have zero expectations about the quality of television programming. This goes double for game shows/competitive reality shows, which occasionally celebrate human ingenuity but are mostly about watching terrible people endure some kind of pain or humiliation.
Yet, as low as those expectations are, there have been multiple shows over the decades that have managed to go even lower. Here are the ones that deserve to occupy that special place in television history. (Spoiler alert: This special place is a dumpster fire.)
American television is currently inundated with amateur talent competitions, so clearly it's time to up the stakes, Running Man-style. You know, like they do in Central and South America, where American Idol-type shows aren't just about a contestant's talent (or lack thereof), but about real, soul-crushing human tragedy. If a particular contestant on one of these shows doesn't win, people could die.
"I could use a lot more wine for this."
Cantando por un Sueno ("Singing for a Dream") and its sister show Bailando por un Sueno ("Dancing for a Dream") are hugely popular programs in Mexico and South America. Their setup should be familiar to American audiences -- some random nobody performs and is judged by celebrities on whether or not they suck. And like Dancing With the Stars, the contestants on Cantando and Bailando are paired up with even more celebrities. But here's the catch -- the shows' winners don't receive a record deal or a Vegas booking. No, any cash payout serves as an "intervention" designed to save the contestants from some heart-wrenching personal calamity, such as losing their business or missing out on an organ transplant. That last bit isn't hyperbole -- here's a woman singing in order to get kidney transplants for her kids. (The judges buzz the shit out of her, by the way.)
Wait, there's more! The routines on Bailando supplement boring old modern dance and tango with stripping and pole dancing, as audiences apparently relish the surprise boner interspersed between crushed contestants' crying fits.
"Tonight on Bailando, tears of sorrow will pour out of your left eye, while tears of joy will stream from the right!"
Sure, one lucky winner per season has his or her dream fulfilled. Meanwhile, the finale episodes of Bailando feature elimination ceremonies during which the losing dancers snuff out candles that presumably represent their hopes for a better life. Sorry, kids, but Mom should have danced harder.
"This shit would never happen to Jennifer Beals' kids."
The 1970s were heady times for the game show genre. Boundaries were being tested, and shows were playing it loose. Booze made guest appearances on Match Game, William Shatner was throwing chairs on The $20,000 Pyramid and a serial killer took first place on The Dating Game. So if that's the shit that was going on in the top-tier network shows, what would it take to make a network hurriedly pull the plug on one?
To answer that question, let's look at CBS's The Amateur's Guide to Love, which debuted on March 27, 1972, and lasted all of three months. Almost all of the episodes are believed to have been destroyed, possibly after a 12-step program and moment of clarity on the part of the producers.
When asked about the surviving episodes, producers said, "We have top men working on it now ... Top. Men."
In each episode, an olive-green cargo van with "LOVE" posters taped on the sides cruised around Southern California, secretly filming young couples making out. The unwitting participants were then messed with, Candid Camera-style, after which they were approached by the film crew.
The crew would then ask the couple tawdry questions regarding love, marriage and sex, and their responses were judged by a celebrity panel. The couple that chose the best answer, according to the judges, was awarded a prize. If there were a Daytime Emmy for "Unintentional Creepiness in an Opening Credit Sequence," this intro would sweep the category for the next 83 years:
With the advantage of hindsight, we might wonder why these couples didn't immediately start running when presented with what is clearly a rape van. Yes, this was several years before cargo vans became synonymous with serial killers in the state of California, but never since the invention of the camera has secretly filming people necking not raised red flags. On the plus side, The Amateur's Guide to Love did boast numerous guest appearances by renowned sexpert Vincent Price.
"Some people say that it's impossible to rape an egg. They are fools."
Hurl! was most likely a concept born of Bartles & Jaymes-induced mania late one night in a college dorm room, where a future television producer -- tasked with holding back her drunk friend's hair -- genuflected before the porcelain god and thought "Why can't I delight in this scene every night?"
This hypothetical vomit-obsessed whiz kid was probably hired by the illustrious G4 network in 2008 to create Hurl! This one-season show paired pounds of food with intense obstacles and exercise to make contestants throw up as fast as humanly possible. Featured edibles included cream of spinach, macaroni and cheese, clam chowder and creamed corn. In other words, foods that already resemble vomit.
We honestly don't know if this is before or after.
The rules of the game were simple: Take five contestants with no shame and subject them to merciless binging and purging. In the first round, the three contestants who hork down the most food by weight are selected to move forward. Next, it's on to the regurgitation round, with obstacles like spinning carnival rides and 15 laps in a swimming pool. Then, it's back to speed-eating, and the rounds keep coming! Whoever vomits last wins $1,000 and the Iron Stomach Award. And luckily for the show's contestants, a "hurl" was only counted if the upchuck actually breached your mouth, so you were still in if you swallowed.
Incredibly enough, Hurl! failed to deliver on its promise of puke geysers. Yes, a show dedicated to the singular goal of making people throw up on camera censored out the barf with computer-generated columns of buckets. (Don't worry, G4 posted some uncensored clips here for posterity.)
Because future generations need to see this.
In the 1950s, television was still a new medium, but watching human suffering was already a well-established pastime. Strike It Rich began as a radio show on CBS in 1947 and did well enough to make a successful jump to the small screen in 1951. Ostensibly a quiz show, the questions weren't particularly hard. That didn't matter, as the real draw was the contestants themselves -- they were selected because their lives were an impoverished disaster.
Like folks on Cantando and Bailando por un Sueno, the contestants on Strike It Rich were flat broke or needed quick cash for medical crises. Only those with the most heart-string-tugging tales of woe made the producers' cut.
"There are 31 tumors between the four of us."
The target audience -- bored housewives -- ate this stuff up and made the show's sponsors bundles, thanks to the graceless in-show advertisements. The combination made for some surreal moments -- one television historian notes, "This juxtaposition provided some astounding sights, such as a single mother answering quiz questions to earn money needed to keep custody of her child followed by a glamorous model cheerily plugging underarm deodorant."
Here's a clip of dapper host Warren Hull sitting in front of two boxes of strategically placed laundry detergent. Watch as he segues from smarminess to googly-eyed deep concern in 3.5 nanoseconds, holding up a newspaper while describing the devastation of a recent flood.
"Ladies and gentlemen, I couldn't give less of a shit about this."
Nowadays, Strike It Rich is considered one of the worst television series ever produced, and its exploitative nature didn't escape the audiences of its era. Hell, in one episode of The Honeymooners, Ed Norton disparages his mother-in-law by describing her as "so mean, she watches Strike It Rich for laughs."
It offended a guy whose best friend's hobby was threatening to punch his wife.
Back in 2005, German reality TV conglomerate Endemol sought to showcase the most intense race on Earth, more colloquially known as the Fallopian Tube 3000. Yes, for the proposed reality show Sperm Race, 12 men would pit their flagellum-wagging racers against each other to fertilize a human egg.
We're guessing that it was something like this, but with CG sponsor logos a la NASCAR.
No, they wouldn't be all at the same time, like a bunch of naked circus clowns trying to cram into a comically tiny VW Bug. We're not sure why you were imagining that. Instead, the 12 sperm donors' ... uh ... "teams" were to be frozen and shipped to a studio, where the chemically induced race could be observed by doctors. The reward would be bragging rights as the most fertile man in Germany (and a new red Porsche).
Which is weird, since Porsches are usually driven by men who question their fertility.
Although there was no promise that the egg would be fertilized by the end of the show, Sperm Race never made it to air, nor did its sister reality show Make Me a Mum. For that program (also by Endemol), a woman would pick one man from a list of donors, and scientists would pick the other contestant. They would then actually impregnate the woman and -- using a paternity test -- see whether "love" or science had triumphed in the end. It's unclear if the resulting child would receive lifelong residuals from being born of a media clusterfuck that would make The Truman Show look like a Dr. Spock-approved child-rearing documentary.
As tasteless and downright offensive as some of the shows on this list are, we only know of one that resulted in an actual protest -- like, crowds with signs and shit -- in front of the makers' studio. That show comes from Georgia (the country between Europe and Asia, not the American state).
In spring 2012, the Georgian television broadcaster Imedi TV unveiled the quiz show Women's Logic, hands down the most famous game show ever to come out of the Caucasus Mountains region. Its premise? Models are invited to the show and asked a variety of questions. Meanwhile, teams of men are awarded points for guessing exactly how the beauties will answer each question incorrectly.
We're going to take a wild guess that "Feminist Issues" isn't a category.
See, that's why it's called Women's Logic: The show isn't about getting the right answers -- it's about logical, smart males trying to guess the mental workings of those stupid, shallow, vapid humans known as "women." They could easily have gotten the same funny moments by just featuring stupid people of both sexes (you could call it Idiot Logic or something like that), but no, that wouldn't make the point they were looking for (i.e., "men good, women bad.")
"Tee hee!" the creators of Women's Logic must have tittered when the show debuted. "We're trash-talking half of the planet's population like a bunch of sexist assholes! There's absolutely no way this show can blow up in our faces!" Just imagine their doe-eyed dismay when it did (and on an international scale).
The dude in the back is clearly shocked by this.
So how long did this one last before somebody cancelled it out of sheer embarrassment? Actually, it was still on the air the last time we checked.
For more instances of terrifying insanity, check out The 7 Most Soul-Crushing Series Finales in TV History and 6 Shocking Ways TV Rewires Your Brain.
If you're pressed for time and just looking for a quick fix, then check out 3 Accidentally Offensive Moments from the 12/12/12 Concert.
And stop by LinksSTORM because you never know. You just never know.
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