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You Can't Play With Us
March 8

I had seen "Step-off" as a listing in the TV grid in passing, but never stopped to look. It was a nationwide competition among step teams, with the winners receiving $100,000 in scholarship money from Sprite.

Stepping is steeped in African culture, and most of the teams entered in the national competition were from National Pan-Hellenic Council sororities. One of the only white teams, Zeta Tau Alpha Society from University of Arkansas, won the lot. After their performance, the predominantly black crowd cheered. That all changed as host Ludacris prepared to reveal the winners.

Those in attendance could tell that the jig was up when he announced that the winners were chosen by a panel of judges. He revealed that the Zetas had won the top prize, and the crowd turned on the winners.

After the winners were announced, there was a great to-do on forums and message boards: Sprite was biased toward the white sorority. Stunt! was claimed by others still. Sprite did little to help things along when they decided to duplicate the prize and give it to the runner-up team who were chock-full-of melanin. Even more controversy ensued.

I have long since believed that I could make it on a game show. I'm not smart enough for Jeopardy! or Millionaire, not expressive enough for Wheel of Fortune or The Price is Right, and I value my dignity too much to be on "Fifth Grader." But until a few years ago, I had hope that I could make it. That average people got on the shows, won piles of prizes and returned home to their average lives with a story to tell their friends, neighbors and relatives.

I don't believe that anymore. Millionaire had the phone game where anyone could call up, answer a few questions and be on the way to New York City, but after too many white males got on the show, they changed things up and went with a standard audition process. This made the contestant pool more homogeneous but the games were less exciting.

(I will note that Jeopardy! is not exclusively the domain of the white male. Mehrun Etebari and Babu Srinivasan are two of the biggest winners, and Larissa Kelly has won more in regular play than all but two contestants. An Iranian, an Indian and a woman all entered the Jeopardy! studio is not the lead in to a joke, though it could be...)

A truism of game shows is that the best player or team usually wins. In this case, the Zeta Sorority was judged to be the best. It was incredibly poor taste to boo the winners, and doubly so for Sprite to try and mollify the losers with a duplicate prize.

I try to keep the column light, because after all, we're talking about game shows and "reality competitions" here, not earth shattering stuff. But when the opportunity comes to openly discuss things like racism, I feel like I need to grab it and have a go.

Travis Eberle doesn't dance, but he likes to be asked. Drop him a line at traviseberle@gmail.com.