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with Chris Wolvie
If Only We Got Paid To Do This In College...

24 hours ago, four brave souls were locked up in our Hollywood and Highland "Cramatouriums".  Deprived of sleep, the two teams were each given a huge pile of ridiculous information to study.  Trapped in a Hollywood storefront all night, they had to resist the urge to sleep and cram as many facts as possible into their exhausted brains.  No Sleep, no Privacy, no Mercy.  Now, we're gonna find out what they've learned; there's ten grand on the line!  It's time to......

SHOW: Cram
AIR DATES: January 6, 2003 to September 19, 2003
CREATOR: Jonathan Goodson
PACKAGER: Mindless Entertainment; Jonathan Goodson Productions ; Game Show Network Originals
HOST: Graham Elwood
WATCH IT HERE: YouTube: Part 1, Part 2

Let's face it; if you were in school, you must have spent at least ONE night staying up and studying for an exam.  Even I did it once for a group project...which failed miserably because I wasn't really a team player, I'll admit it.  Now, if the exam was on pop culture subjects and I could pick up a five-digit check for acing it, that would be a different story altogether (though I'd probably be like Sheldon on "Big Bang Theory" and think my partner was weighing me down).  The only downside would be if you told me that my partner and I had to spend 24 hours together in a storefront on Hollywood Boulevard in order to study for the exam; the distractions would be murder to me.  I didn't have to do that, though; a hundred or so others had to for "Cram"...or, perhaps what should have been called "Cram Presented by Saturn".  Yeah, there was a car company back then called "Saturn"...and this game did NOT help their image too much.  The show was interesting, though.


Two teams of two contestants each are placed in a "Cramatorium", a small room with a window facing out of the Kodak (now Dolby) Theater on the corner of Hollywood Blvd. and Highland Ave.  Inside each "Cramatorium" is a sofa, a bed, bright lights and a LOT of study material.  This material included several magazine and tabloid articles, a number of instruction manuals, some joke books and "Cram's Big Dumb Book of Stupid Lists".  The teams have 24 hours to study as much of the information as possible, as any of the info could be used in the game-proper.  At 3am, the teams met for a coin toss to decide who would start the game.  Once the 24 hours elapsed, they were brought via Saturn Ion to the GSN studios nearby to play the game.

Upon arrival at the studios, the teams are led to giant "hamster wheels" and are told to walk to keep the wheels moving for the duration of the first two rounds (though it's never explained what the penalty was for stopping the wheel).  The teams start with 100 points each and are then given a choice of magazine/tabloid articles (three in the first season, two in the second) to talk about for 40 seconds straight.  The winners of the coin toss get first selection.  Each team member must talk about their chosen article for 20 seconds...and must talk continuously; any pauses, any "uhh"s or "umm"s or any straying too far off topic (at the judges' discretion) deducts 5 points from their score.  Each article has eight key words/phrases secretly picked out; if, during the rant, any word or phrase picked is uttered by either contestant, the team gets 10 points added.  The other team then either chooses one of the other articles or take the one not picked by default.

The team in lead (or the team that lost to coin toss if there's a tie) are the first to get off their wheel and perform a stunt for more points.  In the first season, they have a blind choice of topics, while the topics are told to them in the second season.  The team then perform a stunt based on their choice.  Each stunt usually involves running to a board and putting something in its proper place on the board (like cabs with city names on the right city skyline or putting a stuffed bird on a marker that says the bird's name).  Each correctly-placed "something" earns 20 points for the team.  During the stunt, the host asks questions from "Cram's Big Dumb Book of Stupid Lists", alternating between the two contestants (this is done because doing two things at once is even HARDER when sleep-deprived).  Each correct answer adds 10 points to the team total.  After the stunt, the team goes back on the hamster wheel and the other team does THEIR stunt.

The teams can now get off the wheels without penalty.  The team in the lead get to relax on recliners with cool drinks.  The other team would have to answer questions based on joke books to catch-up.  One would be in a sidecar while the other would be on a stationary bike, a rowing machine or on a stool in front of anemometer or a row of lemon juice "shots".  When the host starts the clock (45 seconds in the first season, 40 in the second), the one not in the sidecar must operate the machine or blow on the anemometer until it gets to a certain "threshold" or drink a shot of lemon juice.  Only THEN can the host ask the question and the one in the sidecar answer.  Each correct answer gives the team 30 points.  If the question is answered wrong or passed, the "threshold" goes up or the drinker must down MORE shots before a question is asked.  If the team meets or surpasses the leading team's score in the time allotted, then the former-leading team has to do the same stunt.  Whichever team leads after this round are the champions, get to take home $1000 and go to the bonus round. The losing team gets $500 as a consolation prize.

The champions are led to a pair of beds where they are tucked in by Cram's "resident sleep therapist", Mrs. Pickwick.  During the commercial, calming music is played in the studio and Mrs. Pickwick drones unusual facts that the team did not study during the cram session.  She often throws in something like, "You are getting very sleepy" in an attempt to make sleep more difficult to stave off.  After a few more facts after the commercial break, the team is awaken (rather loudly) and must answer questions about the facts.  The trick is that they can only answer questions when all four of their feet are off the ground.  To facilitate this, they are given a small stump, a skinny see-saw, a pair of surfboards on springs or a moving log.  The host can only ask questions when no foot touches the floor; any time that happens, the host stops asking and starts over when the team has all four feet off the floor.  Each right answer moves the team up one level of a five-level ladder; each wrong answer moves them down a level.  A 60-second clock starts as soon as the team is awakened.  If the team gets to the fifth level before time expires, their winnings are augmented to $10,000.  Otherwise, they leave with $1000 plus $100 times the level they are on when time expires.

Graham Elwood was a good choice for host of this show.  He was as much an "every man" as the contestants were but still had the game flow down pat.  Not bad for someone whose first gig was "Strip Poker" (a GGB for another time).  And Icelandic model Berglind Icey was a decent (though relatively quiet) hostess.  To think SHE would go on to be a "Hunter" on "Cha$e" (ANOTHER GBB for another time, I'm sure).

The set looked very much like a basement warehouse, which served its purpose well.  The stunts had to have a fair amount of room to do them in and having the $10,000 Quiz pretty much in the dead center of the room helped emphasize the importance.  Seemed almost TOO big, really but, considering I don't know how many episodes they had to do in a day's taping, I guess it works.

The many and varied amount of study materials kept the game interesting.  And the materials weren't the type of stuff you read in college.  Having all that stuff to remember and not knowing what stuff would be on the "test"...wowsers.

Look, staying up all night was hard enough for me in my college days, mostly because I was also working part-time to pay off the tuition.  You get 20- or 30-somethings to try to stay up...WHILE anyone walking past a windows can distract're making it hard as ever to win that $10,000.  I mean, I get that's the point...but you make the whole show look like a ridiculous dare on a person's stamina.  I'm sure coffee and maybe Red Bulls were available but...sheesh, this game is harder to win ten grand in than a number of "Price is Right" games I could mention.

Saturn must have put a WHOLE lotta money into this show.  While semi-successful for a basic cable show, I'm sure they wanted it to last longer than eight-an-a-half months.  And sales of the cars dropped steadily over the next few years until they were finally done in in 2010.  Note to future companies wanting to make a fortune: don't sponsor cable shows that aren't already stable.

While a similar show called "Awake: The Million Dollar Game" lasted a season on Netflix, the idea of staying up to study to win a game show I don't think would fly today.  Especially in these days when you can try out for a game show at any time and anywhere online.  And, these days, NOBODY wants to spend 24 hours in a storefront window in their PJs with onlookers walking by all the time!  Don't get me wrong, I thought the show was pretty cool...but I don't see it being brought back.

Do you know your enemy...or your ally for that matter?

Chris Wolvie had some insomnia before but he didn't lose any sleep over it.  Follow him on Twitter @ChrisWolvie and e-mail him at