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with Chris Wolvie
Canada's Least Popular Export
August 31

Today, every wrong step could bring disaster, as our players attempt to cross this bridge, and win a prize package worth over $5000. So watch now as they brave the dangers to win a fortune on...

AIR DATES: September 14, 1981 to April 23, 1982 (shown in the US during 1985-6)
CREATOR: Catalena Productions
HOST: Alex Trebek


On occasion, you'll hear of a game show that didn't live up to the promises. Rarely, you'll hear about a game show who stiffed the contestants for one reason or another. But "Pitfall" is one of those ultra-rare (if not UNIQUE) game shows in which it wasn't JUST the contestants who got nothing. You see, Catalena Productions actually went BANKRUPT during the show's run. So not only did some of the later champs get nothing, but neither did host Alex Trebek! Rumor has it he keeps a bounced check from the studio in his office to remind himself of "one of the great tragedies of [his] life". But, truth be told, I'm not at all surprised. I mean, the PREMISE of "Pitfall" was interesting enough...but the EXECUTION did not work in the least.

Two contestants - including a returning champion - play a five-minute round where they try to guess how the studio audience will answer questions.

The host asks a question with four possible answers. The audience use keypads by their chairs to answer the question. The champion picks the one answer they think the plurality of the audience chose and the other contestant chooses one of the other three. If either contestant picks the answer the most audience members chose, they earn a point. This round continues (with first choice switching between champ and challenger) until a) one contestant gets five points or b) five minutes elapse with the contestant with the most points winning. In case of a tie, a tiebreaker question is asked with the one getting it right winning the game.

The winner of the game earns "Pit Passes" depending on the number of points they earn. One or two points get one "Pass", three or four get two and five points earns the maximum of three "Pass"es.

Before the round begins, the lights in the studio are dimmed and the eight pits on the "bridge" used in the round start to light up one at a time. Every pit lights up at least once, but THREE of them light up twice. These are the "pitfall" pits used in the round. The champion then chooses "Pit Passes" based on which numbered pits THEY think lit up twice. The host and champion ride an elevator up to the bridge as the prize package for winning the round is told. The host stays in front of the champion on the bridge as they try to cross all eight spaces of it and reach the platform on the other side in 100 seconds or less.

The host reads general knowledge questions to the champion. A right answer allows them to advance one space on the bridge. If they step on a space that has a "pitfall" and they do not have a "Pit Pass" for that space, the space rides down into the pit. The host waits for the space to hit the floor before continuing to ask questions. The champion needs to answer a question correctly to escape the pit. Doing so stops the clock and brings the space back up to the bridge level. After a brief respite, the clock starts up again and the round continues. If the champion DOES have a "Pit Pass", they hand it to the host and move immediately to the next space (whether or not the space passed was a "pitfall").

If the champion can cross all eight spaces and make it to the platform on the other side in 100 seconds or less, they win a prize package. Otherwise, they won $100 for each space they traversed. At first, the prize package was over $5000. Later in the series, the $100 per space was dropped, the champion won a smaller prize for getting to the fifth space and crossing the bridge in time earned a $2500 prize package.

Two main games and two bonus games were played per episode, with a new challenger facing the champion for each game.

The only thing I can see that worked was the set for the bonus game itself. The rainbow-colored bridge looked pretty good and the suddenness when a champion is unable to avoid a "pitfall" was exciting. And, mind you, the champ was closer to the bridge than the full view we saw during the "light show" so it was quite possible for them to miss a "pitfall" or two...and that always spiced things up.

Despite Alex Trebek being embarrassed about the show, he at least remained professional during it. I'm sure he took it as a learning experience and then laughed it off when the "Jeopardy!" checks started to roll in.

The front game - like "Second Chance" - was detrimental to the bonus game as it was slow and tedious in comparison. I know they were going for uniqueness and essentially having a "Family Feud survey in real time" WAS different for the times but it just didn't have the same spin as a "Family Feud" or a "Card Sharks" where the surveys were taken in advance.

I think it would've been a LITTLE better had the two contestants secretly locked in their choices before explaining and revealing them...and, if the two picked the same one, no points were given. Seemed almost a given that whoever picked first would pick the right one, leaving the other one to make up a lame excuse for picking what they're SURE is a wrong answer.

Despite what I said about the "light show" before, a good player with their head on a swivel can get the right ones rather easily...especially on the occasion when they light up a pit twice in a row (stupidly, IMAO). Someone who manages to get to five points in the front game and has good eyes and memory can win the prize package easily...and what's the fun in THAT?!

If Catalena couldn't handle everyone winning the $5000 package, I can understand why they changed things around. But this was something that should've been tested before the pilot came to be. If they had figured out that people weren't as inattentive as they thought, they would have saved themselves a LOT of money...and PROBABLY could have paid Alex, as well.


Really, the game wasn't TOO bad...I mean, for early 1980s Canadian shows. I've seen worse from the Great White North. (I've seen BETTER, no doubt, but...) The only things that were keeping the game from lasting were a) the front game being boring AF and b) the company going kaput. Some sort of "Joker's Wild" style front game with the winner "purchasing" the "Pit Passes" probably would've gone better. These days, it might work for syndication but I don't see any American studio picking it up.

NEXT TIME: The wedgies are on the other pair of tightie-whities...

Chris Wolvie always wondered why no one named "Harry" showed up on this show. Follow him on Twitter @ChrisWolvie and e-mail him at