What is a Game Show? -
New Brunswick, Canada
This is one of the most
debated questions in our little insular community.
Unfortunately, through about 11 years of debate, there
has never been a definitive answer.
It was pretty much accepted that if it has a game
element and is aired on TV, then it was a game show.
Sports were excluded because, obviously, those have a
category. It was sort of restricted to TV shows with a
game element, a prize(s) whose contestants aren't
professional players. (NBA, NFL, etc.) Anything
resembling Miss America was also ruled as being a
"talent competition" despite fitting the main focus of
the term "game show." (I contend that American Idol is a
talent competition along with Star Search, Pet Star and
shows of that nature.)
Of course, we had exceptions like Love Connection where
there really isn't a game. However, it did have a game
show host at the helm and had a gameshow-esque feel to
it. Same with The Gong Show, not really a game
but it's grandfathered into our psyches.
Then came the spring/summer of 2000 which pretty much
gave birth to the category of "Reality TV." There wasn't
anything like Survivor on US television. Drop 16
"castaways" on an island, film them 24/7, and give the
last person standing a million bucks. It hadn't been
done before and it was a smash success... and still is 9
Big Brother, The Mole, The Chair, The Chamber, the
Amazing Race, Survivor, Temptation Island, Love Cruise,
Who Wants To Marry A Multi-Millionaire, Joe Millionaire,
The Swan, The Bachelor, Fear Factor. These are all shows
that seem to have the elements of a game show but there
are those among us that shun them. Survivor couldn't
possibly be called a game show, they say.
I would like to dispel that myth...or at least give my
opinion why it should be called a game show, along with
the variations on the theme of Survivor.
Since everyone in the game show community can agree that
The Price is Right is a game show, allow me to compare
the two shows. Survivor versus The Price is Right...two
completely different shows at opposite ends of the game
Price: 330 contestants wait outside the studio for an
interview with the producers/contestant coordinators who
pick 9 people to "Come On Down."
Survivor: 50,000 people send in video tapes which are
watched by the producers/contestant coordinating team
who chose 18 to be "castaways."
Price: Contestants compete in a series of games, some
physical, to win prizes of varying type and value.
Survivor: Castaways compete in a series of games, some
physical, to win rewards of varying type and value.
Price: Three contestants play a game to see who will
advance to the showcase.
Survivor: Castaways play a game to see who (tribe or
individual) will stay in the game longer.
Price: The 9 contestants are whittled down to two who
face one another at the end of the show.
Survivor: The 18 castaways are whittled down to the
final two who face each other at the end of the show.
Price: (Usually) one person at the end of the show wins
Survivor: One person at the end of the show wins the
Now, I'm no expert, but it would seem to me that when
you break these two seemingly opposite shows down, they
are very similar. The execution may be different but the
outcomes are pretty much the same.
By extension The Apprentice is also a game show
(Survivor in the city) as is Big Brother (Survivor in a
I'm not trying to change anyone's mind. However, we
should be a little more open to what constitutes a game
show before being dismissive.
In the end, we all have our own personal definitions of
what constitutes a game show. To quote US Supreme Court
Justice Potter Stewart "I know it when I see it."
Lewis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.