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What is a Game Show? - January 28
Jay Lewis
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 editions later.

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 show spectrum.

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 their Showcase.

Survivor: One person at the end of the show wins the grand prize.

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 house).

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."

Jay Lewis can be reached at


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