Monday, January 10, 2011

No More Favorites... Game Show Time!!

by Amy K. Bredemeyer

After featuring more than 50 shows that I've seen ever episode of and choosing my top pick from each season, I'm stopping. The few remaining shows I thought I would do have been complicated by the fact that reading through old synopses to choose favorites has yielded "I've never seen that one!" more than once. I know for a fact that I will finish posts for Arrested Development and Third Rock from the Sun at some point, since those are the shows that my husband and I are currently working through (only 4 episodes left of AD, but that one usually takes a backseat to 3rd Rock.

What now? Well, since Wipeout and Minute to Win It are back on the air, plus Million Dollar Money Drop keeps making so many headlines, I thought I'd do a Monday series on game shows. Specifically a brief history, notable changes and contestants, favorite questions/puzzles/obstacles/etc, and most interestingly, whether I would (have) like(d) to be on the show and what my strategy would be. I think this final aspect may be particularly of interest because there are a lot of "team games" out there and I will be needing to select partners for said shows, hehe.

I'll be mixing it up between talking about word games, physical games, knowledge games, and more, but please feel free to suggest shows at any point. I thought we'd start today with Wheel of Fortune because it was the first game show I ever mentioned on this blog, now more than two years ago.

I don't want to repeat too much of what I said before, but Wheel of Fortune is near and dear to my heart because I was born a stone's throw away from Califon, NJ, where Merv Griffin is from.

Brief history: The show began in 1975 and moved to the primetime slot we are more familiar with in 1983. Now, I wasn't born until 1984, so I know no better, but it amuses me that this gem was ever stuck in daytime! Pat Sajak and Vanna White have been the hosts since before the primetime move, which is great since I, like many others I'm sure, know them as synonymous with the show, hehe.

The game: There's a word or phrase that contestants are trying to guess, and all they know is the number of letters in each word and the category. Three contestants take turns spinning the wheel. If you land on anything but "lose a turn" or "bankrupt," you can guess a consonant. If the letter appears in the puzzle, you win the amount of money you spun (or you pick up a prize, etc.)... if the letter appears multiple times, you win that amount of money times the number of letter appearances (i.e. four Ts and a spin of $250 will get you $1000). You can spin again to try to guess another consonant, you can "buy a vowel" if you have some money, or you can try to solve the puzzle. Your turn continues until you a) guess a letter that does not appear in the puzzle, b) spin "lose a turn" or "bankrupt," or c) you solve the puzzle incorrectly. If you aren't the one to solve the puzzle in that round, your money disappears completely. When time runs short, Pat gives the wheel a "final spin" and all consonants guessed from there on out are worth that set amount. The contestant with the most banked money after several rounds goes on to play solo for a larger prize. They are usually given a short puzzle (many are only a couple words), and the letters R, S, T, L, N, E are filled in for them. They get to guess 3 more consonants and one more vowel and those letters are shown. At that point they get 10 seconds to solve the puzzle to win the prize. If they get it wrong they still get to walk home with the money they earned in the previous rounds. The contestant who makes it to the bonus round can appear in up to two more episodes (tho the history behind repeat-contestants varies greatly).

Notable changes to the way the game is played: Inflation has upped the monetary amounts on the wheel. Until 1989 you could choose the prize you'd play for (cruise, trip, car, cash, etc.) in the final round. This ended because a vast majority of players wanted the chance for $25,000. So, the version I grew up with was born: you chose a letter, W, H, E, E, or L, and Pat held the envelope while you played. After the round, you saw what prize was in the envelope. The envelopes were replaced each week, so if it was Thursday, you only had two remaining envelopes to pick from, etc. In 2001, this version was abandoned, and now there is a mini-wheel with 24 slots, each containing an envelope with a prize. The player spins the wheel to determine their envelope. We also now have Toss-Up Puzzles, where a timer just fills in letters until a player solves the puzzle. Oh, and sometimes you can win prizes at home, if you're in the Wheel Watchers Club and your "SPIN ID" shows on-screen when you're watching. And there is no more "free spin" but "free play" which allows you to buy a vowel instead of spinning and whatnot.

Special contestants: Sometimes instead of single contestants, pairs compete. This can be best friends, mother-daughter, even something generic like pet-lovers, LoL. When celebrities appear, they play for various charities. Notably, last November found a contestant who was able to solve a seven-word puzzle with only a single "L," which you can watch here. I also cut it to include an example of the SPIN ID win system, if you're interested.

Favorite Puzzles: Honestly, I don't know if I have any particular favorite puzzles. I know that my favorite categories are "Before & After" and "Fictional Characters." I also really like the puzzles with lots of words as opposed to those with just two or three. I also like it when there's a question involved and the contestant who solves the puzzle correctly gets to answer it in order to win an additional prize. :)

My take: I'd compete if given the opportunity, but I'm not sure if this is a game where I would excel. I've had many family members tell me I'm really good at solving them before the on-screen contestants, but rarely do I think I'm more than a single letter ahead of the game, LoL. I did have a friend who tried out to be on the show, and made it to the "final four" of the day, but he was never called. We practiced using the travel game of Wheel of Fortune I got when I was eleven or so. The NES game was also a lot of fun, in all of its 8-bit goodness. However, these preparations only taught me the basics. I think that my true strategy would include: don't solve as soon as you know it, but don't spin more than three consecutive times; don't hoard a "free play" forever... bankrupt comes for everyone; if I made it to the bonus round, consider guessing letters like K, W, and H instead of the often-guessed-but-don't-appear C, M, and P. Of course, this would depend on the letter distribution already showing but it's all circumstantial.

So, do you watch Wheel of Fortune? Or, did you when you were younger and grandma was babysitting, LoL? What are your strategies and would you like to be on the game?
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