TV Shows

Next time you’re at the checkout…

…And you hear a beep.

“Is it possible to write an entire post on Supermarket Sweep?I asked myself that question before falling asleep the other night. And then I dreamed I was a contestant on the show – in matching yellow cable knit sweaters with Joshua Jackson (but to me, simply “Pacey Witter”), whom I’m assuming was my pseudo husband/partner in this dream. Our competition was Nicolas Cage and some nondescript female in robin’s egg blue sweaters. The host, David Ruprecht was as smiley and jovial as usual. And there we were, in a vacant grocery store, with that certain faded 1980’s lackluster, and the theme song whirling through the loud speaker.

Now, dare I ask: what has happened to game shows? I know, I know. They do still exist, and some of them have been on the shelf now for decades (like Jeopardy! with ageless host Alex Trebek and a generation of Sean Connery jokes that coincide). The hosts are nowhere near as cheesy, and the overweight middle-American housewives who bob up and down and shriek at the sight of dollar signs are increasingly more annoying and less endearing than they used to be. The one “game show” that gets my attention is Cash Cab, a creative show that takes on cab passengers in NYC – asking them a series of random trivia questions they must answer correctly before they reach their stop. Some people end up with 1200 bucks in the end, while others depart empty handed. I have yet to understand how the driver/host reads the questions and drives through New York City traffic at the same time, but nevertheless, it’s pure quality…perhaps due to the Saturday Night Fever light display on the roof of his minivan when the contestants hop on board. It always shocks them! So strange…


But back to Supermarket Sweep. Subconsciously, whenever I go into a grocery store, I always think about the items I’d jam into the shopping cart if I were barreling down an aisle. On Sweep, there were several rounds in the game, including a “Round Robbin” in which partners would stand one behind the other and play against a buzzer, answering questions, and bumping into each other. I usually zoned out during the first two rounds, and perked up when the “Big Sweep” commenced. The goal was to race through the aisles, filling your cart with items (and for the sake of fairness you could only toss in 5 of each item.) The team that ended with the highest grocery bill would win. Also, there were giant mystery products to pick up, with a value to be revealed at the end of the round. But, what I remember the most – was the struggle and desperation involved in filling bags of coffee from the coffee grinder. No one, I repeat, no one could master this fine art! Then, a contestant would get side tracked in the bakery department scribbling frosting on a cake or standing in front of the danishes in a daze over what flavor Dave said were worth points. “Arghh, blueberry or apricot!?!”

Supermarket Sweep is culturally awkward. It makes us look like gluttonous, money hungry prepsters. But it’s also a visionary dream. At one point or another, we’ve all wanted to be locked in a grocery store for the night. There is this sort of apocalyptic anxiety vibe that carried through the final round. Like, crap….the killer tornadoes are approaching and we must stock up on hams and turkeys! And I can’t be sure if it was because of the shaky camera work or the panic stricken contestants meticulously eyeing every shelf for Brach’s candy. Imagine if the set had included all of the other things common grocery stores have: liquor, lottery tickets, cigars and cigarettes, photo lab equipment, pharmacy medication. “Good job, yellow team! $250 on the jumbo bottle of Xanax you picked up from the pharmacy.”

Quick facts! Supermarket Sweep originally aired from 1965-1967 on ABC, was revived from 1990-1995 on Lifetime and then on PAX from 2000-2003. Legendary Johnny Gilbert, was an announcer for both versions, whom can be credited for his announcing on other hit game shows like The Price is Right. “Come on down!”




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