I haven’t seen a game show in at least a decade, and I’ve seen almost zero reality TV, so perhaps I’m not the greatest person to create a story about them. On the other hand, who’s to say what these shows might morph into?
What follows is pure fiction. Any resemblance of any character to any real person—past, present, or future—is utterly coincidental and, I might add, extremely unfortunate for all of us.
Game Show of the (Near) Future
Rick Bently, the host, who has the head of hair that Malibu Ken, Barbie’s boyfriend, must have been modeled on, wears one of those almost permanent grins that tempts you to hate him. But the greater temptation is to fear him. He may strike you as the grown-up version of one of the popular kids at school. “It’s time for our first contestant!” he cries. “Barbara Palmer, come on down!”
Barbara comes on down. She has straight, mouse-colored hair and glasses. “Barbara, tell us about yourself!” Rick booms. Her smile looks a bit forced. She grips the sides of the lectern and leans in to the mike before speaking. “Well, I work in insurance but my real interest is mushrooms. I’m what you call a mycophile.”
Rick touches his chin. “You mean you eat mushrooms you find in the wild?” Barbara perks up. “No, the people who gather and eat them are called mycophagists. I just like to study them.”
“Tell me, Barbara, what are three interesting things about mushrooms?”
“Well, for one thing, they’re a fungus, not a plant. Also, they don’t require sunlight to make energy for themselves. And maybe the most interesting thing is that a colony of mushrooms discovered in Oregon is now thought to be the largest organism in the world, covering over 2,000 acres, and it’s over 2,000 years old!”
“Wow, Barbara, what do you do with all this trivia?” asks Rick.
“Well, my friends all say the only value it could have is making money on game shows, so—here I am!” Barbara laughs.
“Well, that brings me to what’s on tap for today,” Rick says, shifting his attention to the camera. “And I’ve got some exciting news for Barbara. She doesn’t even have to compete with anybody today, because she’s been chosen as our Lucky Day winner! That’s right, we drew her name out of a hat as an automatic winner, no quiz questions required! Bob, show the studio audience today’s Lucky Day prizes.”
A disembodied, off-stage voice says, “It’s a BRAND NEW CAR!” A beautiful woman in a long dress glides her hand over the car’s hood and up past the windshield. “A Buick Regal with custom styling, perfect for date night or taking the kids to soccer practice! But that’s not all. The Lucky Day winner also gets … a trip to Belize! All-expenses paid for the winner and a companion! You’ll spend six nights at the Best Western Belize Biltmore Plaza!” We see images of cocktails, the beach, a pool.
The camera pans to Barbara, who is literally jumping for joy. “But Barbara, before you get too excited,” says Rick, “I didn’t actually say that you won. What I said is, we picked your name out of a hat. But the Lucky Winner is notified by phone, and—here’s the catch—the winner has to actually answer the phone to get the prize. And you didn’t answer! We tried to call you three times yesterday but you never picked up!”
Barbara’s smile vanishes. Her lower lip trembles. “I didn’t answer?”
“No!” say Rick, in the same upbeat tone he’s had all along. “Why didn’t you answer!? Screening your calls? Or can’t you hear your phone? What, were you in a loud bar? A stadium?”
“Um, yesterday? No … I was, uh, at home. I was doing … laundry,” Barbara says slowly, sadly.
“Well, I’m sorry but this means you don’t win anything! Not even a parting gift, though twenty randomly selected members of our studio audience will receive … Bob, tell them what they get.”
Bob cuts in, “Well, Rick, won’t they be happy with this Hickory Farms 5-Piece Farmhouse Sausage and Cheese Sampler basket! Premium meats in natural casing, and naturally aged premium cheeses, individually wrapped to enjoy now, or later!”
“It’s time for a commercial intermission, and when we come back we’ll meet our next contestant!” Rick beams, as Barbara is escorted from the stage.
We rejoin and meet Doug Smedley, a rotund fellow with bad skin. His face and neck are nicked up from shaving, making you think (oddly enough) of a pomegranate. “Doug, tell us about yourself!” cries Rick.
“Well, I work … when I work, or when I worked I guess I should say … I’m between jobs … as an HVAC technician,” Doug says.
“HVAC? What’s that? Care to enlighten our studio audience?”
“Oh, sorry, it’s heating, ventilation, and air conditioning for office buildings. Wiring, controllers, that sort of thing.”
“But you’re unemployed now? How long has that been?”
“Well … it’s been, uh, fourteen months now. It’s hard. I guess HVAC is being done in the ‘cloud’ now. I don’t really know how all that works.”
“Well, Doug, we have a special surprise for you today. You see, you haven’t actually been selected as a contestant here, but we have a very special person backstage we think you’ll be surprised to see. Bring out Janet Smedley, Doug’s mother!”
A grey-haired woman in neatly pressed trousers and a floral blouse strides across the stage and shakes Rick’s hand. Doug, perplexed, gives her a little nod. “Gosh, Mom,” he mumbles. “I had no idea.”
“Janet,” Rick booms, “so glad you could join us! We’ve just been talking to your son Doug. And I have to say, Doug seems like a bit of a loser, doesn’t he?” Janet frowns, and now looks as befuddled as Doug. Rick continues, “When did you first realize he was a washout?” Janet, her expression that of a drowning cat, says nothing.
“Well, we happen to have a pretty good theory,” Rick says cheerily. “It’s time for our special guest star!”
A thick, mustachioed man in a tweed suit strides across the stage and shakes Rick’s hand. Rick looks into the camera and says, “This is Philip Simms, M.D., a renowned obstetrician, professor, and lecturer. Dr. Simms, what can you tell us about the benefits of breastfeeding?”
“Well, Rick, as all doctors and most mothers know, a large body of evidence shows that children who are breastfed go on to score higher on IQ tests, and display higher academic performance. Meanwhile, the closeness and comfort of breastfeeding strengthens the mother’s bond with her baby and is crucial in building a secure, loving relationship.”
Rick turns to Janet. “You didn’t breastfeed your son Doug, did you? Why is that?!”
Janet blushes profusely. “Well—nobody did! It was out of favor! The doctors … they said formula was better! It wasn’t just me! It was everybody! Breastfeeding was ... well, it was out of fashion!”
“Oh, fashion! Of course you had to be au courant! And, poor thing, you were pushed around by doctors! But did it ever occur to you to think for yourself? Didn’t you have any maternal instincts at all?!”
Janet is in tears. Rick pushes on: “Knowing what we all know about breastfeeding, I don’t think it’s much of a stretch to say you played a big part in creating the sad sack your son has become. Frankly, I think it’s disgraceful.”
Rick pauses. “Now Janet, raise up your arms,” he commands. “Come on, raise them up!” Janet, bewildered, does as she’s told, and Rick points to where the armpits of her blouse are dark with sweat. The audience roars with laughter. “Janet, it’s time for you to go. And take your dirtbag son with you! Bob, let’s see what twenty more audience members get to take home, in Janet and Doug’s honor.”
Bob gushes about a framed Thomas Kincade print, showcased for the audience, and then there’s another commercial intermission. We return to see another contestant standing at a lectern. He is thin, sporting an Oxford button-down shirt, and has thinning, sand-colored hair and wire-rimmed glasses. “Kyle Nelson, tell us about yourself,” says Rick. Kyle explains that he is a college history professor specializing in—“That’s nice, Kyle, thanks,” says Rick. “And now, look—puppies!”
Five adorable German Shepherd puppies run out onto the stage. They’re fluffy, with floppy ears and love-me eyes, and the crowd gives a collective “Awwwwwwwww.” The puppies line up and lie down, facing the audience, resting their heads on their front paws.
Then a full-grown German Shepherd wearing a charcoal-colored vest labeled “POLICE” trots out to the stage, lean and taut, the perfect embodiment of discipline and grace. A moment later a uniformed police officer appears onstage. He is sturdy, with a square jaw, five-o’clock shadow, and thick, dark hair. He is so good looking you begin to wonder if he might actually be a male stripper.
“This is Officer Jack Strong of the L.A.P.D.,” says Rick, “certainly one of the finest in the force. I know I’m glad to have him on our streets. Officer, I believe you have some questions for Kyle here.”
Officer Strong gets right to the point. “Mr. Nelson, just after 11 p.m. on Saturday, October 18 you were headed southbound on Highway 405 when you encountered a police road block. An arrest was being made on the shoulder of the highway, and as you were waved through you accelerated. You wanna tell everybody what happened next?”
Kyle is speechless. The cop continues, “You hit something, didn’t you?” Kyle looks stricken, and stammers, “Well, there was a thump, but I didn’t know what it was, I figured it could be a road cone, or a hunk of an old tire or something. I don’t know, I didn’t stop—I mean, there was a big bust happening there!”
“A road cone? Is that what you were thinking when you cleaned the fur and blood off the front of your car?! You ran over my K-9, you [BLEEP]!” The audience gasps in horror. “Scout died in my arms. He was a good dog. He was one of the best on the force. And he was my friend. You know what you are?! You’re not just a cop-killer, but a hit-and-run dog-killer!”
Rick, who has been approaching Kyle, suddenly steps back as Kyle slams his fist down on the lectern. “Wait a second!” Kyle cries out. “You just wait a second! Look, okay, I made a mistake! But I was scared! Fine, call me a coward—but look at yourselves! You’re even worse! Sitting there all smug, gaping at me and getting off on my humiliation! You should all be ashamed! This show is a travesty! How would you like it if your lowest moment was put on display for a bunch of judgmental strangers?! What is this, Tower Hill in London? The Colosseum in Rome?! Where would you be if you weren’t here to see this? A cockfight?! You disgust me! You all disgust me!” He turns to Rick. “And you’re the worst of all, making your nut shaming people. You can go straight to hell.” Rick turns and begins to stalk away.
But Rick grabs him by the shoulder. “Stop,” he says. “I have to tell you something.” Kyle turns and glares. Rick leans close and, in a low tone, hisses, “You think you’re the first guy to try turning the tables on us? Don’t make me laugh. Sure, we film this thing life before a studio audience, but it’s not shown live. We can cut it up all we want, and you can be sure your little tantrum there won’t be hitting anybody’s TV screen. Don’t be a twit.”
“You think I care?” Kyle shoots back. “Screw your show. None of the rest of your footage is usable either, since I didn’t deign to follow your stupid script. I’m glad I wasted your time.”
“Whoah, whoah, whoah. Not so fast, mister. Yes, we do have a script, and you’re going to follow it.”
“Oh yeah?” Kyle sneers.
“Yeah. Because we have your teenage daughter backstage, and if you don't go back up to that stage and finish out this show the way we intended, I’m going to bring her on the show and confront her about her recent abortion.”
A blood vessel is bulging on Kyle’s forehead, and he stands fuming for a full minute before walking back to the lectern, lips pursed, and taking his licks. Rick, when he’s done smearing his guest, concludes, “It’s time for Kyle to go. And no, he won’t be getting a parting gift. But Bob, show the viewers what Officer Strong and the rest of his precinct will be getting.” Bob sings the praises of a beautiful hip flask—“Timeless, yet practical, in brilliant chrome or beautiful brushed stainless steel, covered in genuine cordovan leather.”
“But you, Kyle Nelson, you get nothing!” Rick shouts. “That’s how we do it on”—and here the entire crowd shouts it out, in perfect unison—“NO CONSOLATION!” These words appear on-screen, in a giant blocky font.
The credits roll.