We all want to make big money without actually working for it, and one of the most lucrative ways to do so is by winning big on a game show. Here in the U.S., most of our game shows are pretty sedate affairs, but overseas, people tend to ramp the craziness up a notch. In this feature, we’ll take a terrifying tour through the airwaves to bring you the 10 weirdest game shows from around the world.
Billed as the “meanest game show of all time,” "Dadagiri" aired on Indian channel Bindass in 2008. The premise of the show was that contestants would have to face a trio of “bullies” to win 50,000 rupees. One is a hulking brute, one a snide brainiac, and the final one is the snottiest girl in “school.” Each of the three heaped physical and verbal abuse on the contestants, and when they were eliminated they were forced to go to the “school cafeteria” where they were served bowls of maggots. The show got so intense that contestants and bullies sometimes got into physical slapping matches with each other. It’s amazingly still on the air, and has only gotten worse over four seasons.
You can win all kinds of valuable stuff on game shows, but how about your eternal salvation? On bizarre new Turkish game show "Penitents Compete," religion is the playing field. The show stars four men -- a Buddhist monk, a Jewish rabbi, a Greek Orthodox priest and a Muslim imam -- and the contestants are 10 atheists. Over the course of each episode, the four religious men must attempt to convert as many atheists as they can to their chosen faith. Yes, it sounds like a bizarre "Saturday Night Live" sketch, but it’s real. The four contestants don’t get anything for their troubles aside from new congregants, but if an atheist does change into a believer, he gets a free trip to the holy land of his religion, either Tibet, Jerusalem, Vatican City or Mecca.
The Great Game of the Goose
Nice alliterative title, huh? Unfortunately, in its native Spain, this program is known as "El Gran Juego de la Oca," which doesn’t sound nearly as cool. Debuting in 1993 on the Antena 3 channel, it was based on a board game that has been played since the 16th century. Four players traversed a giant game board, winning money by advancing and completing challenges. Sounds pretty basic, right? Wrong. Those challenges included things like “Chinese Restaurant,” where they would have to eat a whole rat fried and doused in sweet-and-sour sauce, as well as being put in a sand pit full of boa constrictors or strapped to a giant roulette wheel. Oh, and Mr. T was on once as a contestant, despite not being able to speak Spanish.
Japan is the country most famous for truly insane game-show experiences, and one of the most over-the-top was "Takeshi’s Castle." Hosted by cult actor-director Takeshi Kitano, the bizarre fictional construct of the game cast Kitano as an evil count, and a huge group of more than 100 contestants on each episode trying to “kill” him. On the way, they had to navigate some seriously insane obstacle courses while being bedeviled by Takeshi’s legion of cartoonish guards. One of the nastiest obstacles, the log-rolling game, has been responsible for multiple concussions and other injuries. A heavily edited and dubbed version aired here in America, as "Most Extreme Elimination Challenge," but nothing beats the surreal madness of the original.
The line between game show and reality show is a blurry one, but we’d say that "Solitary," which premiered on the short-lived Fox Reality Channel in 2006, crossed it. To win on this show didn’t take any specialized mental knowledge or physical skills. All you had to do to go home with $50,000 was spend several weeks in an octagonal room in complete and total isolation, competing in dozens of insane and painful challenges while trying to hold on to your sanity. This show was truly sick. Contestants had no sense of time, no clocks, no windows, and had to request permission to use the bathroom. The challenges were desperate and cruel, and the judging was even worse. When a person quit, he or she was eliminated, but the other players were never informed that someone else had quit, forcing them to soldier on closer to their own breaking point.
A watered-down version of this show aired on Comedy Central in the U.S., but the original British version is so weird and screwed up that it makes the American one look like Candyland. The basic premise of "Distraction" is simple: answer trivia questions while something tries to pull away your attention. But it’s the nature of those distractions that makes this show truly screwed up. How would you like being blindfolded and made to press a button surrounded by cactuses? Or sitting under a cage of free-pooping pigeons? The show even rigged up a special water-sensitive buzzer, and had contestants piss to activate it. Even if you made it to the end, things still sucked. You could take home up to $10,000, but in the final round the show would literally destroy $2,000 of that for each question you got wrong.
A very common motivation for game-show contestants to win money is to pay off some bills. We’re a nation of credit, after all, and many of us are overextended far beyond our paycheck. So one show tried to combine the two in a very odd way. "Repo Games" was a Spike TV show with a particularly cruel twist. Like a twisted "Cash Cab," contestants were taken by surprise when a pair of repo men showed up in their driveways and hooked up a tow truck to take their cars back to the dealers for missing too many payments. But here’s the hook: If the poor guy or girl answered three trivia questions correctly (out of a possible five), they could keep the car and all of their missed payments would be taken care of. If they didn’t, well, no more ride for you, buddy. Needless to say, many of the contestants were pretty pissed off about the whole thing, and one Las Vegas man actually pulled a handgun and started shooting at the film crew.
German game show "Wetten, dass?" takes ordinary people and rewards them for accomplishing extraordinary things. The basic gist of the series, which premiered in 1981, is simple: a panel of celebrities place bets on whether the show’s guests can pull off some bizarre stunt. These aren't just stupid human tricks, either. We’re talking about stuff like a farmer recognizing each of his cows blindfolded by the sound they made chewing apples, or a Chinese martial artist moving a car with a spear that had its tip pushing into his throat. The stunts have even taken a turn for the grisly, like when a contestant tried to jump five cars with spring-loaded boots and failed hideously, making him a quadriplegic. Oh, and did we mention that some of the celebrity judges have included Tom Cruise, Bill Gates and Mikhail Gorbachev?
A new car is one of the most commonly-used top prizes on game shows around the world, but no show awarded one quite like "Intercept," a Russian game show that premiered in 1997. Unlike many shows, this one started each episode with the contestant being given the car. All a contestant needed to do was drive his or her car non-stop for 35 minutes. There was only one problem: the producers of the show had reported it to the notoriously unpleasant Russian police as stolen, and installed a tracking device in it. Needless to say, few people managed to evade the law for long, but a few cunning crooks managed to win the game. Here’s the kicker: the game was actually created by the Russian police as a way to deter car thieves by showing that the cops always win. Except when they don’t.
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Gordo Freak Show
Things are a little more casual down in Brazil, but short-lived MTV game show "Gordo Freak Show" really pushed the envelope. Hosted by singer Joao Gordo, the format of the show was chaotic and ridiculous, as dirtbag metalhead contestants were pitted against each other in bizarre challenges that often involved very unsanitary bodily fluids, like wrestling in runny animal feces, or having urine dumped all over them. Other challenges included flirting with the daughter of a famous heavy metal band’s lead singer, and sitting in boiling hot water. Failure to comply would result in the show’s luchador enforcers giving you a ferocious two-hands wedgie.