For decades, game shows used to be staged or fixed between the television producers and contestants. After the government stepped in to prohibit them from being fixed, there have still been all kinds of backstage shenanigans that have continued to smear game show history. Let’s look behind door number three for some surprising game show scandals.
RAY COMBS’ SUICIDE
Ray Combs was the face of a revived version of Family Feud, hosting the show from 1988 to 1994 until he was replaced with former host, Richard Dawson, after a sharp decline in ratings. Combs was distraught over his dismissal for obvious reasons, but the loss of what was the best job he ever had was only the beginning of his downfall. Within two years of being fired, Combs’ marriage fell apart, several of his other businesses failed, and he was badly injured in a car accident, leaving him in chronic pain. Combs took his own life while being held in a psychiatric ward after a public meltdown.
While the events that lead to Combs’ death weren’t the direct result of a show-related scandal, Combs’ firing from the show had a hint of scandal as it was supposedly the decision of Jonathan Goodson, son of long-time show producer Mark Goodson. He brought back Dawson, whom his father notoriously vowed to never bring back, which had to be like salt in the wound to Combs. We know the game is dirty in Hollywood, but that seems like an especially cold send-off for the guy who helmed the show’s big comeback that not only landed it a syndication deal, but also millions in profits for the show creators.
THE ‘BARKER’S BEAUTIES’ LAWSUITS
“Barker’s Beauties” was the affectionate nickname for the models who sat silently smiling next to hand soap and oatmeal while excited contestants guessed how much they cost on The Price Is Right. That seems like an easy gig so long as behind the scenes you’re not being sexually harassed and/or wrongfully dismissed for being pregnant, which are allegations several models have sued over since Barker left the show in 2007. All of the cases were either won by the women or settled out of court, so make of that what you will as far as the truthfulness of the allegations. Nevertheless, the perception of Bob Barker has fundamentally changed. This is one price that’s horribly wrong.
THE WHO WANTS TO MARRY A MULTI-MILLIONAIRE GUY ISN’T REALLY A MILLIONAIRE
Who would have guessed that a show featuring such a shallow and gross premise would have turned out to be a sham from the outset? Despite the show’s controversial theme and creepy way that it played out (right up to the awkward newlywed kiss), none of that stopped audiences from buying into it—until it was revealed that supposed multi-millionaire Rick Rockwell wasn’t worth nearly what he claimed. He also had a history of domestic violence, which he hid from show producers by not using his real name.
Rockwell’s “bride,” Darva Conger, couldn’t wait to throw him under the bus, immediately distancing herself from the whole situation and filing for annulment as soon as humanly possible—all while telling anyone who would listen that they never consummated the marriage. Ouch. That’s the kind of public gut-kicking that even actual millions of dollars in the bank couldn’t cushion, let alone the fake ones that got him into the situation in the first place.
THE DATING GAME CAST A RAPIST/SERIAL KILLER
With a rap sheet that already included the rape of a child, and while he was in the middle of committing a yet to be discovered string of murders, Rodney Alcala was cast on The Dating Game in 1978. There was pretty much no screening process for the show back then. This lazy negligence almost sent contestant Cheryl Bradshaw on a date with a madman except, according to Cracked, she ultimately found Alcala “too creepy and refused to go out with him” after the show. Alcala has since admitted to 30 murders and is believed to be responsible for possibly 100 more. And we thought Darva Conger had it bad.
WHO WANTS TO BE A MILLIONAIRE’S COUGHING SCANDAL
Soon after Regis Philbin started barking his way through the American version of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, the original British version of the show suffered from the now infamous coughing scandal. Though the episode never actually aired, Charles Ingram, with the help of his wife, Diana, and their accomplice, Tecwen Whittock, won the top prize by using a not-so-ingenious scheme in which he would read the answers aloud, and they would cough when he said the right one. Of course, the Ingrams and Whittock were caught. They had to forfeit the prize, pay additional fines, and luckily avoided prison, which is kind of remarkable considering they technically stole a million pounds in winnings. Maybe one day they can spin the whole thing into an endorsement deal with Halls, but we wouldn’t hold our breath on that one.
OUR LITTLE GENIUS GOT CANCELLED BEFORE IT EVEN STARTED
In an echo back to the Twenty One scandal of the ’50s in which contestants were provided answers ahead of time by the show’s producers, Fox’s Our Little Genius found itself under FCC review before it ever aired for allegedly doing the exact same thing. The show would have featured supposedly smart kids doing trivia, but according to a letter sent to the FCC by a concerned parent, a show producer provided their child with supposed question answers long before filming began. Mark Burnett, the show creator, pulled the plug on the whole thing in an effort not to smear his legacy of shows. Burnett told the LA Times he considered to be “beyond reproach.” That’s especially interesting considering Burnett’s the brains behind shows like Survivor, The Apprentice, and Sarah Palin’s Alaska, which begs the question: How come she never seems to know the answers ahead of time?
6 SURPRISING GAME SHOW SCANDALS WE WEREN’T PREPARED FOR