Do Game Shows Want You to Win, or to Lose?

By Mike

This guest post comes from Michael, a contributing editor of the Dough Roller, a personal finance and investing blog, and Credit Card Offers IQ, a credit card review site.


It’s rare that I can make it through a whole week without watching some kind of game show. Should the game show network ever make its way into my cable package, I’m deathly afraid that my life will cease to exist outside of my television. No one can argue the genius behind the game show greats like “Let’s Make a Deal”, “Press Your Luck” or “The Price is Right,” and with more and more new ideas debuting every year, it begs the question I’ve always wondered. Do game shows actually want people to win or to lose?

What do you suppose would happen if every other night on “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire”, a contestant was smart enough to win $500,000 or more? How long could a show that is only earning revenue from being on TV for thirty minutes a week last when it is hemorrhaging hundreds of thousands of dollars all of the time? I bet the producers are sweating more than the contestants when it’s time to ask big money questions!

With a little research, I quickly realized that for a well thought out game show, contestant’s winnings are of no consequence. Anytime there is a chance of an extremely large cash prize, an insurance policy is taken out which makes sure that no matter what is won, the network can pay out. You always think that someone is going to win a prize the show never expected could happen and then scramble to find a way to make good on their offer, but the insurer of the prize is happy to pay out, as they have been collecting high monthly premiums for years. The amount of insurance would be based on how difficult it is to win the prizes on the game show. So in the case of Millionaire, you can expect a high premium as many people have come away with hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Not only would a game show not care if you win, they will most likely be rooting you on the whole way. Game shows make for great television when two things happen. Either the contestant is able to win it all and their success story is watched by millions of people rooting them on and dreaming that one day this could be them, OR, the contestant does so poorly that the discussion around the water cooler the next day is how stupid they are and how you laughed and laughed. It’s human nature to want others to fail when you yourself are not doing so well, and games shows are a way of feeling that “high.”  Sad but true.

Winning all of the time though could cause a big problem. If the odds of winning are too easy, then you’ll find yourself with a very high insurance cost and a very low audience. If everyone wins, what’s the point of watching the show? When contestants are pitted against other contestants, like Jeopardy for example, somebody inherently has to win (unless of course they all lose everything on the final question) so sometimes you can’t avoid having winners every show. An ideal game show would have its fair share of highs and lows, a personable host that everyone loves, an extremely high and somewhat unattainable prize that is only reached a few times in the shows history so its insurance costs are manageable, and an audience that just can’t stop tuning in because the idea is so outrageous. They have to see it to believe it.

Ultimately, it takes a balanced amount of both winning and losing in order to make a game show successful. Just like so many other things in life, you have to experience the lows so you can appreciate the highs. The next time you watch a game show and hope the contestant going for a million doesn’t screw up, know that you’re in good company with everyone involved with the game show.

image source: matthew simoneau


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