In the realm of gameshows, cash prizes have always been a major draw for contestants and audiences alike. Over the years, the landscape of gameshows and the prizes they offer have undergone significant transformations. From the modest beginnings of the first cash prize gameshow, Take Your Pick!, to the recent surge of high-stakes shows like Squid Game: The Challenge, this article explores the evolution of cash prizes and their impact on the gameshow industry.
- The Humble Beginnings: Take Your Pick!
In 1955, Take Your Pick! burst onto the scene as the first UK gameshow to offer a cash prize. Hosted by Michael Miles, this early gameshow set the stage for the genre's future. Each episode would begin with the nail-biting "Yes-No interlude," where contestants had to answer questions without saying "yes" or "no." Surviving this ordeal for a minute would earn contestants four shillings, along with the chance to select a box with a mystery prize or trade it for a cash sum. The quality of the prizes varied widely, ranging from luxurious washing machines and Mediterranean cruises to mousetraps and even bread with dripping.
- The Rise of the High-Stakes Shows: Squid Game: The Challenge
Fast forward nearly 70 years, and we find ourselves in a vastly different gameshow landscape. Squid Game: The Challenge, a reality contest spin-off of the popular Netflix series, has taken the world by storm with its ultraviolent drama and mind-bending challenges. Filmed, in part, on a vast London soundstage, this show pushes contestants to their limits, with reports of medical attention, complaints of dangerous filming conditions, and exploding squib pack vests showering contestants in blue ink. The ultimate prize for the last person standing on Squid Game: The Challenge is a staggering $4.56 million, the largest sum ever awarded in gameshow history.
- A Resurgence of Cash Prizes: 007: Road to a Million and Beyond
Netflix is not alone in the pursuit of high-stakes gameshows. Amazon recently launched 007: Road to a Million, a unique blend of James Bond and Race Across the World. Hosted by the renowned Brian Cox, this show offers the winners a generous £1 million prize. While not reaching the levels of Squid Game, this cash prize still exceeds what most other TV shows offer.
- The Decline of Million-Pound Prizes
The current spate of big-money prizes is somewhat surprising, considering the decline of million-pound gameshow prizes in recent years. The era of TV prize largesse, which saw shows frequently offering or guaranteeing million-pound or million-dollar prizes, seemed to have passed. In the UK, for example, there have been only four million-pound plus winners in the past decade, compared to nine in the previous decade. Shows like Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, once synonymous with minting new millionaires, have aired infrequently or not at all in 2023.
- A Historical Perspective: The Evolution of Prizes
To understand the shift in gameshow prizes, we must examine the historical context. Throughout British TV history, there was hesitancy around awarding contestants large sums of cash. Even on commercial channels, which faced regulatory caps in their early years, cash prizes were limited. Instead, contestants were often offered fitted kitchens and cuddly toys. In the US, strict restrictions on prizes were introduced following the gameshow scandals of the 1960s, immortalized in Robert Redford's film Quiz Show. However, the deregulation of the Reagan era in the US and the Thatcher era in the UK led to the removal of prize limits, ushering in the "million" era of gameshows.
- The Changing Landscape: Impact of Viewing Habits
The decline of cash prizes can be attributed, in part, to the shift in viewing habits over the past 15 years. With lower viewership, advertising revenues decreased, affecting the funds available for cash prizes. The rise of online streaming platforms and the arrival of the national lottery in the UK, offering larger cash prizes, further diminished the allure of gameshow winnings. Becoming a millionaire became more common, with 2.85 million people in the UK achieving that status in 2022.
In conclusion, the gameshow industry has experienced a fascinating evolution in cash prizes, from the modest beginnings of Take Your Pick! to the high-stakes challenges of Squid Game: The Challenge. While the era of million-pound and million-dollar prizes may have waned, recent shows like Squid Game: The Challenge and 007: Road to a Million signal a resurgence of substantial cash prizes. As the world of gameshows continues to evolve, it will be intriguing to see if streaming platforms like Netflix and Amazon can recreate the excitement and spectacle of the past, capturing the collective gasps and exhilaration of audiences once again.