Now I Know - Now I Know: The Price Is Fixed

Today is Veterans Day and I meant to take it off, but I forgot to mention it previously, so instead, I'm sharing this (unrelated) story from 2012. 

To those who served, thank you for your service. -- Dan

 

The Price is Fixed

At the end of many American television game shows, you may see an odd disclaimer, something to the effect of “portions of this program not affecting the outcome may have been edited.” It’s a curious thing to note; after all, very few if any of us would believe that the entire show was shot without any glitches or similar. For example, we should not expect a television network to show us a tongue-tied host stumbling over his opening greeting — nor would we expect the show to note that it removed such a blooper in the editing room.

That odd disclaimer is an off-shoot of reforms that came into place after a series of game shows in the 1950s turned out to be rigged. Producers gave some contestants the answers in quiz games, in hopes of keeping the more affable and audience-friendly competitors on the shows and developing a narrative which would draw in more viewers. (You can read more about that here.) After the scandal came to light, game shows still had to be edited, of course, but doing so ran the risk of losing the faith of the audience. One of the workarounds was the above message, adding a thin veneer of transparency. (Maybe.)

The Price is Right, a game show, debuted in 1972 (as we know it; there was an earlier, very different version from 1956 to 1965), and has aired in the U.S. since. It has spread throughout the world, with versions running on all six inhabited continents at one point or another. One of its most popular games is Plinko, seen above, where contestants earn chips which they can later drop from the top of the Plinko board aiming for the center slot, worth $10,000. The chips bounce off pegs on their way down, and where they land is as much luck as it is skill.

Except for this one time, when it was neither.

On July 22, 2008, a young woman came up to the Plinko board with five chips. She let the first one go and it bounced around, finally coming to rest in the much-desired $10,000 spot. She let the second go and… the same thing happened. A third, and another $10k. She releases the fourth one and, per an eyewitness account from reddit:

A man with a headset comes sprinting in from the wings, runs right up to the board, and SLAMS his hand against the token as it falls. Another staffer fetches [the contestant] and leads her down the staircase to sit at the foot of the stage, while Drew Carey leaves the stage and the curtain falls. The crowd is instantly making angry and confused noises. […] The announcer tries to calm everybody down, but admits he has no clue what’s happening. After a long wait, maybe 15 minutes, Drew Carey comes back on stage, takes [the contestant]’s hand, and addresses the crowd.

What happened? Carey explained to the crowd (and to Entertainment Tonight, in this video) that the Plinko board was rigged — in the player’s favor. The Price is Right crew was off for two weeks and, while the studio and games were available, the marketing team for the Price video game came in to film some promos. They ran some fish wire down the Plinko board, guiding the chips to the huge payout in the center, but forgot to take the wires down afterward. And no one noticed before the TV show went back into production.

But, due in part to the reforms of the 1950s, the producers had to let the young woman keep her $30,000. (Besides, they may have had a riot on their hands otherwise.) And they let her restart her Plinko game with all five chips; she earned another $3,000. However, they did not include her seemingly miraculous Plinko chips in the show on air. Because again, “portions of the program not affecting the outcome may have been edited.”



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Bonus fact: Most of the non-U.S. versions of The Price is Right were, by and large, similar to the American one. Of course, there were some differences based on the region and the culture of these productions, but one difference stands out. The French Canadian version, Misez Juste, which aired in 1994-1995, had the same prizes but much cheaper versions. As summarized on Wikipedia, instead of sending prize winners across the country or to Europe, they sent contestants to nearby Halifax or to Cuba. And instead of winning cars, contestants earned vouchers for free car rentals.

From the Archives: Judging Jeopardy: What happens behind the scenes on one of America’s favorite quiz games.
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