Could I have the Whammy
Sometimes on a Game Show
, a prize is just so stinkingly bad that the contestants actively try not to get it. It's not a Zonk
, or a "prize" that signifies that you've lost — it's an honest-to-goodness real prize made by a legitimate company that the show's producers actually thought someone would want. You don't feel like you've won anything when you win it, and in some cases you wish you would've gotten the Zonk.
Sometimes the prize itself isn't bad, but the circumstances can render it this. For example, a lot of people might like a Jet-Ski or a boat, but if you live in Kansas or Arizona, that can be a little underwhelming. Similarly trips to places such as New York aren't quite as exciting if you actually live there. Because of this kind of thing, most game shows will, behind the scenes, allow you to decline unwanted prizes (and the associated tax hit) without affecting your official win total, or request to receive the prize's cash value instead.
To clarify: in order to be an "undesirable prize", it has to a: have more than token value and b: be offered in good faith
by the giver. If it's not, then what you have is a Zonk
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- The former Trope Namer was the Flokati Rug on Press Your Luck, which is probably second to the Wheel Dalmatian below as the most recognizable example. It usually appeared only in Round 1, but managed to be won at least twice.
- For those of you who don't know what the heck one of those are, a Flokati rug is an area rug usually used in bathrooms because they're soft, feel nice on your feet, and are sound dampeners...and they are in no way comparable to winning a Jet-Ski.
- The Flokati rug became a Running Gag on the show, which led host Peter Tomarken to wear one on his head in an episode. Amusingly, it resembled a Colonial wig.
- Its Sequel Series, Whammy!, had tons of these, especially in Round 1. Who wanted $300 worth of M&M's when $300 was also the lowest cash amount on the board? Just look at all the prizes on this list worth $300 or less — all 100+ of them.
- Wheel of Fortune has filled this trope several times:
- During the time when winners spent their winnings on prizes, one of the lower-value items was a nearly 3-foot-tall ceramic Dalmatian statue priced at $154...although strangely, no brand was ever named in relation to it. Its earliest known appearance is March 15, 1978, where original host Chuck Woolery notes that three or four had been purchased up to that point before asking the staff if one of them had puppies.
- Most contestants were very careful not to be stuck with one, but by March 1987 it became so popular (and became the show's mascot) that contestants actually chose it deliberately. Not a bad idea, since they eventually became valuable collector's items worth well into four figures. (Vanna owns one as well, and it's made appearances on the show.)
- By 2009, it was given the name "Sheldon" by the people at Wheel, and at one point it was made into a bobblehead. Also, for each week of Season 30 it appeared somewhere on the set.
- This is referenced in an episode of Rugrats where Didi wins on a game show, and to her husband and father-in-law's dismay chooses the dog statue as her prize (although here the dalmatian isn't ceramic but gold-plated, and since it's three feet high, the amount of precious metal in it probably makes it worth quite a pretty penny).
- There's also a Family Guy gag in which a ceramic dalmatian is the first prize Peter buys. Though in this case it's not even the cheapest item in the showcase, plus at the end Peter asks for his unused $50 on a gift certificate.
- Wheel also has the $1,000 Gift Tag, which fit this trope through Season 29 because only cash amounts were multiplied by the number of times the letter called occurs in the puzzle. Thus, if you called a letter that showed up even just twice, most of the time you would've been better off landing on a cash space. In addition, Gift Tags couldn't be used to buy vowels. Beginning in Season 30, though, landing on it also awards $500 per letter.
- Sometimes in the 1990s, the Prize wedges and Bonus Round offered some very weird things. How does an engraving of Florence Nightingale, with an authentic signature of hers, grab you? What about a historic document signed by Abraham Lincoln? A build-your-own log cabin kit?
- An unintentional one came up in one episode where a contestant won the dream prize, an all-expenses-paid trip to Hawaii. No points for guessing where the guy lives. (In fairness, though, he had a sense of humor and was a good sport about it. Besides, even without the "free round trip" part, there's still the "free stay in a nice hotel" part.)
- Over the years, Bullseye UK offered such wonderful prizes as a standard touch-tone telephone, a teasmade, a Betamax video player, "his and hers" matching shell suits, and even a remote-control toy cat! Not to mention the "star prizes", which often included items that were unlikely to be used by the contestants (usually a speedboat won by a couple living in landlocked Wolverhampton) or difficult to share among friends, such as a fitted kitchen or a car.
- On an early-1970s episode of Concentration, during a period when home viewers would win prizes based on the first letter of their surname (turning over that trilon on the board), a viewer in Oklahoma won a motorboat and Bob Clayton was less than impressed. Shortly afterwards, the show was flooded with brochures of Oklahoma lakes. In fact, most Okie lakes are man-made in response to the Dust Bowl.
- The Price Is Right producers were rather fond of a large, wheeled, popcorn cart during Bob Barker's tenure as host. Contestants were usually less-than-convincingly enthused when it showed up.
- Price used to be loaded with these, with antique gas pumps and carousel horses also favorite "prizes". The frequency of these has gone down significantly in the Drew Carey era, however, since replaced by outlandish and bizarre prizes (seriously, 365 pairs of shoes?!).
- Many a contestant groaned when they passed a Showcase with a car and a trip and took a gamble, only to find the second Showcase was "Nothing But Furniture" set to the tune of "Splendido".
- Or, even worse, the dreaded "Train Depot", "Port O'Price", or "Department Store" Showcases (well, back when those were in use). Cue visible This Is Gonna Suck looks from less-than-enthused contestants. Several other contestants could be seen scowling at any Showcase that didn't contain a car (and sometimes, if said car wasn't a sports or luxury car), and at least one could be seen mouthing "I don't want it!"
- Every time a trip is offered to somewhere that just so happens to be the contestant's hometown or close to it. While they usually throw in a luxury hotel and a few touristy things, winning a trip to something you live an hour away from would be kind of dull, all things considered. Still, it was on the show's dime. Not to mention a lot of the outdoorsy prizes such as barbeque grills, lawnmowers, and patio furniture are gonna be disappointing if the contestant happens to live in an apartment building.
- Trips to other locations in California, including one to Hollywood where the show tapes. (Worth noting that Price doesn't fly in contestants; it calls them down from an audience that got there on their own.)
- Doug Davidson's 1994 syndicated Price offered a Watara Supervision as a prize on the first aired episode. Just like this version of the show, it was long forgotten.
- People who know better would realize that Price actually subverts this trope with many of these same prizes — decent popcorn carts actually produce high-quality popcorn, for example, and gas pumps have a large collector's market. Consequently, these prizes can be worth thousands of dollars, a particularly important fact on Price; however, only the show can offer the item's estimated cash value as a prize instead, and it's definitely in your best interest to take said offers.
- The Switcheroo game has a car as the top prize to win and four lesser prizes the contestant could also win. More often than not, the contestant would miss out on the car and win something disappointing like a blender or a tape dispenser (basically anything $100 more or less).
- Any Number has three prizes: a car, a somewhat expensive item (such as a kitchen appliance), and the piggy bank (a cash prize below $10). The car is sought after for the big win while the other two prizes are met with disappointment since they are worth far less. The second prize fits this trope the best, since the piggy bank is basically lampshaded to be a Zonk by the hostnote .
- Money Game, while very easy to play, is also difficult to win. There are a pair of numbers that are the price of the car and getting those wins you the car. All the other numbers just gets you money based on their value. Contestants who don't win the car usually wind up with something like $100+ as a consolation prize. Obviously, you want to win the car.
- For the male contestants, winning prizes that are made for a woman, such as a designer purse or a collection of high heels. Granted, those type of prizes are pretty valuable and the contestant can still get a nice chunk of change if they choose to sell them, but a grown man wouldn't be caught owning them.
- The brief 2012 revival of the Australian version of The Price Is Right often gave away shopping sprees from its sponsor Big W (which is that country's equivalent of Wal-Mart) worth $3,000, and other prizes given away during the normal games almost never exceeded $2,000. Previous versions gave away a lot more in prizes.
- Downfall allowed contestants to sacrifice these prizes for more time by letting them fall over the edge of a building.
- Among the numerous problems with the American Temptation: The New $ale of the Century was its fondness for offering designer women's clothing, perfume, women's jewelry, etc. as prizes (in place of the "unisex" vacations, household appliances, furniture, etc. which its predecessors offered), which few male contestants would be interested in. One particularly bad offender was a prize package which included backstage passes to a Chippendales show, although the contestant who won it was female.
- A grand prize of Nick Arcade was a trip to Universal Studios, where the show was recorded. If you enjoyed the place, you got a couple of extra days to stay; otherwise, you might have been let down.
- High Rollers: On the 1978-80 NBC version, the producers were known to offer off-beat or otherwise unusual prizes such as African musical dolls, an antique Chinese fishbowl (with a stated value of $10,000), gift certificates to Kentucky Fried Chicken (dubbed "Sunday Chicken for a Year", effectively 52 $10 gift certificates), and a trip to the Kentucky Derby with $100 bets on each horse. And those were just a few of the examples.
- Mexican show En Familia Con Chabelo has a memorable show called La Catafixia in which children are tortured with doubt and anxiety after "what would be behind that door". The contestant may unknowingly interchange a Sony stereo for a broom, for example.
- In the dreadful children's game show Thousand-Dollar Bee, the prize for the entire season was a $1000 savings bond for college; in this decade, probably enough for a handful of credit hours or one semester of required textbooks. No wonder so many of the kids weren't even trying.
- The kids' game show Treasure Mall offered a sewing machine. A kids' show!!! Granted, the grand prize haul, if won, more than made up for it...
- Take It All is a mixed bag: some of its prizes have included arcade cabinets, maid service plus a new washer and dryer, a Smart Car, a Vespa scooter, and the like. But then you have somewhat outlandish things like a Brew Cave (basically a giant walk-in fridge designed for beer, which some men would dream of having), a giant mechanical bull ride, and 5 years worth of Omaha Steaks.
- The Pontiac Aztek was a prize on the very first run of Survivor, it's useful yes, but generally considered one of the ugliest cars ever made.
- Jep! and Wheel 2000, the short-lived kids' versions of their respective adult shows, both gave away a week's worth of free limo rides to and from school as one of their grand prizes.
- In the parody game show Shooting Stars the grand prize is often laughably small, but its value is hugely overexaggerated by the presenters.
- Quicksilver was an Irish gameshow that ran from the mid sixties up until 1981 had contestants compete for hilariously small monetary sums, as in pocket change amounts. It did add the phrase "Stop the lights" to the Hiberno-English lexicon though.
Other Live Action Television
- Late Night With Jimmy Fallon parodies this with "Wheel Of Carpet Samples", whose prize winners get carpet samples while the losers' consolation prizes are $300 Apple Store gift cards. Though after the ruse is revealed, the "winner" won one too. Another joke prize, Led Zeppelin t-shirts with missing L's, would be better classified as Zonks.
- Square One TV had game show bits that were either genuine unscripted games or fictional games that were obviously skits. The genuine games usually had the prizes of Square One sweaters and sweatshirts, which the contestants often responded to with less than enthusiasm. In one of the fictional ones, a contestant was awarded a trip to Cleveland, Ohio...but she lived in Cleveland, Ohio. To be fair, this has actually happened on game shows.
- This type of occurrence was also parodied by National Lampoon's Funny Money (a real game show filmed in Las Vegas) where one Zonk was a trip to Las Vegas — down the street from the studio.
- The Eurovision Song Contest winner gets to host the next year's contest. While this entitles the winner to show huge amounts of tourism ads, getting them made and hosting a contest is basically a huge, expensive hassle and financially impossible for most smaller countries. Often, countries that can't afford to host Eurovision will send in limp squib songs or odd novelty acts in order to avoid winning (resulting in occasional Springtime for Hitler moments when the novelty ends up being more interesting than anything else in the contest); Scandinavia and the World commented on this in 2012 (when Greece and Iceland were in the tank economically). Alternatively, they can turn it down. Granted, there would be a certain loss of face associated with this, but there's no obligation on them to host, as long as they announce their intention not to host it within a certain time. Father Ted parodied this during Ireland's string of victories in The Nineties with the Song For Ireland committee intentionally sending Ted and Dougal's godawful song through with Ireland getting nil points at the actual Eurovision.
- Oprah's legendary "EVERYBODY GETS A CAR!!!" episode of her "Favorite Things" ended up being this for some of the lucky recipients. While they clearly were overjoyed by the cars, they didn't realize that the cars were officially considered a "prize," instead of a "gift," the big difference being that prizes are taxed, and unlike a cash prize, they had to find a way to come up with the taxes on them (some being thousands of dollars) out of their own pocket. Some of the people in the audience had to sell the car to pay for the car.
- One Canadian radio station offered an entire house to the lucky winner, but the prize was actually a run-down, badly-in-need of-repair house in the Saskatchewan prairie. The new owners felt decidedly cheated.
- Fresh 102.7, a New York-area radio station, plays good music but is often mocked for offering scratch-off lottery tickets as prizes on their morning show.
- The Kiss FM station in Milwaukee once offered a 3rd Rock from the Sun gift pack a few times over the weekend, which only included generic gimmie items like Frisbees and coffee mugs festooned with the Third Rock logo, not even any DVD's of the series. There were times that weekend when the winner wasn't even mentioned, suggesting nobody called to "win" the prize.
- Garfield and Friends: An early episode from 1988, named "The Binky Show", sees Garfield go on a game show to win a gift for Jon. Unfortunately for the cat, the game show is a ridiculous quizzer named "Name That Fish", the host is the obnoxious Binky the Clown, the audience is incredibly bored, and the prizes range from ostrich scrubbers to tomato squeezers and other junk. (Obviously, the cartoon short is a satire poking fun at the unusual and bizarre gifts sometimes offered on game shows.)
- Pretty much par-for-the-course with the prizes on the "May I Have a Word?" Show Within a Show interstitials on WordGirl.
- Played to maximum Black Comedy effect in the South Park episode "Cow Days", where they win a free trip to the titular festival. They try to make the most of it, but unfortunately for them, things go From Bad to Worse when they are falsely convicted of stealing the festival's symbol and thrown in jail. By the end of the episode, when the clock is found along with the actual culprits, the cows, the couple is discovered to have starved to death in jail after being left without supervision.
- You're a Good Sport, Charlie Brown features a motocross race where the prize was originally two tickets to the Pro Bowl...but they couldn't get them, so they got a gift certificate good for five free haircuts at the last minute. Of course, this is the one thing that Charlie Brown actually wins...and gets a gift certificate that's worthless to him because his dad is a barber, and of course, his unique baldness.
- In The Simpsons, Mr. Burns gifts the eponymous family with a very expensive giant Olmec head in thanks for a life-saving blood transfusion. While Bart enjoys it, the others regard it as this, and it is apparently not easily resold as it can be seen taking up space in their attic or basement in several subsequent episodes.
- In an episode of Super Jail to inmates were trying to kill each other. Alice comes by, drops some weapons next to them, then states that the winner can have "her". The two immediately stop fighting.
- The Toad Houses in Super Mario Bros. 3 offered the choice of three powerups; mixed in with the cool stuff like a Super Leaf, Hammer Suit, or Tanooki Suit was often something relatively useless and common like a Mushroom.
- The inclusion of a Frog Suit in the boxes after the water levels, where it would have been useful, may also qualify.
- Super Mario World also has Mushrooms as an item that most players try to avoid. If you're already in super form (big Mario) and need an extra item to use later, a Mushroom would be fine. However, if you already have an item in reserve, picking up a new item replaces the old one, which means your stored Feather (spin attack + flight) or Fire Flower (fireballs) would be replaced by a Mushroom.
- Since the point is to have fun playing the games, the "prizes" in arcades usually stink, especially those low-valued "use your last few tickets prizes" like pencils and Chinese finger traps. Even the expensive prizes aren't better when you realize that you've sank $30 in tickets for a $5 teddy bear.
- Undesirable or anti-climactic gifts, like getting clothes for Christmas as a kid, also self improvement items (such as a bathroom scale) or appliances associated with housecleaning are generally considered bad anniversary gifts.
- There are a number of titles on Steam whose revenue seems to come near exclusively from people who wait until the game goes on sale for less than a dollar and then gift it to their "friends" (it used to be even worse, because gifts would go straight into your game library instead of your inventory where you can theoretically re-gift them). The most notorious examples are likely Bad Rats The Rats Revenge and Secret Of The Magic Crystals. (Any budding game developers out there need not get any bright ideas; the advent of Steam Greenlight means that indie games must be vetted by the userbase before becoming available.)
- Sadly, there is no approximate pricing range for the games, so "Would you buy it for an unknown sum?" doesn't help the Greenlight votes very much.
- On The Beatles' 1967 Christmas record to their fan clubs, the boys do a bit of improv of a game show set up:
John: And how old are you?
George: Thirty-two. (canned applause)
John: Well you've just won a trip to Denver and five others. And also...wait for it...you have been elected as independent candidate to Paddington!
- In the mahjong games featured in Saki, winning is typically a good thing, with the main question being whether you want to get a cheap hand before your opponents can, or a large hand once every few games (as noted when Fujita asks her commentator partner whether he'd want a 50% chance at 1,000 yen or a 33% chance at 2,000 yen if he had unlimited attempts). This isn't necessarily the case when Takami Shibuya is on the table, since every time her opponents win while they're the dealer, she gets to pick a tile, and late in the game, uses "Harvest Time" to score hands of her choosing, including yakumans if possible. This is especially problematic for Ako, who favors winning with cheap hands., and can't help but win as dealer.
- In Barkley, Shut Up and Jam: Gaiden, giving the F.I.N.A.L.G.U.N. to Mark the Gun's Collector earns you a worthless sticker.
- In Fallout: New Vegas, collecting 50 Sunset Sarsaparilla Star Caps leads to Festus telling you the "true story" of how Sunset Sarsaparilla was made. Afterwards, if you tell him how worthless this prize is, he'll tell you an alternate, physical prize is available deeper in the Sunset Sarsaparilla factory, which turns out to be a bunch of stickers, along with the corpse of an equally-obsessed collector and his powerful unique laser pistol.
- Megarace exclusively offered these. In return for engaging in death defying races with dangerous criminals, you could win such things as cheap seat covers for your car, a copy of host Lance Boyle's autobiography (don't worry, it's a fake. You just get the cover), a night out with yourself (all expenses paid by you), or a genuine Scottish accent.