Some Game Shows have gag prizes of negligible value. The name of this trope comes from the term used on Let's Make a Deal, where they almost always involved animals. Though there to cater to Rule of Funny, sometimes these prizes can still be desired by someone; poorly researched ones have even caused legal trouble for the givers. Sometimes, the gag prize can have something valuable hidden with it, with the producers pulling a fast one on the audience by completely defying expectations that it was a joke. Say you get a cheap birdhouse for a prize — oh, look, someone neatly tucked a roll of money inside! Which in itself can be a feint if said money inside is a skimpy amount. Contrast Undesirable Prize; that prize is something the producers actually thought contestants would want. Also contrast Consolation Prize; it's unlikely anyone who lands on a Zonk will be actually consoled by it. And, of course, contrast Whammy, which leaves you with nothing, not even a Zonk. Not to be confused with Air Zonk, a Spin-Off from Bonk.
open/close all folders
Let's Make a Deal, the show that was famous for offering such booby prizes: animals, absurd amounts of food, old and broken motor vehicles, etc. If the Zonk was an animal, it was usually a goat (or goats) or a cow, although the 2009 revival has also offered other farm animals, and even a "Zonkey" (a donkey painted with zebra stripes). The practice was discontinued in the middle of the first season when PETA (naturally) complained about it.
- You can buy most of those food-type Zonks at Sam's Club nowadays.
- The producers did make a mistake on this once, which, if they had been caught, would have been expensive. One of the "Zonks" offered was an oil derrick. At that time, a used oil derrick was worth about $6,000, more than the highest prize on that show. The contestant didn't know this, of course, and took the consolation prize.
- Winners of Zonks on Let's Make a Deal also had an option to sign a certificate of forfeiture after the show. If they did so, they would receive another prize of equal value to the Zonk; that's why some of the Zonks were risky for the producers.
- Some Zonks would actually contain more "legit" prizes within them. A week's supply of garbage cans, for instance (labeled for each day of the week), would sometimes have a perfect-condition fur coat in one. The food-based Zonks were also 100% legit, if you wanted them.
- Averted for the Brady version, as the Zonks are never actually meant to be prizes. Almost anything given away as a Zonk during the first season, even the large amounts of food, was usually spray-painted, smashed, or otherwise defaced to render it worthless; this now seems to be abandoned for the most part, to the point where certain Zonks contain things like DJ mixers and old-style TVs that appear to be in perfect condition and often even shown to be working... but they're still not actually prizes. Instead, the contestant gets a small sum between about $100-$300, depending on how much effort it took to put the Zonk together (and, hence, why the Brady-era Zonks have a large "ZONK!" sign).
- One time, as a Zonk, a contestant won a (beef) cow. Off-camera, the contestant was offered a consolation prize of a television, but was convinced by his friends that the cow was actually a better investment, and decided to take the cow. Wanting to use the cow for other shows, the producers were able to convince the contestant how much extra work and money owning the cow would be, including transportation, storage, and feed, that the contestant backed out and decided to take the television.
- During the days of Door #4 on the 1984-86 version, the "Zonk" space on the wheel was always awarded as a red T-shirt emblazoned with the phrase "I was Zonked by Monty Hall!"
- Even the foreign versions played along. The German Geh aufs Ganze had Zonks known as "Zonks", grey-red, fox-like plush animals. On the Polish version Idź Na Całość, Zonk was a red plush cat in a black bag (the original "pig in a poke" being a cat you couldn't see passed off as a young pig). In Polish slang, "zonk" today means "something unexpected".
- On the Wayne Brady version, the Zonk logo is used in some games (particularly ones that involve a luck-based challenge, such as "Movin' On Up") in situations where they function more like a Whammy rather than a joke prize. The Brady-era are also often completely ridiculous (which makes them funny), such as a "mobile phone" (an RC car shaped like a telephone) or "literal slippers" (shoes shaped like banana peels), but they still can't actually be taken home by insistent contestants.
Other Live-Action Television
- Concentration had some gag prizes, which was part of the reason for the "Forfeit One Gift" cards. One such gag prize was a brick wall. The contestant surely wouldn't want a brick wall, would he? Oh yes, he would, and the producers were forced to build a brick wall around the contestant's house for several thousand 1960s dollars. Since then, such gifts have been described more carefully (usually as something like "[X amount] of brick wall").
- The Chuck Barris versions of Treasure Hunt hosted by Geoff Edwards called these prizes "Klunks", which Edwards named himself.
- The Price Is Right has a game called Any Number, where the contestant has to guess digits from 0 to 9 to fill in the five-digit price of a car. The other digits show up in a smaller three-digit prize, and the "piggy bank", a literal cash value of dollars and cents formed from the remaining digits (thus having a maximum possible value of $9.87), dubbed at golden-road.net as "That damned piggy bank".
- In the UK game show 3-2-1, the Zonk was a dustbin, tying in with the show's animatronic mascot, Dusty Bin. Host Ted Rogers would actually warn, "Remember, all you win is a brand-new dustbin!", so the contestants wouldn't think they were actually getting a state-of-the-art robot worth far more than any other prize on the show.
- The above UK example makes sense when one considers that 3-2-1 is a version of a previous Spanish game show, appropriately named 1,2,3. In the final Auction Round, the contestants "bought" up to three objects offered by the host. The objects were usually worthless, but they had a card attached with the real prize that could be either something big or a joke item, like the show's mascot. About 99% of the time, getting that meant that you just got a toy pumpkin. But sometimes the pumpkin had attached a card of its own...
- During the final round of Distraction, your legitimate prizes might be turned into Zonks if you get the questions wrong. Same goes with Downfall, except they tell you straight up that the prizes up for destruction are fake.
- If you were bad enough at the bonus round of Winning Lines to get only one question correct, you won a trip to a bed and breakfast overlooking the "Spaghetti Junction" highway interchange in Birmingham. Contrast the grand prize, a trip around the world.
- Tawashi (Japanese kitchen scrubbing brush) are common zonks on many Japanese game shows. One, Shinkon-san Irasshai! (a Concentration-type game between newlywed couples) often ends with a bonus round featuring either a honeymoon in Hawaii or a tawashi.
- Brazilian variety program Domingo no Parque had the "Foguete" ("rocket") game - thoroughly copied throughout the years by other TV shows - where kids entered a rocket-shaped booth with acoustic sealing. Without listening to anything, they had to deafly respond with "yes" or "no" if they wanted to trade a prize for another - leading to things such as "do you trade this new bicycle for a match box?"
- The host of While You Were Out typically asks the relative of the person whose house is secretly being remodeled a few questions in between the remodeling scenes to test just how well they know that person. Answering correctly nets them a nice-looking decorating item for the room; answering incorrectly nets them a gag prize instead (ex: a tiny toy chest instead of a mahogany chest, plastic scrambled eggs instead of an elegant breakfast tray, a bag of coffee beans instead of a new coffee machine...).
- Kid's show Dick & Dom in da Bungalow had a real first and second prize, but third prize would be something like a crumpled housing benefit form, or a half-used tube of verruca cream.
- Bidders on Storage Wars can end up being Zonked if they spend a lot of money on a locker that ends up containing nothing but worthless garbage. Occasionally, the auctioneers could end up Zonked themselves if a locker contains very little, with the result that the bids could even go down to $1.
- The Banker on Deal or No Deal occasionally included items in the price he was willing to pay for a contestant's case. Some were worthwhile, but others were clearly meant to insult the player and prompt a "No Deal".
- Let's Bowl was very fond of this, especially during its initial syndication run, with grand prizes ranging from of fertilizer, a can of pork and beans, or dinner for two at Old Country Buffet. On its Comedy Central run, the prizes included membership in the Herring of the Month club, a used snowmobile, and supposedly mint condition 1970s family sedans.
- Parodied on a Kids in the Hall sketch: The winner of the apparently Dutch game show Feelyat! happily goes home with a Vietnamese pot-bellied pig.
- Conan does it as well - winners on "Basic Cable Name That Tune" are awarded such dubious prizes as a sack of barber hair, a cake that nobody ever picked up from the bakery (with the frosting reading "Hope your operation was a success!"), or a jar full of an unidentified white ooze with a handwritten label reading "NUZZ".
- Quicksilver, an old Irish gameshow, pretty much had this as its prizes and nothing else. Prizes were in pennies, which, even by the standards of The Sixties, was a hilariously small prize.
- The old Japanese game show Trans America Ultra Quiz did this with the grand prize awarded to the champion of the season, which was inevitably something impressive-sounding but worthless like an acre of land in the middle of the desert, or a private island in the Caribbean that's only an island during low tide. The actual prize for the show was that each of the later rounds were played in a different exotic locale, thus the finalists all got an all expenses paid international tour that lasted as long as they remained in the game.
Unscrupulous Radio Station Contests
Some Radio Stations have attempted to pass off Zonks as legit prizes. This kind of thing has resulted in more than one lawsuit — radio stations offering "a hundred grand" (the candy bar named "100 Grand") and "a new Hummer" (a tiny, remote-controlled version) have faced legal challenges to their dickishness.
- While "a new toy Yoda" (virtually indistinguishable from "Toyota" when spoken aloud) wasn't an example of radio-based dickishness, it was a great example of Hooters-based dickishness. The lawsuit hinged on the fact that despite "toy Yoda" and Toyota sounding similar, the restaurant manager had clearly described the prize as a car. It ended up being subverted by the lady who sued, as she eventually reached a settlement that apparently was more than enough to allow her to "pick out whatever type of Toyota she wants".
- One Manitoba radio station offered a contest wherein the prize was "A lovely Winter getaway to Miami!" Not Miami, Florida, but a small rural town in southeastern Manitoba.
- Parodied on an episode of Good Luck Charlie: Teddy enters a radio contest to win a new car after singing the National Anthem at a sporting event. Said car turned out to be a child's toy.
- In Bally's Dr. Dude, one of the random prizes available from the Bag O' Tricks is a measly 10 points.
- One of the items you can get in Safe Cracker is a blender, which is absolutely worthless.
- In Cyclone, the Mystery Wheel has an award slot for "Zilch", which is worth nothing.
- One of the Mystery Scores in the sequel, Hurricane, is "Absolutely Nothing".
- Cue Ball Wizard sometimes rewards the player with a worthless "cow pie".
- During multiball, it's possible to get scores in the tens or hundreds from Twilight Zone's "Odd Change" shot.
- One of the Roller Motion awards in Rollergames is the Penalty Pit, which gives the player zero points.
- Junk Yard's "Window Shopping" may award you with Toxic Waste, which provides no benefits whatsoever (though, contrary to its name, doesn't penalize anything either).
- On rare occasions, a Key Master machine will sometimes have, locked up, a prize worth far less than the others but as equally difficult to obtain, likely as a joke. The one at The Outlets at Orange in Anaheim, CA, for instance, perpetually has a can of Spam as one of the prizes, whereas the rest of them consist of the likes of Xbox Ones, Beats headphones, and US$200 gift cards.
- One episode of SpongeBob SquarePants had Mr. Krabs set Squidward and SpongeBob on a little contest to see who can offer the best customer service — and to ensure it is a contest and not just SpongeBob making nice to the customers while Squidward exercises his normal disdain, he offers a prize while enticingly brandishing a brochure for a tropical vacation. After Squidward goes to such lengths to beat SpongeBob that he actually gets put in prison, Mr. Krabs declares that prison or not he's most certainly the winner, and hands him the brochure. It was taking up space in his drawer and he needed to get rid of it.
- The Rocko's Modern Life episode "Dear John" plays with this. Rocko's kitchen gets destroyed and he goes on a game show to win a new one. He wins, but it turns out his prize is a single spoon and he needs to keep winning every day for the rest of the summer to get the whole kitchen.
- This caused significant problems for the Simpsons when Bart opted for the gag prize over the cash sum; not only did the radio station not actually have the gag prize available to give away, but when they did eventually get it, the prize caused untold carnage lasting for approximately the duration of the episode. Its title: "Bart Gets an Elephant".
- Subverted in the Looney Tunes cartoon "The Million Hare". Daffy Duck barely beats Bugs Bunny in a race to a radio station, but is told that his prize wasn't a million bucks, but "The Million Box": a crate containing a million little boxes. Daffy "graciously" gives the prize to Bugs, but finds out that each of the little boxes contained a $1 bill.
- Atomic Betty had an episode where Betty and her crew were trying to safely transport an item referred to as "Project Zonk", which they believe to be important, but ends up just being taco sauce.