Million Dollar Money Drop. The premise is that you start with a million, and you put how much you want to bet on the 4 answers given for a question, but you have to leave one answer with no money on it. If there is any money on an incorrect answer, you lose that money. Round 3 reduces the answers to three, but you must still leave one with no money. But in the final round, you have two answers, and you must still leave one answer with no money (turning it into an All or Nothing question).
The Nickelodeon kids show Legends of the Hidden Temple had a really low success rate (less than 25%). The locked doors guaranteed that you would have to go all the way to the far end of the temple and double back to retrieve the artifact (making Olmec's slogan "The Choices are Yours and Yours Alone" Blatant Lies), and you had to perform tasks and solve puzzles in up to 12 rooms before you found it (some were simple, like the Throne of the Pretender, but others, like the Shrine of the Silver Monkey, messed EVERYONE up.) Adding to that were Temple Guards, who would "kidnap" you and would cause your teammate to have to start over from the beginning. Throw in darkness, shadows, music, fog and Kirk Fogg, and you'll see why more than one kid ended up walking in circles with confused looks on their faces.
There were also some technical problems with the temple; namely, it appeared to have been designed, built, and tested with adults, meaning that some of the child contestants simply were not tall enough to complete the tasks. The two worst rooms for this were the Shrine of the Silver Monkey (the three pieces of the monkey puzzle were overhead and shorter contestants had to jump to reach them) and the Jester's Court (contestants had to line up with a wall painting and hit three buttons on the hands, feet, etc., and again, some kids just were not tall enough to reach.)
The final round in Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego? wasn't too bad if you knew about geography, but the final round of Where In Time Is Carmen Sandiego was painful. In theory, The Trail of Time wasn't too bad. There were six gates you had to pass through. Carmen asked a history question with two answers (EXAMPLE: It's 1960. The song "We Shall Overcome" is dedicated to which US protest movement? Civil Rights or Anti-War?) Get the answer right, the gate opens automatically; Get it wrong, however, and you have to perform some time-consuming task like pulling up a rock with a rope or spinning a wheel. This wouldn't be too bad, except fot the fact that they didn't put the gates in order. They were generally scattered around, and all the kids had to work with were a few blinking lights and the Engine Crew leading them around with airport flashlights. It was confusing enough to fuel the theory that they made the Trail of Time deliberately confusing so they wouldn't have to pay out the grand prize as often (Since Time was created after World's budget was cut down.)
World wasn't much better, the beacons the player had to place needed to be put in exactly the right spot or the sensor wouldn't register. Not only that but they were just slightly top-heavy and had a tendency to fall over and need to be replaced in order to win. Add in the fact that the locations were given in such an order that it usually forced the player to wind through beacons they had already placed (thus accidentally knocking them over and having to spend extra time putting them back up) led to many grand prizes lost.
UK show The Crystal Maze was won by only a few teams in its entire run. The individual challenges to earn crystals ranged from dead simple to unfair, but what ultimately decided the difference between winning an adventure holiday or going home with only a souvenir paperweight was the Crystal Dome, a giant hollow wind chamber in the shape of a crystal in which the team would have a period of five seconds per crystal to grab at slips of foil, hoping to collect 100 more gold ones than silver ones.
Several of the games were so hard that nobody ever won them. One Futuristic Zone game in the first series was played in almost every episode and involved trying to guide 4 ball-bearings into tiny pin-holes, it was never as much as half-won. Despite this, the opening title sequence showed the Crystal being won in this game - presumably as stock footage.
The Japanese sure do love creating sadistic obstacle course shows for the masses to humiliate themselves on:
Ninja Warrior is just pure obstacle course hell, with the obstacles becoming more and more difficult with each season. In all of its 23+ seasons of running, only three people have successfully completed all four levels of the competition. In fact, the show's design team have admitted that they try each tournament to make the first round so tough that no one could beat it.
The most devastating obstacle of them all, by far, is the Cliffhanger. It's basically a hand-strength obstacle placed in the middle of the 3rd round, where upper-body strength is the means to victory. The first three versions were rather simple, with anyone with enough hand strength able to get through it handily. Then came the 4th version, which included a rise so that most competitors would have to JUMP across the gaps between bars 2 and 3 to proceed, which was bad enough considering most contestants are EXHAUSTED by that point. Then, after the Urushihara beat the course, came the Ultimate Cliffhanger◊...
Possibly even worse is the female version of the tournament, which only one woman has successfully beaten (and she's done it three times!). In the most recent one, four of the original tournament's recurring competitors (dubbed the All-Stars) had each mentored a female competitor. None of their proteges made it past the first stage.
Takeshi's Castle is Nintendo Hard in TV game show form. It ran for four years, each episode had 100-140 (possibly even more) starting contestants; only nine people ever won (this isn't including a the two occasions in which Takeshi took his castle back from Tani (Although they were 90 minute specials, however they still didn't count), an episode where a contestant stabbed the paper ring on Takeshi's cart with his gun, effectively disqualifying him, and an episode where his cart got stuck on long grass, in which it was declared a draw).
Unbeatable Banzuke mostly involves either getting through an insanely complicated obstacle course using an unusual method of travel (like walking on one's hands, on stilts, with a wheelbarrow, etc.), completing an oversized children's game, or performing as many exercise feats as possible within a time limit. Out of the hundreds that try their luck, only 2 or 3 on average manage to succeed, with the record before the show's cancellation being 7 wins.
Hole in the Wall is another game that's pretty difficult to win, due to the fact that most of the time the holes are way too small for the average contestants to fit through properly and if the hole is destroyed, the contestant loses the round regardless of whether they were pushed off of the course or not. The difficulty was shot Up to Eleven during the final round where the contestant was BLINDFOLDED and had to listen to their teammates instructions in order to get through the hole. Couple this with the fact that some of the later rounds had holes that were airborne in the MIDDLE of the wall, which required the contestant to blindly jump and get lucky enough to clear the hole and you can see why the success rate of the winners is so low.
Minute to Win It is a prime example of this trope. The first few levels are usually simple, but once you hit around Level 6, they truly start getting Nintendo Hard (try bouncing six marbles into tiny thimbles, or keeping three marbles on a slanted table with the back of a spoon for a full minute, or using a chopstick in one hand to make a stable tower of ten metal nuts on a wooden board in the other hand). But the real head of the beast is Supercoin, the Million Dollar game. You have to bounce a quarter off of a table into a water jug 15 feet away, with the hole being a mere 1.75 inches wide (barely larger than the quarter itself). Needless to say, it's basically a Luck-Based Mission, and of the eight people who have tried it (only one of whom got there the "legitimate" way, mind you), all have failed. You know something's wrong when only the host of the Turkish version can actually beat it in less than 60 seconds. And he only did so by complete accident while demonstrating it to a contestant. It got so bad that the audience started groaning upon hearing the game's name. That's how stupidly hard it is.
The Price Is Right post-Roger Dobkowitz (season 37-present) has been accused by longtime fans of being Nintendo Hard - from brutal pricing game setups to impossible to bid showcases, effectively killing Double Showcase Winners. On the week of January 11-15, 2010, only three games were won. These brutal setups likely contributed in longtime producer Kathy Greco being fired a year later.
To cite an individual game that's Nintendo Hard, look no further than the early game Bullseye (not to be confused with a much easier later game that shares the same name). The contestant had to use binary search ("higher... lower...") in order to zero in on the price of a car, similar to today's Clock Game. The only trouble was, rather than making as many guesses as they could within a given time limit (as is done with Clock Game), the contestant only had seven guesses period. To figure out the exact price of a four-digit car down to the dollar. The game was retired after less than two months, with nobody ever winning it.
Temptation and Hi Lo are both very difficult to win for one reason: If even one mistake is made on both pricing games, the contestant loses. Early on in Temptation's lifespan, the contestant wasn't allowed to change a number. They either walked or went on with the car. There was also a huge gap between wins that lasted nearly five years from 2007-2012. Hi Lo wasn't exactly forgiving early on either - the price difference could be a dime apart!
Pay the Rent is an extremely difficult game to win. The player has to put a pair of grocery items at each tier (except for the the top tier) and following pair has to be more expensive than the pair before it, and then the single item at the very top has to be more expensive than the last pair of items. The player can either quit and take what they won ($1000, $5000, or $10,000) or keep going and risk losing everything should they screw up. If you use most of the expensive items too early, you're pretty much boned. To date, only three people had won the $100,000 in the history of the game.
Early on in the show's career - producer Jay Wolpert's pricing game setups fell under this trope. For example, early on in 10 Chances' lifespan, it didn't have the zero rule at all. Lucky $even and Dice Game didn't even have the "no zeroes," and for the latter, zeroes and numbers higher than six could appear in the price.
UK kids Game ShowRaven contains The Way Of The Warrior, an assault course played 3 times a week over each season's four week run. It's played by the contestant currently in last place, and it keeps being played until it's defeated. Over the first 8 seasons, it's been attempted 101 times, and won just four, and each time it's come back harder the next year... Not that no-one defeating it stops them upping the difficulty between seasons, it simply isn't guaranteed to be increased in difficulty unless someone beats it.
The UK kids Game ShowKnightmare had 80 teams challenge the Dungeon of Deceit over the course of 8 series. Only eight of them won; 72 of them failed. The first and third series didn't have a single winner.
Wipeout imported the Japanese obstacle course show concept to the US... though they're nice enough to let you finish the course after you inevitably fall off the Big Balls. In fact, they play Nintendo Hardness for fun! ...At least until the last course of each episode, the Wipeout Zone, where failure means you have to swim back to the last checkpoint.
In fact, Cracked wrote an article on strategies to beat various game shows, and their strategy to win Wipeout was to deliberately fail every obstacle course so that you wouldn't waste time trying to (and mostly likely failing to) clear them. If you actually try this, have fun racking up time in the water which is edited out in broadcast but still adds to your clock.
Despite the above, it all pretty much comes down to whoever can complete the Wipeout Zone in the quickest time, if you're one of the finalists that is.
In a different vein, the unrelated quiz show Wipeout (which had Peter Tomarken as host), which had a fairly standard setup of picking the correct answers from the false ones, all displayed on a big screen. But picking an incorrect answer zeroed your entire winnings so far, each round continued until either all the correct answers or all the 'wipeouts' were found, and the prizes weren't much anyway. Players would usually pass after a correct answer rather than risk another one, and you'd frequently see two players going home with nothing and the third with a hundred quid or so.
The Winner's Big Money Game from Sale of the Century. Here, you have to solve a series of six-clue puzzles within the time limit. It was originally five in 25 seconds, later changed to 4 in 20 seconds—either way, you have to get each subject within five seconds on average. There is virtually no margin for error in this bonus round. If you miss twice, it's game over, and even though you're still allowed to pass, you have to be pretty lucky in order to get the rest of them. What makes it worse is that each clue takes slightly more than one second to appear on the screen, and there's also the dreaded "You must stop the clock before it hits double zero." Because the clock counts in single seconds as opposed to tenths-of-a-second as seen on its sister show Scrabble, contestants can be, and often are, screwed at the very last second, because even if they buzz in just microseconds before the bell rings, it still counts as a loss because the clock reads 00. Worse, if a champion was playing for the car, and they lost, they had to retire as an "undefeated champion". Of the 64 Winner's Big Money Games that were a part of the initial package from GSN, only 22 were won, with numerous losing streaks along the way.
Win Ben Stein's Money saw Stein put $5,000 of his money up for grabs. Contestants tried to get as much as he/she could because after each round, Stein reclaimed the money form the lowest player. In round two, the stakes were raised, but Stein himself entered the game to defend the money. Finally, the last player standing had to answer more questions of a set of ten than Stein to win it all. It's played for some laughs, but no one denies Stein's massive intelligence, meaning beating him in the final challenge was very tough. Rare enough was a contestant who could match him and walk away with a $1,000 bonus. Rarer still was a player who could actually beat him.
Deal or No Deal, at least in the US version, brought down scores of contestants who failed to win the top prize of $1,000,000. Many of them had children who needed college funding, and as soon as the banker slapped a tempting offer on the board, they were done. Other playthroughs saw contestants knock out all of top dollar amounts and leave with as little as five dollars. Worse, contestants have picked the suitcase with the top prize, and even some cases where the top dollar amount was doubled or tripled because of a special event (Thanksgiving, season 2 premiere promotional event). But the worst failing of all was the total disappointment of a great big publicity stunt with a $6,000,000 top prize that needed an armored car with a police escort to get the money in safely. The top dollar amount was promptly revealed really early, and viewers fled the channel in the wake of another another mediocre playing of the show. The first time they put in multiple million-dollar cases, no one hit (In the last program of that particular run, contestant at least got a good deal out of it and bailed out just before revealing the last million case. His case? One cent!). It took the second attempt and five million-dollar cases to get their first millionaire (she felt it worth the gamble since she was down to the last million and $200,000—either way she would walk away with major money). The second and last millionaire got lucky and ended the game early by knocking out all the non-million cases with three to spare. Yes, the show offered sextuple its top prize and struggled to give away the normal amount, with nobody taking away more than six figures even when there were even multiple seven-figure increments on the board. In the end, the series was demoted from a primetime show to a syndicated show and the top prize got slashed to $500,000 because it wasn't delivering results. That also stalled out and led to complete cancellation.