Our protagonist is a huge fan of a Show Within a Show, a popular Game Show. They have wanted to be a contestant on the show, and finally decide to audition. After being chosen, our protagonist finally gets to live out their dream... only to realize that what they see on TV and reality are two different things.
The show may look fun to watch, but actually doing the show is torture. Ultimately, the goal is now not just to win, but to survive, both physically and mentally. It doesn't help that the Game Show Host is a Smug Smiler who puts on an air of mock cheerfulness while savoring the contestants' torment and encouraging the audience to enjoy the Schadenfreude. In some cases, the show is rigged so that the competitors can't even win the prize money, which means that they just subjected themselves to torture and/or humiliation All for Nothing.
Compare Deadly Game, Absurdly High-Stakes Game, and Immoral Reality Show.
- Ergo Proxy: In episode 15, Vincent wakes up as a contestant on a game show as he is questioned on a variety of random trivia and is threatened with death if he fails.
- Tomodachi Game revolves around a group of friends who are abducted and essentially forced by a Creepy Mascot Suit to play a series of games designed to make them distrust one another in order to pay off the shared "debt" they're told one of them agreed to as the entry fee. Early on it's shown that the whole thing is livestreamed for the amusement of their rich backers.
- The Running Man: Ben Richards (Played by Arnold Schwarzenegger), a wrongfully disgraced police helicopter pilot in post-apocalyptic 2019, is forced to compete in the eponymous Deadly Game for his freedom along with two of his prison friends, then later a TV network employee who found out he was framed. In the game, "Runners" have to evade "Stalkers" in an arena with the promise of being pardoned by the state. This turns out to be a lie as it is revealed that Runners that avoided getting killed by Stalkers were later killed and their corpses left to rot in the arena. The one behind it all is Damon Killian, who ultimately gets taken down by Richards (in true Schwarzenegger style).
- Sorry to Bother You: I Got the Shit Kicked Out of Me! is a game show that solely revolves around participants getting violently beaten and otherwise humiliated (we hear mentions of drinking hyena urine and being submerged in a "shit tank"). It doesn't have a small, niche audience of twisted fans — it's the most popular show in America, with 150 million viewers per episode.
Langston: It makes me feel warm inside.
- As its title might suggest, the conceit of the Killer Puzzles book Titus O'Skinty's Gruesome Game Show is that all the puzzles are games on one of these, and the reader is the unfortunate contestant.
- Robert Sheckley 's short story "The Prize of Peril" is set in a future society which has many game shows that put the contestant in harm's way. The protagonist has worked his way onto the titular game show, in which he is hunted on live TV by a group of killers. Viewers can call in tips to either help him or help the killers. The story was an inspiration for both the novel and the film The Running Man.
- Jackass, but the participants are willing.
- In an episode of I Love Lucy, Lucy racks up debts of almost $500 dollars, and to make the money she signs up for the game show "Females are Fabulous," where the previous winner shows up wrapped up in bandages from her stunt of going over Niagara Falls in a barrel. Lucy's challenge is to convince Ricky that an actor is her first husband (marriage and divorce were more serious back in The '50s), however, after a misunderstanding with a hobo, the actor pretending to be Lucy's husband finally shows up. Just as Ricky is threatening to leave, the actor says Lucy beat the challenge, and awards her the $500 dollars she was promised. Ricky then uses the money to settle her debts, and assures her she has some change coming back to her, $1.
- That Mitchell and Webb Look: One episode plays with this, with a host of what looks like a simple trivia show who continually rambles on rather than letting the contestants actually answer. Then it turns out there are no cameras, and it's not a game show. He's a rich lunatic who's learned he's dying, and has used his money to build a spaceship and fly it into the sun, with two people he's abducted, and he's determined to stretch out every last moment possible.
- There existed a short lived gameshow by truTV called Killer Karaoke, which seemingly only existed as a way to (legally) torture people on live TV. Notably the original host of the show was fired due to expressing concern over how the show was treating the animals it used for specific segments, to give an idea of how bad it got.
- On Monty Python's Flying Circus, one sketch is a game show where very stupid Pepperpots compete for various forms of abuse, such as a blow on the head or a dagger up the strap.
- In The Suite Life of Zack & Cody, the boys compete on a show called Risk It All and make it all the way to the final round, with Zack doing almost all of the physical challenges while Cody does the mental challenges. We see that the physical challenges prove to be incredibly difficult and taxing for Zac, as by the end, he's shown to have some bruising, and ultimately collapses from exhaustion during the final challenge
- Supernatural: The Winchesters get Trapped in TV Land by The Trickster/Gabriel. Among the shows/scenarios they're forced to act out is being contestants on a Japanese Sadistic Game Show named Nutcracker. You get something wrong, you get smacked in the nuts by a mallet device they're both strapped to.
- Victorious: In "Brain Squeezers" the entire cast go on the titular gameshow despite having never seen it before. Whilst initially seeming an ordinary game show, it turns out the penalties for getting questions wrong are flat out dangerous including: dropping heavy objects on their heads, blasting them with pus, getting hit in the chest with a bowling ball and getting punched in the face. As well as this host sometimes randomly orders additional punishments, other members sometimes randomly also get punished for wrong answers, and at one point they drop a toilet on someone's head half way through them giving the correct answer (something the host dismisses as "things go wrong"). By the end the entire cast are bruised, beaten, bandaged, bleeding and/or tarred and feathered. To top it all off, it turns out the game is rigged so it's impossible to win the money.
- Played with in one episode of Inside No. 9, which is recorded as if it were an episode of a quiz show. The format of the show itself isn't especially sadistic, being a typical mid-afternoon quiz along the lines of Pointless or The Chase. However, it gradually becomes one of these as it becomes increasingly clear that one of the contestants has psychic powers and a troubled history with her abusive mother.
- Creep TV: When Courage finally gets the TV working again, he gets sucked into the game show on Channel 13 that Muriel and Eustace are being forced to participate in.
- In Danganronpa, the franchise as a whole turns out to be a Sadistic Game Show in which the contestants kill each other and then vote off who they think is the killer. The whole thing is broadcast live in a Reality TV format by Ultimate Despair to spread despair to the citizens of the post-apocalyptic world. In Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony, the setting is revealed to be a Meta Sequel with the current killing game being a literal game show that's been going on for 53 seasons, and the main characters, as it turns out, volunteered for the show. Their true selves were erased and they were given special talents to make the show interesting.
- The Adventures of Jimmy Neutron, Boy Genius: In Win Lose Kaboom, Jimmy and his friends enter a game show where the losers see their planet explode.
- The Batman: In "Q&A", the villainous Cluemaster kidnaps three people and forces them to participate in a trivia show against him where, if they lose, he will drop them into a pit of acid. As it turns out, Cluemaster is actually Arthur Brown, a child genius who had a winning streak on the trivia show "Quiz Me Quick" until he made a tiny mistake in one of his answers that finally made him lose. He threw a fit and never got over it. The three people he kidnapped were also on the old show, and he holds them responsible for him losing.
- In Big Mouth, Nick has an anxiety attack and envisions himself as the sociopathic host of a game show in a Bad Future where people publicly debase themselves in exchange for "basic human services", such as performing incest in front of a live studio audience over a Healthcare Motivation.
- Bojack Horseman has the titular character as the first guest against Daniel Radcliffe in JD Salinger's game show, "Hollywoo Stars and Celebrities: What Do They Know? Do They Know Things? Let's Find Out!" Because the game is rigged for Radcliffe to win (because the money is going to charity), Bojack gets the brunt of the brutal treatment from host Mr. Peanutbutter.
- Dead End: Paranormal Park has Hox's Castle, a game show from the Lower Planes that Barney, Norma, and Puglsey end up going on when Courtney is unable to go on it herself. Not only are the rounds extremely difficult and dangerous, but Hox intentionally makes it harder for them, even going so far as to push Barney down the stairs to his death, and when Norma and Pugsley use the lifeline, it doesn't revive him so much as make a new Barney with all of his memories. As it turns out, no one has ever won before, with most contestants not even getting past the first round, and Hox only allows them to win when he realises that Pugsley is possessed by Temeluchus, who is Demon royalty.
- In Family Guy, Peter plays chess with Tricia Takanawa, who has taken on the persona of a Tiger Mom. Rather than learn chess the traditional way, Peter is forced to learn it by participating in a cruel Japanese game show where his scrotum is beaten with a reed and his limbs are cut off. Flash forward to the future where an aged Peter is talking to his grandson, the game apparently never ended, as he's subjected to more torture.
- Kaeloo: In Episode 58, Mr. Cat goes on a game show hosted by Kaeloo to prove that he is always right about everything by answering a bunch of difficult questions; Kaeloo rigs the game show to make him lose by inviting Stumpy to participate as his partner. During the show, Mr. Cat is consistently tortured, and by the time the final challenge is over, he almost passes out. He wins, but it's a Pyrrhic Victory.
- Looney Tunes: In "The Ducksters", Porky Pig competes in a quiz show titled Truth or AAAUGH!, hosted by Daffy Duck. Porky is subjected to nearly impossible questions ("What was Cleopatra's aunt's maiden name?") and potentially lethal stunts as penalties (reciting all the states in alphabetical order with dynamite sticks in his ears and mouth).
- Regular Show: "Fool Me Twice". The game show Mordecai, Rigby, and Benson go into pretty much speaks this trope, being a Takeshi's Castle Expy with a deadly obstacle course and an insane host trying to beat them to death.
- On Rick and Morty, Earth is forced to participate in an intergalactic singing competition by the Cromulons, with the home planet of the losers being destroyed.
- The Robot Chicken sketch "Hall of Memory" has contestants on a game show where they had to memorize how to navigate a death trap laden cave with zero information other than seeing how the previous contestant died. Once they get the prize, they then have to escape with it while being chased by a giant boulder.
- In The Simpsons episode "Thirty Minutes Over Tokyo", the Simpsons, stranded in Japan without any money, participate in ''The Happy Smile Super Challenge Family Wish Show" in order win tickets back to Springfield. The game includes such challenges as "Ow, that hurts!", "Why are you doing this to me!", and "Please let me die!". To go into more detail, the host says while American shows reward knowledge, theirs punishes ignorance. Homer responds with "ignore-what?" and gets torched by a flamethrower in his microphone. The game's challenges have Homer inside a piñata costume gagged while the rest of the family is blindfolded and hit him. A literal lightning round where Homer is strapped to a lighting rod and struck by lightning. Finally, the Simpsons have to obtain the needed plane tickets home by getting them from a bridge on top of a volcano and they fall into the magma which is really orangeade mixed with wasabi. Homer shames the audience before leaving. The next contestants are a Canadian couple who are afraid of scorpions. Guess what their challenge is. Homer sees this backstage and laughs.
- The Timon & Pumbaa episode "You Bet Your Tuhkus" has the titular duo competing on the eponymous game show. The host of the show convinces the duo to cheat (so that they can be disqualified for being caught cheating, which happened to the first pair of contestants). While Timon is willing to do so, Pumbaa refuses, and as a result, the show devolves into a torturefest, as every wrong answer results in punishment for the other character.
- Total Drama lives and breathes on this. The contestants are put through absurd and life-threatening challenges presented by a shamelessly sadistic host who makes the show "interesting" by paying lip service to his own rules and guidelines and doesn't care about the many interns killed in the process of setting up and testing new challenges. Hilarity Ensues as contestants are subjected to numerous Amusing Injuries and frequent humiliation.