Our protagonist is a huge fan of a popular game show that's either been on for some time or just started. S/he has always wanted to be a contestant on the show, and finally decides 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 host has this faux air of punchable cheeriness which encourages the audience to watch it more. 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 for nothing.
- 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.
- 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.
- The premise of The Running Man has Ben Richards (Played by Arnold Schwarzenegger), a wrongfully disgraced police helicopter pilot in post-apocalyptic 2019 competing 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.
- 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.
- In The Suite Life of Zack and 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
- In Supernatural, one episode 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.
- 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 the Ultimate Despair to spread despair to the citizens of the post-apocalyptic world. As of Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony, its 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. Although supposedly V3 takes place in an alternate universe, and this is according to an Unreliable Expositor.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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).
- 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 's 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!".
- Regular Show: The episode "Fool Me Twice". The game show Mordecai, Rigby, and Benson go into pretty much speaks this trope.
- 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.