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It's not just letters, it's Lingo!

Lingo (L-I-N-G-O) is a Game Show franchise begun (B-E-G-U-N) in 1987, combining Bingo (B-I-N-G-O) with a spelling game. It was first (F-I-R-S-T) hosted by Michael Reagan (son of Ronald Reagan) and taped (T-A-P-E-D) in Canada in 1987-88, but became notorious for not paying its winning contestants. Despite this, the format became popular overseas (especially in the Netherlands beginning in 1989, originally hosted by Robert ten Brink (B-R-I-N-K) and later (L-A-T-E-R) by several other (O-T-H-E-R) emcees before Lucille Werner took over in 2005 and lasting until 2014). GSN produced a revival hosted by Chuck (C-H-U-C-K) Woolery from 2002-07. A re-revival began (B-E-G-A-N) on June 6, 2011, with Bill Engvall as host, but this attempt ended (E-N-D-E-D) after (A-F-T-E-R) only (O-N-L... E-E) one season.

Both versions featured largely identical gameplay, with two pairs of players trying to identify a five-letter word given the first letter. If the word was not correct, then squares would highlight which letters were in the correct spot, and circles would indicate which letters were in the word but incorrectly placed. A correct guess earned the right to draw two balls and mark off numbers on a Lingo board. One team had a board with odd numbers; the other, even numbers. Question-mark balls were wild and could be used to cover any open number. Drawing a red ball ended a team's turn. Getting a "Lingo" (five in a row) won points (or won the game entirely in the 1980s version), but also passed control to the other team. Round 2 doubled the point values and added question mark balls, which could be turned into any number on the Lingo board.

A bonus was also given out if the word was correctly spelled on the first try.

For more information on the Dutch (D-U-T-C-H) version, see here. In 2019, the Dutch version was revived on SBS6, while ITV also premiered its own revival in 2021—both of which making their own diversions from the format that downplay the bingo aspect. After the popularity of a similar online game called Wordle on social media (M-E-D-I-A), CBS announced in February 2022 that it had picked up a new primetime revival with entertainer and drag queen (Q-U-E-E-N) RuPaul as host, which was filmed in the UK (alongside a Celebrity Edition of the ITV version, which RuPaul also hosted) and premiered on January 11, 2023.

Not to be confused with The Lingo Show, an Edutainment Show with no relation to this show whatsoever.

Trope, T-R-O-P-E:

  • Animated Credits Opening: Season 3 of the Woolery version had an animation of a machine painting Lingo balls with letters from the show's logo.
  • The Announcer: Randy Thomas briefly announced on Season 2, and Todd Newton announced the April Fool's Day 2003 episode. Stacey Hayes announced on Season 3, making her a rare combination of The Announcer and the Lovely Assistant. When Shandi Finnessey took over, the role of announcer was eliminated.
  • April Fools' Day: On April 1, 2003, the then-hosts of GSN's other originals (Graham Elwood of Cram and Kennedy of Friend or Foe? vs. Marc Summers of WinTuition and Mark L. Walberg of Russian Roulette) played each other for charity, with Todd Newton (then-host of Whammy) as announcer/comic relief.
  • "Balls" Gag: RuPaul plays up the innuendo with the "Lucky Balls" mechanic that come up in the Super Lingo round (the only time balls show up at all in the CBS version).
  • Bonus Round:
    • 1987-1988 (No Lingo):
      • The winning team started with a stake determined by either how many games they had won ($500/$1,000/$2,000), or how much they won in the game ($500 for a horizontal/vertical Lingo, $1,000 for a diagonal, $2,000 for two lines with the same ball).
      • The team was given five chances to guess and were shown the first letter and one additional letter to start. If the team guessed the word on the first try, they drew one Lingo ball from the hopper in front of them. Each subsequent chance added a ball to the total, while blowing it entirely was worth seven balls.
      • All even numbers that could possibly be on the Lingo card (2-74) were placed in the hopper, which could work to a team's advantage as they could draw a ball that had either already been covered or did not appear on the card at all. There was also a gold ball in the hopper and if it was drawn at any point in the team's turn, their money doubled on the spot and their turn ended. If any of the drawn balls formed a Lingo, the team lost the money.
      • After each turn, including at the beginning of the round, the team was given the choice to stop playing and take their money or keep going. If they managed to survive five turns without a Lingo, the team won the maximum prize.
    • 2002-2007 (Bonus Lingo): 2 minutes to guess as many words as possible, given the first letter and one other letter in the word. From season 2 onward, a team also received bonus letters (one for winning the game, plus one for every Lingo in the main game; celebrity teams received an additional bonus letter "for their charities"), which could be called for at any time. Each completed word awarded $100 and a ball draw for the Bonus Lingo board, a board with some of the 25 numbers filled in (13 in the first season, 12 in season 2 onward). A Lingo won a prize which changed each season.
      • Season 1: $4,000 prize package consisting of a Borders book store gift card, an Argus digital camera, Croton watches, and a Cassiopedia pocket PC, which was all added to the money they won in the spelling segment.
      • Seasons 2-6: $5,000. Also, the spaces were marked so that a first-ball Lingo was possible. Doing so won an additional grand prize – Season 2: Trip to Jamaica. Season 3: Trip to Harrahs Lake Tahoe. Season 4: The $5,000 doubled to $10,000. Seasons 5 & 6: $10,000 + $1,000 per non-win.
    • 2011 (Bonus Lingo): No card, just 90 seconds to guess five words; the first was worth the front game score, the next three doubled the money, all five won $100,000. The amount earned in Bonus Lingo was added to the team's total winnings. Bonus letters were repurposed in this version's Bonus Lingo, with only one given out automatically on the first word courtesy of the show's sponsor, and the ball board was thrown out.
    • 2021 (UK): No card, 90 seconds to guess up to three words, and can pass for a new word at any time. The first word is four letters and awards half of the team's maingame winnings, the second word is five letters and awards the full pot, while the last word is six letters and doubles the pot. In the 2023 series, teams that solve the five-letter word are offered a chance to risk their bank and play an All or Nothing seven-letter word for £15,000.
    • 2023 (US): Instead of a bonus round, there is a final Speed Round known as the "Lingo Showdown", played between the winners of the two halves of the show. Both teams are given two minutes to solve as many words as they can, alternating between five-letter words worth 5 points, and six-letter words worth 10 points. Whichever team scores the most points wins the jackpot, which consists of $50,000 plus both teams' respective banks.
  • Bonus Space:
    • The original had prize balls; $250 in Traveler's Cheques, a trip, and a Jackpot which started at $1,000 and increased by $500 per game until won. Getting a Lingo awarded any drawn prizes. Later, the lowest prize was removed, and players had to draw both remaining balls for the Lingo Jackpot. Later still, the trip was removed.
    • The Dutch version also features green prize balls. If a team draws a green ball, it is placed on their podium, and they may draw another ball. Drawing all three green balls awards the team a cash jackpot which increases with each correctly guessed word.
    • The "?" balls, which filled in a number of the team's choosing. If the number chosen by a "?" ball was drawn later, it was edited out and the team was allowed to redraw.
    • The Engvall version got rid of the "?" balls (although a few sponsored episodes have special balls with a sponsor's logo which work the same way). In their place was a prize ball, filled in the center with green. No number was marked off on the card, but the contestant did win a certain prize, one which was theirs to keep regardless of the game's outcome.
  • Bowdlerization:
    • One early promo ended with the narrator saying, "Doesn't Chuck Woolery make you..." followed by a clip of a contestant saying "Horny, H-O-R-N-Y." This was later changed to a clip of another contestant saying "Laugh, L... U... G-H."
    • Another early promo showed an "inside the head" view of a contestant trying to figure out what word P_R__ might be, with one of his guesses being "porno". This was later edited out.
  • Catchphrase:
    Chuck: It's not just letters...
    Stacey/Shandinote : It's Lingo.
  • Censored for Comedy: One time during the tie-breaker when the word "Current" was used. Since the first and last letters were revealed until all letters are uncovered, the visible letters ended up reading "CU___NT".
  • Cold Open: The Engvall version opened with Engvall telling a joke to a studio audience, followed by "Let's play Lingo!"
  • Consolation Prize: Losing teams on Celebrity Lingo (UK) receive £1,000 for their chosen charity.
  • Cool Old Guy: This show cemented Chuck's status here, to the point that he was present on several other GSN-related things, including a short-lived Reality TV show (Naturally Stoned) about his family.
  • Couch Gag:
    • On some season 2 episodes, Randy Thomas introduced Chuck as "C-H-U-C-K Woolery".
    • Season 3: Stacey Hayes introducing Chuck every opening.
    • Season 4: Chuck introducing himself with an ad-libbed remark every opening.
    • Season 4 onwards: After the second commercial break, Shandi Finnessey would offer the "welcome back" along with one (mostly) about Chuck.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: The aforementioned April Fools' Day game. Mark and Marc won 500-0, still the second most lopsided defeat in the history of the show (the biggest was a 525-0 game, with the losers receiving donuts for their failure).
  • Downer Ending: On an episode very close to the end of the original run (after Ralph Andrews became host), a team got the rare Double Lingo for $2,000 and a shot at $64,000. They blazed through the No Lingo round and reached the final draw for $64,000 with only one ball that would've caused a Lingo (and hence a loss)... and managed to draw that ball, N44. Even Ralph, who almost certainly knew of the show's financial issues at this point, seemed legitly distraught at this.
  • Early-Installment Weirdness:
    • The first season of the Woolery era taped on the Dutch version's set. Bonus Lingo also had several differences: it was played for a small prize package including a Borders gift card and watch (described by Chuck in a pre-recorded copy), there were no bonus letters, words were spelled out at the same speed as the main game, and at least two balls were required to make a Lingo. In addition, the logo and theme song of the Dutch version were used.
    • Season 2 was still markedly different from the later years, as despite the Obvious Rule Patch to Bonus Lingo, they still used the Dutch theme song, there was no model, Randy Thomas (the voice of the "1-800-ABC-DEFG" Hooked on Phonics commercials) served as announcer, and the set was blue and wood-grained.
    • Season 3 still had some oddities, despite introducing the set used for the rest of the show's run (which had a more futuristic, neon look): Stacey was both hostess and announcer, as she introduced Chuck during the walkout, and then introduced the contestants before the Rules Spiel. There was also a second model named Paula, who only appeared on the first two episodes and did little more than motion at the board. For the rest of the show's run, the announcer role was eliminated, and the show opened with the contestants introducing themselves, followed by Chuck introducing himself. Also, instead of a Rules Spiel, Chuck would chat with Shandi before jumping right into the game.
    • For the first two seasons, the words were on the right side of the screen during Bonus Lingo, and the contestants on the left. This was reversed for Season 3 onward.
  • Fanservice: During a Hawaii week in 2007, Shandi wore a bikini and a grass skirt.
  • Game Show Host:
    • Michael Reagan for most of the 1980s run, followed by series creator Ralph Andrews for the last five weeks. Chuck Woolery hosted all of the 2002-2007 version, and Bill Engvall helmed the 2011 GSN revival. RuPaul is the host of the 2023 CBS revival.
    • Martin Daniels for the original UK version in 1988. Adil Ray takes the helm for the 2021 ITV civilian revival, and RuPaul for the 2022 celebrity edition.
  • Golden Snitch: The Engvall version's $500-a-pop Round 3. Getting all three words and a Lingo (easy with six pulls from the ball rack) awarded that team $2,000 and a near-insurmountable lead.
  • Hotter and Sexier: The Engvall version, as seen above.
  • Instant-Win Condition: The best possible scenario in Woolery's Bonus Lingo (season 2 onward) is getting 10 words right, which awards 10 balls. If this is accomplished, the spelling part of the round ends immediately and the team is guaranteed $1,000, though that amount is meaningless because 10 balls will be enough to eventually make a Lingo even if the oddest sequence of ball-picking occursnote , meaning the team will win $5,000 for getting 10 words (they still need to draw the one Lingo ball on the first pick to win the bigger bonus).
  • Lampshaded Double Entendre: Lots and lots and lots in the Engvall version, especially with the clues.
  • Loophole Abuse: Chuck repeatedly said that "it's not what you say, it's what you spell". Sometimes, players who would accidentally declare a six-letter word would save themselves ("Breath. B-R-E-A...D."). Another team abused this loophole several times, by saying one word, realizing it didn't fit right after they got a letter or two out, then "correcting" it on the fly ("Loans. L-O...U-S-Y"), much to Chuck's amusement.
  • Losing Horns: The Reagan version used Type B for a bonus round loss.
  • Lovely Assistant: Dusty Martell for Reagan's tenure as host, Margaux MacKenzie during the Andrews era. Halfway through Woolery's run Stacey Hayes became co-host, later replaced by 2004 Miss USA winner Shandi Finnessey. As mentioned below, a second model named Paula Cobb assisted Stacey on two episodes of Season 3.
  • Luck-Based Mission: Getting the top prize, from Season 2 on in the Woolery version. If you've got at least one word in the Bonus Round correct, you get one chance at picking the ball that will win the top prize. The chance of winning the top prize is the same whether you got one word right or ten. The extra picks aren't completely meaningless, though; you get $5,000 if you get a Lingo after the first pick, and if you fail that, you do get a consolation prize of $100 per correct word in the round.
  • Mythology Gag:
    • The logo used for Woolery's third season used a pink-on-white color scheme very similar to the 1980s one.
    • One Engvall word with a clue of "Sometimes it goes up" turned out to be CHUCK. Engvall's response after the contestant solved the word: "Yeah, even in 2011 Woolery still gets his name on this show."
  • Non-Standard Game Over: In Season 1, the Bonus Round did not offer bonus letters for every Lingo made in the main game, and two balls were required to make the winning Lingo. However, one team won only one ball, and another won zeronote , likely leading to a rules tweak in Season 2.
  • Obvious Rule Patch: Bonus letters, Lingo requirements, and speed in Bonus Lingo. Season 1 didn't have the bonus letters, played at the same speed as the main game, and a team needed at least two picks to make a Lingo, leading to the Nonstandard Game Over twice (one with only one pick awarded, which apart from $100 was worthless, and the other team completely flunking out in the only Bonus Lingo wipeout on Woolery's version, which earned them no money and made their main game win meaningless since they were awarded the losing team's parting gifts). From season 2 onward, every team got one bonus letter for winning the game, plus one more for each Lingo scored in the main game (also, it was changed so that only one is needed to make a Lingo); it also sped up Bonus Lingo's spelling segment to make it much easier to get a lot of picks, up to 10, which is essentially an Instant-Win Conditionnote . Reverted with the Engvall version, where playing Bonus Lingo just earned money, but the bonus letter remained intact, albeit under different circumstances (see above).
  • Ominous Pipe Organ: To intro the series, GSN created a number of ads with Chuck as a doctor treating patients afflicted with "Lingo" — the uncontrollable need to spell out five-letter words. As a parody of radio soap operas, an organ punctuated the events of the ads. This was lampshaded at the end of one ad:
    Chuck: Do you hear an organ?
    Patient: Organ! O-R-G-A-N!
    Chuck: You just can't stop, can you?
  • Opening Narration:
    • The original versions opened with Dusty/Margaux guessing a word (or occasionally two) while Michael/Ralph explained the rules, followed by...
    Michael/Ralph: Hi, I'm Mike Reagan/Ralph Andrews.
    Dusty/Margaux: And I'm Dusty Martell/Margaux MacKenzie.
    Michael/Ralph: And that's how you play television's most challenging show...
    Both: Lingo!
    • Surprisingly averted with Season 1 of the GSN version, which just had the show's logo forming before a cut to Chuck.
    • Season 2:
    Randy Thomas: America's favorite word game. It's Lingo! And here's your host, Chucknote  Woolery!
    • Season 3 had Stacey introduce Chuck in a different way each time.
    • Season 4: After the contestants introduced themselves, Chuck would say "Hi, I'm Chuck (occasionally followed by an ad-libbed remark), let's play Lingo."
    • Seasons 5-6: After each contestant introduced themselves, Chuck would say "Hi, I'm Chuck. Today's bonus jackpot is worth $XX,000, so let's play Lingo."
  • Progressive Jackpot:
    • The original and Dutch versions featured these as bonus prizes (see Bonus Space).
    • Beginning in season 5 of Woolery's run, every time a first-ball Lingo didn't happen in Bonus Lingo, $1,000 was added to the $10,000 base.
    • Inverted in the ITV and CBS revivals' puzzle words. Money is taken away from the word's bank for every new letter appearing after the first.
  • Replaced the Theme Tune: The first two seasons of the Woolery version used a few looped bars of synthesized "game show" music, recycled (like the first season's set) from the Dutch version of the show. It was replaced in season 3 by an original, much-longer rock theme.
  • Retired Game Show Element:
    • The 2019 reboot in the Netherlands doesn't use the bingo cards during the main game. Instead, the balls have letters from an 11-letter bonus word, and each letter drawn puts it in the correct position of the word (still mixed in with red balls and their version's traditional green prize balls).
    • The 2021 UK reboot doesn't even use the balls at any point: the game is primarily just word guessing. An Italian version otherwise based on the UK version does retain the GSN-era Bonus Lingo as its bonus round.
    • The CBS version is based somewhat on the 2021 UK version, but does contains balls in a different manner. On their first puzzle word round, RuPaul presents his "Lucky Balls", where each team can choose between drawing a gold ball to add a cash bonus to that round's word, or a numbered ball that gives a bonus letter.
  • Rouge Angles of Satin:
    • Contestants averaged at least one egregious misspelling per game, if not more. There have also been many occasions in which someone says a six-letter word and starts spelling it out, only to make an Oh, Crap! reaction when they realize their error.
    • Occasionally subverted in Season 2, when the judges chose to use an unabridged dictionary. As a result, obvious misspellings such as SWARE and FLUOR were accepted because they happened to be real, if obscure, words ("sware" is an archaic past-tense of "swear", and "fluor" is a type of mineral). However, they sometimes went too far in the other direction on later episodes; by 2007, their dictionary somehow wasn't recognizing ZESTY, BUSTY or FORTS, even though the first two were correct answers in earlier episodes, and FORTS was accepted in at least one Season 3 episode (and bizarrely, no explanation was given for FORTS not being accepted).
  • Rules Spiel:
    • The original versions had this in the Opening Narration (see above). This style has also been used for the ITV revival.
    • For the first three seasons of the Woolery version, he would explain the gameplay over footage of a random word being guessed and a Lingo board being filled.
  • Running Gag:
    • The second season of the Woolery version used foghorns to indicate the end of each round. Whenever the game ended in a Curb-Stomp Battle, Chuck would jokingly tell the losing team that their ship has just arrived after the foghorn was played.
    • Anytime a team forfeited an extremely obvious word, Chuck would often instruct the team who got it to turn to their opponents and say "thank you" to them.
    • Season 6: Chuck would often add "Welcome to my neck of the woods." in his opening introduction.
  • Self-Deprecation: In the Engvall run, one puzzle's clue was "People have said this about my act." The contestant first said SHAME ("Obviously you've never seen my act or you'd know I have no shame."), followed by SORRY. Eventually she got the right answer: SUCKS.
  • Shout-Out:
    • Woolery called the red balls "stoppers" in reference to his own Scrabble. Both shows had, essentially, the same rules regarding Stoppers. The Engvall version officially crowned the red balls "Stoppers," making this an Ascended Meme.
    • Perhaps unintentionally, Woolery also frequently said to contestants "Here is your next puzzle" before the first letter of the next word was revealed.
    • One time, when GREED was one of the words, Chuck noted how it was one of his favorite shows.
    • Once coming out of a break, Engvall referred to the show as "The All-New $100,000 Lingo".
  • Take That!: One Engvall puzzle clue was "what Jeff Foxworthy does every morning." The contestant's first guess was MONEY, to which Engvall mock-flippantly replied "Oh come on, I said every morning." Eventually the contestant correctly guessed MOANS.
  • Think Music: The Woolery version had a light music bed that would play while the teams guessed words, and another cue for Bonus Lingo.
    • The Engvall version also had a light music bed for the main game. The cue for Bonus Lingo was usually the same bed, but a different (and more intense) bed was used for at least one episode which saw a $100,000 win.
  • Tiebreaker Round:
    • In the Woolery version, ties were broken with a seven-letter toss-up word, of which the first and last letters alternately appeared until the word was completely visible. The first player to buzz in with the correct answer would win their team the game.
    • In the CBS revival, this would be a ten-letter word (in the style of the "Super Lingo" round, with similar mechanics).
  • Trial-and-Error Gameplay: The entire point of the spelling game, as you're supposed to guess what the word is by using the provided letter(s), correct guesses, and hints of a right letter in the wrong place. Sometimes a valid strategy was simply to say something that obviously wasn't the right word simply to get some more letters (and to avoid getting the buzzer). Only the first letter is given to start off, so for example, suppose the answer is TRUCK. The contestant's first guess might be THOSE, which wouldn't reveal any letters. After this, if the contestant guessed THICK, even though that definitely couldn't be the answer (since H was already shown not to be in the correct response), they would now have T—CK on the board, making progress toward finding the correct response. In addition, following this point in gameplay, it is by no means required for the contestant to give another word that ends with -CK; other words can still be used in order to potentially fish for the letters that belong in the other spaces. The only hard rule was that the word spelled must still begin with the given letter (T, in this case).
  • We Hardly Knew Ye:
    • Paula Cobb (only her first name was given on-air) was introduced for two episodes of GSN's third season. She'd introduce the players at the beginning of the show, and put the bonus prize ball into the hopper before the start of Bonus Lingo. Paula's main job, though, was to stand next to Stacey and gesture toward the game board. She was quietly dropped after just two episodes, and never mentioned again.
    • Same thing with Randy Thomas, the Season 2 announcer. She was only heard in the opening, or on a rare occasion when the Jamaica vacation was won.
  • Whammy: The red balls, which pass control to the opposing team. Chuck called these "Stoppers", no doubt as a Shout-Out to Scrabble.
    • It came full circle with the Engvall version, with "Stopper Balls" becoming their official term. These had the number circle filled in in red, rather than the whole ball, since the balls were now selected from racks behind the teams instead of from a hopper.