Whether they were caught cheating or they simply outsmarted the game, these contestants caused quite a stir. Welcome to WatchMojo, and today we’ll be counting down our picks for the Top 20 Game Show Scandals.
For this list, we’ll be looking at the 20 most shocking, head-scratching, and eyebrow-raising moments on game shows. These instances of cheating, fraud, and unexpected winners and losers caught viewers off guard, and promptly garnered plenty of media attention.
#20: There’s No “Ton” in Wimbledon
When “Jeopardy!” contestant Reid Rodgers answered “The Sporting Life for 400”, he narrowly missed the mark by just one letter. Moments after what sounded like a correct answer, host Alex Trebek announced that Rodgers mispronounced the correct answer of Wimbledon as ‘Wimbeton’. $800 was swiftly deducted from his total: $400 for getting the wrong answer, and an additional $400 subtracted from the points he had gained. At least he followed this mishap with a correct answer to the Daily Double... pronounced correctly this time.
#19: Don’t Drop the “G”
“Wheel of Fortune” (1975-)
Who knew that pronunciation mattered so much – especially on “Wheel of Fortune”? This was a hard lesson for contestant Renee Durette in 2012. Following her enthusiastic cry of, “Seven Swans A-Swimmin’,” Renee, the audience, and viewers at home were surprised to hear Pat Sajak say that her answer was incorrect. Why? Because it’s swimming, not swimmin’. While it was obvious to anyone watching what Renee was saying, dropping that G cost her the round. And, despite the uproar on social media, the show stood by its decision.
#18: Name That Tune
"Pasapalabra" is a Spanish game show wherein celebrities team up with everyday people to help them win cash and prizes. Sounds innocent enough, right? Well, a small scandal occurred when it was revealed that one of the guests, model/actress Adriana Abenia, had cheated during the show's "name that tune" segment. Abenia was on fire, but when her legs began to flash and vibrate it was revealed that she was actually using Shazam to get the answers. Her ruse busted, the scam actually went down well with the studio audience and was mostly laughed off by the show's host as well as by Abenia herself.
#17: To Flip Flop or Not to Flip Flop?
"The Price Is Right" (1972-)
If you're going to play the game, then do it the right way. Maybe this is what host Bob Barker should've told this flip floppy cheater. A contestant named Brenton was tasked with playing "Flip Flop," a game where the aim is to uncover four digits of an item's price via a series of flipped and flopped squares. Instead of doing this, Brenton decided to just press the button that reveals the item's actual price, effectively nullifying the entire game. Barker was not amused with this, and wandered off the stage, only to return and give Brenton the prize anyway.
#16: The Lucky Letter
"Wheel of Fortune" (1975-)
Guests on "Wheel of Fortune" usually spin the wheel a couple of times before even attempting to solve the puzzle, but it took this lucky contestant only one letter to guarantee her victory. Caitlin Burke used a number of methods to choose her answer, including a lot of home play and the knowledge that "I've" is one of the most common contractions used in a sentence. As a result, with just an “L” and an apostrophe to go by, Burke solved “I've Got a Good Feeling About This”, which proved not only to be true but also completely stunned host Pat Sajak.
#15: Modeling Woes
"The Price Is Right" (1972-)
Models and “The Price Is Right” go hand and hand... sometimes. It’s true that the beautiful ladies have been a show staple for decades, but not every model’s well-crafted smile has been genuine. There are several stories of models suing the series for various reasons: sexual harassment, weight discrimination, being fired for getting pregnant... just to name a few. Model Brandi Sherwood-Cochran famously filed a lawsuit against “The Price Is Right” after she was refused back on the show following her maternity leave in 2009. However, most of these cases were settled, dropped, or appealed, but we can’t shake the feeling that there’s some tension behind the scenes between that first “come on down” to the final Showcase.
#14: Reading the Signs
“Millionaire Hot Seat” (2009-)
Khaled El-Katateny fancied himself an "alpha male," and was supremely confident going into his appearance on the Australian version of "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire." Katateny won a hundred thousand dollars during his appearance on "Hot Seat," despite not actually knowing any of the answers. Instead, the contestant read the body language, eyes and cadence of the show's host, Eddie McGuire. Since this isn't technically cheating, Katateny was allowed to keep his prize, a result that made this already smug Melbourne law student very happy.
#13: Getting Gonged
“The Gong Show” (1976-80)
The Gong Show was a cult hit for NBC, but never quite gelled with network executives behind the scenes, thanks largely to the show's chaotic, "anything can happen" atmosphere. Chuck Barris hosted the classic version of "The Gong Show" from 1976 to 1980, and fit in just fine with the array of everyday people looking for their fifteen minutes of fame. It was after the daytime version of the show was canceled when Barris really let NBC know what he thought of them, however, singing "Take this Job and Shove It" during the show's finale and flipping a censored bird to the camera.
#12: Rigged for Kids
“Our Little Genius” (2010)
This game show found itself in hot water right from the get-go. "Our Little Genius" was a kids’ quiz show that was supposed to debut on Fox in 2010, with comedian Kevin Pollak serving as host. However, producer Mark Burnett had the show postponed a week before it was scheduled to air, thanks to two separate accusations of contestants being given advanced knowledge of topics. Although answers were not provided, questions and themes were reportedly discussed at length with both parents and kids, resulting in "Our Little Genius" being canceled without airing a single episode.
#11: Not-So-Smooth Criminal
“Super Password” (1984-89)
Hiding in plain sight doesn’t exactly consist of being a contestant on a game show. In the ‘80s, Kerry Ketchum was wanted for insurance fraud, credit card fraud, and forgery. Surely, all he needed to do to elude the authorities was use a different name, right? Taking on the alias “Patrick Quinn”, he went on the show in 1988 and proceeded to win big... and was then promptly arrested when he went to pick up his money because a viewer at home recognized him and called the police. And no, he couldn’t keep the money because he won under false pretenses; this also means he most certainly did not use the winnings to pay back his debts.
#10: Misspelling Counts... Even for Kids
You’d think a game show would go easy on a kid, right? In 2013, Thomas Hurley III appeared on “Kid’s Jeopardy!” and, in the final round, answered the question correctly... except he spelled it wrong. This was counted as an incorrect answer, and social media went nuts over the decision. Some viewers felt that Alex Trebek had embarrassed the 12-year-old while others applauded the show for not giving credit to a misspelled answer. At least Thomas was able to bring some money home for his second place win.
#9: That One Scandal Where Congress Stepped In
“Twenty One” (1956-58; 2000)
Practically every single television show today is accused of being staged in some fashion. However, back in the 1950s, the news was so shocking that no one believed it when former contestant Herbert Stempel completely spilled the truth after his loss to Charles Van Doren. The fallout revealed that everything about the show - even Stempel’s image and backstory - had been set up and tinkered with by the producers. Meanwhile, the show was feeding answers to the contestants, and pre-deciding the show’s outcome. When it was all said and done, Congress had to step in and amend the Communications Act to declare fixing quiz shows illegal.
#8: The Perfect Bid
"The Price Is Right" (1972-)
Getting a perfect bid when trying to get on stage is hard enough, but getting a perfect bid during the Showcase? You’d have to be a math genius to do that... or watch a lot of daytime television, which is exactly what Terry Kniess and his wife did. The couple studied “The Price Is Right” for months, picking up on its patterns, commonly featured items, and usual pricing. Even so, when Kniess took the stage for the final Showcase, he was absolutely shocked when his $23,743 bid was spot on... as was host Drew Carey. Suspicious? Yes. But technically, Kniess wasn’t cheating. The 2017 documentary Perfect Bid: The Contestant Who Knew Too Much confirms that Kniess did in fact memorize prices on the program, and led the game show to change its pricing system to prevent this from happening again.
#7: Marriage for Money
“The Moment of Truth” (2008-09)
How willing would you be to answer intensely personal questions, in front of a television audience, while attached to a polygraph machine? Well, Fox gave it a go, and the results were as cringe-worthy as you'd imagine. Case in point: the marriage of Lauren and Frank Cleri, which was ruined when Lauren's ex-boyfriend Frank Nardi, Jr. came into the picture. Lauren admitted that she had cheated on her husband, and answered positively to her ex's question of "do you think I am the man you should be married to?" Adding insult to injury, Lauren's final game tally was zero.
#6: Coughing to Victory
“Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” [UK] (1998-2014)
This is exactly what it sounds like. In 2001, Charles Ingram implemented a somewhat clever and cheaty idea: he read the answers out loud and had his wife and friend cough when he said the right one. Unless you use that lifeline, audience participation isn’t part of the game. Ingram had to give back the million he won and pay a fine of 15,000 pounds. Worse still, as a result of the scam, Ingram was dismissed from his job as a Major in the British Army.
#5: No Whammies Lead to Life Whammies
“Press Your Luck” (1983-86)
After recording episodes and studying the pattern of the board, Mike Larson appeared on “Press Your Luck” in 1984 and completely annihilated the competition by taking home over $100,000. Since it technically wasn’t cheating, Larson was free to keep his winnings. Unfortunately, not everyone knows what to do with that much money: his missteps included making a sizeable withdrawal to take part in a radio game show, having $50,000 stolen from his home, and later taking part in a scheme involving a foreign lottery. His participation in the scheme put him on the run from authorities until his untimely death in 1999... the whammies of life hit Larson hard.
#4: Spotlight on a Murderer
“Bullseye” [UK] (1981-2006)
John Cooper didn't walk away from “Bullseye” a winner, but eventually his brief shot at glory was a major win for the British public. Unknown at the time, Cooper was already a two time murderer, having killed a brother and sister in 1985, and killing Peter and Gwenda Dixon a month after his game show strike out. In 1998 Cooper was convicted of a string of robberies, and served 10 years in prison. However, soon after his release police investigated a murder cold case, which through advanced forensic science, DNA, and his “Bullseye” footage, they were able to pin on him. Cooper was arrested soon after, and convicted in 2011.
#3: The Popsicle Twins
“The Gong Show” (1976-80)
Easily one of the most bizarre moments on "The Gong Show", the so-called Popsicle Twins were a duo of young women whose act was titled "Have You Got a Nickel.” Their segment was initially only aired on the east coast before being pulled, when it was noticed that the simple act of enjoying an ice lolly was a bit more suggestive than it first appeared. Score-wise, the act was a dud – with only Jaye P. Morgan picking up what the girls were laying down, and TV's Klinger Jamie Farr awarding it a mere two points.
#2: Which Came First: The Post-It Or The Walkman?
“Million Dollar Money Drop” (2010-11)
When couples appear on game shows, networks are hoping for some relationship hijinks. And that’s exactly what this show got... in the worst way possible. Gabe Okoye and Brittany Mayti were well on their way to $1,000,000 until the “which came first” question came up. After bickering, Okoye went with the Post-It, and the couple watched as $800,000 fell through a trap door because they got the... right answer? Though the show’s research team had checked with 3M, Post-It’s original parent company, a slight technicality meant their information was just plain wrong. Cue the social media outrage, the show offering to bring the couple back and then... well, the show was canceled after its debut season.
#1: The Dating Game Serial Killer
“The Dating Game” (1965-99)
Rodney Alcala appeared as Bachelor #1 on “The Dating Game” in 1978 and managed to charm his way through the show to win the date. A decision she would have soon come to regret, Cheryl Bradshaw thankfully didn’t end up going through with it. As it turns out, Alcala had a terrifying criminal history involving multiple murders, kidnapping, and sexual assault, with his victims ranging from adult women to young girls. Moving forward, the importance of doing extensive background checks on contestants cannot be overstated. They could be cheaters. They could be frauds. They could be Rodney Alcala.