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August 10th, 2006


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06:34 pm - Great Moments in Schadenfreude, Vol. 897
Much like other red-blooded American nuclear families back in the 1980s, my family would routinely sit down together every weeknight around 7:00 and petition the Lord through prayer to strike down those who weren't like us watch Wheel of Fortune.

We all watched the game for different reasons, of course. Some driven people like my father would watch to see if they could solve the puzzles before the contestants, and I can only imagine how great it must have felt for a grown man to have guessed "BISCUITS AND GRAVY" one turn before the guy on TV did. I'm assuming the rush of mental superiority one got from such an achievement must have been addictive, because he sure got sore if one of us kids guessed it before he could.

Still others watched to see what Vanna White, the Stepford-smiling letter turner would wear, and to this day, even after I've learned and comprehended the concept of Being Famous For Being Famous, I just can't see what the big deal was about her. Not even after seeing those nude pics of hers once published in Playboy. (Sure, they were nice and tasteful, and we learned that underneath her evening gowns she was indeed a naked lady, but what did any of it accomplish?) I'm guessing some other folks watched obsessively for Pat Sajak's smiling face (no Playgirl scoop, thankfully) but me, I obsessively watched for the money-spending part of the show.

See, the game was different back in the 80s. While you spun the wheel to earn money by guessing letters in the puzzle, you didn't actually win the cash in every round. Instead, if you solved the puzzle, you had to spend your money on the prizes available to you, displayed on these incredibly elaborate showcase tableaux. These prizes ranging from pretty neat to downright tacky, and I think you had to spend as much money as possible before you were done. I loved to watch the camera pan across the glittering prizes, all tastefully arranged with glittering price tags, while the deedly-deet-doo-doo music played and the winner's face (in a little inset, like the ol' sign language interpreter for the news) would contort in agony as they made their choices.

The poor winners would usually start with the dining room set or the golf clubs or the diamond tennis bracelet, then work their way through the fireplace pokers or the Leroy Neiman print, and then near the end, they'd wind up having to take the bronze ducks-in-flight wall decoration or the $225 life-sized ceramic dalmatian before the remainder of their balance could be "put on a Service Merchandise gift certificate" (where, naturally, one can purchase more diamond tennis bracelets and Leroy Neiman prints.) The only other game show that came close to fulfilling my youthful obsession for rampant consumerism was $ale of the Century and what a show that was. Holy cow. We'll have to obsess over that sometime.

My little brothers watched because nothing else was on and they had no control over the TV anyway when the bigger people were in the room.

But as far as we could tell, my mother watched the show for one reason and one reason only. Contestants often could figure out the puzzle in their heads with a few letters left unturned, and so, comfortable in their confidence that they were about to win, they'd invariably spin the wheel just once more to pick up some extra money before reciting the solution. But should their final spin go awry and the wheel hit BANKRUPT instead, my mom would just go crazy. She'd throw up her hands, she'd cackle, and she'd sing this little song composed just for such an occasion:
THAT'S what you GET when YOU are GREEDY!
THAT'S what you GET when YOU are GREEDY!
THAT'S what you GET when YOU are GREEDY on the WHEEL of FORTUNE SHOW!
Her jubilation was even more pronounced if the contestant had spun a few times before hitting bankrupt. The greater the loss, the sweeter the song. And, eventually, my brothers and I grew to share her obsession, and we'd all gleefully sing along whenever that particular disaster did befall an unwitting contestant. Ryan even came up with a part in harmony.

I'm not sure what lesson she was trying to impress upon us impressionable youth: Don't take the risks? Quit while you're ahead? Stay humble and don't grab the gusto? Take the money and run? Never buy a vowel when you're certain of the puzzle solution? (Yeah, that one caused us all to laugh like mad, too.) But whatever it was, it certainly learned me a thing or two about game shows, and that's why to this day I don't have a $225 life-sized ceramic dalmatian in the living room. I'm sure it would scare the cat, anyway.

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From:derspatchel
Date:August 10th, 2006 11:28 pm (UTC)
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You'd have fit right in among our mountaintop clan, then. But we'd still have stolen your chair if you'd gotten up during the commercial to get a soda or something.
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From:jodied
Date:August 11th, 2006 12:53 am (UTC)
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Screaming "fives" didn't work in your family?

We'd also be drawn and quartered if we were caught sitting in my dad's chair.
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From:isquiesque
Date:August 10th, 2006 11:29 pm (UTC)
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I'm assuming the rush of mental superiority one got from such an achievement must have been addictive.

I think it definitely was for my great grandmother, Viola. God rest her sweet soul.*




* I don't think that's what killed her, though, unless all the excitement made her ticker give out.
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From:signsoflife
Date:August 10th, 2006 11:54 pm (UTC)
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I'm assuming the rush of mental superiority one got from such an achievement must have been addictive.

Well, you see, I was the youngest in the family, and I NEVER got to be smarter than ANYone.
From:sernin
Date:August 11th, 2006 12:02 am (UTC)
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Every time I saw the ceramic dog in a Friends' episode, I thought of that dalmation.

(OH AND $ALE OF THE CENTURY WAS THE BEST GAME SHOW EVER)
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From:antikythera
Date:August 11th, 2006 12:05 am (UTC)
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We didn't watch game shows at home, but when we were visiting relatives, we watched what they watched. I got hooked on Jeopardy!, or more likely on my great-grandmother's tendency to exclaim at how smart I was several times per episode.
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From:byrneout
Date:August 11th, 2006 12:18 am (UTC)
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I miss the shopping SO. FREAKING. MUCH.

Plus it teaches the kids subtraction!
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From:pecosy
Date:August 11th, 2006 06:11 am (UTC)
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"And the rest on gift certificate or account?"

"Gift certificate."

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From:slakko
Date:August 11th, 2006 07:08 am (UTC)
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Is this where I tell the story of my brother being on Sale of the Century in Australia in 1999? I used to absolutely love that show when I was growing up (it ran and ran and ran in Oz - they eventually reformatted it in about 2001 after having run almost entirely unchanged for 20 years).
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From:derspatchel
Date:August 11th, 2006 03:58 pm (UTC)
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Is this where I tell the story of my brother being on Sale of the Century in Australia in 1999?

Yes, I think this is where you should. :)



THIS REFRIGERATOR FREEZER RETAILS FOR $495 BUT TODAY ON SALE OF THE CENTURY, IT CAN BE YOURS FOR JUST $11
[User Picture]
From:babs_the_nymph
Date:August 11th, 2006 03:35 pm (UTC)
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I think squealing gleefully over someone getting the Bankrupt card on a final spin is Schadenfreude. After all, the object of the game was to get as much money as possible.

My grandparents got into that game in a big way. My mom was more into the prime time soap operas like Dallas.
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From:hemlock_martini
Date:August 11th, 2006 04:33 pm (UTC)
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Guessing by the emphasis placed on the words, was the melody to your mom's song "What Do You Do With A Drunken Sailor?"
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From:derspatchel
Date:August 11th, 2006 08:35 pm (UTC)
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Very close -- it was a variant on Ten Little Indians, actually.
From:dcart
Date:August 12th, 2006 11:37 pm (UTC)
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Oh man, I loved Sale of the Century. Summer mornings in late elementary and middle school, it was my reason for not sleeping in.

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