The plug has not been pulled on rigged game and reality TV shows

October 5, 2017 — by Lina Kim and Anna Novoselov

On Dec. 5, 1956, Herbert Stampel, the returning champion of the game show “Twenty One,” stood inside an isolated booth on  stage. He wiped sweat off his brow as he waited for his turn. Following the game rules, his microphone was disabled, so he could not hear the game and thus did not know his opponent’s standing.

Meanwhile, his opponent, Charles Van Doren, confidently answered an 8-point question about the Civil War. Van Doren knew that he would need to reach 21 points before Stampel to win.

Host Jack Barry had called the heavily promoted episode “the biggest game ever played in the program.” An estimated 50 million Americans watched in suspense behind their screens, waiting to see which contestant would emerge victorious.

As Stampel's booth opened, Barry asked a 5-point question, “What motion picture won the Academy Award for 1955?”

This was an easy question for Stempel — the correct answer was “Marty,” one of his favorite films.

However, Stempel, who had 16 points, put on his best acting face and stuck with the script, answering, “On the Waterfront.”

Soon after, accusations of rigging and coaching contestants erupted, and the duplicity of “Twenty One” was uncovered. The producers had predetermined the episode’s outcome and coached the contestants on how to act and what to say.

In the end, Van Doren won $129,000, a TIME magazine cover feature, and a three-year contract with NBC. The show won a reputation for fraud and soon canceled.

In 1960, following this scandal, an amendment to the Communications Act of 1934 passed by Congress made it officially illegal to fix quiz shows. Many programs, such as “Dotto,” “The $64,000 Challenge” and “Tic-Tac-Dough” experienced plunging ratings and were soon cancelled after the law passed.

However, this only temporarily pulled the plug on rigging.

In a recent issue, journalists from The Atlantic point out that scripting game and reality shows can lead to financial gain for the cast members. Manipulating the reactions and outcomes of an episode also creates more dramatic content, increasing public appeal.

For example, the article documents how the creators of “The Wall” exaggerate their contestants reasons for being worthy of winning and regulate the movement of the ball, which falls either in the $1 or $1 million slot with gravity and friction.

While it may be more entertaining, the shows cross their moral obligation to their viewers of maintaining accuracy.

Sophomore Nikita Pawar said she dislikes that many television programs deceive their audiences. She believes that the duplicity of these shows deserves to be uncovered.

However, other viewers, like junior Jennah El-Ashmawi,  stay unbiased as they continue to enjoy the entertainment that comes out of television shows, whether it is based on lies or the unrefined truth.

“They’re doing their job, and they’re doing their job well if I’m watching it, so I don’t really mind [if the shows are rigged],” El-Ashmawi said.

Currently, popular shows like the “Teen Choice Awards,” “Dancing With the Stars” and “The Bachelor” are being scrutinized for rigging by the media and some journalistic agencies.

For example, YouTube star Logan Paul’s Choice YouTuber win over the Dolan Twins, Ethan and Grayson Dolan, in this year’s “Teen Choice Awards” came under fire for such rigging.

The Dolan twins were previously told that they had won and were lined up on stage. Unexpectedly, Paul’s name was announced and Paul was rushed onto stage.

This change of events stirred controversy when audience members questioned the producers’ last-minute change, which contradicted the votes of the audience.

Furthermore, “The Bachelor” was also viewed as rigged earlier this year, when a former unnamed Bachelor revealed what goes on behind the scenes.

Interviewed by Man Repeller, the former bachelor said that instead of allowing the contestants to be themselves in this reality love show, each person has a role they must fill, whether it is the villain, victim or hero. Usually, what appears to be love is just lust and forced infatuation built off from immense amounts of alcohol and the connection that forms complete isolation from the rest of the world.

“You build an emotional response to that time,” said the former bachelor. “The term ‘love’ gets thrown around rather aggressively.”

These speculations of rigging, as well as others, have created controversy and distrust in entertainment companies. It seems like the 1960 Amendment no longer protects viewers from the duplicity of game shows.

“Rigging ruins the credibility of shows,” sophomore Nikita Pawar said. “It shouldn’t be done.”