What does it take to be your average TV game show host? Well, probably not much, considering they tend to be grating, phony, nauseating, and on occasion, are literally Jeff Foxworthy. By my estimation, the main qualification for becoming a game show host is not having a disfigured face.
Yes, I remember sitting with my family at the dinner table as a child, basking in the warm glow of the television set and eating dinosaur chicken nuggets as reflections of a mustachioed Alex Trebek and a shaved Pat Sajak (possessing merely skin, and not hair, in the space between his lips and nose) danced in our eyes. “My, what totally non-disfigured faces they have!” we would commonly remark, occasionally missing our mouths with our forks and jabbing mashed potatoes into our foreheads.
But, what does it take to be a great TV game show host? Well, it takes a few things: Charm, as well as enthusiasm and affability. A great sense of humor, for sure. Also, and perhaps most importantly, a propensity for dousing eager youngsters and their mildly annoyed parents with green goo.
Nobody combined these qualities (particularly the latter) with greater skill and ability than Marc Summers, the boyish host of Nickelodeon classics Double Dare and What Would You Do? Summers was eminently likeable and surprisingly funny, but in a way where it wouldn’t have been totally shocking to find him hitting on some family’s mom and/or older sister during a commercial break. For a generation of American kids, he was Bob Barker, Richard Dawson, and Alex Trebek all rolled into one.
For my money, the superior of Summers’ two shows was Double Dare. While both programs existed mainly as an excuse to create a gigantic mess (pretty ironic, as Summers later revealed that he suffers from a severe case of OCD), Double Dare was more consistently entertaining, and ended in the incredibly climactic obstacle course. As a young viewer, I found myself oddly enthralled by this challenge, which featured contestants picking flags out of huge fake noses and sliding through greased up tunnels. Similar opportunities to crawl through goo and slime occurred throughout the show, and a young Ted Pillow was often infuriated by families who choose to continue with trivia questions rather than accept the ominously titled “physical challenges.” In fact, the only people that made me angrier were the idiotic Legends of the Hidden Temple contestants who tried to put together the Shrine of the Silver Monkey without any working knowledge of a monkey’s anatomy. Here’s a hint: the head goes above the ass.
As you can see in the above clip, the final obstacle course could be rather perilous, as children risked life and limb to win Toys ‘R’ Us gift certificates and “color TVs.” Said clip also gives the distinct impression that Marc kind of hates children, but I’m going to assume that he just really, really, really wanted them to win.
What Would You Do?, which placed families in weird situations/pranked them, also had its charms, usually involving increasingly elaborate methods of hitting people in the face with pies (in case you hadn’t notice, pies/slime was kind of Marc’s “thing”). The end of most episodes featured a What Would You Do? medley, where contestants were offered the choice of (A.) participating in an unspecified disgusting or unpleasant activity, like letting a cow lick molasses off your face or holding a leech, or (B.) merely getting hit with some pies. Basically, anyone who didn’t choose to just get it over with and get hit with a bunch of pies was probably a degenerate of some kind, which made for oddly captivating television. I was always shocked when people didn’t just opt to take a ride in the Pie Coaster or the Pie Wash, opportunities that I would have volunteered for readily and without provocation.
A quick look around the current TV Game Show landscape reveals the assdust that passes for hosts these days. For example, Drew Carey has replaced Bob Barker on The Price is Right. Presumably, this is a contractual obligation for Mr. Carey, and unfortunately, he seems to be treating it the same way I handled yard work as a teenager: Maybe if I keep screwing this up, they’ll stop asking me to do it. I’ve seen people more enthusiastic to participate in court-mandated community service.
Point being, hosting a game show doesn’t seem like the hardest job in the world. You need to be pleasant without feeling disingenuous, excited without becoming annoying, and funny without seeming too ironic or disgruntled. Okay, so maybe that is kind of difficult. But, that’s what separates the great hosts from the merely non-disfigured ones. While I certainly view Marc Summer from an idealized, nostalgic vantage, I don’t think my skewed point of view changes the fact that he was pretty damn good at his job. Marc currently hosts a program on the Food Network, but my generation will always remember him for his work on Nickelodeon.