These Memorable Game Show Contestants Caused Controversies We’ll Never Forget

Wed Feb 23 2022

Some contestants on good old-fashioned game shows might not have the most interesting stories to tell, but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t newsworthy. Some people win the jackpot and go on living life quietly, while others win and crowds question the validity of their victory until the end of days.

From serial killers to pattern memorizers, game shows throughout the ages have really presented society with the best and worst society has to offer. Some folks really jump through tons of weird hoops just to be on TV. Here are some of the kookiest and strangest game show contestants and hosts, and some of the controversy they’ve caused.

Michael Larson Pressed His Luck Far Too Much

Press Your Luck was a game show back in the 1980s. Michael Larson was an ice cream truck driver turned super fan that studied the show so meticulously that he managed to figure out the best way to beat the system. Seriously, how on earth did he do it?

He watched this show meticulously, learning all of the ins and outs. He was able to pick up on all tips and tricks, learning the algorithm to essentially commit fraud. At least, that’s how it was seen. He simply memorized the board game and put everything to the test with his winning appearance.

This Kid Was Robbed for a Minor Spelling Error

This kid is probably going to beat himself up for this little blunder for years and years to come. On an episode of the kid-oriented version of Jeopardy, this little guy made a little spelling mistake (we could all see what it was). That took him down, without a victory.

Thomas Hurley III correctly answered his final Jeopardy question. Unfortunately, a slight spelling mistake cost him everything. The Hollywood Reporter said that he misspelled the word “emancipation” and host Alex Trebek ultimately ruled the answer as incorrect. Hurley lost the $3,000 he bet.

Body Language Says Everything

On Australia’s Millionaire Hot Seat, Khaled El-Katateny was up to win AU$100,000 and was believed to have cheated. Well, believed depending on who you asked. El-Katateny didn’t seem to have an issue reading the game show’s host and his body language.

He was able to get ahold of the hinting strategy used by the game show crew. Though the show laughed at his claim that he was able to read the expressions made by the host, they were just as perplexed as to how he was able to outsmart them and learn their algorithm.

The Curious Case of Twenty-One

This show was firing on all cylinders. This game show from 1956 had more than one instance of supposed corruption and tons of drama seemed to follow the program. They could barely make it through the year without a scandal, and this is just one of the many.

Charles Van Doren came around to be seen as he was: a cheater. He received answers to his questions in advance and came prepared for that day, as reported by Rolling Stone’s initial coverage of the scandal. Though he cheated, he did successfully find himself in the limelight.

He Was on a Serial Killing Spree When He Appeared on The Dating Game… And He Won

Serial killer Rodney Alcala famously appeared on The Dating Game and charmed his way to victory. Fortunately, the show’s winner that day felt that Alcala had a creepy vibe and refused to go on her date with him. He was at large at the same time he appeared on the show.

He was clearly very confident if he was willing to go on television and convince the world he wasn’t dangerous, all the while he had previously been in jail for the attempted murder of a young girl, plus god knows what other absolutely horrendous things.

The Cough Meant Everything

You’d think a military man would have a bit more honor than that, wouldn’t you say? When Charles Ingram appeared on the UK’s version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, he made history by becoming one of the few to ever win the maximum prize of £1,000,000.

Suspicions began to arise that he was working with someone to cheat the system. Trials took place soon after he hit the jackpot because producers had reasons to believe he was getting help somehow. Ingram and his wife, as well as another accomplice, were all convicted of cheating. Apparently, any time he pondered his thoughts, one of the two folks offstage coughed and he knew what answer to pick. As a result, he had to resign from his lifelong military post.

The Fugitive Who Appeared On This Show Thinking He Wouldn’t Get Caught

In a weak attempt to conceal his identity, one fugitive appeared on a game show. Appearing on a popular quiz show in 1988, Patrick Quinn won $58,000 on Super Password, though his fortune didn’t take him too far. It turns out, he wasn’t Patrick Quinn, but Kerry Dee Ketchum.

Kerry Dee Ketchum was a fugitive wanted in three different states when he tried to conceal his identity as Patrick Quinn. Luckily, one Super Password fan recognized his face from different “Wanted Criminal” ads that were appearing on the news. They tipped off authorities, and he kissed his jackpot goodbye.

Howard Stempel, The Game Show Whistle Blower

Howard Stempel may have made money from his game show winnings, he also famously exposed Twenty One for all of the corruption and rigging that came with competing. He was asked to intentionally lose in order to let the next person take his reign.

Everything was fixed and he had been given answers well in advance. The air of mystery the show wanted people to believe it had, just didn’t exist in reality. He wanted this Emmy-winning show to give up the rouse. He wanted to expose them for what they really were: fraudulent.

She Didn’t Win, Shazam Did

Honestly, this woman seems like she was kind of a con artist. This Spanish game show model and television personality was playing a game that required her to identify some tunes and she decided to take matters into her own hands to win.

Her appearance on Pasapalabra stirred up a controversy when she decided to enlist the help of a song-identification app Shazam. This app made it possible for her to correctly identify the right answers; unfortunately, though, she was caught.

The Bullseye Killer Made His Own Appearance

Long before TV shows did the same intensive background checks that they (reportedly) have today. Believe it or not, Rodney Alcala was not the only serial killer to appear on a game show. This is another guy who was confident enough in himself to appear while on a killing spree.

His name was John Cooper, who appeared on the British darts show Bullseye. He had murdered siblings Richard and Helen Thomas just four years prior to his appearance and hadn’t been caught. Just a couple of months after appearing on the show, he took the lives of another couple, Peter and Gwenda Dixon.

Was It Really the Wrong Answer?

It seems that one handy item’s renaming back in the day seemed to cause this couple of their points. They appeared on Million Dollar Money Drop and had to decide which of these three items was likely sold in stores first: Macintosh computer, Sony Walkman, or Post-It Notes?

This couple put all of their winnings on the line for an answer they were confident in: Post-It Notes. Shockingly, they were wrong… though, they weren’t really wrong. Post-It Notes were launched in 1977 as Press ‘n Peel, becoming Post-It Notes in 1980, while the Walkman launched in 1979.

The Price Is Right, but They’ve Got It All Wrong

After Drew Carey took over for Bob Barker on The Price Is Right, some things went horribly wrong on his watch. Or, at least, to show producers that’s how it seemed. Well, when contestant Terry Kneiss started making perfect bids, the drama certainly followed.

Kneiss and his wife had meticulously studied previous episodes before their time to shine came. They fully threw themselves into the game to the point of knowing everything there was to know about it. Apparently, the producers of The Price is Right thought they had a foolproof system.

Mispronunciation Changes Everything

When one contestant came onto Wheel of Fortune and spoke with an accent that dropped a letter in sound, the show’s producers were quick to disqualify her. She was so close to victory, she could taste it like the delicious holiday roast she’d soon be having.

The answer to a question was “Seven Swans A-Swimming,” and though it didn’t seem like such a big deal to the audience, it was clearly a big deal to the judges of the show. The contestant lost everything she had won on that episode, simply because it sounded like she dropped the “g” sound at the end of “swimming.”

When His Multi-Millionaire Status Is All These Ladies Wanted, It’s What This Lady Got

If it seems like it’s too good to be true, that probably means it is. One show, Who Wants to Marry a Multi-Millionaire, seemed to fit that bill precisely. Back in 2000, Fox released this show which followed 50 women around as they competed for the heart of an extra-wealthy man.

Darva Conger woman who wound up winning and marrying Rick Rockwell. Shockingly enough, he was actually not even a millionaire at all. He was quite broke, living in conditions that were concerning; he’d even had a restraining order filed against him. Darva ran right out of there and got a divorce.

Accent Shamed On Wheel of Fortune

Dialects from different parts of the world are what make everyone’s accent unique. People can’t quite change the way that they pronounce words all the time, and it seems that slightly dropping a letter from the end of a word she mispronounced cost her an entire jackpot.

Fortunately, after Renee Durette’s appearance on Wheel of Fortune, the Twitterverse did not like seeing the way she was treated and robbed of her title, just because of her dialect. Internet users throwing a fit can sometimes accomplish what they want that way!

Bob Eubanks Made Contestants Uncomfortable With His Tasteless Jokes

Unlike the others on this list, Bob Eubanks wasn’t quite a contestant, but rather a game show host. He reportedly made lots of unwholesome remarks toward women that were not a great match for how we respect women. The Newlywed Game host apparently made his bad comments into his later years.

Eubanks famously made an anti-LGBTQ joke when filming a parody version of the show 40 years later. You can bet that if he tried to make a comment like that in 2022, he’d be trolled online and definitely would lose his show. He would be the face of cancel culture if this show were still running.

Chuck Barris Had The Send-Off of a Lifetime

In the late 1970s, NBC hosted The Gong Show, which was basically a talent search show. Apparently, it was indeed all just a show. Chuck Barris, the host, had some strong feelings against the show he spent all that time hosting. He went out with a verbal bang.

The show was filled with weird senses of humor that just weren’t… standard. When the show was canceled in 1980, this humorous host sang the song ‘Take the Job and Shove It’ before flipping his middle finger on the final broadcast. He really let them know how he felt.

These Contestants Were Rated For Their “Hotness”

In the early days of modern trash TV, ABC tried to blaze the trail when they experimented with what might be the worst of what television has to offer; they literally created a game show in which people were rated purely for how hot they are. They even called it Are You Hot?

This show came to its demise after they tried to rip off part of Howard Stern’s radio show. He took them to town when he sued them for all they were worth – no one rips off Howard Stern, right? Plus, the ratings were incredibly low, so the show didn’t last beyond one season.

What Does Pretty Dimples Sound Like?

Listen, a game show host doesn’t have to have the best voice around, but they definitely need to be composed and say the right lines. Well, it didn’t seem that was the case here. On the popular show, The Match Game from the 1970s, show host Gene Rayburn stumbled over his words when he was flustered from a contestant’s good looks.

When going to compliment contestant Karen Lesko, he slipped up when “trying to say” something else – that she had pretty dimples. Instead, he said something about part of her chest. Oopsies, who would have known that he would have a Freudian slip?

Brandi Cochran Challenged The Show That Fired Her When She Got Pregnant

Back in 2010, Price Is Right Model Brandi Cochran sued the show claiming she was wrongfully let go when she let them know she was pregnant. She was not happy about it, and we can’t blame her in the slightest. She took her maternity leave and was subsequently told she wouldn’t be needed anymore.

When trying to come back to work and running into that obstacle, Cochran took her former employer to court and they paid graciously, though probably still not enough. She received a payout of over $775,000 and put The Price Is Right to shame for their actions.

SNL’S Phil Hartman Appeared on The Dating Game – Just Before He Was Murdered

Saturday Night Live legend Phil Hartman appeared on The Dating Game not long before he was murdered by a jealous partner. He was just one of the many celebrities who found themselves competing for a date in a comedic and cutesy dating show.

He made a joke that if he were a street sign, it would read “slippery when wet” and it quickly became clear that there was some flirtation between the two. He won, but in a later interview, he admitted that his date stood him up. He was killed in his sleep by his wife, who suffered from substance abuse problems.

Our Little Genius Had Some Serious Pitfalls

This was a show that focused on basically exploiting child prodigies. The premise was that kids would compete to win money for their families, but the show was quickly canceled because of questions against the integrity of the program. Tons of eyebrows were raised.

One contestant’s parents reportedly sent a letter to the FCC complaining that a member of the production crew had given a child and their parents a list of topics beforehand. The show was proven to be staged and then was canceled before it ever even took off.

Some Shows Seem To Retaliate on Those Who Beat Them

There appear to be a bunch of game shows that are not as honest as they claim to be. Lots of game shows appear to be fixed, and whenever someone still manages to beat the system, the show does not take it lightly. We’re talking sly comments from hosts, weird answers on quizzes – you name it, it could have happened.

From the dawn of television, people have been catching on and standing up against silly rules and loopholes. Contestants are smarter than they may appear, and some games are just stacked against the players from the get-go.

Soul Train’s Whole Concept Was Robbed By Dick Clark

Some producers couldn’t wrap their heads around black success. One show was really just an attempt to make a “white” version of a show made by black creators. Stories like this are things we only remember seeing in movies, on Broadway, and anything but reality. However, in an age of discrimination, Dick Clark tried to whitewash others.

Soul Train was an all-black dance show back in an age where everyone, from the government to the media, was trying to figure out what was going to fly. Dick Clark tried to rip off Soul Train with Soul Unlimited, his own version of the same show. It didn’t work in his favor.