The Price is Wrong

Not too long ago, my oldest daughter was feeling sick. These days, the latest sniffle is cause for major alarm. So we kept her home from school and had to make sure she didn’t have COVID. (She didn’t.)

When I was growing up, sick days were few and far between. My mom always told me that if I were too sick for school, that meant no baseball practice or game, no playing outside, no playing with friends, and so on. If you were sick, she said, you were sick. I went to school with a lot of sore throats. Playing outside was my lifeblood. And on baseball practice or game days? I would have gone to school with a broken arm just to prove I was healthy enough to play.

But, if I were sick, I was going to make sure it was worth it. Not in a Ferris Bueller sort of way, but it meant a few things. Nintendo. Movies. Laying in bed or on the couch. And, from 10-11 am, it meant The Price is Right.

I loved that game show. I didn’t care how bad the fever was, how much my throat hurt, how tired my eyes were … I was watching every minute of Bob Barker and those contestants. It was as much a part of a sick day as chicken noodle soup and Saltines.

Now that my oldest is 8, I reasoned that The Price is Right should be as much of her sick day as it was with mine. Once we realized she was fine – free of Little Miss Rona, and just normal kid-sick – I told her to meet me on the couch at 10 am.

I knew that over the years The Price is Right had changed. And, I figured that in COVID times, it had adjusted to not play reruns for 16 straight months (or so).

But, oh my goodness, I was not prepared for how much it had changed.

I think what drew me to The Price is Right when I was a kid was the authenticity of it: genuine excitement and reaction, the idea that you had no idea if your name would be called, the cameraman trying to find “Paul, come on down!” as he jumped over 10 pairs of legs to get to the aisle, and the idea that someone’s life could be totally changed with a new living room set, a big screen TV, or a braaaaaaaand new carrrrrrr!!!

When I was a freshman in college, the RA for our hall organized a trip to a taping of The Price is Right, having found a loophole that if 20 or more people from one group arrived they were guaranteed a spot on stage. So, around 7:30 am we had 18 or so guys milling around waiting for 1-2 more stragglers (7:30 am in college is like waking the dead) to get to our 20 when a couple guys walked by. They asked what we were doing, we told them, we all did the math, and they joined us. Isn’t the randomness of college great?

Turns out, one of these two random guys got chosen to go on stage, leaving the 18 of us from our floor — all of whom knew each other, at minimum as acquaintances — to sit in the audience and half-heartedly cheer for one of these random dudes. I remember watching the show when it aired. Half of us showed excitement that someone from our group was on stage, and the other half gave this ho-hum, who gives a crap attitude because it wasn’t one of our guys.

Either way, there was a genuine authenticity to the whole thing. We didn’t know who was going to get called, and we had no idea what the price of salad dressing was (or throat lozenges or whatever). Just give us Plinko and be on our way.

Minutes to 10 am on this sick day with my daughter, I was hyping up this show. Telling her how much I loved it on my sick days and how excited I was to watch it with her. After a semi-sleepless night, and not much of her normal bubbliness, she began to show some life to watch something with Dad, and to have a part of my childhood as her own.

Fifteen minutes in, I was horrified. It was like watching someone spray paint the Mona Lisa.

What type of fresh hell was I in?

The COVID-version of The Price is Right has very separated stands, and no audience. It’s also, no fun to watch.

First off, Drew Carey is no Bob Barker. Second, there are just four contestants and they all come from backstage. There is no engaging in the audience – in fact, there is no audience (likely, COVID protocols). The games seem more rigged than ever, and the people who are on the show seem like fake influencers, or burnout reality TV stars looking for one last piece of glory. There was more false hustle than Eric Byrnes, and fake enthusiasm dripped from every person on the show – Drew included.

It all felt so … staged.

I’m not naive enough to think that there isn’t some production going on, or coaching backstage — even as a kid, I was smart enough to know things like Taped in front of a live studio audience still meant it wasn’t live. But holy moly was this just a steaming pile on my TV.

I turned to my daughter and watched her. She was on pins and needles hoping that someone could take home a furniture set if they could figure out if the price of Werther’s Originals was from present day or 10 years ago. And when the contestant got it right, she shrieked. She was genuinely happy for a person who was faking their own enthusiasm.

And, that was OK. It brought her joy on a day that kind of sucked. And she was happy.

Maybe my memory is a little rose colored and if my mom sat and watched The Price is Right with me when I was 8 or so, she would have had plenty of eye-roll moments while I ate it up … so I was happy that she was happy and distracted from her maladies.

But I still stand by the idea that the show has drastically changed for the worst.

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