Wednesday, January 1, 2014

A Tribute to the Monsters of “Supermarket Sweep”

In the early 1990s, there was a game show set inside a giant grocery store…which, for a season at least, was also populated by people in monster costumes. 

Do you ever have days when you’re assailed by a really, really stupid thought, that completely consumes you despite its general absurdity?

Well, that’s what happened to me over the holiday break. With all of the department store browsing and whatnot, I started thinking about “Supermarket Sweep” -- you know, that old-ass game show that used to come on Lifetime back in the day, in which contestants in matching sweaters answered questions about brand name products and got a chance to run down the aisle of a simulated grocery store, all the while trying to jam more useless crap in their carts than their opponents. Needless to say, it was a program that was WAY ahead of its time -- it was more or less a thirty minute commercial, with even more commercials wedged between it, making it something of a template for the sort of Omni-branded, product placement-strewn advert-tainment programming that, these days, is pretty much a dime a dozen.

So, while I was pondering “Supermarket Sweep,” I was struck by a bizarre recollection, that seemed to have been buried somewhere in my subconscious since I was in kindergarten -- namely, the fact that I VAGUELY recalled there being monsters on the program. As in, honest-to-goodness dudes in monster costumes, running around the aisles, scaring the shit out of contestants. It all seems so ludicrous now, but for the life of me, I SWORE that was the very case.

I became so infatuated with the idea that I wound up spending an entire afternoon browsing the Internet, for any photographic evidence to support my suspicions. Thanks to the power of the YouTube, I was partially vindicated in my quest for the truth, but many questions, I am afraid, continue to linger.

Before we talk about the monsters of “Supermarket Sweep,” I suppose it’s only fitting that we first talk about “Supermarket Sweep” as a standalone game show. There’s no denying the program had a great gimmick; although based upon some game show from the 1960s, it really wasn’t until the 1990 cable television reboot that I think the program truly came into its lavish, grandiose own.

Words can't begin to describe how much I envy a person who gets paid money to tell people to watch out for monsters in the canned goods section.

So many game shows of the late ‘80s and early ‘90s had more or less the same dynamics; various teams take turn answering trivia questions, one gets eliminated, the format shifts up, another team is eliminated and then the final contestants are asked to do some hard-ass challenge that was next-to-impossible to actually complete. Everything from “Legends of the Hidden Temple” to the Wink Martindale-hosted “Debt” had the same fundamental protocol, which is what made “Supermarket Sweep” stand out so much. You had ten minutes of Q and A bullshit, and then it was straight to watching people spin around the frozen food section at breakneck speeds, nearly coming to blows in a desperate attempt to grab an oversized can of Manwich Sloppy Joe mix that’s worth an extra $50 or something on their final tally. In a way, the absolute madness of the program made it kinda’ like a live-action version of “Smash TV,” only with way less mutant tank people getting rocket launchered and considerably more fat white people shoveling baked beans into a buggy like it was a Soviet riot. How this concept hasn’t been formulated into a futuristic combat sport -- or, at the very least, a hyper-violent Flash game -- is simply beyond me, folks.

The host of the show, David Ruprecht, looked pretty much like every other game show host from the era; Nice hair, perfect teeth, and eyes that shone pitch black misery in spite of the perpetual smile etched upon his lips. As it turns out, Ruprecht -- whose IMDB resume is a lot heftier than you’d probably imagine it to be -- is also a pretty big player in the California libertarian movement, which really makes sense since his bread and butter came from a TV show that was nothing but idol worship of the marketplace…literally. Come to think of it, I wonder what a Baudrillard or a Zizek would make of “Supermarket Sweep,” a program that actually begins with a generic announcer sensually whispering “is this one of your fantasies?” as a wide-angle camera lingers on a supermarket parking lot. Goddamn at the potential thesis material therein, no?

So anyway…the monsters. I remember there being a giant Frankenstein stalking the aisles, and also something that was kinda’ like a Sasquatch. The general rule, I think, was that if you walked down an aisle with a monster in it, said aisle was officially off limits and you had to go somewhere else. Harnessing all of this new media technology, I was able to scan through a couple episodes of the program, and what I found was promising…although, not at all the conclusive evidence I would have preferred.

...and the need for therapy begins in 3, 2, 1...

According to the denizens of the Internet, the very first season of the relaunched “Supermarket Sweep” utilized the monster gimmick for a couple of episodes, but by season two, the idea had been completely scrapped. As far as what kind of monsters were on the program, you may be wondering? Well, I found videographic proof of two, which, as fate would have it, I had absolutely zero recollections of from my own youth.

Meet Mr. Yuk, amigos. I have no idea what the hell he’s supposed to be, but I think it’s supposed to be some sort of cute play on words -- you know, the inverse of Mr. Clean, perhaps. With his bug eyes and razor sharp teeth and spooky jacket apparently on loan from Robert Englund, the character would probably be quite frightening to most youngsters -- which I suppose is the reason why the monsters may have been ix-nayed after one season.

So, uh, Mr. Yuk didn’t do much, from what I saw. Every now and then, he’d jump out in front of contestants and sorta’ block their pathway, but it’s not like he stole items out of their cart, which would have made this shit so much more harrowing. And of course, he wasn’t the only in-store monster making his rounds on the show…

Despite the VHS blur, I assure you that's an anthropomorphic bird...probably. 

Now, this here character is named Dave, and it appears to be…a chicken? A Turkey? Some sort of mutagen-spawned avian perversion of science? His gimmick was pretty much the same as Mr. Yuk -- he’d obstruct contestants, pop up out of nowhere, and then retreat to the backroom for a smoke and scornful meditation on where it is that he faltered in life so as to be playing a mutant stuffed animal on a cable game show. I’m just guessing on that last one, though.

Although I pilfered through quite a bit of “Supermarket Sweep” material (no need to tell you just how many hours I squandered to amass THIS MUCH information, as is), sadly, Mr. Yuk and Dave where the only two mascots I encountered online, who had visual documentation to back up their existence. Going back to my earlier remembrances of Frankensteins and Sasquatches, quite a few Internet people claim that they also recall similar creatures being on the show, but alas, not even the most thorough of Google image searches -- the kind with quotation marks and shit -- returned a single damn screen cap verifying their actual being. Unless there’s some sort of mass false-memory psychosis going on among those currently in their late 20s, those “Supermarket Sweep” monsters I vaguely recalled from my childhood do seem to be a reality -- albeit, a reality still in further need of total authentication.

Oh, the pinto beans? It's right next to the lobster hobo man. You can't miss them!

And with that in mind, I’m throwing down the proverbial gauntlet, if you will. For the first time ever, I’m holding an OFFICIAL INTERNET IS IN AMERICA CONTEST. The first reader to respond to me with visual proof of any other monsters from the first “Supermarket Sweep” season will win a special MYSTERY PRIZE, which is so awesome, I can’t actually tell you what it is yet. But, uh, it’ll be awesome, whatever it is. I promise.

So, game show enthusiasts and lover of all things retro -- how about helping a G out with his game show monster fix here?


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