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Bizarre Game Show Moments That Caught Us Totally Off Guard

There's nothing quite like the cheering crowds, occasionally questionable prizes, and the hope for a big cash payout of a big game show. In the space of a half hour, a few good guesses or lucky spins could completely change the trajectory of a person's life, or at the very least send them home with a super cool espresso maker they probably don't need. From the soothing letter turns of "Wheel of Fortune" or the high-stakes trivia of "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire," game shows have a way of making viewers root for contestants even when things go more than a little haywire.

While most game show episodes go off without a hitch, live TV can be unpredictable, and from time to time, things can go a little sideways. Come on down and spin the wheel as we uncover some of the most bizarre game show moments in television history. 

The time Pat Sajak put someone in a headlock

The game show business can get pretty intense, but it typically doesn't resort to fisticuffs — at least, it didn't until the perennially ornery Pat Sajak decided to kick things up a notch in a March 2023 "Wheel of Fortune" episode. The shenanigans coincided with the appearance of Hawaiian-shirted show champion Fred Fletcher-Jackson, who introduced himself as a bar trivia host, drama teacher, and professional wrestler, which he said he mainly does for the fun of it.

When Fletcher-Jackson started to rack up Ws, Sajak teased that he could body slam the contestant to help the other players out. Later on, he escalated the joke by grabbing Fletcher-Jackson and placing him in a fairly benign attempt at a wrestling maneuver called a "chicken wing." Ever the performer, the contestant whose wrestling name should definitely be FFJ played along with the gag, pretending to be helpless against Sajak's slick martial arts skills. Although most viewers loved it, a few took offense at the unprofessional take on wrestling, like the Twitter user who complained that "even in jest, laying hands on a guest, and in surprise, is in poor taste."

Fletcher-Jackson, on the other hand, couldn't have loved the bit more. Speaking to TMZ Sport, Fletcher-Jackson said the move wasn't staged, and Sajak actually had something of a firm grip on him. According to FFJ, "I ​​loved that moment. Like, L-O-V-E in capital letters. That was one of the biggest highlights of the show."

The gal who got lost on stage

Appearing on television can be exciting, especially if that appearance comes with a big money win on a popular game show. But even the most enthusiastic contestants can find the whole experience a little overwhelming or even, as one contestant on "The Price is Right" learned, kind of confusing. When Girl Scout mom Kari Kinder of Marion, Illinois, appeared on the game show in 2022, she ended up losing $8,000 and a car but managed to score a sweet new navigation system. This prize would immediately turn out to be ironic when she couldn't find her way off the stage and ended up wandering aimlessly around in the background as the next contestant stepped up to spin the wheel.

Host Drew Carey seemed not to notice as Kinder peered around set pieces in full view of the camera, looking increasingly more desperate for any point of egress. As Kinder would later recall to her local news station WSILTV, "I knew I had already gone the wrong way, and all I could hear from backstage is a man saying, 'Go this way, no, go that way!' and I couldn't see anything!" Despite the awkward impromptu performance, Kinder has managed to keep a sense of humor about her navigational flub, telling Inside Edition, "Getting lost on 'The Price is Right?' Now, that's priceless!"

The awkward treadmill prize

When it comes to game show prizes, some are more coveted than others. Of course, cash will always be king, but most of us wouldn't say no to a sweet new ride or an all-expenses-paid vacation to a five-star resort. But not everybody gets what they hope for. Fortunately for those occasions, there's the cash equivalent option or, if all else fails, ye olde Craigslist ad. Or if you're comedian Danielle Perez, there's a third option — repurposing your unwanted prize as a piece of furniture.

Perez has been using a wheelchair for mobility since losing her legs in a San Francisco trolley-pedestrian accident at the age of 20. She appeared on "The Price is Right" in 2015, lighting up when Drew Carey summoned her to be the next contestant. But as the curtain rolled back revealing her prizes, Perez and the audience were equally stunned to see that one of them was a treadmill. Even so, Perez was excited to win the treadmill and its partner prize, a sauna. Perez later tweeted an image of herself beholding her prize, cheekily commenting, "When you win a treadmill on national TV, but you have no feet."

Dollar spin day

It's always exciting to see people win big on "The Price is Right," especially since they seem to be some of the happiest contestants on any game show. For host Drew Carey, it has to be rough watching contestants get their hopes dashed on a bad spin. But not everyone can be a winner — that is, unless the stars align and decide that it's Dollar Spin Day for every contestant. During the Showcase Showdown, each of three constants gets a spin, and the one whose number is closest to $1 is declared the winner. Although a contestant's total spins can equal a dollar, three-way ties are incredibly rare, occurring only a few times in the history of the show. As the tie goes into a spin-off, the prize pot grows, amping up the fun and potential winnings for everyone involved.

According to the show's first host Bob Barker, the game show had its second three-way tie ever in 1991 after having been on the air for nearly 20 years at that point. A new generation would finally get to experience the pure glory of a three-way tie in 2016, and even Drew Carey was bowled over in awe by the improbability. But the prize pot would set a new record in 2018 when three contestants managed to get dollar spins on Drew Carey's 10-year anniversary, winning $10,000 per spin. When two of the contestants won a second time, the prize payout hit a record-setting $80,000.

The score so perfect it was sus

It's the game show contestant's best-case scenario: a perfect guess on every turn. But taking into account things like local market pressures and inflation, exactly how plausible could it be to correctly guess every single item on "The Price is Right?" According to longtime fan of the show Terry Kniess, it's just a matter of having the right study guide for the big exam.

When Kniess appeared on the game show in 2008, he immediately started guessing the right prices beginning with a Big Green Egg smoker valued at $1,775. As the episode wore on, Kniess sailed through every item, even guessing both showcases to the precise dollar amount. The moment was so stunning that host Drew Carey barely reacted, clearly convinced that Kniess had done something sketchy to arrive at his answers. The fallout from his historic win was ugly, with rumors of his cheating plaguing the media.

So how did Kniess really do it? If you believe his story, Kniess — a former meteorologist — has always been adept at pattern prediction, a skill he used to help predict the weather in his old job. Months before appearing on the show, Kniess and his wife began memorizing the exact dollar amounts of every prize on the show and patterns used to determine showcase prize prices. According to Urbo, the win was a wake-up call for the show's producers, and they've since made their price-setting practices more complex so they can't get cracked by another wily weatherman.

The time Pat Sajak traumatized a fishphobe

Although phobias can be fun fodder for stand-up comics and improv troupes, the reality of living with them can be pretty brutal. And if you've ever known anyone with an irrational fear of spiders or clowns, you know just how serious the anxiety can get when someone is forced to face the object of their nightmares. Unfortunately for "Wheel of Fortune" and one unfortunate contestant, Pat Sajak didn't get the memo on phobia sensitivity before he found himself face to face with an ichthyophobic contestant.

The maritime misstep took place in 2023 when longtime fan of the show Ashley Laumb appeared as a contestant. While interviewing Laumb, Sajak prodded her about the fish phobia, querying, "You don't like fish. You don't like to eat them; you don't like to swim with them?" A nervous-looking Laumb replied that she wanted nothing to do with fish whether they were in the water or on a plate for reasons she didn't want to get into.

A little later on, Sajak turned to another contestant, asking him to hang onto a phony fish because he didn't want Laumb to see it. Although Laumb laughed at the prank, the Internet did its thing, with easily offended types calling Sajak out for mocking her legitimate phobia. Things got so slippery that Laumb took up for Sajak on the 'gram, posting, "This is my episode and I promise you there was absolutely no offense taken by what Pat said or did with my 'fish phobia'."

The Swede with a sensitive stomach

From talk show hosts to news anchors, the mark of a true on-camera professional is the ability to keep it together when things go completely off the rails. It's a level of professionalism exemplified by Swedish game show host Eva Nazemson when she found herself overwhelmed with nausea on live national television back in 2007.

Nazemson was the host of popular Swedish game show Nattliv — Swedish for "nightlife" — where viewers would call in late at night to win money. A consummate professional, she was committed to doing her job no matter what, even if it meant working through some incredibly painful menstrual cramps one evening. But things took a turn for the worse when, in the middle of speaking to a caller named Niclas, Nazemson suddenly projectile vomited all over the studio with a force so strong it pulled her out of frame. After an uncomfortable pause, Nazemson hopped back into frame, cheerily crying, "Wooo!" before coming clean with the caller about the severity of her cramps. Laughing it off, she sat back down and continued the call, a testament to the old "show must go on" ethos.

After the clip went viral on YouTube, Nazemson later appeared on "The Tyra Banks Show" episode "YouTube Made Me Famous." According to Nazemson, she started feeling "a little queasy" about an hour into the show after piling a "bad sausage" and some coffee onto some pretty brutal cramps. And the rest is Internet history.

The host takedown

Between meeting their favorite game show host and getting a chance to win valuable prizes, some folks just can't contain their excitement. Occasionally, they even get a little too carried away, so much so that getting knocked down by contestants is a legitimate job hazard for game show hosts. Although it happens a lot more than you might expect, it's still just as shocking for the host, the audience, and presumably the network's insurance carrier every time.

But when it comes to overstimulated contestants, the one that takes the cake nearly gave her host a head injury. The shocking scene took place when an overly eager contestant named Sona threw herself at Drew Carey on "The Price is Right." Hardly containing herself, Sona wrapped her arms around Carey, yanking him back and down in her excitement, nearly sending the poor man headfirst into the audience. Carey kept his cool through the whole thing and was a good sport about it, laughing the moment off as he wrapped his arm around the jumping woman. The chaos even elicited a quip from announcer George Gray, who cheerfully chastised her to not break the show's host or set in her excitement.

Bob Barker meets possible pot enthusiast

From Cheech and Chong to Jeff Spicoli of "Fast Times at Ridgemont High," stereotypical stoner types are always good for a little comic relief with their often a little too laid-back personas and carpe diem outlook on life. It's this cheery slacker vibe that Evan Goding brought to his Bob Barker-era appearance on "The Price is Right" as he slid behind his contestant podium beaming under his backward-facing ball cap and ringer shirt, the official regalia of mid-aughts frat boys.

While the other contestants fretted over the exact numbers of this cedar arboretum and that Peavey amp, Evan had only one goal. When Bob Barker turned to ask for his bid, Evan beamed, "I've waited all my life to say this, Bob. 420." Though the bid wasn't even close, Evan understood his mission, and with each new bid, he kept his eye on the prize, giddily bidding variants of 420 — the long-fabled stoner code — with little regard for its chance of winning. And with potential prizes like gardening supplies, a karaoke machine, and jam band equipment, it's hard to imagine a better lineup for this guy. Even though he left the game empty-handed, Goding was clearly an audience favorite, and even Barker seemed to be in on the fun. And it's hard to believe a 420-kinda guy would have gotten more joy from a home karaoke party than he did from gleefully spreading the gospel of ganja.

The super skinny pants

Unfortunately, not all outfits look as good on camera as they do in the bedroom mirror, something Kathie Lee Gifford's family found out in the worst possible way after their appearance on "Celebrity Family Feud" went viral for all the wrong reasons. The wardrobe malfunction in question took place in 2020 when Gifford, famous for her role as a talk show host on the popular talk show "Live with Regis and Kathie Lee," appeared on the show with her family against the family of actor-turned-TV host Ricki Lake. Included on Team Kathie Lee Gifford was Gifford's son-in-law Ben Wierda, who also happens to be the nephew of Trump administration Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. As the segment drew to a close and the players began to clap, the camera picked up a frightening detail — exactly how tight Wierda's skinny pants were. As if things couldn't get any worse, Wierda, apparently sensing something was amiss, looked down mid-clap to realize he was being upstaged.

As is to be expected, the moment quickly went viral, with some in the Twitterverse dubbing it #Ballgate. Sounding about the slacks SNAFU, Gifford was quick to throw her daughter's hubby under the bus, telling Bravo, "I'm sorry, but I'm glad it's not my son!" According to Gifford, her daughter had tried to dissuade him from wearing them before the show, but her resolute husband felt they looked fine. Fortunately, the pair had a good sense of humor about it, ultimately laughing off the "firestorm" of pants-driven publicity.

The super fraudster

As anyone who has watched much "Dateline" can attest, it's a good idea to keep a low profile when you're wanted for a crime. But some people like to live dangerously, like one criminal who decided to flaunt his freedom on national television. Appearing on a 1988 episode of "Super Password" in a yacht rock mullet and rather distinguished-looking beard, the man in question introduced himself as a senior systems analyst for the government named Patrick Quinn. Expanding on his biography, Quinn said he had spent the past eight years traveling through the Far East and Europe but was happy to be appearing on the show.

After the prescient first password "mysterious," Quinn went on to win big on the show — at least until some folks from back home in Anchorage, where he was wanted for fraud, recognized him and phoned the authorities. Upon looking into him, feds learned Quinn was really a seasoned con man named Kerry Ketchem. The 36-year-old confidence man was wanted both in Alaska and his hometown of Washington, Indiana. Although he tried to get his prize money mailed to him claiming he had business in Turkey, the Secret Service caught up with him, and as of 2018, he was still listed as incarcerated with the Indiana Department of Corrections.

The guy who hacked Press Your Luck

While it's technically more like clever math than straight-ahead cheating, there's a reason counting cards is banned from every casino — it gives players an unfair advantage over everyone else, especially the house. And although it didn't get him dragged out into the desert by mobsters, when one contestant on "Press Your Luck" realized he'd stumbled onto the game show version of card counting, it was received about as warmly.

The year was 1984, and 35-year-old Ohioan and Mister Softee ice cream man Michael Larson needed money in the worst way. And what better way to come up with some cash than diligently watching hour after hour of game shows until he found a way to beat one of the systems? One day, while watching "Press Your Luck," Larson observed that the show's supposedly random game board actually boiled down to six easily memoizable patterns. After taking a bus to LA with only a thrift store shirt to wear on the show, Larson used his system to clean up, taking home a record-setting prize package including a cash prize of nearly $300K by today's standards, a sailboat, and vacations to Kauai and the Bahamas. The network was so stunned that they tried to fight him on it, ultimately caving and reprogramming the game board so it would be much harder to hack in the future.