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Here’s Why “The Price is Right” Gave A Treadmill To A Contestant In A Wheelchair

Here’s Why “The Price is Right” Gave A Treadmill To A Contestant In A Wheelchair
Christian Carrion

Awkwardness unfurled on yesterday’s Price. Here’s why it had to happen that way.

For the past 24 hours or so, the Internet has been making an enormous deal out of yesterday’s Price is Right, wherein host Drew Carey presented a lucky contestant with the chance to win a sauna and a treadmill. Problem was, this particular lucky contestant happened to be in a wheelchair, and although said contestant took the faux pas in stride (and won, by the way), bloggers and commenters far and wide have labeled Drew and the show as insensitive and short-sighted for awarding a contestant who can’t use her legs with a prize the use of which one requires legs. One poster on the New York Post Facebook page, bless his heart, went as far as demanding The Price is Right be cancelled.

Angry viewers aside, this situation has raised a lot of questions among casual viewers and Golden Roadies alike. What does the show do if a handicapped contestant wins a prize he or she is physically unable to use? Can’t they just switch it out for something more appropriate? Don’t they have a better way of making sure things like this don’t happen, so that embarrassing moments like these are prevented and the show saves face in light of their rather critical hardcore audience?

Well…no. They don’t, and they can’t.

First of all, this type of continuity issue is nothing new. Wheel Of Fortune once apologized for its “FAST AND THE FURIOUS” puzzle just days after the death of the racing film series’ star, Paul Walker. Our beloved Price is Right once retroactively gave away a trip to oNew Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. But for the sake of argument, let’s venture into an alternate universe—one in which our handicapped contestant makes it on stage, a producer cries “Cut!”, and our soon-to-be-revealed treadmill is switched, thereby preventing a Showcase full of awkwardness.

Replacing the prize is easier said than done for a couple of reasons, one of them being the backstage area at Price rivals that of the most elaborate Las Vegas stage show. Prizes, props, and talent are constantly being shuffled here and there as dozens of crew members attempt to seamlessly put together the capitalist carnival that appears on CBS viewers’ screens every morning. There simply isn’t enough room in the bowels of Studio 33—or enough available manpower—to efficiently pull off that sort of switcheroo. Never mind the contractual jungle the Price crew would have to navigate with the suppliers of that rejected prize; after all, Price means never having to say “We’re sorry, but the product placement y’all paid for isn’t happening.”

Then, if you’re fortunate enough to find the space and people power to change the prize, there’s a pretty good chance you’ll also have to replace the game. The pricing game ecosystem is a complex one—some games require a car, others require a higher-end luxury vehicle, several require a grocery cart full of food, and one game in particular requires a big-ticket item with no zeroes, sevens, eights, or nines in its price. Combine all of that with the fact that every game has a set run time, and the pricing game selection process becomes its own sort of alchemy, producers running around the lab days before showtime racking their brains to come up with that perfect 44-minute formula. If a game comes out of the lineup, a considerable amount of time comes with it. Can a new game be set up in a reasonable amount of time? Are the props ready? After all, we didn’t think we were going to be playing that game this week, so its props are way back in storage somewhere. Do we have the prizes we need for that game? Will Drew and the rest of the crew be alright out there? We didn’t rehearse this new game the way we rehearsed every other aspect of the production prior to showtime.

While all of these questions are being thrown around the studio, there’s still the matter of the entire studio audience watching with anticipation, their frantic energy ready to peter out at a moment’s notice. It’s up to the announcer and other staffers to keep their 300-person audience machine perked up and ready for primetime (or daytime), but stopdowns are a frequent occurrence in this live-to-tape universe. Look around YouTube and you’ll see Drew and announcer George Gray get down with some improv on the Price stage between takes, among other attempts at keeping the crowd pacified. Three-Headed Opera Singer only works for so long, however, before the people get antsy. Who knows how long a stopdown could take? In the case of the perfect Showcase bid from a few years back, the pause in production was reported to have taken from 30 minutes to over an hour. That doesn’t seem like a long time in real-life numbers, but take a look at Drew’s reveal (to an audience that had no idea he took that long of a break) and it becomes evident just how much of an energy drain a sudden stop can be.

This all adds up to a simple conclusion: Price gave her the treadmill out of necessity, not short-sightedness or insensitivity. In fact, it can be said that, in terms of its contestants, Price has become one of the most diverse game shows on television. Since the Barker-Carey changing of the guard in 2007, the uptick in selection of contestants that may not have made the cut in years past has been apparent. The powers that be have gone the extra mile to show its viewers a much more true cross-section of America, and the show is richer for it, as is daytime television as a whole.

So come on.

  • TheOriginalDonald

    Can’t she refuse to accept the treadmill? I do believe she WOULD have to pay taxes on it, right?

  • Will

    Yes, contestants have the right to refuse one or more of their prizes.

  • Roger Dobkowitz

    As the former producer of The Price Is Right, your article
    was brought to my attention and I read it with interest. It is extremely well written and is extensive
    on it’s explanation of why awarding a treadmill to a handicapped person could
    not be avoided. You are a true gameshow
    fan and I really appreciate that. However,
    the information provided to you by someone on the show about backstage
    production mechanics is erroneous. The
    fact is, the prize could have been replaced with another prize in less than 10
    minutes. During the 36 years I worked on
    the show, we did it many, many, times!

    Since we always did out show “live to tape” (taping a 60
    minute show in 60 minutes), we were always ready for emergencies. We often had to change a prize or a game
    during taping and we could not keep the audience or Bob Barker waiting more
    than 10 minutes for the change. We
    always had “back-up” games (Double Prices, Freeze Frame, One Right Price and
    others) ready to go. If the prize had to
    change for various reasons (damaged during stage movement) we quickly replaced
    it with another prize…the prize warehouse was always on call…and they would
    bring up the prize pronto! New prize
    copy to replace the damaged prize was easily obtainable.

    We never hesitated to remove a prize because of a promotion
    agreement. By no means were we
    contractually committed to showing any prize on a specific show…we always had
    the right to chose the show ourselves. We simply would rescheduled the prize for another
    show.

    I was recently reminded of one of our instances where we had
    to be prepared to quickly scrap the game because of a handicapped
    contestant. During taping, when the
    contestant was called down, he used crutches to get to contestant row…we were
    totally surprised that he was using crutches…when he was interviewed in line,
    his crutches were nowhere in sight! Looking
    at our game rundown sheet, we realized that Race Game was among the next games
    to be played. We decided to wait to see
    if he was going to be called up to play that game…if he was, we planned to
    stop tape and change the prizes and the game.
    Fortunately, for us, he was called up for another game.

    Somehow, in the back of my head, is the more simpler
    explanation of what happened…no one noticed the problem until the doors
    opened!

  • LJ Johnson

    One nitpick on the article: Daytime TPIR is closer to 39 minutes in run length now, not 44…which makes the balance of pricing game selection even more important. But everything here seems spot on.

    Contestants do have the right to refuse a prize (since they have to pay income tax on all winnings). The producers can also substitute the value of an announced prize at their choosing, usually if the original prize is unavailable–something like that could have happened in this instance also.

  • pacdude

    We appreciate your input, Roger!

  • C Brian Devinney

    LJ, what you mentioned above happened to my friend Babs. She won a motorcycle but there was a mishap at the dealership it was sent to and accidentally sold before she could pick it up. TPIR sent her the cash value (if I remember correctly).