Mudsock Heights

Mudsock Heights

Credit: Timothy R. Butler

This May Be Why Television's Parting Contestants are Never Seen Again

By Dennis E. Powell | Posted at 11:45 PM

The shampoo was cheap — as in $1.49 for a half gallon — but, hey, it was a name brand, so why not?

When I used it I was rendered nearly unconscious by the amount of perfume in it. I’m not talking a nice scent, either, but rather the sort of thing you’d expect to find on the last-resort utility shelf at a mortuary, for use when the departed is past his bury-by date.

The aroma, if that’s the word, was so powerful that I suspected it was there to cover something pretty awful, petroleum byproducts, maybe. But the label carried no warning against using it near fire or open flame, so maybe it was some other kind of hazardous waste.

Then I remembered how I had come to think of the shampoo as “name-brand.” It was, for decades, one of the products that you’d hear about in the “some of our parting contestants will receive” announcement at the end of television game shows. As in: “You lost. Here, have a bottle of shampoo.”

Which in turn reminded me of Mrs. Parmalee’s “Introduction to Art” class in ninth grade. She was an endearing woman with a touch of the flibbertigibbet about her, but the class’s lasting effect on me was that it was where I met Jerry Ward, a friend even now. Jerry is a hilarious guy. He would recount, say, a Road Runner cartoon and make you laugh so hard you’d come to tears, and somehow during it all you’d learn why it was funny.

Jerry one day launched into a description of what he believed happens losing game show contestants: The studio floor would open beneath them and down the chute they’d go, only to land on their bottoms on the sidewalk far below, the ejection door closing behind them, only to open again so they could get clocked on the head by a “departing contestants” bottle of shampoo, and then once more as the bump on the noggin is exacerbated by a box containing the home version of the game. This was based on his observation that losing contestants were disposed of, um, expeditiously, virtually vaporized.

The practice of giving the losers “home versions” of the game always struck me as a little insulting. It’s as if they were saying, “Go home and practice and maybe you’ll measure up next time — yeah, like that’ll ever happen.”

The FCC has apparently ruled that every television game show contestant be given a can of Turtle Wax, and I wish they’d broaden it to include people interviewed on news programs: can you imagine? “Could you tell us about this bizarre 20-car pileup? Oh, and here’s a tub of Turtle Wax, not that I guess you have any use for it now.” Or, “Thanks, general, for your insights into the emerging crisis. Here’s some Turtle Wax as a token of our appreciation.”

With the exception of Turtle Wax, products foisted off on departing contestants were seldom otherwise heard of. There seemed to be a range of products developed solely for the further torment of those who drew Joker-Joker-Devil.

The worst offender, at least around 1970, was a substance called “Hot Pants” cologne. (The name “Easy Virtue” may have already been trademarked by someone.) For a few years it was impossible for departing contestants to escape the stuff. In keeping with the theme of inflicting products on losers, Hot Pants was also supplied to radio stations for distribution via on-air contests, and it was in this context that I once smelled it. Based on the fumes it seemed to me that the company missed an opportunity by not cross marketing it as nail polish remover and perhaps something to dissolve oil stains on the garage floor. In 1970 Richard Nixon created the Environmental Protection Agency and not long after that we stopped hearing about “Hot Pants” cologne. Just sayin’.

Also popular to fling at the fleeing losers was another perfume, “Jungle Gardenia” by a company called Tuvachè, though that product was not limited to game-show losers. It carried the catch phrase, “the most exotic fragrance in the world.” It was cooked up in New York in the early 1930s, apparently a time when smelling exotic was thought to be a good thing. (New York has since learned to smell exotic on its own.) I’ve not ever been around the product so I cannot give testimony as to the exoticity of its redolence, nor do I know whether it was good for anything else (cigarette lighter fuel? insect repellent?). Apparently there is still (or again) a product sold under the “Jungle Gardenia” name, but I don’t think it’s the same stuff or used any longer to punish those who do not win games on television.

Then we have the “home version” of the game whence the recipient was ejected. Besides being insulting it assumed that the departing contestant would wish to be reminded of and perhaps even relive the moment in which he or she got humiliated on national television. While I suppose the “home version” of television games did actually get published, I cannot find where any of them ever became much of a success. This makes sense, because making board games out of television shows removes the one aspect that causes the game to be compelling: being on television. Otherwise it’s like making a board game out of the Beatles’ White Album.

(Totally unrelated: have you noticed that when there’s a joking or ironic reference made to a record, it’s almost always the White Album?)

There are home-made home versions of television games, but these seem to appeal to a particular, not to say exotic, subset of game players. Chief among them is a version of “The Newlywed Game” that appears to be aimed at parties attended by those who toss their keys into a bowl as a prelude to the festivities.

The penalty, in products and games, to be meted out to unsuccessful players was usually announced during the credits by a disembodied voice, often that of Johnny Olson or Don Pardo. But we must not blame them; they were reading what was before them and probably did not write it themselves.

It would be fun to stick around and discuss this some more, but I have a more urgent task. I need to find a way to repair the damage done by genuine parting-contestants-name-brand shampoo. At least I know that the almost-half-gallon I still have might be useful come next spring, as weed killer or something.

Dennis E. Powell is crackpot-at-large at Open for Business. Powell was a reporter in New York and elsewhere before moving to Ohio, where he has (mostly) recovered. You can reach him at

Share on:
Follow On:

Start the Conversation

Be the first to comment!

You need to be logged in if you wish to comment on this article. Sign in or sign up here.