ON A RECENT STARRY SATURDAY NIGHT, your redneck correspondent passed up the chance to see a monster truck rally to go to a friend’s basement and watch two prerecorded hours of the daytime game show Family Feud. The shows had run that week. A few dozen locals from Lynden, Washington, showed up to watch the Kaysers—father Rich, wife Joan, daughter Amanda, son Scott, and cousin Stephanie—beat out five other families to win over $20,000 and a new car.
Their successful run on the show had been the talk of this small Dutch town. Rich apologized to us for making the local paper so many times, but he needn’t have. The interest was there. When I had stopped in a coffee shop in nearby Everson, one of the regulars was running late because he stayed home to watch the game show. Several other acquaintances rearranged their schedules or played hooky from work to see if our friends and neighbors had pulled this one off.
Watching the show with the Kaysers that night, I was reminded of many a sick day from middle school. The show has the same basic format it had decades ago. Two families face off to guess how random samples of 100 of their fellow Americans answered silly survey questions.
Such as: “Name a kind of animal you could fit in your underwear.” (“Cats” was one answer.) “What things do women say are more reliable than men?” (“God” somehow failed to make the list, which might be evidence for the weakness of feminist theology.) “Name a part of your anatomy that a doctor touches during a routine examination.” (“Your junk,” my friend Scott answered, which resulted in a 15-minute delay of play as the host struggled to compose himself.)
One family wins control of the board in a face-off. If they guess all the survey questions, they win all the points in the round. After three misses or “strikes,” the other family gets one crack at guessing one of the remaining answers. If right, they “steal” all the points earned in the round. After each answer, the host utters those immortal words, “Survey says,” and we see just how good the contestants’ guess was. The winning family plays “fast money” at the end of each game for cash prizes. If they can run five victories together, they win a car.
Or, in the Kaysers’ case, the cash value of the car. Rich explained that it was hard to split a car five ways and they have college tuition and student loans to pay off. That night, we learned many other behind-the-scenes things about the making of the show. It’s taped months in advance and the contestants are contractually bound not to reveal the outcome on pain of prize forfeiture. A judge is on hand at all times to decide whether the families’ answers are close enough to the survey answers to count. When questions prove unworkable, the show tosses them and subs in new ones.
The big difference between this version of Family Feud and the one I watched while convalescing is the intense focus on the personal lives of the contestants. Host and comedian Steve Harvey hams it up during play. He also takes the time to introduce all of the contestants to the show’s audience. For instance, Scott told Harvey he is an aspiring zookeeper. Prompted to say more, he talked about the zoo he volunteers at just over the border in British Columbia, where he’s had to give massages to Charlie, the very old white rhino.
A week after the shows aired, Scott got an internship offer from a zoo in Texas, which he should be starting around press time. I asked if his turn on the show helped the offer along. Scott seemed surprised by that. He said he hadn’t told them about the show and wondered if any of his new bosses might have seen it. Survey says… oh, you bet they watched it.