(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
STEPHEN THOMPSON, HOST:
The game show "Supermarket Sweep" has run in the '60s, the '90s and the aughts. This fall, it's been revived for a fourth iteration, this time in prime time on ABC. And while the previous two versions of the show were hosted by the affable David Ruprecht, the new "Supermarket Sweep" gives us the delightfully amped-up Leslie Jones. She is very excited to help a new generation of shoppers as they run around a fake grocery store and attempt to fill their shopping carts with high-priced hams, fancy olives and anything else that adds up to big money.
I'm Stephen Thompson, and today we are talking about "Supermarket Sweep" on POP CULTURE HAPPY HOUR from NPR, so don't go away.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
THOMPSON: Welcome back. Joining us from his home in Brooklyn is Travis Larchuk. Travis is a producer for NPR's comedy quiz show Ask Me Another. Welcome, Travis.
TRAVIS LARCHUK, BYLINE: Hi, Stephen. Thank you for having me.
THOMPSON: It is such a pleasure to have you. I cannot wait to have this conversation. Travis, you work on a game show. I used to pretend to be sick so I could stay home from school and watch syndicated game shows back in the early '80s. Bring back "Dream House," everybody. Together, we are bound to come up with some hot takes.
But I have to confess I had to do a little catching up on "Supermarket Sweep." In the '60s, it was before my time. In the '90s, I was in college and not really watching game shows as much as I used to.
But "Supermarket Sweep" is a lot of fun. Basically, three teams of two people compete in timed shopping sprees, and how much time they get to shop is dictated by how they do in a series of quiz show questions and challenges. So you get a little bit of play-along-at-home games, like guessing brand logos. And then you get the frantic excitement of randos running around flinging hams into shopping carts. And then there's a final round where you basically have a timed scavenger hunt. You're solving little riddles and then racing around to find what you're looking for.
Travis, am I getting this about right?
LARCHUK: Yeah, I'd say that's about right, Stephen.
LARCHUK: Basically, it's an interesting concept in that in the opening rounds, what you're playing for is time rather than points or money.
LARCHUK: And really, the winner of the game is all determined during this free-for-all shopping spree where three people run around a fake grocery store with shopping carts just throwing things into their carts. And then whichever one of them has the highest money total of groceries in their cart at the end of that round goes on to the final round.
THOMPSON: Yeah. I think my favorite thing about that part of the show is the announcer, who's kind of like, oh, Jim's (ph) going for the olives - very smart.
THOMPSON: Olives are more expensive than you might think - you know, or, like, hams or appliances or just, like - there's clearly a strategy that you go into this show.
LARCHUK: Yeah, so that announcer is - in the version that I think I and probably most of our listeners are familiar with is Johnny Gilbert, who you may know as the voice of "Jeopardy!" In this gig, he's basically doing a play-by-play of people running through a supermarket and throwing things into a cart. And what I've noticed is that every episode is the same.
LARCHUK: So it all blends together. I can't imagine the number of times that Johnny Gilbert has been in a studio doing ADR for that round because it's clearly not happening live. He's not doing a live play-by-play of this.
LARCHUK: He's pretty clearly talking over footage that has been cut already. And he's saying things like, those hams are very expensive. Like, that's a great strategy. And look at Sarah (ph). She's going down the aisle with the hoses. Those hoses are worth $30 each, you know? It's just - like, they always go after the ham, turkeys, diapers.
THOMPSON: Oh, diapers, for sure.
LARCHUK: Diapers are a hot-ticket item.
THOMPSON: Well, you talked about Johnny Gilbert, the announcer. This new prime-time version is hosted by Leslie Jones from "Saturday Night Live," and it's very different energy. Like, David Ruprecht in the '90s had this kind of TV sitcom dad energy, and Leslie Jones has the, like, filling the room with excitement kind of energy.
LARCHUK: Yeah. David Ruprecht - you may remember him wearing these amazing sweaters every episode of "Supermarket Sweep." It felt like he was trying to wear an uglier sweater than the previous episode...
LARCHUK: ...Every episode of "Supermarket Sweep," and it was very endearing. So in the first run of "Supermarket Sweep" in the '90s, David Ruprecht wore, like, an incredibly ugly sweater every episode. And then when they brought it back for another run in the 2000s, it was a real bummer because he switched to just wearing a button-down shirt. And I feel like the show really lost a lot in that transition.
LARCHUK: But he did - he hosted the show with, like, the usual energy of, like, I'm hosting a fun game show; I'm doing it in, like, a very professional way. And if you watch these reruns, he's just very good at, like, getting this thing moving. He's just moving it along. Leslie Jones, on the other hand, is doing something that I don't think I've quite seen before in a game show host, where she is simultaneously hosting the show and watching the show at the same time.
LARCHUK: Like, she's not only so excited to be there; she says in the first episode that she auditioned to be a contestant on "Supermarket Sweep" and didn't make it, and now she's like, but now I'm hosting the show, which is great. But she is so clearly excited to be there. She is doing a very good job of running the show. But then, also, she is playing along with the show. Like, they'll do these games where the quiz is you have to figure out what the brand logo is that's coming up onscreen, and they're revealing part of it at a time.
LARCHUK: And she'll just be commenting on it as it comes up - like, huh, that's a squiggly thing. Not sure what that is. Another circle.
LARCHUK: And then someone will buzz in and they'll get the answer, and she's like, how did you do that?
THOMPSON: Del Monte? What?
LARCHUK: It's completely different from the usual game show host shtick of either I'm pretending I know the answer or listen - I'm just running this show, you know?
LARCHUK: She's sort of almost playing along with them and definitely rooting for them. You can tell which teams she likes and which teams she's indifferent about. She wears it all on her sleeve. And it's a nice, interesting, different take on a game show host that I haven't quite seen like that before.
THOMPSON: Yeah, I agree with you. I appreciate so much the energy that she brings to it. And, obviously, like, she's excellent at improv. She's a pro. And so she brings a different kind of energy that I think is really necessary when you're shooting this show in COVID times, where you don't have that live studio audience. If you watch, like, the Ruprecht version, they'll call out to audience members, not by name but, like, which product are you holding?
THOMPSON: So, like, let's have the Brawny paper towels.
THOMPSON: And then, like, the people who happen to be holding Brawny paper towels run up. This isn't able to have that crowd energy. So she - it really benefits, I think, from her being as amped up as she is. And I just think if you want to turn me off from a game show, make sure that the host of the game show is as unenthusiastic about it as possible. I think - she is not above "Supermarket Sweep" at all.
LARCHUK: I mean, what's interesting about this show is that this is a version of "Supermarket Sweep" where it's hosted by a comedian, and the show recognizes that the entire premise of "Supermarket Sweep" is ridiculous. But they're not really making fun of it.
LARCHUK: They're just amping up parts of it that are the most ridiculous parts and just saying, we know that this is what you love about "Supermarket Sweep," and so we're giving you even more of that thing. So, for example, in the sweep round where they're running through the grocery store, the contestants all wear sweatshirts. And it was kind of a joke from the original run, like, how ugly these sweatshirts are. They're in these, like, pastel colors. They're very ugly.
In this version, they also give them sweatshirts, but before the show, each team works with the costume designer to basically reflect their own personality in the sweatshirt. So some of the teams will have sweatshirt fringes coming off or, like, interesting neckline sweatshirt, you know. And that's just a really cute nod to, like, yeah, we know the sweatshirts are a thing. Within the supermarket sweep round, they've hired actors in this version to pretend to be people who work at the grocery store, this fake grocery store.
LARCHUK: So there will be moments where, you know, if you go to the florist section of the grocery store and get a dozen roses, that will add, like, $200 to your final total. But the shtick is that the florist guy is really slow (laughter).
LARCHUK: So - and, like, people are just yelling at him, like, hurry it up. ABC has been updating a lot of old game shows, I think, for a few years now. They've done "Press Your Luck," "Match Game." They brought back "Pyramid." And in each case, I think they've done a really good job in updating these shows in the sense of - the philosophy seems to be, what if this show never left the air and just kept modernizing itself? And with "Supermarket Sweep," it's the same, where the set is prettier, the lights change colors, but the fundamentals of the show are all the same as they were before.
THOMPSON: I agree. And I think there's one key improvement that I think they've figured out as they've gamed out how to modernize the show. When you watch the Ruprecht version, I feel like the kind of quiz show angle, where they're trying to compete for more time, can get a little boring. And then the energy of the running around the grocery store, which, you know, how many people run around grocery stores in different ways than they used to because of "Supermarket Sweep"? - they've found ways to add, I think, a little bit more energy to the parts where they're competing for time. I think they've made those segments, I think, a little more dynamic than the show used to be.
LARCHUK: Yeah. I mean, some little tweaks that they made are - you know, the show always starts off with a question called the mini-sweep, where it's a question about a product. And then, in the original version, you would buzz in. And if you got the answer right, then you had 30 seconds to run into the supermarket and find the product and bring it back. And if you did...
LARCHUK: ...You got $200 in the sweep at the end. In this version, it is a free-for-all.
LARCHUK: She asks a question. And then they all just book it into the supermarket. And I know that this show was filmed during COVID with social distancing measures. But it all goes out the window when, like, three people are in the aisle trying to reach for the bottle of Nair with the "Supermarket Sweep" logo on it. They are all on top of each other. Nobody is social distancing. So I was a little surprised by that change. But it definitely makes it more exciting. I am a gay person. I am a homosexual person.
LARCHUK: And this is the queerest selection of game show contestants that I have certainly ever seen on network television.
LARCHUK: Like, there are gay contestants. There's an openly trans contestant in the first episode, which is wild to me that, like - me watching this show in the '90s (laughter), that there would be - I wasn't even aware of the concept of trans people. And then, I'm watching it in 2020. And one of the contestants is openly trans. And Leslie Jones is like, yes. That's so cool. Like, you could take the cynical route there and be like, ABC is just - you know, whatever, which is partly true.
But, you know, on the second episode I watched, there was a gay couple. And Leslie Jones was just so stoked to have them there. And there was part of me that was, like, kind of choked up while I was watching it. I was like, this is cool. This is a thing from when I was a kid. And now I am seeing queer people on it (laughter), like, playing this stupid game show about running through a supermarket.
LARCHUK: Like, look how far we've come.
THOMPSON: I can see myself in this consumerist BS (laughter).
LARCHUK: Oh, my gosh. I mean, that is Pride in a nutshell, right?
LARCHUK: We've really made it when PNC Bank is throwing out bags of rainbow gummy bears to people...
LARCHUK: ...You know? It's - (laughter) I was definitely thinking about how far we've come watching this new version.
LARCHUK: I do think it should be noted that in this run of "Supermarket Sweep," because of COVID, everything in this supermarket is real. It was not all real food in the '90s run of "Supermarket Sweep" because - for practical reasons. They noticed that, like, meat juice was leaking out of...
LARCHUK: ...The meat. And it was making things unfortunate. So they had to replace some of the real things with fake things for those reasons. In this version, I read that they - it is all real food in the supermarket. But because of the pandemic, they made sure that items like paper towels were not included in the set because they were like, this would not be a good look if we were stocking our fake supermarket...
LARCHUK: ...Yeah - with a bunch of hand sanitizer or whatever. So if you do look a little carefully past the bubbly product placement that I've noticed, you'll see that they have intentionally left out certain items out of the supermarket for that reason, which, you know, I appreciate.
THOMPSON: They're also donating a fairly enormous amount of food to food banks and stuff like that.
LARCHUK: I mean, it would be wild if they weren't, though, right?
THOMPSON: (Laughter) That's true. All right. Well, we want to know what you think about "Supermarket Sweep." Find us at facebook.com/pchh and on Twitter at @PCHH. That brings us to the end of our show. Travis, thanks so much for being here.
LARCHUK: Oh, my gosh. What a pleasure. Thank you, Stephen.
THOMPSON: And, of course, thank you for listening to POP CULTURE HAPPY HOUR from NPR. If you like game shows, make sure to check out NPR's Ask Me Another. You can find it wherever you subscribe to podcasts. We will see you all right back here tomorrow.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.