11 Awkward Canadian Game Shows

Some of America's best-known game show hosts are actually Canadian -- including Alex Trebek, Monty Hall, and Alan Thicke. But in Canada, the game show landscape has featured plenty of painfully weird ways to win a few bucks (sorry, Loonies). Here's a rundown of the most awkward Canadian game shows.

1. Anything You Can Do

This early 70s show pitted men against women "physically, mentally, and any other way you can think of." The most awkward element of the show was the requirement that the teams perform physical stunts, acting out stereotypically male or female jobs like "paperboy" or "chorus girl" (the latter involved putting on panty hose, garters, then kicking in sync). Host Gene Wood left the show after a contestant was injured during a paperboy stunt; Don Harron from Hee Haw filled in after that. Here's a clip from an early episode, showcasing the super-awkward gender dynamics of 70s TV:

2. Beyond Reason

This short-lived psychic game show ran for three years, starting in 1977. According to the CBC, "The panelists included an astrologer, graphologist and a clairvoyant. Armed only with a birth chart, a handwriting sample and a personal possession, the psychic panel tries to guess the identity of the hidden guests." Panelists were given points for each "correct surmise." Although this seems like such an easy game to rig, the panel frequently failed to identify the guest -- though their cold readings are hilarious to watch. Example of an exchange:

Graphologist: "In November 1931 you entered a service, and you were very active until November 1949."

Guest: "Um. No. Um, well, in a sense, yeah."

[Moments later] Graphologist: "You've had problems dealing with the shoulders and head region."

Guest: "No."

BEHOLD (seriously, at least stick around until you see the panelists):

3. You Bet Your Ass

This slightly pervy game show appears to be a standard trivia quiz...except each round is ass-themed. The rounds of the game include, no kidding, "Piece of Ass," "Up Your Ass," and "Ass on the Line." It aired on Canada's Comedy Network. Here's a clip:

4. Talk About

Talk About only aired for one season in Canada, from 1989-1990. It bore striking similarities to the 1986 board game Outburst: teams are given a topic and encouraged to talk about that topic, hoping to hit on specific keywords. The more keywords are mentioned, the more money the teams get. The most notable thing about this game show is that it debunks the notion that Canadians say "aboot." Enjoy the shoulder pads:

5. Headline Hunters

Headline Hunters spanned the 70s through the early 80s, and was hosted by Jim Perry. The game featured three players trying to guess a word based on faux news headlines related to that word. It's a bit like Jeopardy, but weirder and more stressful, with a clackity teletype noise going as the contestants listen to headlines. Note, this is not to be confused with Headline Chasers, hosted by Wink Martindale.

Jump to 1:10 if you want to see the show...or start at the beginning to enjoy some retro Canadian commercials.

6. Second Honeymoon

In a twist on The Newlywed Game, 1987's Second Honeymoon brought three married couples and their children on television, then proceeded to put virtually all the pressure on the kids. Host Wayne Cox asked kids to figure out how their parents had responded to a series of questions. More points were awarded for kids' knowledge of their fathers than their mothers, and in the final round, Mom joined the action, in a high-stakes mother-child attempt to know the mind of the family patriarch. That single final question about the father was worth more points than all questions involving the mother. The winning family won, literally, a second honeymoon -- while the remaining families drove home in awkward silence.

7. This is the Law

This 70s game show featured a completely absurd premise: short films were shown depicting a character called The Lawbreaker breaking an obscure Canadian law. Contestants were then asked to identify what law was broken. The Lawbreaker was played by Paul Soles, who is best known as the voice of Hermey the Elf in Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Sadly, you won't recognize his voice -- because the The Lawbreaker's films don't include dialogue. So weird:

8. Strategy

In 1969, Alex Trebek hosted this short-lived "human board game" show. I couldn't find a clip of it online, so I'll just have to share its description from Wikipedia (emphasis added):

Contestants consisted of teams of couples who were situated on a large circular maze covering the studio floor. Their goal was to move towards the centre of the maze by correctly answering questions during their turns. Contestants could be set back by their opponents by being blocked or by landing on booby traps which were secretly laid on the maze. Couples won by reaching the centre of the maze or by being the closest to the centre at the end of the program time. Winning contestants did not return for successive episodes in contrast with typical American game show practice, nor did winners return for a later championship series.

Substantial prizes such as furniture and appliances were awarded which were unusually generous by Canadian game show standards.

Let's win some furniture and appliances, honey!

9. Supermarket Sweep Canada

For three years in the 90s, Supermarket Sweep had a Canadian spinoff. It was a lot like the American version (which was a staple of daytime TV when I was a kid in the States), except the supermarket was much smaller. Enjoy this completely ridiculous bonus round:

10. The Moneymakers (aka Bingo at Home)

In 1969, Jim Perry (of Card Sharks fame, mentioned above for Headline Hunters) hosted this bingo-themed game show that involved a lot of math, home phone numbers, and trivia. Perry explains, after quite a bit of bingo-playing: "If 7799 are the last four digits of your telephone number, listen carefully and we'll tell you at home how you can win Bingo at Home!" Wikipedia adds this dry mathematical detail: "Its bonus round featured a moving decimal point." Ouch.

11. Just Like Mom

Just Like Mom had a five-year run starting in 1980. It involved mothers and their sons/daughters answering questions, spinning a prize wheel, and...wait for it...baking. Yes, the middle round of the show involved a 60-second bake-off in which the kids had to make food from a recipe and the mother had to eat the horrifying result. It's truly bizarre. To confuse things more, sometimes the moms were actually aunts or even dads. Get ready to gag:

If You’ve Ever Seen a Ghost, Science May Explain Why

Despite all the reports of ghost sightings (28 percent of Americans report having ghostly encounters), there’s zero evidence to support the presence of supernatural beings among us. Science may not prove the existence of ghosts, but it can help explain why people think they see ghosts in the first place.

In this video from Vox, paranormal investigator Joe Nickell identifies some of the phenomena believers may mistake for paranormal activity. One possible explanation is infrasound, or the sound waves that fall beneath levels of human perception. Though we can’t hear these noises firsthand, our bodies sense them in other ways. This can cause chills, feelings of unease and depression, and even hallucinations.

Other contributors may include sleep paralysis (when you wake up while your body is immobile and experience waking nightmares) and grief. There are also a few less common possibilities that aren’t covered in the video below: Mold poisoning, for instance, can lead to irrational fear and dementia. Suddenly, a visit from a poltergeist doesn’t sound so scary.

[h/t Vox]

Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
Charles Dickens, Part-Time Mesmerist
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Madame Augusta de la Rue dreaded the end of each day. After settling into bed, her anxiety kept her alert with visions of a figure that followed her into her dreams. When it wasn’t insomnia, she dealt with headaches, a nervous tic, convulsions, and a “burning and raging” mind that was impossible to quiet. Her symptoms became so severe that in 1844 she sought a trendy and controversial treatment known as mesmerism. Her mesmerist: the famous author Charles Dickens.

When Dickens encountered mesmerism in the 1830s, the practice was well-established in the medical community. The German doctor Franz Anton Mesmer had introduced it in the 1770s as a means of manipulating something he called animal magnetism—the magnetic fluid Mesmer believed flowed through the bodies of all living things. According to his theory, the state of this liquid energy was closely tied to one’s health: An uninterrupted flow led to wellness, while blockages caused problems ranging from vomiting to hysteria. Fortunately, Mesmer claimed, these conditions could be cured with a magnet and a steady hand.

By guiding magnets along his patients’ bodies, Mesmer thought he could redistribute the fluid, although he eventually ditched the magnets in favor of his bare hands after discovering they worked just as well. Soon, anyone who shared Mesmer’s supposed magnetic gifts could practice mesmerism by laying or passing their hands over the afflicted. (On top of adding animal magnetism to the lexicon, Mesmer is said to have given us the flirtatious phrase making a pass.) Although responses to mesmeric sessions varied, some claimed it gave them full relief of various physical ailments.

Mesmer died in 1815, a couple decades before the start of the Victorian era. With that period came a nationwide obsession with the metaphysical that renewed public interest in mesmerism not just as a medical treatment, but as a form of entertainment. Practitioners would mesmerize patients into trances and parade them around parties. But some were more than performance artists—John Elliotson, one of the most prolific figures in the field, was a well-respected surgeon famous for popularizing the stethoscope. He was also good friends with Charles Dickens.

Dickens first witnessed mesmerism up close at a demonstration Elliotson gave at London’s University College Hospital in 1838. The writer was intrigued, and implored Elliotson to show him more. Not everyone had a knack for mesmerism, but Dickens was a natural. He wrote years later, “I have the perfect conviction that I could magnetize a Frying-Pan.”

Around the same time he took on Dickens as his pupil, Elliotson watched his career implode. The medical community was then embroiled in a fierce debate over whether or not mesmerism was a legitimate science. One of its staunchest opponents was Thomas Wakley, editor of the British medical journal The Lancet. Wakley affirmed his suspicions after conducting a trial in which the O’Key sisters, two of Elliotson’s more colorful patients, failed to respond to certain "mesmerized" metals yet produced fits in response to materials they were only told were mesmerized. The results of the trial seemed to prove that mesmerism was fake, and Elliotson resigned from his job at University College Hospital shortly after that.

Throughout the controversy, Dickens remained a loyal friend—he even asked Elliotson to be the godfather of his second child. He also continued pursuing his new hobby. In 1842, while in Pittsburgh with his wife Catherine as part of the research for his travelogue American Notes for General Circulation, he first put his mesmerism skills to the test, with Catherine agreeing to be his guinea pig. After several minutes of waving his hands over her head just like Elliotson had taught him, she devolved into hysterics and promptly fell asleep. Dickens took her dramatic response as a sign of his power, and he considered the trial a great success.

From then on, he practiced his talent on whoever was game. His sister-in-law Georgina Hogarth reacted much like Catherine, slipping into a hysterical episode almost immediately. John Leech, who did the original illustrations for A Christmas Carol, came to Dickens for treatment after injuring his head while swimming. Leech felt much better following their session and Dickens took credit for his recovery. The actor Charles Macready, however, was the rare person who didn’t buy the shtick. After Dickens tried to mesmerize him, Macready described the experience as “very unpleasant,” saying “it could not effect me.”

Dickens’s dabblings with mesmerism culminated with a visit to Italy beginning in 1844. He was once again traveling in the name of research, this time for his nonfiction book Pictures From Italy. While staying in Genoa, he became good friends with the Swiss banker Emile de la Rue. He also became close with the banker's English-born wife, Madame Augusta de la Rue—the woman destined to become his most challenging patient. Madame de la Rue suffered from a host of ailments that stemmed from her anxiety, and after hearing about her issues, Dickens offered to help the only way he knew how.

Their first session, which took place in December 1844, may have discouraged a less-experienced mesmerist. Instead of easing her discomfort, his gestures made her more agitated. Madame de la Rue succumbed to a massive anxiety attack, and Dickens took her sensitivity to the treatment as a good sign. They both agreed to see each other again, and soon the meetings became part of their routines.

Madame de la Rue’s response to the therapy grew more promising with each encounter. Her face, once tense with muscle spasms, started to soften. The volume of her thoughts dropped a few notches and she was able to fall asleep much faster. Satisfied with his success treating her physical suffering, Dickens delved deeper into her psyche. He asked her to describe her thoughts and dreams, hoping to get to the root of her illness. The most persistent vision she shared was one of a “phantom” that dogged her whether she was asleep or awake. Dickens described the power it held over her in a letter to her husband:

“That figure is so closely connected with the secret distresses of her very soul—and the impression made upon it is so entwined with her confidence and trust in me, and her knowledge of the power of the Magnetism—that it must not make head again. From what I know from her, I know there is more danger and delay in one appearance of that figure than in a dozen fits of the severest bodily pain. Believe nothing she says of her capacity of endurance, if the reappearance of that figure should become frequent. Consult that mainly, and before all other signs.”

Decades before Sigmund Freud adopted hypnosis as a psychotherapy tool, Dickens was using mesmerism to trace his patient’s visible symptoms to her subconscious mind.

Catherine Dickens didn’t share her husband's excitement for the situation. She had always been jealous of the women her husband mesmerized, and she felt especially threatened by his relationship with Madame de La Rue. And if she thought she’d have her husband’s full attention when they left Genoa to see the rest of Italy in the spring of 1845, she was mistaken. Letters from de La Rue updating Mr. Dickens on her status followed him around the country. Even though they couldn’t be in the same room, the pair continued their appointments remotely by attempting to connect through telepathy for one hour starting at 11 a.m. each day.

Though her condition had vastly improved since their first meeting, the Madame hoped to see Dickens one last time when he finally returned to Genoa in May 1845. Unfortunately a stomach bug prevented the pair from reuniting. He wrote to her in a letter:

"You must not think I am sending you an excuse in lieu of myself. I am in a hideous digestive state, cross, uncomfortable, bilious, blah and limp. A mutton chop and a long walk, and nobody to be contradictory to, are the remedies I have prescribed myself.”

After he resettled in England, Dickens’s passion for mesmerism cooled. He indulged in other mystical hobbies, however: In 1849, he performed stage magic under the pseudonym The Unparalleled Necromancer, Rhia Rhama Rhoos; in 1852, he wrote a spontaneous combustion scene into his realistic fiction book Bleak House, a decision he defended with conviction after it angered scientists. Like many fads to emerge from the Victorian era, those areas of interest have since largely faded from fashion. Mesmerism, on the other hand, laid the foundation for modern hypnosis—but today the treatment is administered by mental health professionals, not young novelists on vacation.


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