The Most Traumatic Experiences In Game Show History

Game shows are meant to be fun. You show up, answer some questions, maybe do a few tasks, and bam! Suddenly, you're a few thousand bucks richer (after taxes, of course). A new car, a fancy vacation, maybe even a big screen TV — all can be yours for just showing up and playing well.

But the simple game shows of yesteryear are gone, besides a few old stalwarts like The Price is Right or Jeopardy. Game shows since 2000 have been more and more about performing physical stunts, thanks to the rise in reality television. Apparently, we can't have fun unless someone coughs up a leech.

But with more dangerous stunts comes the opportunity for more things to go wrong, and now appearing on a game show can mean serious injury or even death if they're not making safety a priority. That's when game shows stop being fun and start being traumatic.

The Amazing Race launched a watermelon into a contestant's face

The Amazing Race is one of the original reality game shows. Teams of two race around the world, solving clues, figuring out where to go, and perform challenges. Sometimes these are puzzles meant to challenge the contestants' mental acuity.

But sometimes they're physical feats, such as in an episode in the 2010 season of the show, where duo Brook and Claire, home shopping TV hosts in their day jobs, were required to launch a watermelon using a very brutal-looking medieval slingshot. It all seems very straightforward — the two were to load ordinary watermelons into the leather sling, pull it back, and launch it at an empty suit of armor.

Unfortunately, something went terribly wrong when it was Claire's turn. After letting go of the sling, it flew forward, but the watermelon stayed in the sling, only to rocket back into her face on its return. You can feel the impact, and it looks very painful. It's a stunning physics lesson, but not exactly the most comfortable one. Claire even says she can't feel her face and has a headache, which are symptoms of a concussion, while her partner, Brook, urges her to go on, to Claire's shock. It seems she escaped the ordeal with nothing more than minor injuries like bruising and a swollen lip, however, according to the NZ Herald.

There was a real-life serial killer on The Dating Game

Long before Tinder and OkCupid, people had to date by actually going up and talking to people, yuck. But in a bit of foreshadowing, The Dating Game appeared on television screens beginning in the 1960s and was not unlike how meeting new romantic partners works now — one contestant asks questions of three hidden people, and chooses who they'd like to go with on a date based on their voice and answers. It's not exactly swipe left or right, but the parallels are there.

Typically, this was all in good fun. But on September 13, 1978, an episode aired in which contestant Cheryl Bradshaw selected from three eligible bachelors, one of whom just happened to secretly be a serial killer. Bachelor number one was a man named Rodney Alcala, and at the point when the show was recorded, he had murdered at least four women.

But here's what makes it extra creepy: he actually seemed pretty charming! (If you didn't know he was a murderer, anyway.) He even won! Bradshaw thankfully ended up not going on a date with him when she found him creepy off-stage, though. It seems her instincts served her well, because Alcala was caught less than a year later after committing three more murders. It's believed his rejection by Bradshaw might have caused him to step up his attacks, according to History.

An Olympic gold medalist had an excruciating injury on The Jump

If there's one thing you should know about British game shows, it's this: The UK has an outright obsession with getting famous people to do various things outside their areas of expertise. These range from simple activities, like your typical quiz show, all the way up to fairly dangerous sports like professional diving, ice skating, and winter sports like ski jumping. The Jump is exactly that last one.

On The Jump, celebrities compete in various events one might see at the winter Olympics, and in fact, in 2016, they even got a gold medalist, Rebecca Adlington, to compete. Thing is, Adlington got her medal in swimming, not skiing, so she had to learn how to do it just like anyone else picking up the sport, and this is where things got hairy.

In an event meant to resemble a real ski jump, Adlington went down a fake slope on skis, did a large jump at the end, and then landed on one of those oversized airbags they love to use in TV shows like this one. While it looked like everything went fine at first, Adlington actually badly dislocated her shoulder and was left in horrible pain. According to The Independent, Adlington later described the pain as "worse than childbirth," and she'd know because she had just given birth to her first child a year prior to her appearance on the show.

A British TV presenter nearly died training for Splash!

British TV really loves to get celebrities to engage in dangerous activities, and Splash! (the exclamation point is part of the name) is another in this genre. In it, famous folks are trained to perform competition-style dives just like professional athletes.

Of course, instead of undergoing years of grueling practice like said athletes, TV shows work on a much faster schedule, and the celebrities involved get a lot less experience before they start diving. This is what led to BBC presenter Rav Wilding suing the producers of Splash! Wilding, previously the host of Crimewatch, which is sort of like England's version of Unsolved Mysteries, agreed to participate in the show in 2013.

While training before the show started filming, Wilding had an accident while attempting a somersault dive and snapped the hamstring tendons on his left leg, according to The Guardian. This was not the full extent of Wilding's injuries, however, because days after leaving the hospital, he suffered a pulmonary embolism. According to his lawyers, Wilding had one leg shorter than the other, was unable to run, and couldn't walk or stand without pain after the accident. He also had to cancel his wedding due to his numerous medical treatments. Understandably, this also ended with the show itself being cancelled.

An actress sliced her own head open on an ice skating reality show

There is seemingly no end to the number of British TV shows where celebrities do things that would normally take a lifetime of training, and then producers are surprised when something goes horribly wrong. This time, it's Dancing on Ice, and it's exactly what it sounds like: Celebrities learn to ice skate with the help of a professional partner in a very short period of time. It's like Dancing with the Stars but with ice and sharpened blades attached to the celebrities' feet.

It's this latter part that proved disastrous for actress Jennifer Ellison in 2012. During an appearance on the show, Ellison performed a move called a scorpion kick, so-named because it resembles a scorpion tail. You know, arcing upward toward the head. Ellison performed the high back kick admirably, but she also leaned her head back at the same time just a bit.

Her own ice skate slashed her scalp, causing her to bleed profusely. The incident was caught on camera and aired live, to boot. In the replay, it's hard to tell anything actually happened. It looks like she pulled off the move flawlessly, but for a brief moment, you can see her skate colliding with her head. After the performance, she reaches up and touches the top of her head and looks at her hand, though, the first indication anything had gone wrong. Thankfully, according to Digital Spy, Ellison was just fine.

A man died on day one of filming the French version of Survivor

Survivor has been nothing short of obscenely popular in the U.S. and is one of the shows that ushered in adventurous reality shows. In fact, Survivor stands as sort of a shorthand for the very idea of primetime reality TV, going nonstop for over two decades and remaining successful. The show has been such a hit it has international spin offs across the world.

The French version is called Koh-Lanta. It's much the same as the American version, minus a few differences, and it's just as dangerous, too. One entire season of the show set in Cambodia was cancelled (unlucky number 13, as it happens) in 2013 after a contestant named Gerald Babin died on day one of filming. During the opening events, Babin complained of cramps and collapsed. He was taken to an on-site infirmary and diagnosed with dehydration but was later airlifted to a hospital. It turned out he was undergoing a series of cardiac arrests and died during the flight.

While this is tragic on its own, soon allegations claimed the show delayed treatment to continue filming and Babin wasn't airlifted out sooner because the production considered it "too costly," according to The Hollywood Reporter. The show's physician, Thierry Costa, ended up committing suicide after the media scrutiny got too fierce.

If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline​ at​ 1-800-273-TALK (8255)​.

The original Survivor had a horrifying accident of its own

While no one has died on the original Survivor, don't count it out as far as traumatic incidents go. It didn't take long for it to happen, either — the second season of the show, airing in 2001, was the first idea viewers had that things could go really wrong on an unscripted show set in a remote area like the Australian outback.

Michael Skupin, a Christian software publisher by trade, was looking like a frontrunner around the halfway point of the season. Unfortunately for Skupin, this was not to be. While filming a scene where he built a fire, he accidentally inhaled fumes from the blaze, which caused him to lose consciousness and fall face-first into the fire. He woke up immediately after, but still suffered serious burns to his hands, which actually caused large patches of skin to peel off on camera, according to ABC News.

At the time, some viewers felt the accident was a sort of karma for Skupin's killing of a wild pig a few episodes before, but perhaps it was karma of a much darker kind. The rest of the cast and crew were likely traumatized themselves in 2016 when Skupin was convicted and incarcerated for charges of theft and child pornography.

A game show disaster in the Philippines killed over 70 people

While America was having a reality game show boom in the early aughts, something similar was going on in the Philippines, and one of the most popular of their shows was one amusingly called Wowowee. Much like The Price is Right, it had a number of various games contestants could play, and the prize for basically all of the games was cold, hard cash, up to 1 million Philippine pesos, the equivalent of about $35,000 in 2020 U.S. dollars.

Wowowee was so popular that in 2006, the show filmed a special in Manila's Ultra sports stadium, and this time the cash prizes were doubled, according to the BBC. The show's stated goal was to financially help Filipinos, many of whom lived well below the poverty level at the time. So, for the chance to earn life-changing money, over 30,000 attendees showed up at the stadium, about six times more people than a typical episode.

During the wait for the stadium gates to open, however, the crowd grew unruly and caused a crush at the front. This ended up turning into a full-blown stampede, and when it was all over, 73 people were dead, by far the largest death toll ever related to a game show. Shockingly, the special went on as planned anyway.

A contestant died on Wipeout in 2009, followed by another in 2020

Remember those Nickelodeon game shows and American Gladiators? People running and crawling around through obstacle courses, all for a shot at victory and/or a bucket of neon green slime. While they were pretty fun to watch, they had mostly died out by the mid-90s. But once the reality show boom of the 2000s exploded, it was like they never left, and shows like American Ninja Warrior and Wipeout arose to newfound popularity.

It was the latter one that had a pretty rocky start, though. In 2009, during taping of the show's third season, contestant and former TV host Tom Spark, only 33-years-old, suffered a stroke while competing on the show. Sparks complained of knee pain after the first segment and was immediately sent to the hospital after on-site medics noticed he was short of breath, according to TheWrap. He died not long after arriving at the hospital, and the whole thing was witnessed by his wife of two months, Kate, who was his partner on the show.

Wipeout kept going a few more years, but it didn't stick around... at least not until 2020, when TBS revived the show. While filming the reboot's first season, though, tragedy struck again when an unnamed contestant similarly fell ill in November 2020 after a segment and was rushed to a nearby hospital, where they died of cardiac arrest, according to Vulture.

There's a tragedy afflicting former reality show contestants

While game shows and reality shows can have paramedics on-hand for accidents and make sure safety is top-notch on their sets, there's a particular trauma quietly killing off dozens of former contestants of such shows: suicide. While it may sound obvious, appearing on television and competing on super stressful shows, then losing in front of millions of Americans takes a humongous toll on the psyche of ex-participants.

In 2009, TV and movie blog TheWrap conducted an investigation where they found at least 12 former contestants had committed or attempted suicide as a direct result of their participation on those shows. While that may not sound like many, it's not insignificant, and it may say a lot about how we as a society view such shows and the dangers of overnight fame.

Over a decade later, things haven't really changed, according to The Guardian. As of 2019, there were 38 reported cases of suicide by ex-reality show contestants, a number which has continued to climb. Much of this is attributed to cyberbullying and societal attitudes toward people appearing on reality shows as "fair game." Contestants may not expect overwhelming negative publicity, and the shows do little or nothing to prepare them for this.

If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline​ at​ 1-800-273-TALK (8255)​.

A Japanese game show was cancelled after two serious injuries in one day

If you've been on the internet longer than five minutes, chances are you've seen videos of events in Japanese game shows. Often, these shows are more physical than Western game shows, and tend to be quite a bit sillier, too. When it comes to Japanese television, the stranger the premise of the game show, the more likely you'll see clips of it in the U.S. not long after.

But of course, these shows are also not immune to disaster. In 2002, a physical challenge show called Kinniku Banzuke (translated as "Muscle Ranking") was incredibly popular. The show featured celebrities and everyday people competing in various physical events. The hit show met a very swift end on May 5, 2002, however, when not one, but two, contestants had major spinal injuries on the same day in separate accidents, according to The Japan Times.

In the first incident, a contestant was walking on a large ball and trying to navigate it across a ditch when they fell off. In the second, a contestant was participating in a game in which they caught the same large ball. But instead of catching the ball, the player was knocked off the platform into four feet of water, which wasn't deep enough to stop them from hitting the ground. The airing of the episode was cancelled, according to The Washington Post. No further episodes of the show were ever filmed.

The Chamber was a horror just waiting to happen

While accidents can happen any time and all the preparation in the world may not help against the unexpected, there's something to be said for an idea that is immediately and obviously terrible. Take, for example, the short-lived Fox game show The Chamber. Only airing three episodes, the very concept of the show seems designed to injure or kill someone, and it's frankly a wonder no one seemed to point this out during the show's creation.

The Chamber was effectively a standard trivia show, according to Mental Floss. Contestants would answer questions while strapped down in the show's titular chamber. However, the chamber itself was, to put it simply, wildly dangerous. There were actually two chambers, a hot chamber and a cold one. The hot chamber could be heated up to 170 degrees Fahrenheit, had actual flames, and dropping oxygen levels. The cold chamber could go down to -20 degrees Fahrenheit, had 100+ mph wind blasts, and jets spraying contestants with water, which instantly froze on their skin. It was essentially only a matter of time before someone ended up with heat stroke or hypothermia, both of which can be deadly.

Most amazing of all, no one ever got hurt. The show was cancelled due to extremely poor ratings and negative publicity, not because of any sort of accident. It seems three other episodes were filmed, but these have never been publicly released.