As the saying goes, “If you live long enough, you’ll experience everything.” Or in my case, if you live long enough, hazy memories of dumb game shows will gain relevance in the real world.
“The Price is Right,” “Match Game,” “Truth or Consequences” and other game shows helped fill the hours of my misspent youth. Why is it now that I can instantly recall the names of two “To Tell the Truth” panelists of yesteryear, Dorothy Kilgallen, and her replacement, Kitty Carlisle? Because I’m a wealth of useless information, that’s why.
“Supermarket Sweep” was a favorite of mine, a short-lived show that pitted teams of shoppers against each other, the object being to fill up a shopping cart with the most expensive groceries in a limited amount of time. During one season the program went on the road, and I remember being in the audience for a live taping of an episode at a store in the Washington, DC area. It beat being dragged to shop at Giant Food with my mother, but just barely. Too many cameras, lights, and microphone booms in the way.
The lasting image from “Supermarket Sweep” is that of overflowing shopping carts loaded down with sides of beef, mops, and oversized bags of popcorn. The sheer volume of random stuff accumulated by crazed contestants, racing down aisles grabbing armfuls of Oreos and Wise potato chips, painted an absurd picture that fascinated my 11-year-old mind. Little did I know that some 50 years later, I’d encounter an actual grocery shopper who’d have put “Supermarket Sweep” champions to shame.
Normally in the check-out aisle I amuse myself by scanning the headlines on the tabloids and fan magazines wondering, if just this once, I can recognize any of the young celebrities allegedly under arrest or recently awarded their own reality television show. But I never can.
Then again, could any of them identify the late Bert Convy, panelist and host of numerous games shows from the '60s through the '80s? I think not.
But on the way to the check-out on this particular morning, my attention was drawn to a young woman and her mountain of groceries, growing ever higher, on the conveyer belt that had long since stopped moving. A quick perusal indicated that she must have purchased multiple items from every aisle in the store. How else does one explain a few packages of Color-Changing Jello?
The cashier and the shopper appeared to know one another, asking about their kids and spouses…as they helped each other bag the checked groceries, along with two other baggers. And they continued their conversation as the cashier scanned a mound of coupons, its size every bit as remarkable as the heap of groceries that continued to pile up in front of my eyes.
According to the young woman, probably in her mid-to-late 30s, she grocery shops only once a month, and she does indeed go down every aisle, and she thinks “carefully about what I really need.” Like that Value Size of Dubble Bubble bubble-bath liquid. Who doesn’t want their toddler smelling like a wad of gum?
The cashier said good-bye to her friend as four co-workers pushed the bulging shopping carts into the parking lot. The carts contained volumes of items that only a two-and-a-half-hour spree—according to the shopper—could produce.
Then the cashier apologized for the wait. I said apologies weren’t necessary, that I hadn’t seen anything like that since an episode of “Supermarket Sweep.” She gave me a blank stare, and in the awkward silence that followed, I searched for a droll comeback, the kind that Paul Lynde used to give Peter Marshall on the “Hollywood Squares.”
None came, but I was satisfied to experience, even for a brief time, a game show memory that took on a life of its own.