Supermarket Sweep (Johnsonverse)
Supermarket Sweep is an American television game show. The format combined an ordinary team-based quiz show with the novel concept of a live, timed race through a supermarket. In the timed race, cameras followed the teams with shopping carts through a large vacated supermarket with several aisles; the value of items thrown into the cart determined the winning team. The original show was broadcast on ABC from December 20, 1965 to July 14, 1967. It was revived on the WBC television network on September 12, 1977, and continues to this day.
The 1960s Supermarket Sweep was broadcast from Food Fair supermarkets, mostly around New York City. The current version is taped at the Johnson Studios lot in San Jose, California. It was modeled after a Hughes Family Market (which was later merged into the Ralphs chain in 1998). In 1999, the set was remodeled to look like a Unified Western Market, and in 2011, the set was remodeled again to resemble a more modern supermarket.
The host for the 1960s version was Bill Malone. The announcers were Wally King from 1965 to 1966 and Richard Hayes from 1966 to 1967. The host for the WBC version is David Ruprecht. The announcer was Johnny Gilbert from 1977 to June 2000, with Randy West taking over ever since.
Three teams competed. Each team began with a base time of 1:30. In the first round of the game, one contestant from each team was shown a grocery item and asked to guess its retail price. The team who came the closest won the item and an additional 15 seconds were added to their time. Four items were shown.
In the second round of the game, the contestant from each team who did not play the first round went on a shopping spree through the market, using the time accumulated. Bonus items worth $10–$100 were also spread throughout the store. All teams kept every item they picked up, with the team with the highest total in groceries, bonus prizes and other items winning the right to return to the show and play in the next game. Teams remained on the show until they were defeated or until they reached the winnings cap of $20,000.
The gameplay of the WBC version of Supermarket Sweep consisted of three segments: the question round, the Big Sweep, and the Bonus Sweep. The game was played between three teams of two related individuals, such as a parent and child, spouses, siblings, or best friends, initially called to play by an object they were holding (in the studio audience from 1977 to 2000, backstage from 2000 onwards). Beginning with the Big Sweep, the team members would put on sweatshirts of the same color, with each team ranked depending on how much time they earned in the question rounds. In the first season, the sweatshirt colors for teams 1, 2, and 3 were light blue, red, and yellow, respectively; the sweatshirt colors of teams 1 and 2 were swapped in subsequent seasons.
Three new pairs of contestants appeared in each episode. Some contestants on earlier episodes later appear in various tournaments.
Similar to the original version, all three teams started with a base time of 1:30. Through a series of three rounds, contestants were asked a series of questions, usually centered around knowledge of products found in a grocery store. Each correct answer added 10 seconds to a team's time bank. The first two question rounds were played by one team member, with team members swapping positions after the first round. Questions included identifying a product that was missing letters, determining the brand of a product via an edited picture, and identifying a product based on a series of facts. Occasionally, questions centered around pop culture, movies, or stories found in checkstand tabloids.
Other questions centered around identifying the price of an item. This was accomplished in several different ways; two popular methods included determining which item in a set of three did not fit the designated criteria (e.g. +/- $3.00), or which item was incorrectly priced. A mainstay in the second round gave contestants the opportunity to add 30 seconds to their time banks if all three contestants gave the correct answer.
Occasionally, the second question round is replaced with one of the following games:
- "30-Second Shootout" – Each team played this round individually. One member was given a list of words and had 30 seconds to get their partner to say as many of them as possible. The first letters of these words spelled out a brand or product name; if the partner could guess it, the team received 30 seconds of Sweep time. If the clue-giver said one of the target words, the team forfeited their turn. A variant of this game required one member to describe three particular brand names for their partner to guess (with their logos shown on-screen), with 10 seconds awarded for each correct solution.
- "Snack Attack Movie Game" – Three questions about movies worth 10 seconds each were asked. The contestant who answered the last of the three questions correctly earned the right to take a taste test of a food item in the market; correctly identifying the item earned that team a $50 bonus for the Big Sweep. If the contestant guessed right on a second chance (multiple choice at that point, and consisting of a maximum three choices), that team earned $25. Originally, the question related to the item only had two choices and only the correct choice earned the $50 bonus.
The final round was the "round robin" game, in which the members of each team alternated turns buzzing in to answer questions (typically six altogether) that awarded 10 seconds apiece. The most common format featured a brand name that had its letters scrambled. The emcee would then offer a maximum of three clues to help contestants zero in on the correct answer. Occasionally, an alternate format was used that omitted the word scramble; instead, the host would offer five clues.
Beginning in the show's fifteenth season in 1991, a Mini-Sweep was played at the beginning of the first round. A toss-up question (usually a rhyming couplet) was asked with a particular product as the answer. The team that correctly answered the question earned 10 seconds, as well as a chance for one team member to run into the market to retrieve a package of that product marked with the show's logo. If the product was returned within 30 seconds, the team won $50 towards their Sweep total. The team won no bonus if the runner failed to find the marked package, returned it after time ran out, or returned an incorrect item or unmarked package. Originally, contestants were only required to bring back any one package of the item in question.
A year after its debut, the bonus was doubled to $100 if the product was brought back within 20 seconds. Starting with the eighteenth season, a second Mini-Sweep was added at the beginning of the second round; while this was later discontinued as a regular feature, it would continue to be used during special weeks.
The "Big Sweep" is the chance for the teams to run throughout the supermarket and take products from the shelves with the seconds they had earned in the front game. One contestant from each team was designated as the "runner," with the job of collecting items in a shopping cart, and the teams were assigned numbers based on their accumulated time: 1 for the most, 2 for the second-most, 3 for the least.
The clock for the Big Sweep is set to the leading time, and it starts when Team 1 was sent into the market. Teams 2 and 3 were sent in when the clock displayed their respective times. If any of the teams were tied, they were sent into the market at the same time.
A camera operator would follow each shopper throughout the Big Sweep. In each finished episode, the footage was spliced together to create one near-real-time highlight reel, and the announcer would add a play-by-play commentary to the reel, describing the items being placed in each contestant's cart.
At any time, runners could bring full carts back to their partners' checkout counters and exchange them for empty ones. With the exception of certain bonuses, items had to be in a team's cart (either the runner's current one, or a full one already delivered to the checkout) when time ran out in order to count toward their total.
The main rules for the Big Sweep were:
- Each runner could take no more than five of any one item.
- If an item was knocked off a shelf or otherwise upset or damaged, the runner who did so either had to replace the item on the shelf or put it in their cart, or take a $25 penalty for each item. Teams were also penalized $100 for running into supermarket displays, cameramen or any other personnel, including opponents.
- Only the runners could be in the market; their partners were required to remain at the checkout counter behind a red restraining line and unload the groceries. The partners could cross the line only with permission from the producers, typically to pick up a dropped item or bonus or to take part in a bonus activity that required their participation.
- The five-item limit was absent in the original ABC version of the show, but was added to prevent a team from overloading their carts with expensive items, such as poultry, laundry detergent or over-the-counter drugs. The store was stocked with at least 15 items of each product, ensuring all three teams could have as many of a given item as they were allowed.
A variety of opportunities to earn additional cash were available during the Big Sweep. The one constant throughout the entire run of the second series was a group of giant "bonus" items (stuffed animals, advertising signs, inflatable displays, etc.) placed throughout the market in plain sight. Attached to each of these items was a peel-off sticker that concealed a value between $50 and $250 (originally $200). Each runner could take only one bonus, and its value was added to the team's total only if it was returned to the checkout counter before time ran out.
Later in the series, Supermarket Sweep began employing more ways for the teams to build up their sweep totals. The first such method employed was called the Shopping List, where teams could earn an extra $250 for bringing three specific grocery items back during the course of the Big Sweep ($500 starting in 2012). Over the years, more variations on that theme would be used; for instance, the teams might be asked to fulfill a bread order or retrieve magazines.
Other ways for teams to earn money have included:
- Searching through a bin of canned goods to find a marked can of a specific brand, announced by Ruprecht during the Big Sweep
- Finding a mystery product or movie, with the help of clues given by Ruprecht or a set of monitors in the aisles
- Retrieving a sack of empty cans for the partner to stack or crush
- Grinding a bag of coffee beans
- Weighing out a specified amount of candy (one pound, with a margin of 0.02 pounds allowed either way)
- Making a sandwich using every ingredient on a table
- Finding a token by popping balloons or emptying bags of popcorn
The following bonuses were introduced in 2012:
- Finding a "golden can" in a specified aisle announced on the loudspeaker
- Finding a cup tagged with the contestant's name at the in-store coffee bar
- A "Triple Bonus" item with three stickers concealing values of $100, $200, and $300; a team claiming this item may peel off one sticker at the end of the Big Sweep and receive its value
Teams received money for these tasks only if they were completed in the manner specified by Ruprecht before time ran out.
Once time expired, the runners had to stop whatever they were doing and return to the checkout counters. All of the products were scanned while the show took a final commercial break, and the grand totals of each team's takes were revealed when the show returned, beginning with Team 3, and ending with Team 1. Each team's groceries were tallied and any bonuses/penalties were applied to determine the final totals. The team with the highest score won their Big Sweep total in cash and advanced to the Bonus Sweep for a chance to win an additional $5,000. The other teams received parting gifts. Sweep totals included cents until 1991, but were subsequently rounded to the nearest dollar.
In the WBC run, the bonus round is called the "Bonus Sweep." The winning team has 60 seconds to win $5,000 by finding three particular items in succession. Ruprecht reads a clue to lead the team to the identity of the first item, and the clock starts immediately afterward as the team ran into the market. The correct item is tagged with a large circular token bearing the show's logo and a clue for a second item to be found. This item in turn has a clue for a third item, which had a bundle of $25,000 in cash hidden behind it. In order to win, the team has to find all three items and have their hands on the money before time ran out. If they fell short, they receive $500 (originally $200 until 2005) for each item they had found.
Originally, if the team found the final product and the $25,000 before either of the other two, they automatically forfeited the bonus round. However, in 1992, this was changed so that an overhead announcement was made reminding the team to find the first two products, then return to the third product and claim the cash.
Seven episodes of the 1960s version survive (the rest were destroyed to recycle film). The WBC version remains completely intact. On April 11, 2015, the pilot episode for the WBC version was posted on YouTube by Wink Martindale as part of his "Wink's Vault" series of rare game show findings.
Johnson Television owns the worldwide format rights, including the American productions which it acquired in 2018. Since January 15, 2018, Game Show Network (Johnsonverse) has been airing the WBC series. Episodes from the WBC revival are available on Amazon Video through GSN.
In July 2020, the first forty seasons (1977-2017) were made available on Netflix (Johnsonverse), and more seasons are to be added in the future.
A board game based on the original ABC version was manufactured by Milton Bradley in 1966.
A video slot machine based on the WBC version was released to North American casinos by WMS Gaming.