Does It Hold Up: Supermarket Sweep
With last week’s announcement that Supermarket Sweep is being revived, this seemed a perfect time to revisit a favorite game show from childhood, despite how seemingly geared toward grown-ups it was. For those who missed it, Supermarket Sweep was a contest in which three team-of-two competed in grocery-themed trivia for time on the clock, usually 10 or 30 second intervals, which would be used during the Big Sweep. As the name implies, the Big Sweep was an event, several minutes of contestants dashing around and cramming as much as they could in their carts. Whatever team won the Big Sweep would get a minute to solve several clues in an effort to claim $5,000.
A straightforward premise, yet when I started rewatching old episodes on Amazon Prime, I was surprised by how quickly I got into it. I’m going to spoil the ending and let you know at the start: yeah, the show holds up surprisingly well. I watched more than I had to for this article, they were genuinely entertaining. So rather than find a way to string you along for a few hundred words, I thought it would be more fun to break down why Supermarket Sweep is so fun to watch, regardless of how well you know the material.
Everyone Is In The Game To The End
Often in shows with scores, such as Jeopardy, its possible for one contestant to run away with such an overwhelming lead that the conclusion is foregone, you’re just watching someone dunking after a certain point. Supermarket Sweep avoids this issue quite nimbly, however. Every team starts with 1:30 on the clock, meaning they will all get to play in the Big Sweep, even if they get zero questions right. Additionally, the rounds are built with lots of chances for people to score on different kinds of knowledge. Some are pure trivia, some use word-scrambles, others require audible recognition of songs or slogans; there’s a lot of different opportunities to grab a few points along the way, and most teams manage at least a few.
But all they’re gaining is an advantage, not an actual lead. Once the Big Sweep starts, all that matters is what goes in your cart and how fast it gets there. With planning and strong cardio, a team starting further back can absolutely snag the win, in fact it happened twice on the selection of episodes I watched. There is no point where the competitive aspect falls away and a team can afford to take it easy. Until the checkout totals are in, there’s no telling who might snatch victory off the slow-moving conveyer belt of defeat.
It’s Built to Be Accessible
I clocked times, and generally speaking, the episodes only spent 55-60% of their time on the quiz rounds before starting on the Big Sweep. The creators know it’s the most fun part of the show, and they make sure it has plenty of space to breathe. More than that though, the structure means that even if you know absolutely nothing about groceries, nearly half the episode is entirely unchanged from your perspective.
This is a show coming in asking questions about stuff almost everyone has passing familiarity with. For those that don’t shop, you still hear the jingles, see the brands in your home or office, there’s no escaping the saturation of this stuff. Existentially horrifying as that might be, it also means you’re often engaged when watching the quiz part of Supermarket Sweep, because you’ll find yourself knowing the answers. There’s something about it, questions just the right amount of easy but requiring enough recall or brain power to feel good about dredging up.
Between the just-easy-enough questions and the broad, physical competition, after a rewatch I know get why Childhood Drew was still a fan. You don’t need to know the answer to a Tide riddle to enjoy it as adults careen around the aisles, slamming into products and one another in a frantic rush to do what we all fantasized about at least once: going totally hog wild in a grocery store. Although, once I logged a few episodes, the Big Sweep did clue me in to one final aspect of what makes the show so fun.
There’s More Strategy Than You’d Think
As much as the Big Sweep looks like a mad sprint to cram shit in a cart, there are a few elements that add complexity to the game. Every Big Sweep will have a few specialty items like a specific selection of breads, or scoops of jelly beans, or coffee to grind, etc. Making them costs precious, vital time, however they can be worth huge chunks of cash onto your bottom line. Then there’s the inflatables, huge cart-space occupying items with a mystery value determined only when totals are revealed. And that’s without taking into account the actual tactics of shopping, what you go for and in what order.
All of it combines to help reinforce that first point again: it’s anyone’s game to the end. There are longshot mechanisms built in for folks trailing, and a few full-on luck-determined prizes to keep things truly in the air. It’s also nice because rather than seeing three people do the same thing, there’s a contrast to their different tactics. One might be slamming down gold-wrapped hams, while another is scooping beans, and a third is going after the pharmaceutical aisle like they work for Walter White. And, of course, you get to have your own tactical opinions, which makes you all the more invested as you scream at the blue team for ignoring an inflatable right there when they totally had the cart space to spare. Hypothetically, I mean.
I have to say, I was a tad worried going back to this one, but not only does Supermarket Sweep hold up, the format is still unique and entertaining even after decades of new shows that followed. For some reason, this was never mined the way other concepts were, and while that was probably a loss overall it means we get to come to the reboot with fresh eyes. So long as they keep the general style the same, I know I’m going to have my DVR set, and I can’t wait to hear the beep.