‘Supermarket Sweep’ went off air but never left our hearts

Why does the appeal of a game show defined by hyper-consumerism endure today? It’s not just the sweaters. | Supermarket Sweep Fans/YouTube

“The next time you’re at a checkout counter and you hear that beep…”

Beep beep!

If you were a kid living in America during the ‘90s, it was almost impossible to avoid the above words, the iconic line that signaled closing time for each episode of Supermarket Sweep, the popular game show that premiered on Lifetime 29 years ago this Tuesday.

The show’s premise was simple: Every episode featured three pairs of shoppers (often couples, but sometimes siblings or friends) who answered questions about common grocery items to earn more time to compete in each episode’s “big sweep.” That sweep entailed their running through a mock grocery store to try and run up as high a grocery bill as possible for a chance to win a $5,000 cash prize in the final bonus game.

The straightforward concept was really brought to life with host David Ruprecht’s elaborate sweaters, the contestants’ matching sweep sweatshirts, narrator Johnny Gilbert’s old-timey phrasing and the general corniness of it all. It was a giant wholesome meme before wholesome memes were a thing, and perhaps that’s why it’s still relevant all these decades later.

While the ‘90s version of the show is its best-known and longest-running iteration, the original Sweep actually premiered on ABC in 1965, running for two seasons. The ‘90s edition of the show was so popular it sparked about a dozen international offshoots, including Dale’s Supermarket Sweep, which ran for seven seasons between 1993 and 2001 before being briefly rebooted in 2007. A Ukrainian version of the show called Шоу Шара appears to still be on the air today.

The show has seen a surge of interest in recent years. In 2015, Ruprecht was interviewed in a Great Big Story feature where he disclosed that “all the meat was fake and all the other food had gone bad.” The next year, Melissa McCarthy starred in a cut-for-time Saturday Night Live sketch that riffed on the show and drummed up over 5 million views on YouTube.

Next, a collection of episodes from the Christian channel Pax TV (now Ion TV) version of the show (which aired from 2000-2003) hit Amazon Prime Video. And, in 2017, news broke that the show is heading for yet another reboot, though no further information about a host or premiere date have followed since then.

In the meantime, the show has built a cult audience of thousands of fans of the show watching illegally-uploaded clips of full episodes on YouTube. One channel boasts over 8,000 subscribers and hundreds of episodes uploaded at a rate of about a dozen per month.  

I am one of those subscribers. At the end of a long day, I often find myself devouring one, two or three of the old clips at a time, entranced by the massive meats and the awkward introductions from contestants like or Bea and Stan, who adorably couldn’t locate Nair in the bonus game (“C’mon, Stan, where’s the Nair?”).

Watching the clips brings back vivid, happy memories from my childhood. From a very young age, I’d often accompany my dad on his trips to the grocery store. Sometimes, I’d help him locate and check off items from the regimented shopping list carefully organized by aisle.

Other times, to the dad’s horror, I’d wander off on my own, building “cabins” out of toilet paper rolls, climbing mountains made of soda packs. And almost every time, we’d “sample” bites of candy and nuts from the bulk section when we thought no one was looking. The grocery store felt like a playground to me, and it was one of my favorite places to spend time with my dad.

After watching the show for the first time as a kid, I was instantly hooked. I’d record episodes onto VHS tapes so I could re-watch them at my leisure. I’d even cut out pictures of grocery items from the Sunday circulars, placing them into a “store” of my own outlined with masking tape on carpet in the middle of the living room and forcing my parents to play my own version of the “sweep” with me.

At that time, grocery stores felt like playgrounds to me and grocery shopping was an activity of pleasure. Today, I’ve come to hate grocery shopping — though I love cooking.

As an adult, the grocery store has become a place of stress. As my cart fills up, my anxiety grows over how high the total will be. I begin to feel guilty that the produce I buy will spoil before I go to the effort of preparing it. I feel guilty for buying more convenient foods that are more expensive than the regular stuff. And as an overweight person, it’s hard to ignore the feelings of judgment from conveyor belt jurists over the nutrition level of the items you’re purchasing.

Bulk stores are even worse. Setting foot in a Costco makes me feel dizzy within minutes. Who can eat this much macaroni and cheese?!

I’m sure these feelings of anxiety and dread are even worse for the 40 million Americans who live in food-insecure households or are relying on SNAP benefits that the current administration is regularly threatening to curtail. I also recognize that my memories of grocery shopping as a child owe a lot to my privilege as an individual raised in a middle-class household in a quiet, boring small town in southeast Wisconsin.

I’d still venture a hypothesis that fond memories of Supermarket Sweep bely class. The idea of running through a grocery aisle and packing your cart with as much as you can fit in it is a pure fantasy. It flashes back to a simpler, joy-filled time when the hope of a $5,000 cash prize was still something worth jumping and screaming about, when today we’d already be mentally calculating how much of that is lost to taxes. A simpler time before you knew how to count calories or clip coupons.

Above all, Supermarket Sweep appeals to the part of ourselves that never really grows up — the part of our brain that never stops daydreaming of soda-can mountains and toilet-paper cabins.

It’s hard to say whether a reboot of the classic show will succeed. Food Network’s Guy’s Grocery Games, which has somehow been running for over five years now, comes close but doesn’t quite scratch the same itch.

There is also something to the rampant ‘90s-style hyper-consumerism of the Sweep that feels dated and even a little off-putting in today’s world of tidying up and “sparking joy.” It’s the same reason it’s almost impossible to imagine a reboot of the Sweep’s sister game show: Shop ’Til You Drop at a time when most shopping malls are shuttering or converting into gyms and apartment buildings at a record pace.

Still, even if a Sweep reboot fails or never materializes altogether, we’ll forever have the memories of those hideous sweaters and mega turkeys.


Belated thanksgivings

This year, I’m very thankful for health, home, love, friends and family — blood, four-legged and especially chosen, near and far. But I’m especially thankful for free HBO preview weekends, specifically The Leftovers, Justin Theroux and his perfect facial structure, The Comeback and an uncanny look into a time-mirror at future-me (Mickey Deane) and Getting On and Niecy Nash and her perfect everything. So, so much to be thankful for.


No, I’m not your bear. Why words matter and self-identification must be respected (Goddamnit).

It wasn’t long ago that I was walking on the Capitol Square in Madison, Wisconsin, on the way to the wedding reception of two good friends with my partner. When we’d almost reached the venue, I noticed a truck had slowed down to a stop and a window was being rolled down.

“Cute bears!” the driver yelled out.

Before I could even think, my instant response was: “I’m not a bear,” to which the driver responded indignantly, “Yes, yes you are!”

“You don’t have the right to put a label on someone or tell them what they do or don’t identify as. That’s not how it works!” I screamed back.

“Well, uh, cute young men with beards, then,” he said timidly, before we continued rushing down the street. I needed that conversation to end immediately.

Ever since the unwanted interaction, I’ve been feeling a bit guilty about my response and questioning why the words struck such a blow. It was intended as a compliment, after all, and it wasn’t exactly said in a threatening way. But, to be real, even as my retrospect dims my bright red anger about the incident, I realize now that I’d been targeted in the sort of street harassment that my female peers are forced to endure on the regular. It’s demoralizing, immature and, in many ways, barbaric. I’m sorry, my friends who regularly face this, that ish is awful.

But beyond that, what dug the most under my skin and has lived there ever since was the message, not the medium.

I have always struggled with accepting my body for what it is — husky from birth — and living a life of health within my own skin.

Between the ages of 18 and 23, I struggled to maintain a consistent weight and, at times, it was an obsession of mine. On the lower end of the spectrum — and at the height of a period of obsessive exercise and disordered eating during my senior year of high school — I weighed about 155 pounds. Less than a year later, I’d gained over 30 pounds when I started drinking the first semester of my freshman year of college. All of it was lost during my second semester of freshman year as I exercised more and ate and drank less, and I remained more or less in a healthy (by Midwestern standards, at least) range until about a year out of college.

That was when the pieces of my adult life started falling into place. I started a dream job working for a company I deeply admired and respected. I fell in love and still have yet to fall back out. And by some combination of factors I’ve yet to fully pinpoint, all the weight and then some returned. I now weigh about 235 pounds.

To say the weight gain has been depressing and, at times, immobilizing is a massive understatement. Clothing that was once among my favorite to wear no longer fit — after spending years in the back of the closet, I’d eventually consign myself to donating it so someone skinnier could wear it. Eating became a guilty activity. Leaving the house was anxiety-inducing at times. I didn’t weigh myself for years for fear of what the scale would read.

Once I finally did weigh myself and I realized (and admitted to myself) I’d reached the point where I weighed more than I ever had in my entire life, I began to feel too far gone for any amount of diet, exercise or other changes in habit to make an impact. That feeling was isolating and all-encompassing and I’ve struggled with it.

A few times over the last year in particular, anonymous Internet commenters who disagreed with my writings called me “fat,” a word that stabbed me in the gut. When I lashed back out at these strangers, others — friends I deeply respect and admire — criticized me for reacting negatively to be called something I did not want to be and was not happy being and, in their opinion, contributing to giving a neutral word negative meaning. Being essentially called out as “body-negative” hurt even more — that was never my intention and it hurt to feel almost bullied by a friend into “owning it.” What if we don’t want to reclaim a word traditionally used as an insult when it’s hurled at us? Does that, indeed, make us — the insulted, the attacked, the wounded — as big a part of the problem as the insulter, the attacker, the assailant?

This brings me back to my being (or not being) a bear. I have a deep admiration for the bear community and always have. The first story I ever wrote for a major print publication was a story on “straight bears” for the 2010 Pride issue of the Village Voice. And I’m a huge fan of the way that sub-communities within the fake monolith of the “LGBT community” can offer safety, pride, happiness, sexual currency, confidence, friendship and a sense of membership to individuals who are often othered by the dominant cultures within our “community.” It is a testament to queers everywhere that we have been able to form and sustain so many sub-communities that allow for us to truly shine as our best queer selves.

But all of that said, I have never felt a part of the bear community, nor have I ever felt welcomed in it for many reasons, but mainly: a) My lack of athletic ability or interest in sports and b) My natural femme vibes and c) Mainly, I don’t need to list my reasons why — you should just respect that. A beard does not a bear make. Being overweight does not a bear make. Blue eyes do not a bear make. To summarize: I love bears, but I am not one.

Like pretty much every other “alternative” queer sub-community that likes to tout how they welcome all types of individuals to the table with open arms, I feel the bear community falls short of that goal. Perfection is not possible, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t continue to strive toward it in the interest of celebrating the surviving and thriving of all our queer brothers and sisters.

And I’m all in on body positivity but not when it is enforced to a degree where any dissent — i.e. acknowledging an unhappiness in one’s own body — is policed and taken as an affront to others. Such enforcement of body positivity can be dangerous, causing some to keep dangerous behaviors secret for fear of a callout. This helps no one.

Instead, we must respect all individuals’ right to self-identify and respect their protest when mis-identified — especially if you don’t necessarily believe what that individual has been labeled is offensive. Even in this era of social media overshares, you can never truly know anyone else, particularly when it comes to the inner demons they are slaying every day, every minute, every second of their lives, just by surviving. This should be celebrated and can be celebrated by giving people the space they deserve to self-identify as they choose without fear of reprisal or correction. This is the kind of community love that helps foster the self-love we all need and desire.

You are not allowed to define anyone else’s reality for them and referee when you feel they’ve incorrectly defined themselves. You are not allowed to fight YOUR battle of language and cultural norms  (as important as it may be/probably is) on the backs of others’ identities — these people are not who you should be spending your energy on.

We will all make mistakes when it comes to these issues. We will all be called out and we will all feel the urge to callout. But most important through it all is the willingness to listen to and respect each other when it comes to the words we ascribe to ourselves and others, particularly when a line is crossed and a mistake is made.

For the past three months — and two months prior to the street harassment — I’ve been going regularly to a gym and being more conscious about my eating and drinking habits and achieved some results — though the progress has been, as it is for many, slower and more frustrating than one would hope. But I feel like I’m finally on the path to happiness — or, at least, happier-ness. Writing this essay — which I’ve been drafting, editing and rewriting in my head for weeks — is a big part of that journey. Thank you for reading.

2011 in music: Favorite albums and live shows

It’s now (beyond) time for my annual listing of favorite music from the previous year. Though countless others have taken on the task of somewhat arbitrarily ranking their favorite songs from the previous year, I still deeply enjoy the challenge of acknowledging full albums worth of work that were truly excellent (in my mind). Sure, it’s a probably dying art, but to me, it’s more difficult to achieve. Especially now.

And I also enjoy the diary-like aspect of the annual challenge, cataloging each year some of my favorite jams. This will mark the fourth year I’ve ranked my top albums in some fashion or another and it’s a tradition I plan to stick to.

These are the 26 albums that made me stop for a moment. To listen to more than simply one catchy track amidst a mix on shuffle. That either made me picture a different reality or conjure my own in a way that probably wouldn’t have otherwise been possible. I’ve chosen a track from each to comprise two 8tracks mixes: Part one (#26-14) here, part two (#13-1) here. And without further ado:

  1. PJ Harvey – Let England Shake
  2. Dum Dum Girls – Only In Dreams
  3. Lykke Li – Wounded Rhymes
  4. Girls – Father, Son, Holy Ghost
  5. M83 – Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming
  6. EMA – Past Life Martyred Saints
  7. Destroyer – Kaputt
  8. Kate Bush – 50 Words For Snow
  9. The Weeknd – Echoes of Silence
  10. Iceage – New Brigade
  11. The Roots – Undun
  12. Beyonce – 4
  13. Pictureplane – Thee Physical
  14. Yuck – Yuck
  15. Gang Gang Dance – Eye Contact
  16. Zola Jesus – Conatus
  17. The Kills – Blood Pressures
  18. The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart – Belong
  19. Shannon and the Clams – Sleep Talk
  20. Rihanna – Talk That Talk
  21. Cold Cave – Cherish The Light Years
  22. Neon Indian – Era Extrana
  23. Le Butcherettes – Sin Sin Sin
  24. Black Lips – Arabia Mountain
  25. Battles – Gloss Drop
  26. Planningtorock – W
In terms of live music, several experiences in 2011 will stand out in my memory for some time to come — below are very scattered notes on the stand-out concerts I was able to see this year:
  • Portishead at the Aragon — heavenly, divine, there are no words — I honestly never thought I’d have the opportunity to see Beth Gibbons live and the experience lived up to my wildly high expectations
  • Twin Shadow at Lincoln Hall — George Lewis = the next coming of Prince? almost
  • Lollapalooza — so, so, so much: Bright Eyes, Le Butcherettes, Titus Andronicus, Beirut, Deftones, Lia Ices, Phantogram, The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart, watching Elijah Wood DJ
  • EMA at Empty Bottle and Pitchfork — she is a force
  • The Kills at the Vic with Cold Cave opening — a sweaty, gothy night
  • Shannon and the Clams at Empty Bottle — another tremendous force
  • Pitchfork — No Age, OFF!, Deerhunter, HEALTH
  • Leslie Hall at Subterranean — perfect as always

Here’s to 2012!

A beardy challenge

I love November.

First, there’s the change of season — often as harsh as it is lovely and unpredictable. And there’s also my birthday, which arrives on the 3rd of the month.

But, in recent years I’ve also come to love the trend of “No Shave November” mustache and/or beard campaigns. As a not-particularly-athletic person who admires the many individuals who run marathons to raise money for various organizations and groups, I think it’s important to have another sort of venture that individuals can coalesce around for a good cause.

And frankly, there are some of us for whom facial hair growth is a unique talent. Sort of like calligraphy or crafting gem sweaters.

So, this year, I’ve decided to take up a “No Shave November” challenge of my own. After starting the month with an already-pretty-unruly beard, I’ve pledged to donate $5 (or the price of a really fancy cup of coffee) to the Greater Chicago Food Depository for every day I can manage to resist the urge to trim this baby down.

I will be documenting my progress both here and on my Tumblr blog.

Beardiness as of Nov. 7. Seven days in. $5 a day to the GCFD. $35 pledged thus far.

So, why a food bank rather than any other cause? A study released earlier this year estimated that just over 20 percent of Chicagoans struggle with food insecurity, meaning that are unsure where their next meal will come from or how they will pay for it. They go to sleep hungry. In some parts of this highly racially and economically segregated city, that number is as high as 40 percent. As a result, groups like the GCFD have been overwhelmed with record-high demand at a time when their support at the federal, state and individual donor levels is declining. I feel like this is an overlooked issue that could only get worse with the current state of things. I wanted to do something about it.

If you feel so inspired, I urge you to consider making a contribution of your own to the GCFD or perhaps another food bank or group working to fight food insecurity. You can even donate a certain amount for each day my beard continues to grow. If I make it the entire month and you donate 50 cents for each day I grizzle it out, that means $15 for the food bank.

Here’s hoping we can all help some folks out this month. Please let me know if you decide to join in on my little experiment, so I can give you some much-deserved props. Thanks for your support.