If you're under 25 and/or didn't spend most of your childhood in front of the TV and require some background, The Bozo Show was a daily children's television program produced in Chicago and aired on WGN. And since most cable companies around the country carry WGN--I've never actually been able to figure that one out. I guess I could probably find out just by going to Wikipedia, but it turns out I don't care as much as I thought I did a moment ago. So never mind--every child in America had access to Bozo.
I don't remember much about the show, to be honest. They did skits and ran cartoons and all the usual kids show crap, but really, the only reason I watched was for The Grand Prize Game.
It's probably easier to show than explain, so here you go.
Okay, maybe you didn't feel like sitting through that. So basically, the game is this: A kid was put in front of six buckets, all lined up in front of him. He was given a ball, which he attempted to toss into the first bucket, then another ball into the second bucket, and so on. For each bucket he could successfully toss a ball into, he got a prize. The prizes got better as the buckets got further away, and if he could get balls in all six buckets, he got a--as Bozo would say--"crisp, new $100 bill!" (I know in the clip above, the dude in the suit says it's $50, but that episode was filmed way before my time. By the late '80s, inflation had bumped it up to $100.)
I was obsessed with the game when I was a kid. Not because I wanted to play it. Just the opposite. I was constantly cringing while watching. It seemed like an amazing amount of pressure to put a child under. Think about it. You're a kid. You're on national television. You're being asked to do something that, on the face, seems incredibly simple, but is actually pretty damn hard, with $100 on the line. Which, when you're that age, may as well be $1,000,000.
And worst of all, there were no second chances.
The Grand Prize Game was a cruel motherfucker. I mean, Bozo wasn't a total dick, so if a kid was somehow stupid or uncoordinated enough to miss the first bucket, he'd let him have a do-over. But from the second bucket on, if the kid missed, that was it. For me, with my pampered, sheltered childhood, it was a bit of an eye-opener the first few times that Bozo didn't come over and say, "Oh, so close! What do you say, folks? Should we give him one more shot?" No. You were simply handed your shitty prizes, the name of your at-home-player was read (like you gave a shit some kid you'd never met was benefiting from your hard work), and you were quickly ushered off-stage.
And they always lost. I'm pretty sure most of them didn't even make it past the third bucket. I must have watched hundreds of Grand Prize Games, and I can only remember one kid actually getting all six buckets. That kid should have been treated like a rock star. You won't ever convince me that anything Justin Bieber does is harder than winning The Grand Prize Game.
I like to believe that every kid who lost, never forgot the burning anger and humiliation at being bested by a series of buckets and a TV clown, and were able to refocus that pain into becoming a success at whatever they put their mind to. I know that if it were me, that experience would have eaten at me every...single...fucking...day. All hyperbole aside, f I'd been one of those kids, I guarantee I would have cured cancer by now.
I keep reading about Millennials and their need for constant praise and affirmation in the workplace, because as kids, they were never allowed to experience failure or criticism. I know a couple of these people. I work with a couple of these people. They're terrible.
America needs The Grand Prize Game, and its harsh, yet true lesson that life isn't fair, so get the fuck over it. Now more than ever.