Comfort Viewing: 3 Reasons I Love ‘Supermarket Sweep’


It was an entirely different time in life when there was very, very little to do.

I was a middle schooler during the first half of the ’90s — the age of devil sticks, hair wraps, the Delia’s catalog and my burning aspiration to morph into Angela Chase. While you may have hit junior high in an entirely different era, all tween-age years have a few things in common: You’re too young to drive, too young to have a real job and a little too old for cartoons.

That meant that on certain long summer days, with nowhere important to go, I was couch-bound — much as many of us are this summer amid an unnerving Covid spike.

When you’re a kid, there’s something oddly exciting about getting to watch daytime TV during the summer. It feels as if you’re peeking behind the curtain at all sorts of goodies that you’re typically restricted from seeing while locked away at school. So even what some might consider the corniest shows feel suddenly like a real treat, which may be exactly why I fell in love with the likes of “Family Feud,” “The Price Is Right,” “Classic Concentration” and the crown jewel: “Supermarket Sweep.” (Amazon Prime Video is currently streaming what it calls the “Season 1991” and “Season 2000,” and Netflix is streaming a season that aired in 1993.)

While I loved the Plinko challenge on “The Price Is Right” and barely blinked during the Fast Money round on “Family Feud,” “Supermarket Sweep” always gave me the biggest rush. It was easily the most physical of the popular game shows, and it involved running wild in a place you weren’t typically supposed to: the grocery store.

Contestants in teams of two spent the first half of the show answering questions posed by David Ruprecht — a gem of a host who oozed Midwestern uncle vibes and sported an impressive collection of snazzy sweaters — about everyday grocery items. Correct answers built up time for their “sweep,” which sent contestants ripping through the aisles, slamming hams, diapers and oversized bags of dog food into shopping carts in an effort to “spend” (and then win) the most money.

I’m clearly not the only weirdo who enjoyed this. Whenever the show comes up in conversation — and it does, if you’re talking to me — eyes light up. “Supermarket Sweep” debuted back in the 1960s, peppered the ’90s and 2000s and is being revamped soon on ABC with Leslie Jones as the host, which speaks to its generational appeal and enduring popularity. So does a sudden surge of online articles since Netflix started streaming it, with headlines like “Help, I’ve Started Watching ‘Supermarket Sweep’ and I Can’t Stop, Please Kill Me.

But I’m all too happy to re-immerse myself in the old episodes and let the throwback thrill wash over me once again. Here are three reasons you’ll get swept away, too.

All the quiz questions that take up the first half of the show are based on popular products from the ’80s and ’90s (or the early 2000s, depending on which season you’re watching), and they conjure up long-forgotten jingles and tag lines in the most delightful way.

Remember Slice soda? And Prell shampoo? How about “Oh Henry! This stuff is intense!” How about Lava Soap and Budget Gourmet? And Total cereal, which at the time seemed like the solution for good health? Remember when all laundry detergent came in powder form? Remember margarine?

Some of this stuff isn’t around anymore, and some of it has endured. (Total is still a thing! Margarine is now called plant-based butter!) But many brands and products of that moment have fallen out of our collective consciousness. Being suddenly hit with them again, I am instantly reminded of their old commercials — of course I can still sing the jingles — which everyone was forced to watch ad nauseam before DVRs became common. Seeing them today gives me that certain cozy feeling only relics from a simpler time of my life can conjure.

Who doesn’t get a buzz from the thought of running through a store, grabbing anything you want and trying to spend as much money as possible?

While grocery shopping in real life takes diligence — shopping lists, budgets, coupons, meal plans — this was a free-for-all. No one needs five whole turkeys unless it’s the night before Thanksgiving and you have a polygamist family to feed, but in this age of toilet paper hoarding and plexiglass shields, watching contestants living it up in the cheese aisle is especially gratifying.

Watch a few episodes of “Supermarket Sweep” with a partner or pal, and you’ll find you each have some very strong opinions about strategy.

Should you or shouldn’t you grind the coffee for a $100 bonus? Is it worth the time? Should you actually bother trying to find the three shopping list items? Or should you spend more effort heaving forearm-length provolone logs into your cart?

Is it smarter to ransack the meat section or clean out the medicine aisle? Does the team that adds more than $300 in bonus cash to its sweep total have an unfair, insurmountable advantage? And do we really need to talk that through into the wee hours? Turns out we do.

Years ago, I binged bowl after bowl of cereal while getting a midmorning fix of “Supermarket Sweep.” These days, something feels right about watching it at night, when I can kick back with a wine spritzer or two after another long day in this particularly cruel summer. A dose of “Supermarket Sweep” still brings that much-needed wholesome, simple thrill.”

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