Why 'Supermarket Sweep' Is Still a TV Sensation 30 Years Later

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The latest hit on Netflix is not a buzzy new scripted series or high-concept dating competition. It’s Supermarket Sweep, a 30-year-old game show that’s recently resurfaced on the streaming platform, which sees teams racing around a grocery store, grabbing the most valuable items in order to win. 

As of July, there are 15 episodes from the 1990 revival -- the original version ran two seasons in 1965 -- hosted by David Ruprecht. That version of the competition, which is the most popular and rivaled The Price Is Right and Family Feud at the time, ran for five seasons until 1995 and then for another three, from 2000 to 2003. 

While tweaks have been made over the years, the overall competition remains relatively unchanged. Each episode sees three teams of two facing off in two quiz-based rounds in order to accumulate additional time on top of the initial one minute, 30 seconds everyone’s provided. From there, it’s a matter of answering questions about pop culture -- do you know what Scott Baio’s favorite snack is? -- or product-based trivia, like determining which of three brand-named products is the most expensive. Answering those questions correctly not only added time to the clock, but allowed teams to run a “mini sweep,” in order to pick up a cash prize. 

It was consumerism at its finest, showcasing just how well contestants knew the prices and names of their favorite products and grocery store items. Meanwhile, the final round is all about knowing the exact layout of a grocery store and maximizing one’s time going up and down the aisles. 

“The last half of the show is them running around a supermarket,” Ruprecht said of the “big sweep,” which sees the three teams taking empty carts through the grocery store to collect the priciest items -- gourmet cheeses, large racks of meat, Pampers diapers, etc. -- for their allotted time. The winning team was the one that rang up the most money at the checkout counter, giving them a chance at the “bonus sweep” and an additional $5,000. 

The concept may seem simple, but the appeal is universal, which is perhaps why it ran for as long as it did. “One of the reasons I think we’ve been around so long is it appeals to everybody. Everybody spends time in a supermarket,” Ruprecht said while ET was on set of Supermarket Sweep’s 1,000th episode. “So, it’s kind of everybody’s fantasy to run through a market, grab whatever they want and not have to pay for it. It’s a great idea.”

Seriously, who doesn’t remember growing up and going to the grocery store as your parents went from aisle to aisle in search of necessities as well as savings? Even as adults, we’ve grown accustomed to knowing our local store inside and out. 

While the renewed popularity of the series may largely be rooted in nostalgia, which there has been no shortage of thanks to streaming platforms making TV favorites from the 1980s and ‘90s readily available to binge, Supermarket Sweep is still just as appealing and relevant today. 

Thanks to recent hits like Netflix’s Floor Is Lava, which sees teams running an obstacle course based on the children’s imaginary game, Supermarket Sweep also taps into anyone’s competitive streak. Just like that simple competition of getting from one side of the room to the next via the easiest or most direct path, everyone has an opinion on which route is the best way to race through the grocery store. (It’s agreed that one always hits the meat or cheese section first.)

Even amid the coronavirus pandemic, which briefly turned grocery shopping into a harrowing search amid diminishing returns, there’s no denying the satisfying fantasy of running wild through a grocery store on an unlimited shopping spree. 

And while Netflix is responsible for the current surge in appreciation for the game show, Amazon Prime also has two seasons available for streaming. On top of that, ABC is currently developing its own reboot with Saturday Night Live alum Leslie Jones slated to host. 

“I’ve always dreamed of being on Supermarket Sweep,” Jones said in a statement. “Seriously, I tried out for the show years ago; and after getting turned away, I knew I’d have to take matters into my own hands. Being able to bring the iconic game show back to life on ABC is my ultimate redemption story!”

Until those new episodes come out -- there’s still no premiere date set at the network -- there’s plenty of Ruprecht and the ‘90s version to make our days feel complete. And as the host always used to say, “the next time you’re at the checkout stand and you hear the beep, think of all the fun you could have on Supermarket Sweep!”

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