Saturday, June 4, 2011

"Lingo" Spotlight Preview

June 6, 2011 marks the return of the hit GSN word game show Lingo. With a brand new set, a new host, and a few changes in the game’s rules, Lingo will return for its seventh season next Monday after the show’s four-year absence from airing new episodes. In this week’s article, I will be spotlighting the new season of Lingo by recapping the show’s history and even its international popularity. So, let’s get to it!

With one letter in place and two out of place,
can you figure out this mystery word? 
The fun word game that you all have come to know and love did not start on GSN. In fact, Lingo began as a syndicated series (which was taped in Canada) premiering on September 28, 1987 with host Michael Reagan (later Ralph Andrews in 1988) and co-host Dusty Martell (Margaux MacKenzie in 1988). This version was played like the GSN version with the exception of a few rule changes. Each team has a 5x5 board filled with 25 numbers and the goal was to get a “Lingo” by covering up five numbers in a row, like in bingo. The teams can earn numbers to cover their board by guessing five-letter mystery words. The teams have five chances to guess each word before they lose control of the word to the other team. As a bonus, if a team can correctly guess a word in one guess, they will win a $1,000 cash bonus. Each correct guess earned the team two balls to pick from their ball hopper for their Lingo board. Not only were there numbers in each team’s ball hopper, there were also red balls and prize balls in the hoppers. If a red ball was chosen, the team automatically lost control of the game to the other team.  On the other hand, picking one prize ball won the team $250 in traveler’s checks; two prize balls were worth a trip; and pricking three prize balls won the team a cumulative jackpot, which started at $1,000  and was increased by $500 every game it wasn’t won. The first team to get a “Lingo” won the game, $250 plus any prizes they may have won, and a chance to play in the No Lingo bonus round. Later in the series, the winning team won $500 for a vertical/horizontal Lingo, $1,000 for a diagonal Lingo, and $2,000 for a Double Lingo, or two Lingos completed with one ball. 

The "No Lingo" Bonus Board
In the No Lingo Bonus Round, the team is shown another Lingo card with 16 numbers already covered in a star-shape pattern (as shown in the picture). The goal in this round was to draw numbers to avoid getting a Lingo. The team is given $500 to start the round. A five-letter mystery word will be shown with two letters already revealed. The team will have five chances to guess the word. For each guess they use, they have to draw one Lingo ball. However, if they fail to guess the word in five tries, they have to draw two extra balls, for a total of seven Lingo balls. If the team draws a number that is on the board, the number is covered up, as in the main game. If they draw a number that doesn’t appear on the board, the ball is discarded. The team’s money doubles every time they either draw the required number of balls without completing a Lingo or draw a gold ball. The bonus round can end in one of three ways: if the team decides to keep the money after drawing their Lingo balls, if they draw a ball to form a Lingo (which loses the money for them in the round), or if they can make it through five words without forming a Lingo, giving the team a total of $16,000 in the bonus round.  If the team won two front games, they would start the No Lingo Round with $1,000 with a possible maximum grand prize of $32,000; if a team won three front games, they would start the No Lingo Round with $2,000 with a possible maximum grand prize of $64,000. Later in the series, depending on what direction the winning team “Lingoed” (vertical, horizontally, diagonally, two ways), the team could play each No Lingo bonus round from $16,000 to up to $64,000.  The winning team stayed on the show for a maximum of three games, but this rule was later changed to the team staying on the show until they lost two games.  

This edition of Lingo only lasted for a season before it was cancelled due to low ratings and the show was low on dollars and a lot of contestants were not rewarded for their winnings. In fact, many stations dropped the show from their schedule after 13 weeks. Because of this, a lot of contestants sued the show and it is unknown whether they won their cases or not. The show was included in ION Television’s 2007 “Viewer’s Vote" polls on its website, but was not selected. On a quick side note, I am surprised that GSN has not aired any episodes of the 1987 version of Lingo for one of their “Lingo marathons”, even though ION Television currently own the rights to this version of the show. Even though the show ran for only 26 weeks its first time out, Lingo managed to pull a pair of big-money winners, winning more than $76,000. Whether they are paid or not is different issue, but nonetheless here is the video of the winning team conquering the $64,000 No Lingo Bonus Round:

Although Lingo didn’t fare well in the U.S., 18 other countries have picked up the show such as the U.K., the Netherlands, and Canada. Of all the versions of Lingo, the Dutch version has fared the best, airing since 1989. To this very day, Lingo is the longest running and most successful game show on Dutch television. Meanwhile back in the U.S., Game Show Network would have their try at reviving the show in 2002 with former Wheel of Fortune and Love Connection host Chuck Woolery. 

A team celebrating their Bonus Lingo win
during the first season
The first season of Lingo was taped in the Netherlands and began as a low-budget show (the route the 1987 version should have taken), from the small set and lack of a live studio audience to the $4,000 grand prize package. In this version, two teams played two rounds of Lingo. In round one, each word was worth 25 points and a Lingo was worth 50 points. In round two, the points were doubled and three “question mark” balls were added to the ball hopper, which acted as wild cards and could be placed anywhere on the player’s Lingo board. There were no prize balls in this version, but there were still red balls to avoid in each team’s hopper. The team with the most points moved on to the bonus round. In the case of a tie, a tie-breaker “speedword” was played where a seven letter word was shown and was filled in one letter at a time until someone buzzed in with the correct guess. In the bonus round, the winning team had two minutes to guess as many five-letter words as possible. Also, the team received bonus letters for the Bonus Lingo Round; one for winning the game and an additional one for every Lingo they had in the front game. For each word the team guessed correctly, they won $100 and a Lingo ball to pull on the Bonus Lingo board. After the two minutes have expired, the team will be presented with a Bonus Lingo board with 13 numbers covered. A Lingo in this round won the team a $4,000 prize package, which included an Argus digital camera, a Borders gift card, a Croton watch and a Cassiopeia EM-500 Pocket PC, as well as the money they won in the round. 

A Lingo game in progress
As the series progressed, the set grew larger and so did the prize budget. For the remaining five seasons, the show was filmed in Los Angeles. Also in season two, the top prize changed to $5,000 cash. However, the Bonus Lingo board was rearranged beginning in the second season to enable the winning team to get a Lingo in one ball. Getting a Lingo in one ball in the bonus round won the team a $10,000 Jamaican vacation package plus $5,000 in season two, a Harrah’s Entertainment trip in Lake Tahoe in season three, $10,000 in season four, and a progressive jackpot which started at $10,000 and increased by $1,000 every day until won in seasons five and six. The progressive jackpot brought in a lot of big money winners (who were actually compensated for their winnings), including a huge $41,000 Bonus Lingo win shown in the video below: 

A snapshot of  Shandi Finnessey's first appearance
on Lingo
It would not be until the third season we would see Chuck with a co-host. Chuck’s co-host for the third season was Stacey Hayes, and former Miss USA 2004 winner Shandi Finnessey was the co-host for the remainder of the series. GSN’s revival of Lingo was livelier than the 1987 version because Chuck Woolery was the host; Shandi was the perfect match as Chuck’s co-host, and because of the special theme episodes the show would feature from time to time. Special theme shows included celebrity episodes, Fiesta Week, Hawaii Week, and one special April Fool’s episode which featured the 2002 GSN hosts including Marc Summers (WinTuition), Mark Walberg (Russian Roulette), Kennedy (Friend or Foe), and Graham Elwood (Cram). On a quick side note, in the April Fool’s special, Mark and Marc were matched up against Kennedy and Graham, only to destroy them with a final score of 500-0! Additionally, at the end of the third season, a special tournament of champions was held where the best winners from the second and third seasons played against each other. On the final episode of the tournament of champions, no Bonus Lingo Round was played, but a third Lingo round was played with the words worth 75 points and a Lingo was worth 100 points. The winners of the tournament won a pair of Suzuki Veronas. Throughout the GSN revival, the show went through multiple set changes, grand prize rule changes, and personnel changes (i.e.: announcers, co-hosts). 

June 29, 2007 marked the final episode of the GSN version of Lingo. Lasting for six seasons, Lingo is the most successful original show on GSN and is currently airing episodes from the past seasons, with the exception of the first season. The show was so popular that GSN created an online version of Lingo on their website for their viewers to enjoy while watching the show. Lingo even aired special episodes where the top online players were flown to Los Angeles to play against a pair of in-studio contestants. However, the moment the show was cancelled, the online game was taken off the site because “the company that licenses Lingo is no longer extending GSN rights to the online versions of the game”(1). 

The clue is: "A major complaint". You will be surprised
by the answer.
Four years later, GSN decided to revive Lingo with comedian Bill Engvall as the host of this version. Several changes were made to this 2011 edition of the show from the large set to the addition of the live studio audience, even down to the new $100,000 bonus round. The rules are essentially the same as the Woolery version with these exceptions:

- There are three rounds of play; Three words are played in round one worth $100 each, Four words are played in round two worth $200 each, and three words are played in round three worth $500 each.
- The Lingo value is worth the same as the word value in a round.
- Prizes balls have been added to each team’s ball rack (ball hoppers have been replaced with ball rack located behind the contestants).
- A clue will now be given for each word in the front game, like in Scrabble hosted by Chuck Woolery.
-  In Bonus Lingo, the winning team has 90 seconds to solve five bonus words. No bonus letters will be rewarded to the team except for the two free letters they are given for each word. Each correct word the team solves in Bonus Lingo doubles the money they won in the front game. Solving five words in 90 seconds wins the team $100,000.

Here are some of the previews to the new season of Lingo

From what I’ve seen from the clip previews on, this version of Lingo will be more entertaining to watch, as Bill Engvall is more involved and interactive with the contestants. The show will definitely be livelier than the previous versions of Lingo, mainly because of the live studio audience and the clues on the show which might lead to some “interesting” answers. Next week, I will be posting a review of this edition of Lingo. Until then, make sure you stay tuned for the new season of Lingo set to air in two days on June 6 at 8:00pm and 11:00pm EST on GSN!!! 

(1) The New York Times Blog: Media Decoder. “As Went Love Connection, So Goes Lingo” By Brian Stelter. March 6, 2008
**All screenshots have been taken from the actual episodes of Lingo. No ownership is implied.**  

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