Like most country cable kids in early 1990s, I enjoyed my fair share of daytime Canadian television.
One of the best game shows of the era didn’t feature fancy cars, beautiful assistants or millions of dollars. Rather, the setting was an in-studio grocery store and the contestants mostly stay-at-home moms.
Supermarket Sweep ran from 1992-1995 on the Global network. It was directly modeled after the US game show of the same name.
Thrills and shills
Hosted by the irreplaceable Tino Monte, whose pleated pants and blow-dried hair were always on point, the games were a thin veneer for advertising. Clues and responses mainly focused on sponsored product placements.
Almost every show you could expect clues about Nabob Coffee®, Country Crock® margarine, Purina Cat Chow®, Voortman Cookies®, and other feature products such as Obusforme® back rests or Glade Plug-In® air fresheners.
As contestants correctly answered questions about various products they were awarded 10 additional seconds toward the Big Sweep – a free-for-all smash and grab in the grocery store where you tried to rack up the biggest bill possible.
The more time you had, the more carts you could fill.
Time changes all
Twenty-five years later I still love the show, but for different reasons.
Now, it’s as much a social and political commentary on life after the 80s as it is a classic game show.
For starters, a huge majority of the contestants on Supermarket Sweep were women. Occasionally teenage sons or bumbly husbands took part. Presumably, the rest were all at work.
How times have changed.
The show always started the same, with announcer Dave King calling down contestants from the audience. This was followed immediately by a mini-sweep game (10 seconds and $50 were at stake), and the ‘getting to know you’ segment.
This is where the ever-charming Tino Monte would ask contestants about themselves.
Since it was nearly all women contestants, the questions mainly revolved around marital status, what they did for work and how many kids they had.
A woman’s work…
Back in those days, there was a good chance a 28-year old woman was quite likely married and with a couple children. Families could live on a single income. So, when the “What do you do?” question got asked, many of the women simply replied ‘homemaker’ or ‘housewife’.
Sometimes the word was said with humility, even a tinge of embarrassment. Sometimes, Tino would respond with, “That’s just fine,” or something like it – trying to be encouraging but coming off slightly condescending.
As the show became more popular, contestants used the word proudly, even defiantly. Some even called themselves ‘domestic goddesses’ and the like.
Nobody was making these ladies feel bad about taking care of their homes and families. It’s likely they worked harder than their husbands did most days and their big day on Supermarket Sweep was a nice break from the routine.
Women who had career jobs gave their titles loudly and proudly. Whenever a woman was impressive enough to be a banker or real estate agent or a shipping coordinator for a national chain store, they made sure Tino knew it.
All the not-so-single ladies
After “What do you do?” Tino always followed up with these three:
“Are you married?”
“For how long?”
The idea was that proud moms would declare the number of children they had, as well as their names and ages. Ladies without children usually answered meekly, “No kids.”
Sometimes Tino would respond with a thick-headed but sincere, “Not yet anyways,” or something similar.
I love Tino Monte, I really do. I think his enthusiasm was genuine, though 25 years later, it’s somewhat cringe-worthy.
Still, I love watching dowdy housewives with pastel blouses and fanny packs run frantically through the fake supermarket, shoving turkeys and hams into their carts as quickly as they can. It’s domestic gladiator sports.
Home economics: 101
That housewives always fared the best is a testament to how seriously women took the responsibility of feeding their families. They could single out products with ease during the game challenges and mini-sweeps. After all, they did the shopping, they knew the territory. They were chefs, economists, schedulers, custodians and caretakers.
But all that work and devotion was always reduced to those three questions:
What do you do?
How many kids?
My mom worked in a small town grocery store for years. And when that store went out of business, she went to work at the other grocery store in town. She has long since retired.
But it was just me and my older brother still at home back then. Mom supported the three of us on a female cashier’s wages. Every penny she earned was accounted for.
Had she been on Supermarket Sweep, I’m sure she would have aced it.
And when Tino asked, “What do you do?” I hope she would have taken the opportunity to look him square in the eye and say, “I work in a grocery store, Tino. Same as you.”