I Survived a Japanese Game Show: Cross-cultural fun perfect for summer

I admit it. I can’t help it. I love “I Survived a Japanese Game Show.” Some may say the show is an insult to intelligence. So be it. Insult away. Last year, I was drawn in by the frivolity, creativity and how wonderful people are when they are out of their element. [Here’s last year’s first episode review.]

It’s popular culture look at Japan as well. Sure, Meaghan drove me a bit nuts with her confusion about what show she was on. I think she wished she was on “Survivor” with any excuse to prance around wearing next to nothing, but in general, I was drawn in and hoped the show would return this summer.

Happily, it has. Unfortunately I missed the kick-off last week since I was in NYC eating pizza at John’s Pizzeria on Bleecker Street, but I did catch up by watching the beginning of the episode on the show’s Web site. I was curious how the show would handle the element of surprise when contestants had no idea that they were being set up to be on a Japanese game show. It was priceless and fresh reality show entertainment. This year’s opening was just as funny.

Rome Kanda, the exuberant host who reminds me so much of my experiences with aspects of popular culture in Asia, surprised each contestant at various places including work, at their homes or out and about–like in a hair salon, to let them know they had made it onto the show. The reactions were wonderful and it gave a glimpse into life in everyday United States.

This year the contestants are people who are excited about playing Majide which requires doing things like dressing up like pink rabbits and partaking in ridiculous antics.

Mama-San is also back, as is Judge Bob and the men in black suits.

Like last year, the show gives highlights about Japanese culture in an unusual way. This is not highbrow entertainment, but it is a way to feel as if you’re a traveler in a country you’re not familiar with. There’s that sense of being off balance but kind of liking it. The show is also a reminder to not take oneself all that seriously when one travels and that there’s fun involved when it comes to doing the unfamiliar. There’s nothing wrong with being the butt of a joke. Ask any Peace Corps volunteer who lived in a remote village somewhere.

Tonight, I’ll have to peel myself away from America’s Got Talent to tune in on ABC at 9 EST. Next week, I’m heading off to New Mexico, Colorado and Montana for a three-week road trip. It’s good to get out of the house as well.

I Survived a Japanese Game Show: Round three. Back on track

When traveling time zones, it’s a good idea to remember that TV schedules change. When I sat down to watch the 3rd episode of “I Survived a Japanese Game Show,” in St. Cloud, Minnesota where were were visiting friends on our way to Montana, I forgot it was Central Time.

The show comes on ABC at 8:00 p.m. in St. Cloud and not at 9:00 like in Columbus. The show had just ended. We proceeded to watch the sunset and drink wine.

Watching online a day later in Bismarck, North Dakota at the Seven Seas Best Western was just as entertaining. To catch you up for tonight, here’s the recap. If you can’t head to Japan any time soon, here’s one way to feel like you’re there in an unusual sort of way.

What I liked so much during the first episode is back. There was more about Japan and the contestants reactions to being in the country. Everyone loves being in Japan.

There was also more footage about what it’s like to be on a Japanese game show. Less time was spent on the contestants’ chatter about their strategies to win, therefore the bickering was minimal which left more time for more interesting footage.

Another positive change in round three was Mamasan’s increased TV time. I particularly liked observing the contestants reactions to her. The hugs, the thank-yous, the being ever so polite, even when served a gritty version of green tea that isn’t what one likes is so typical of trying to be a gracious guest in another country.

“Good?” said Mamasan. Not exactly, but they drank it.

This episode drew me in for other reasons as well. I loved the behind the scene details that showed how the game show is put together and the crews’ reactions to the Americans.

“What’s that noise?,” one person asked from the control room before the contestants came out for the first game, “Pedal Fast, Big Splash.” The contestants were in the green room getting pumped up.

“They’re screaming.”

“Too much green tea,” said another.

When host Rome Kanda shouted, “Let’s go Americans! Come on out!”, the crowd did their normal going wild routine with their stash of noise makers as the Americans waved enthusiastically, bounding through the door. All seemed happy to be involved with this crazy completion.

“We don’t care who wins, said Kanda, “as long as someone gets wet.”

“With Pedal Fast, Big Splash,” there’s no way to avoid getting wet if you’re the person on the tricycle. No matter how fast two team members pedaled their bicycles to slow down the treadmill, the tricycle rider couldn’t keep up and eventually went backwards into the pool of ice-water.

The Yellow Penguins won by four seconds which meant the Green Monkeys became rice farmers for a day for losing. The Yellow Penguins were given a tour of Tsukiji Fish Market for winning.

Rice farming is not easy. Watching the Green Monkeys slog through muck in an attempt to plant rice reminded me of why I’m astounded that rice is not more expensive.

The Tsukiji Fish Market is as large as several airplane hangers and the place where 4,000,000 fish are sold a day. The Yellow Penguins loved the tour and proved that one doesn’t need a lot of pomp and circumstance to have a great time traveling. Any time one can learn something new is a bonus. As Andrew said, “This was a once in a life experience.”

As a testament to trying new things when traveling, Cathy, known for being a picky eater tried the tuna sashimi. And just like what often happens when trying new things with an open mind, she found out she liked it and downed another piece.

The next day, back in the studio for the elimination round, Darcy and Meaghan dressed up in suits covered with Velcro strips in order to hurl themselves at a wall in an attempt to match shape outlines that looked similar to what is drawn at crime scenes.

The hurling involved bouncing on a trampoline. Meaghan nailed the task all three times. This time Darcy’s lost on a positive note. As she pointed out after the men in black suits carried her out of the studio, she’s the only contestant to have played every game. Even though she didn’t survive a Japanese game show, she sure knows how one is played.

The previews for tonight’s show look excellent. The contestants seem to have decided to just have fun more than anything, except for Meaghan who thinks she’s on “Survivor.” What was the deal with walking around in a bath towel?

Now all I have to do is figure out where I’m going to watch the show tonight. We’re without a TV since we are staying with friends in Montana who don’t have one. There’s the online version that shows up about a day later.

Photos are from the gameshow Web site gallery.

I Survived a Japanese Game Show: Round two and its getting nasty

This week was round two of I Survived a Japanese Game Show. Here’s the recap of last week’s show. Now that the American contestants know the framework–they’ve been whisked to Japan without their prior knowledge to appear in the Japanese game show Majide, that element of surprise is gone. Still there were plot twists that added some flavor, and some people just don’t like each other.

The first twist was when Ben from Punxsutawney clutched his stomach and said he wasn’t feeling well. Off he went to see a doctor never to return. Was it something he ate? A travel bug–not the good kind, but the bad kind? Whatever sent him to the hospital wasn’t part of the banter.

Personally, from a cross-cultural/travel perspective, I wish Ben’s trip to the hospital had been included, at least minimally since going to the doctor in another country is always enlightening–I’ve always had great luck no matter where I’ve been, but since that wasn’t part of the planned show, it didn’t fit the format.

Here is what was part of the format:

Mamasan made a Japanese style breakfast of shaved fish and soup. The shaved fish wasn’t a fave and folks weren’t sure how to get the soup out of a bowl with chopsticks.

Justin had the right approach to the meal, “I’ll try anything,” while Cathy’s attitude is the type that courts travel unhappiness. “You can take the girl out of Staten Island, but you can’t take Staten Island out of the girl,” she said.

With breakfast over it was back to the studio.

Next surprise, Darcy, who had been eliminated for not being the better bug, came back replenished and ready to replace Ben. She won’t be back in Idaho any time soon after all.

The Japanese audience was still as rowdy as last week, happy to beat on drums, shout out and make a racket at every opportunity while Rome Kanda, the game show host, dovetailed between speaking English to the Americans and Japanese to the audience. The games were as nutty as last week.

For the “Human Crane Finds Fluffy Bear,” a member from each team became part of a giant-sized arcade game–the one where you drop in money and tell it good-bye as you attempt to pick up a stuffed animal with a metal claw in order to win it.

In Majide’s version, a person is attached to a contraption so that the claws become part of the person’s arms and the person can be lowered and raised by remote control. The other team members operated the controls with each member controlling a different movement. One person’s button was up, another was down, another left and another right.

Justin, always ready to try anything, said, “I’ll hang” and scored ten bears–not easily at first, but he let the team members control away as they saw fit and did his part to pick up the large pink bears and dump them into the chute.

Meaghan, a 22-year old bartender from San Antonio, Texas, on the other hand, is a control freak who is used to getting her way. She tried to direct from her suspended state and failed miserably–only one bear was dropped into the shoot making the Yellow Penguin team this week’s winner.

For losing, the Green Monkey team had jobs working at a pachinko parlor and the winners, the Yellow Penguins were treated to a Japanese style massage.

Whether a team is the winner or the loser, members learn something about Japan so from my perspective, it doesn’t matter so much what side you’re on.

Pachinko, a Japanese version of a pinball machine of sorts, involves several small steel balls that players dump into the machine that bounces them around between metal pegs. The more balls come out, the more the players wins. It’s loud. The parlors are garish and bright. Plus there’s blaring music.

As the pachinko boss explained to the Green Monkey losers, who were decked out in pachinko parlor wear, what they would be doing, no one could hear him. Eventually, Darnell is polishing balls, Mary is outside in the rain passing out fliers and Meaghan is picking steel balls off the floor. Taking drink orders is another job.

As for the Yellow Penguins, their massage involved being buried in warm sand–they loved it, and letting small catfish eat the dead skin off their feet. That treatment is called Doctor Fish. They loved that too. So far, Japan has been a big hit.

Through a bunch of haggling that wore me out Olga and Darcy were picked for the elimination round which meant each struggled through a wind tunnel to drop packages in slots while the other lobbed objects like the large pink pandas, blow up dolphins and air matresses. Despite her difficulty staying on her feet, Darcy won and Olga was carried out of the studio by the men in the black suits.

Last week I gave the show a rousing thumbs up but a few commenters disagreed with me. One thought host, Rome Kanda was arrogant and one didn’t like a few of the comments Kanda made about the American contestants. Other commenters agreed with me and liked the show.

This week, although the show was entertaining, and I enjoyed the glimpses into life in Tokyo, I wish the game had a different way to eliminate people. Instead of the back biting, and sucking up that happens as the team members pick two players to be eliminated, I think all the losing team should compete against each other. This other way seems like a waste of time and takes away from what makes the show entertaining.

This episode made one thing clear; if you need a traveling companion, pick Justin. He’s a gem.

I Survived a Japanese Game Show starts tonight

There’s a new reality TV show that starts on ABC tonight. It could either be really funny or absolutely awful. I Survived a Japanese Game Show took 10 contestants–six women and four men– to Japan where they competed in some sort of wacky game show called Majide in front of a Japanese audience.

Not only do the contestants compete in the game show, they are immersed in aspects of Japanese culture they didn’t quite expect. The reason they didn’t expect it is because when they showed up a the studio to participate in a reality television show, they didn’t know what the show involved. Nothing. Nada. Next thing, Japan.

I saw a preview last night and admittedly, I was laughing out loud. Okay, here’s the thing. I thought The Three Amigos was funny and loved Joe VS. The Volcano. I amuse fairly easily, although Abha, I promise, I wouldn’t think The Love Guru is at all amusing.

I do love the idea of putting people in cultural situations they are not quite sure about as long as the culture isn’t demeaned and the people in the situation aren’t elevated in stature. In this case, I’d say the Americans have plenty of opportunity to look fairly ridiculous.

Here’s one contest, for example. In the “Chicken Butt Scramble,” contestants dress up like chickens and try to break large “eggs” filled with goo by sitting on them and bouncing hard. It’s not easy.

As the weeks progress, contestants will be eliminated until the last person wins $250,000.


The game-show host, Rome Kanda is a Japanese-born actor/comedian who lives in the United States and is paired with Tony Sano, an American actor who speaks fluent Japanese.

Yes, yes, the show does sound pretty mindless and why not read a good book instead? I don’t know about you, but June has been a fairly busy, stressful month. I could use a few guffaws. I hope I’m not disappointed and disgusted.

Here’s a trailer.

“I Survived a Japanese Game Show” airs Tuesdays on ABC at 9 p.m. EST. Let’s see if Hollywood gets it right with this one. I’ll give you my impressions tomorrow.