The untold truth of Supermarket Sweep

Attention, shoppers, your favorite grocery store-themed game show from the 1990s is back in stock and returning to television. As you might have heard, Supermarket Sweep, the game show that had three pairs of contestants answering trivia before running around a grocery store and loading up their carts like they were survivors of the zombie apocalypse, is getting new episodes. If there was ever an occasion to throw on a bright, solid-colored sweater, this is it!

The 1990s version of the show ran on Lifetime and the PAX network in the 90s and early 2000s (via The Today Show). Sadly, new episodes have been absent from American TV sets since 2003. Depending on your cable provider, you may still be able find reruns of those classic Supermarket Sweep episodes on TV, or dig then up on a streaming service.

Before we get into what the rebooted version might look like, let's take a dive into the show's history and what being on the show was like for contestants. From those aforementioned sweaters to winning strategies, and the show's disturbing meat products, here's everything you need to know about this iconic game show. 

Supermarket Sweep has been around for over 50 years

Supermarket Sweep might have a special place on the nostalgia shelf in the hearts of '90s kids, but it was on TV way before the Clinton administration, and David Ruprecht wasn't its original host. Yes, before people were running around a grocery store like maniacs on color TV, they were doing the same thing in black and white in the 1960s. 

Supermarket Sweep first debuted in 1965 and ran on ABC for just three years before being canceled. The show's original host was Bill Malone, and much like the 1990s version, the show consisted of three couples answering food trivia questions and racing around the store. Although, according to MeTV, women typically answered the trivia while the men handled the grocery ransacking. 

One big difference that wasn't carried over when the show came back to TV was how it was filmed. The 90s Supermarket Sweep were filmed on the same set every week. However, the original format of the show had it visiting different working grocery stores in the New York metro area. 

Honestly, that traveling format seems like it would be both a lot more fun and challenging. Of course, if the show rolled into your local supermarket you'd have a clear advantage in finding those high-priced items.

Supermarket Sweep producers were picky about choosing contestants

Mike Futia was on the game show in 2001 with his then-girlfriend and told The A.V. Club that having a partner to appear on the show with was a requirement. While finding another willing individual who wanted to win some game show cash might not be the most difficult of obstacles, contestants also had to be a good fit for TV. 

"We were out there to perform…," Futia said about his audition process, before adding "When we were going through the process, they put you in a room with a few other people and ask you sample questions. And you could sense it was because they wanted to see if you were slouching and things like that."

The check-boxes that producers are looking for with the Supermarket Sweep reboot don't seem to have changed all that much either. Bustle reported (via Metro) that producers still want "fun, outgoing and dynamic pairs of couples, friends, school, and work mates or family duos" for the game show.  

Loners without personality need not apply, apparently.

The supermarket for Supermarket Sweep was actually pretty small

The name Supermarket Sweep might have given viewers the impression that contestants were running around a full-scale grocery store, but that was hardly the case. A more accurate name would have been "Bodega Sweep" because the set was anything but supermarket size.

Former contestant Mike Futia said it was really only about four aisles in size. "It looks huge, but it's small," Futia said. "Even in the aisles, you had to be careful if you and your cameraman were running and another group was coming down that aisle." Considering that a Trader Joe's is around 15,000-square-feet and some Krogers can be as massive as 161,000-square-feet, the store in Supermarket Sweep was pretty puny.

Granted, Supermarket Sweep was a TV show and not a working grocery store, but even still, Guy's Grocery Games films their shows in a large 15,500-square-foot supermarket set. 

As for the new set of Supermarket Sweep, there's no word yet on the size of the American reboot, but UK's rebooted set is described as "modern" and "trendy" with "nods to the past."

The food on the Supermarket Sweep set could get pretty gross

If you're shopping in any sort of grocery store that takes pride in its business, then you're going to stroll past the meat department and see fresh cuts of meat ready to be sold and eaten. That apparently wasn't the case on Supermarket Sweep, according to host David Ruprecht, and the meat could get pretty gross looking. 

"We shot for about five months, six months every year, and they used the same food over and over again," Ruprecht told Great Big Story. "So by about the third month, the hot dogs had sorta started to ferment in the package and the package swelled up. And a lot of the food, having been thrown in and out of carts for three, four months had gotten pretty beaten up."

Supermarket Sweep set designer, Scott Storey, backed up Ruprecht's tell-all details and said that as gross as the meat would get, this was done to save some money in the show's budget. "Buying fake meat was too expensive," Storey said before adding that "Everything was just rotten, because there's no refrigeration. It's just scenery."

That's right, those $24 roasts contestants were tossing in their carts were probably just gross, rotting scenery.

However, some of the food on Supermarket Sweep was fake

Thankfully, not all the food on the set of Supermarket Sweep was rotting and on the brink of being a contamination disaster for the studio. A lot of that food that contestants were racing around and grabbing wasn't edible at all — because it wasn't real food. 

Apparently, the use of real (and rotten) foods may have changed as the show went on. A contestant from the later years of Supermarket Sweep says most of the larger perishable foods were completely fake. As former contestant, Mike Futia pointed out, it would have been pretty gross for contestants to be running around getting those nice sweatshirts dirty. "Everything that was meat, cheese — all that was fake because they'd get the meat juices on their sweaters," Futia said. "And that's not telegenic, so they wanted to get rid of that." Plastic hams also happen to be a lot easier to pick up than real ones. 

Using fake food for TV shows is actually pretty common according to Business Insider, and studios have specialized prop houses that they go to for those phony foods. For example, if a TV set needs a package of ground beef, a prop artist might use crushed corkboard. 

This explains why you never saw anybody on Supermarket Sweep actually eating any of that food.

Supermarket Sweep has gone international

When a game show is a hit, it doesn't become a hit just nationally, but globally. This is why popular game shows like Wheel of Fortune and The Price Right often have spin-off versions in countries such as Brazil and Morocco. Game shows are cheap to produce and there's always going to be an endless supply of people who want to win some easy money. It's really no different when it comes to Supermarket Sweep

As Eater pointed out, part of what made Supermarket Sweep so ripe for international adaptation was that it's based on something everybody does — grocery shopping. "It was a show that could translate easily, because we all shop," Tino Monte, host of the Canadian version said. This explains why Supermarket Sweep has popped up on TV screens from Ukraine to Australia. 

Like so many other American exports, Supermarket Sweep had to be adapted properly for whatever foreign country it was shipped off to. Besides the name change of Clink Caja for Argentina, the episodes involved laser tag — presumably with a price-scanner gun (via Delish). The host of Vietnam version of the show dressed in an elaborate red and gold outfit that put American host's David Ruprecht's grocery store manager shirt and tie look to shame.

Thankfully, some international versions were wise enough to leave out those dorky sweaters that American contestants had to wear.

Only Supermarket Sweep losers got to keep the sweaters

Speaking of those sweaters, they were pretty snazzy in a 1992 suburban dad sorta way, right? Well, Supermarket Sweep didn't just punish contestants by making them wear those things on TV for the entire nation to see, but added insult to injury by sending the losers on the show home with them. 

"If you lost, your consolation prize was that you got to keep the sweater, but you didn't get to keep the dickey (the white collar under the sweater)," contestant Mike Futia said. "We were kind of disappointed that we didn't get our sweatshirts." Futia didn't get to keep his turquoise sweatshirt because he got a cash prize instead. Which most people would probably agree is way better than a cheesy game show sweater. 

It wasn't just the American version of the show that sent the losers home with the sweaters either. Contestants on the UK version also got to keep the commemorative sweater if they lost the game. "I still have my sweatshirt and watch," Bev Osborne who appeared on the show with her sister, told the BBC.

Supermarket Sweep used to have "market monsters"

Considering that the '90s version of Supermarket Sweep aired almost 30 years ago, perhaps your memory of the show's early episodes is a bit rusty. Do the "market monsters" ring a bell? These were literally people dressed up on terribly bad monster costumes and their job was to jump out at contestants to try and throw them off their game while running through the grocery aisles. Suuure, because every grocery store has monsters lurking around.

According to the blog Game Show Garbage one of the monsters was named Mr. Yuk while others were Frankenstein, a giant gorilla, and a centurion turkey who went by the name Big Dave… oooh, spooky.

The market monsters went extinct pretty quickly into the show's run. According to Supermarket Sweep's Fandom page, the producers soon realized that the monsters were more of an annoyance than a scary obstacle for shoppers to overcome. Understandably it probably was pretty annoying when all a contestant wanted to do was load up on frozen turkeys and some bozo in a gorilla suit was getting in the way. 

By late 1990, the market monsters were dropped from the show and tossed out like a shipment of bad produce.

Winning Supermarket Sweep required some strategy

It's pretty easy to watch Supermarket Sweep and find yourself yelling at the decisions the contestants make when running through the aisle. That said, even if you think you'd clean up on the show and avoid all the bumbling mistakes that trip people up, actually going into the show with a solid strategy could be tricky. 

The point in the Big Sweep round is to load up your cart with as many high-priced items as possible, but of course, this isn't your regular grocery store where you know all the ins-and-outs. Lots of contestants went for hefty and expensive meats like hams and roasts or even pricey items like baby formula, however, that's really not the best strategy.

Host David Ruprecht cued Great Big Story in on the technique that would really give contestants an edge over their competition when racing through the aisles. "Very few people know this and very few people use this strategy, but those who did won," Ruprecht said. "You come over here and get five of these hair colorings… get five of all of these expensive health and beauty products and with one cart you beat everybody." 

Just a little something to keep in mind should you find yourself running through the aisles on the reboot of Supermarket Sweep.

Producers didn't want it to be too difficult to win Supermarket Sweep

Lots of game shows have trivia rounds, but that was never the highlight of Supermarket Sweep. Contestants were waiting for their chance to run through the grocery store and load up their carts with as many high-priced items as possible, and that was always the most fun part of the show for viewers as well.

Before anything went in that shopping cart though, shoppers had to make it through the trivia round and the show's producers wanted to make sure the trivia questions weren't too difficult. After all, the show was Supermarket Sweep, not Jeopardy! Contestant Mike Futia said that producers would give little hints in the trivia questions to help contestants along. "They're helping you… it's geared to families. It's fun," Futia said. 

Looking back at old clips of the show, it's pretty obvious that the show's producers weren't aiming to pitch questions that required a doctorate in molecular biology to answer. It's pretty easy to pick out the correct answer to a breakfast question when the possible choices are Pop-Tarts, Evian, Comet, and Lipton.

An SNL star will be hosting the American reboot of Supermarket Sweep

For five years, comedian Leslie Jones was part of the Saturday Night Live cast, but just hours after announcing that she was leaving the sketch comedy show, she had even bigger news. Supermarket Sweep was returning to TV and she'd be stepping into David Ruprecht's shoes to host (via Food & Wine). 

Not surprisingly, people on social media were pretty pumped when they heard the news. "Leslie Jones is hosting a revival of Supermarket Sweep. This makes me happy. Supermarket Sweep was my show back in the day," read a tweet from one person. "Leslie!!! How do i get on Supermarket Sweep?! I need to be a contestant," said another

While news didn't break until August of 2019, FremantleMedia, the company that will be producing the reboot, first announced Supermarket Sweep's return to TV back in October 2017 (via Entertainment Weekly). Why it took so long to get the ball rolling isn't known and neither is an air date for the reboot, but you can bet fans will be ready when it finally makes its way to TV.

There's also a UK reboot of Supermarket Sweep

Right around the same time that American audiences found out they'd be seeing Supermarket Sweep back on their TVs, fans in the UK found out that they too were getting a reboot. In September 2019, The Guardian reported that reality TV star Rylan Clark-Neal would be handling hosting duties across the pond.  

The UK version of Supermarket Sweep is pretty much an exact replica of its American cousin, only fans in the UK look back with a warm nostalgic feeling on host Dale Winton rather than David Ruprecht. Following in those footsteps isn't something that Clark-Neal takes lightly either. "This is his show and it will always be his show, but if I can fill even an inch of his shoes then I'll be very happy," Clark-Neal said. The late Winton hosted the show from 1993 to 2001, and then briefly again in 2007. 

So far, the UK version of Supermarket Sweep has been met with mixed results. Fans didn't seem to be excited about the show's new hour-long format and The Guardian's review called it "stiff as a frozen potato waffle." Ouch!