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A list of things that are not, in fact, like life
sweep? a supermarket? in THIS economy?
1. Supermarket Sweep
Games are funny little things.
Here’s philosopher of games C. Thi Nguyen:
I often play board games with my wife, we get a new one and I've forgotten what it is. We open it and the game literally tells us whether we're trying to kill each other or cooperate. We just learn the basic structure of our relationship from the game and we just execute it.
There's a creepy side to this too. Where you just give a point system to people and everyone just orients themselves and says, "Yes, that's what I'm going to try to do."
Rather than playing the game, Nguyen says, the game plays us.
Which begs the question: what happens when a game’s rules bleed into our real, once-in-a-lifetime lives?
What is Supermarket Sweep?
For anyone too young to remember the show: first off, what sort of music are you listening to I would love some recs like only the coolest shit I am DYING OUT HERE. Second, you probably don’t know what Supermarket Sweep is - that’s great. You are free.
We’ll do a deep dive here in a second but, just to say: I don’t think its a coincidence that your generation is also the first to eschew (gad bless u) the rot of capitalistic expanse in favor of, ya know, societal good. I know you look at us as a bunch of senior-citizen butt burps1 who are all hyper driven, who will do anything for success, money, FAME and you say to yourselves, ‘what happened to them?’ I’ll tell you what happened:
Supermarket Sweep, a game where grown adults sprint around a tiny grocery store trying to fill their carts with AS MUCH stuff as possible before the their allotted time runs out.
Strange, you’re thinking, but hey, that’s show biz! They probably win all of the food that they just shopped for, and maybe a cool blender or something, yea?
No. They win the money that they just spent. Again let me repeat - the money they spent on the food is what they win.
And, if they win The Big Sweep, an additional $5,000. Which in the 1990s was like $2.3 million today.
Thanks for shopping, here’s money and no food
I’m no slouch when it comes to groceries. From the Pick n Saves of Milwaukee to the Krogers of Atlanta to the HEBs of Austin, the Publix of Florida to the Pick n Saves of Milwaukee, the Vons of Los Angeles to the Jons of Los Angeles, I’ve seen ‘em all. Heck I’ve even gone into the belly of the beast - my first job was bagging groceries at Shaw’s Supermarket in Canton, MA. I was even awarded most improved cashier in 2004.
And never, in all my days of shopping, bagging, or cashiering has a grocery store operated this way.
Usually, and I can only speak for myself and my immediate family here, the goal when shopping is to spend as little as possible - to look for the deals and, maybe, if you’re lucky, snag a coupon or ten from one of these suckers:
It’s also not fun! It stinks to have to pay oodles of moodles (money noodles) for some vanilla unsweetened almond milk and an 18-rack of eggs, but that’s life! Sure, that might be life, but it ain’t Supermarket Sweep.
Because on the sweep, up is down and down is hurry-the-fuck-up.
Why? Simple. To teach us the rules of the game that is American life.
In the Sweep, the winner is NOT the team that spent the least cash but got the most food. Perhaps each team takes their haul home and see how long they can live on the items they procured? And the team that stays alive the longest wins?
The team that spent THE MOST money in the shortest amount of time wins!
What are we to learn from this?
With subtle sublimation, We as the audience are taught just how fun it is to spend spend spend, trained as Pavlov’s cogs to think that maybe we spend the most in the least amount of time, we’ll win a big cash prize!
But we never do. The best you can hope for is that the cashier scans their own rewards card because you forgot yours and, yes, whaddya know, you saved $1.25 off the $8.99 strawberries so now they’re the much more reasonable unreasonable price of $7.74.
What Supermarket Sweep did was sick. Immoral and sick.
A clearinghouse? For publishers??
There comes a moment in every child’s life when they realize the world is a cold mean place full of baddies who wanna do you no goodies.
My day came when an oversized brown envelope arrived in our mailbox. I was probably 9 years old, a sophomore-year American, praying my parents would get me one of these a Gooey Louie with Gooey Louie Gooey Maker:
Or at least one of these Goosebumps Fright Writer Pens. Little did I know that adult me would wage holy war with R.L. Stine on a pre-Musk Twitter.com.
I’m talking the sort of envelope that real important documents are sent in. Not the bright yellow-brown flash of a manila envelope either, no this was that construction paper brown that said ‘whatever you think this might be, its definitely not us trying to sell you something. We’d have used something glossier than this crap paper to sell you, bud. This, you can trust!”
I ran to my dad with glee. The American Dream had arrived and look, their logo looks just like that of our USA Government!
Being selected as winners was IMMINENT! And see that green star? That looks hand-drawn, like some big shot over at Publisher’s Clearing House flagged this one, maybe even because it IS the winning one??
Look below - “this is the notice we told you to look out for!’ DAD WE WON WE DID IT LETS GO TO MCDONALDS.
My dad didn’t agree; just like the wrestling I was watching every Monday and Thursday nights, he said, it wasn’t real.
I lost my shit. He didn’t understand! This is how things worked in America - people were super kind and nice and did cool contests like these and obviously we got picked and, now, five inches away from the touchdown line (we’d just started watching American football, go PATRIOT!), we’re gonna BLOW IT.
But he wouldn’t budge, even after I told him that we did NOT have to pay anything to enter. These selfless mother theresas at a literal Clearing House for Publishers were trying to help us and we couldn’t even send a letter back to them??
I couldn’t believe we were passing this up. What a betrayal.
Not by Publisher’s Clearing House - they were honest. By my own father.
Hams, Hoses, and Ungodly Wheels Of Cheese
Supermarket Sweep capped each type of item you could put in your cart at five. They also clearly prioritized items that were comical to try and get into your cart, hence the hoses and hams and massive wheels of cheese. This, one cannot deny, is funny. Sure.
But funny makes not an accurate depiction of life.
In life, one tries to purchase the things they need. Maybe they’ll get extra, but probably they’ll wait for the Costco trip that will never be, planning for themselves that they can save a few bucks by buying 17 jugs of Milk at once. Where will all of them go? Who cares!? Deals!
So what is Supermarket Sweep telling us? Simple. When there’s a deal, get as much of the food as you can but don’t you dare go over five - that’s against the rules!!
So there you are, rush hour at the Trader Joes and the lines are backed up to the frikkin Clif Bars in that one aisle where they put all the weird shit and something in your animal brain goes - I GOTTA GET THE HAMS! And all a sudden you’re sprinting past the sample station (bless Joe’s heart, those lil blocks of cake and mini cups of strong as shit coffee are BACK), and you’re loading your cart up and then you remember - I CAN ONLY BUY FIVE.
But, you’re an American and what is an American if not a rule breaker - so fuck it, let’s get six hams. We can save the hams in the fridge downstairs that we - WE NEED TO BUY A FRIDGE FOR DOWNSTAIRS you text your husband who is at Costco, always, waiting for a new deal to make itself known.
Everything has become a game. From the number of likes on this post (and hey, while I’ve got you here - do consider a like and subscribe?) to the number of followers I have on Instagram (oh hey, since we’re here again, I definitely don’t need a follow but it never hurts it really doesn’t) to the cost of the houses we all own on Zillow (me included, I definitely DO own a home in Los Angeles a place that’s pricey but if you just try hard enough bam, they give you a house), there are points and I can always tell how badly I’m losing.
Except, in life, there’s one, overarching rule that rules them all: never admit you’re playing. Winning the game of life means not only beating everyone, but convincing them that you’re not playing at all.
So how do we learn to play when no one is sharing the rules or even willing to admit they’re playing? Simple. By imbibing on the point based systems of the games around us like, oh I don’t know, Supermarket Sweep. Then all one has to do is check the mail and see that, in no uncertain terms, victory is imminent.
Sure, my dad might have been right, we probably wouldn’t be cleared by the Publisher’s Clearinghouse, especially since we ourselves were not at the time publishers (though look at me now, mama!), and yet, if we don’t play, how can we ever know for sure?
You do not make your choices, your choices make you
C. Thi Nguyen also said, “The world is an existential hellscape with too many values and games offer a temporary relief from that.”
But on the other side of that relief awaits the harsh reality of your life. If you win the Supermarket Sweep, you get $5,000.
If you lose, you get to keep the sweaters you were wearing during the show.
The winning team does not get to keep the sweatshirts.
Word Barf this Wednesday at 5pm PST / 8pm EST
As I am sure you’ve heard in your group chats and on the nightly news, Both Are True’s very first WORD BARF is this week!
What’s a word barf you ask? Simple. It’s a hang out! I will try something I’ve told too many people I like doing to back out now, which is basically ‘live writing’ where I sorta write something live, on video, based on whatever prompts the audience gives. So if you have an essay you want to write about how your mom stinks but you can’t start it, we can write it together during word barf!
Then we’ll also just hang and chat and I can answer questions or whatever honestly I don’t know its gonna be so fun though!
This was gonna be a short essay - I thought it’d take like 3 hours. It probably took more like 20 as I researched the fuck out of the show and also publisher’s clearing house. Is this my fault? Sure!
Do some people think that such work should be compensated? Yes I am told, yes! Perhaps you’re ready to take The Leap? If so, click the button below.
You’ll also get to read my first behind-the-paywall, super upbeat essay Beautiful Disasters.
🗣 Share if you DARE
💬 Party in the comments
Answer one, answer all, let’s meet up, at the mall.
Did you watch supermarket sweep? what would your strategy be if you played today?
What other game shows did / do you love?
Have the rules of any games or game shows infiltrated your life?
What’s your fav supermarket and why?
If you had to create a game that taught people about how to actually be decent human beings, what sort of game would it be ?
I asked ChatGPT to give me some alts for ‘old farts’ and, I mean, wow. Butt burps? Genius.