Press Your Luck was a short-lived but still fondly remembered game show that featured the use of cartoon characters called Whammies. The show has been revived as Whammy! on GSN, and clips from the original game are popular in game show DVD collections, and television documentaries and clip shows.
Host: Peter Tomarken
Executive Producer: Bill Carruthers
Announcer: Rod Roddy
Series Premiere: September 19, 1983
Canceled: September, 1986
Top Prize: Varied
Catch phrase: "Big bucks, no Whammies!"
'Press Your Luck' Format:
Three contestants appeared on each episode of Press Your Luck, which consisted of two different rounds. The first round was the question round, where host Peter Tomarken would ask a general knowledge questions and give the contestants a chance to buzz in and supply an answer.
If an answer was given, the question was then posed to the other two contestants, along with three possible answers, including that provided by the contestant who buzzed in. Three spins were awarded for buzzing in a correct answer, while one spin was given for a correct multiple choice answer.
The second round was the Big Board round. The Big Board was made up of tiles that displayed dollar amounts, prizes, and Whammies. The tiles lit up quickly and randomly, and contestants would hit their buzzers when they wanted it to stop. Whichever tile was lit up when the board stopped contained the money, prize, or Whammy earned by the contestant.
Prizes were added to scores by their suggested retail value.
These two rounds were repeated for the second half of the show, with the Big Board displaying larger dollar amounts and bigger prizes.
The Press Your Luck trademark was the dreaded Whammy. If a contestant lit up a Whammy on his spin during the Big Board round, all of the money collected up to that point was wiped from his total. Whenever this occurred, an animated Whammy would appear on the screen and attack the contestant's score, complete with sound effects.
Four Whammies in any single game spelled elimination for any contestant. Their podium would go dark, and the rest of the game would be played by the remaining two contestants.
Big Board Spins:
After earning spins during the question rounds, the first Big Board round would begin with the person who earned the smallest number of spins. In the second Big Board round, whoever earned the least amount of money in the first round would kick things off.
Contestants could also earn spins from the board itself, if they landed on a "money +1 spin square".
Passing spins was permitted, if a contestant got to the point where she wanted to stay with her total earned up to that point. Spins were passed to the person with the highest score, and these could not be passed a second time. Whoever was on the receiving end of passed spins was required to use them.
Not all of the tiles on the Big Board contained money or Whammies. Some of them were directional, which would light up the directed square, while others were a little more involved. Some of these included:
- Add a One – The Add a One square allowed the contestant to put a '1' in front of their cash total.
- Double Your Money – Just like it sounds, contestants could double their money earned to that point when landing on this square.
- Big Bucks – The Big Bucks square moved the lit tile to that which contained the highest cash prize.
Winning the Game:
At the end of the second Big Board round, the contestant with the highest earnings in cash and prizes would be crowned the winner. Winners were invited back to play in the next game, for up to a total of five games.
Peter Tomarken hosted Press Your Luck for its entire run. He had previously helmed the NBC game Hit Man for one season, and went on to host Bargain Hunters, the original Wipeout (which was nothing like the current ABC version), and Paranoia.
Sadly, Tomarken and his wife Kathleen were killed in a plane crash on March 13 2006, in Santa Monica. The pair had been en route to San Diego to pick up a cancer patient who needed to be at UCLA medical center for treatment, when they experienced engine trouble. Tomarken, who had been piloting the plane, attempted to return to the airport but instead the aircraft crashed into Santa Monica Bay. Tomarken was 63 years old.
Contestant Michael Larson
No profile of Press Your Luck would be complete without a mention of its most notorious contestant, Michael Larson. Larson figured out that the lights on the Big Board traveled in a series of patterns, and memorized these patterns by recording the show and playing it back, one frame at a time.
Larson appeared on the show in June of 1984. His first spin resulted in a Whammy, but a total of 46 further spins (both earned and passed by his competitors) throughout the game resulted in a one-day total of $110,237 in cash and prizes.
Producers figured out that something was going on during the taping of the game, but ultimately were unable to prove that Larson had cheated. Larson claimed that he hadn't broken the rules in any way, and was awarded his winnings.
Michael Larson died in 1999, at the age of 49, from cancer.
Due to declining ratings, Press Your Luck was canceled after three seasons in 1986. Original episodes can be seen regularly on GSN, and the show was revived on that network as Whammy! The All New Press Your Luck, hosted by Todd Newton. Whammy! only lasted for one season, from 2002 to 2003.