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Takeshi’s Castle
Photograph: TBS

6 wildly nostalgic TV game shows that should be brought back immediately

‘Gladiator’ and ‘Big Brother’ are being dusted off – and so should these telly classics

Phil de Semlyen
Written by
Phil de Semlyen
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It’s shaping up to be a long old winter, and sometimes all those high-quality streaming shows just won’t cut it for lazy, escapist nights in. What you need is some old-school, guilt-free telly staples. With ’90s sports game show ‘Gladiator’ dusting off its giant cotton buds for a revival and ‘Big Brother’ preparing to imprison another lot of hopefuls for our entertainment, we’ve been thinking of a few other nostalgic telly faves that we’d like to see given a 2022 redux. The stipulation is that they’re easy viewing, generally cheery and quite silly. Dangerous-looking challenges, viral-worthy catastrophes and unexpected hosts are mandatory. 

We are the Champions

The ultimate in kids’ entertainment – in the sense that the kids were doing the entertaining and we could just watch – 1980s teatime classic ‘We are the Champions’ set two schools against each other in a souped-up version of school sports day broadcast to the nation. You didn’t even need to be a parent to cosplay as a competitive dad cheering the little tykes on as they frantically relayed across swimming pools filled with random obstacles. Chuck a bit more budget (ie some budget) at it, and it could be the ultimate in family viewing.

Dream host: BBC commentator Ron Pickering brought an incongruously professional vibe to scenes of 12-year-old crashing into each other with giant rubber tyres. We’d take it down an age bracket or six and go with the Chicken Connoisseur to shout ‘Away You Go!' on any reboot.

Cheaper option: Rylan Clark.

GamesMaster
Photograph: Channel 4Patrick Moore’s floating head was ’GamesMasters’ secret sauce

GamesMaster

Back when you were still saving up for a Sega Mega Drive, ‘GamesMaster’ host Dominik Diamond was jovially talking gamers through the very latest from the still-infant video-game world. A lot has changed since then: gamers have swapped the telly for YouTube, gaming is a bajillion dollar industry, and no one would have a clue what to do with a Golden Joystick. But there was a strange magic in the show’s format – a mix of reviews, general madness and astronomer Patrick Moore in a chrome skull cap – that appealed even to the gaming-agnostic. Hit restart on this boisterously culty show and we’d wager that that secret sauce would translate even in the very online 2020s and make it a viral sensation in days. 

Dream host: Is it too soon for the once-maligned Dexter Fletcher to have another go? He’s a big-time Hollywood filmmaker now, so he’s unlikely to want to leap back into the bear pit of angry keyboard warriors, but it’d make a lovely redemption story.

Cheaper option: Rylan Clark.

Blind Date

Switch off Tinder, delete Hinge, because the best way to meet your life partner is to ask three unseen people ‘what kind of fruit they’d be and why’, pick one and then take them on an awkward weekend together with an ITV camera crew. Okay, so the magic of ‘Blind Date’ was always partly the rubbernecking – and telly legend Cilla Black who presided over it its dolled-up twenty-somethings with gentle concern, like the Queen witnessing a car crash outside Buckingham Palace – but compared to today’s online hellscape, it’s basically ‘Casablanca’. Our advice for would-be producers? Ignore the short-lived revival and go hard reset with a ’90s-style format and a larger-than-life Cilla-alike host.

Dream host: Cilla is borderline irreplaceable but we’d go with Phoebe Waller-Bridge for the winky LOLs. 

Cheaper option: Rylan Clark.

Takeshi’s Castle

1980s and ’90s Japanese telly usually made its way to Blighty via the ironic prism of Clive James’s wry cross-cultural commentary. ‘Japanese people would do mad stuff to be on telly’ was the general gist. And, in fairness, and as maverick Japanese filmmaker Takeshi Kitano’s ‘Takeshi’s Castle’ – basically, ‘Crystal Maze’ meets ‘Squid Game’ – amply proves, they absolutely would. Bonkers things like being used as a tenpin, fighting sumo wrestlers, and something called ‘It's an Earthquake Grandpa!’, which is as bad as it sounds. It’s what happens when you entrust a game show format to the man who directed ‘Violent Cop’ – and we were absolutely here for it. Happily, Amazon Prime is already working on a remake, which will thrill the show’s huge global following (especially in India).

Dream host: ‘Audition’ director Takashi Miike for the unpredictability and so the whole ‘Takeshi’s castle’ thing still makes sense.

Cheaper option: The Japanese equivalent of Rylan Clark. 

Fort Boyard
Photograph: kabel eins/Ralf Jurgens‘Fort Boyard’

Fort Boyard

The link in the chain between ‘Takeshi's Castle’ and ‘The Crystal Maze’, this Gallic game show sent contestants to an old Napoleonic castle off the west coast of France to earn four keys in 40 minutes and unlock a door to a treasure room where dubloons and glory awaited. Only, en route face some formidable physical challenges to overcome (if you felt that more game shows needed a tarantula room, this was the show for you) and a pair of . A British version featuring Leslie Grantham gradually gave way to ‘The Crystal Maze’, and a 2012 UK reboot, ‘Fort Boyard: Ultimate Challenge’, briefly kept the flame alive, but in this era of Squid Game, there’s surely fun to be had in ramping up the stakes with a few more terrifying challenges and chucking in a fresh castle to unleash them in. 

Dream host: Mischievous UFC fighter Paddy Pimblett, for the scampish tough-guy vibes.

Cheaper option: Rylan Clark.

Finders Keepers 

Running from 1990 to the mid-noughties, and based on a Nickelodeon show, to the untrained eye ‘Finders Keepers’ looked like a kind of training camp for up-and-coming burglars. Two teams – the green meanies and the yellow terrors – would raid different rooms in a house to find hidden objects and win points. But chaos would invariably ensue, with confetti pouring from the ceiling and a live studio audience of highly caffeinated kids screaming encouragement. There were celebrity cameos (don’t wake up Frank Bruno!) and the inner-child-pleasing idea of messing up a house without having to clean it up afterwards. It’s the kind of hectic kids’ entertainment that was huge back in the ’90s and is well worth dusting-off for a generation of crash-helmeted Zoomers. 

Dream host: Gaten Matarazzo from ‘Stranger Things’.

Cheaper option: Rylan Clark.

Want to watch some actual telly? Try our list of the best series on Netflix.

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