Before You Check Out the New Supermarket Sweep, Stock Up on These Fun Facts About the Original

Attention shoppers: New host Leslie Jones is just as big of a Supermarket Sweep fan as the rest of us, so think of the fun you'll have watching her helm the reboot.

By Sarah Grossbart Oct 18, 2020 7:00 AMTags
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In case you were looking for another reason to love Leslie Jones, allow us to present this anecdote about the time she auditioned to be on Supermarket Sweep

Because some three decades before the Saturday Night Live vet was tapped to host this fall's hotly anticipated revival, she was an unemployed dedicated Pax channel viewer, hoping to score a slot on the '90s version of the 1965-1967 game show. You know, the one you watched on days off from school, imagining how fun it would be to dash through the aisles of a supermarket, piling your cart with the comically large hams and giant packages of diapers any fan worth their sweatshirt knew would net the highest tab and, thus, a shot at the $5,000 prize. 

"That was my show," Jones recently told People of her tendency to power through an entire block of four episodes in one sitting. "All I thought was, 'Hey, I ain't got no money maybe I could get on this show, win five thousand and become famous.'"

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Spying a commercial seeking contestants, she heard that beep and couldn't help but think of all the fun she would have on Supermarket Sweep. "Are you joking? This is my time!" Jones recalled of her reaction. So she recruited her roommate and gave her a crash course on all things grocery. "I started recording so when she would come home from work I would make her watch like four or five episodes in a row," Jones said. "And then we'd practice. I even made question cards."

Having put all her eggs in that basket, her work paid off. "They was loving us because we had personality...we were just clowning," she shared of their audition. "So we get to the final contestants, there's like four groups left. I didn't know that she was on the phone with the boss of her job. She looks at me and goes, 'I got to go to work.' 'What? You got to go to work? This is five thousand dollars.' She thought that we was going to be finished with the audition in time for her to go to work after I had told her specifically to take the day off."

ABC/Peggy Sirota

Unable to push forward on her own, "We left and I talked about her so bad," she continued. "'We will never be friends again.' I wouldn't even ride with her. I wouldn't even get in the car with her. 'I'll catch the bus.' Then I realized that I didn't have bus fare so I had to sit at the bus stop for a little while and figure out how I was going to get on the bus."

Some 30 years later, the comedic actress signed on to host and executive-produce the reboot even before it had found a network. As she put it in the January press release, "Being able to bring the iconic game show back to life on ABC is my ultimate redemption story!"

Well, you know, that and the whole finding fame and millions of fans through her scene-stealing skills on SNL and in Ghostbusters

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But knowing Jones was one of us back in the day, correctly guessing the price of Jello mix and urging contestants to find those secret shopping list items, has made us even more stoked to check out the game show's Oct. 18 premiere. (Also we're already imagining the jokes she'll have the first time they ask hopeful contestants, "Who's got the Charmin?") 

And we can think of no better way to prepare for this epic shopping trip than by piling our metaphorical carts with fun facts about the original. Are you ready to play? 

1. Turns out things could get awfully, uh, ripe in the Supermarket shop. In a special for Great Big Story, '90s host David Ruprecht confessed that they didn't exactly keep the food fresh. "What most people didn't know was all the meat was fake and all the other food had gone bad," he confessed of their cost-saving strategy. "We shot for about five months, six months every year and they used the same food over and over again. So by about the third month, the hot dogs had sort of started to ferment in the package and the package swelled up. And a lot of the food, having been thrown in and out of the carts for three, four months had gotten pretty beaten up." 

2. So probably for the best that none of the three teams got to keep the food they "bought." Though for the contestants who didn't get a shot at the $5,000, there was a consolation prize. "They got their sweatshirts," Ruprecht shared with Great Big Story. "Unfortunately, the winning team did not get their sweatshirts, interestingly enough. They got $5,000 but they didn't get their sweatshirts."

3. And, technically, victors actually left empty-handed. "It was a syndicated show," Mike Futia, the winner of a March 2001 episode, explained to The A.V. Club in a 2014 interview, "so they taped all the episodes, and you didn't even know if you were going to get the money if you won unless it aired, which could be six months later, because they then had to sell it."

4. Gregarious personalities were pretty much a shoo-in for a spot on the Sweep. (No wonder Leslie Jones was pissed she missed her chance.) Futia went into the audition process intent on performing, and his then-girlfriend, now-wife Amanda was "pretty animated," he said in his interview with The A.V. Club. "When we were going through the process, they put you in a room with a few other people and ask you sample questions," he shared. "And you could sense it was because they wanted to see if you were slouching and things like that."

Kevin Keenan and Brandon L'Herault, whose 1993 episode went viral this summer as bored quarantiners streaming the series on Netflix wondered if the attractive college roommates were perhaps, you know, roommates, went full tilt. "We looked at each other and said, are we going to ever see anybody here again in our lives?" Keenan told the Daily Beast in August. "Then we just cranked it up to full. We can dork out with the best of them."

5. Once chosen, you were expected to, um, ham it up. "When the groups come in, they get introduced. The announcer is like, 'Welcome to Supermarket Sweep. Our contestants are…' and then he names them," Futia detailed. "The cameras are at the end of an aisle and the contestants are coming from the opposite side of the aisle and just running into the frame, and they're all doing something goofy and energetic." Having spent countless episodes mocking participants for their cheesy moves, he was horrified when producers instructed him and Amanda to give each other the double thumbs up. "They tell you what to do," he said. "We always used to make fun of the people when we were watching, but there's no choice in the matter."

6. A knowledge of California produce was helpful, Futia noting the food prices were a bit higher where they filmed—though contestants weren't exactly operating blind. Before the big sweep, "You get about 10 minutes or so to walk around the supermarket so you can see the prices," he shared with The A.V. Club. "Everything has a price on it, so you can see where everything is and then you kind of map out what you're going to do. And it's the weirdest things that were expensive, like hoses. And you can only get five of one thing. But hoses were $20. So it was like, 'We've got to grab hoses,' and brooms were some ridiculous amount of money."

7. And it paid to look closely. While Futia was loading his cart with meats, his cameraman informed him that they were all priced differently. "It's just like a supermarket," Futia said. "If one could be a pound less, it'll be $2 or $3 less than the one you had, even though they're fake."

8. The Butterballs weren't the only bit of trickery. "When we were on, none of the perishable stuff was real," said Futia. "Everything that was meat, cheese—all that was fake because they'd get the meat juices on their sweaters. And that's not telegenic." They did try to inject a bit of realism, though. "It's like a heavy plastic ham," said Futia. "It's not super light, and my guess is they do that because everybody would look like Superman trying to lop the thing out of the bin, so they had to give it a little bit of heft to it."

9. And the market itself was nowhere near as vast as it seemed. "There were four aisles, I want to say," recalled Futia. "A little bit bigger than a bodega in the city or something like that. It's very tiny. It looks huge, but it's small. Even in the aisles, you had to be careful if you and your cameraman were running and another group was coming down that aisle. You had to make sure you were all the way to the side or there could have been an accident."

10. Still, it could be a bit of a workout for the cardio-averse. The shopping carts were pretty heavy, Keenan recalled to the Daily Beast, and one of his competitors almost required medical attention because she was so out of breath after their sweep. As his partner L'Herault put it, "These are people who had never had to do that sort of CrossFit-type exercise in their lives."

11. Taping days could be loooooong. "They taped it in segments," said Futia. "We literally got in a room when we got called back for the actual taping, and they said, 'Be prepared to be here. It could be a 12 to 14 hour day because there are three pairs of people on each show.' That day, I want to say they were taping something like eight shows. So you had 48 people just in a room, and the first thing they tape is your introduction where you run down to the camera and everybody gets introduced to David Ruprecht. He is asking you questions and all that, and then you leave. And then the other seven groups did that, and then they call you back and you tape the first segment."


12. That meant a lot of hours in the show-issued brightly hued sweatshirts and fake collars. (Or, as Futia put it, "What are those things called that you wear around your neck? It looks like you're wearing a turtleneck, but you're not?") Sadly, the totally '90s style wasn't for keeps. As Futia revealed, "If you lost, your consolation prize was that you got to keep the sweater, but you didn't get to keep the dickey."

13. While heading straight for the oversized hams, packages of Pampers and huge cans of cooking oil may have seemed like a winning strategy, Ruprecht said those in the know went immediately for the personal care products aisle. "Very few people used this strategy but those who did won," he said of his trade secret. "Instead of five hams and five turkeys that load up your cart, you come over here and you get five hair colorings...get five of all these expensive health and beauty products. With one cart, you could beat everybody." 

All right then, who's ready to play Supermarket Sweep