(w/help from Randy Amasia and Mike Klauss)
Host: Alex Trebek
Announcer: John Barton
Airdate: Syndicated Sep. 14, 1981-Sep. 1982
Packager: Catalena Productions
Origination: Panorama Studios, Vancouver, B.C. (Canada)
"Today, every wrong step could bring disaster as our players attempt to cross this bridge and win a prize package worth $2,500 (later shows)/over $5,000! So watch now as they brave the dangers to win a fortune on Pitfall!"
Premise: Two contestants competed in a "Family Feud"-esque maingame to play one of the best bonus rounds in game show history.
The game is played between two contestants, a returning champ and a challenger. A question is asked of the studio audience (ex.: "What's the hardest thing you've ever tried to do in the back seat of a car?") w/four possible answers (in this case, "drink," "eat," "read," and "undress") selected by the audience members via individual keypads.
"The Pitfall Round":
The contestants must then decide which of the four answers was the most popular among the audience; whichever player won a coin toss prior to the show gets to select an answer first, and his/her opponent then chooses from the remaining three. Once both contestants have "locked in" their answers, the most popular answer is then revealed, and the player who chose that answer gets one point (BTW, everytime a player scores his/her first, third, and fifth points, s/he recieves a "pitpass" for use in the Pitfall Round; more on that later). If neither player chose the most popular answer, no one scores. In any case, another question is asked, and this time, the player who didn't score on the first question gets first choice of the four answers.
The winner is the player who scores five points first or is ahead after five minutes of play (whichever comes first); that player advances to the "Pitfall Round".
In the first part of the Pitfall Round, the contestant is shown a light show to aid him/her in the selection of pitpasses. The contestant faces a giant bridge divided into eight sections; the safe sections light up once, and the three "pitfall" sections light up twice. (to listen to the mystical music that accompanied the light show, click here )
When the light show is completed, the contestant then selects 1, 2, or 3 pitpasses (depending on how many s/he earned the right to in the maingame) for the sections s/he believes to be "pitfalls", and Alex and the contestant then make their way to the top of the bridge.
Now the main part of the Pitfall Round begins. The contestant has 100 seconds to answer general- knowledge questions; for each correct answer, s/he recieves $100 and advances to the next section. When the contestant reaches a section which s/he has a pitpass for, s/he gives the pitpass to Alex and steps over that section to the one immediately after it. (BTW, Alex would not automatically take a pitpass; as a few contestants learned the hard way, the pitpass had to be offered, or else it wouldn't be taken!)
If the contestant steps onto one of those three booby-trapped "pitfall" sections, that section sinks into the floor, and the player remains in the "pitfall" until s/he answers another question correctly, which will stop the clock and bring him/her back up again; the clock starts again when Alex begins reading the next question.
Should the contestant successfully make it across all 8 sections in the alotted time, s/he wins (as announcer John Barton states during the intro) "a prize package worth over $5,000!" (usually a trip or a new car).
A personal fave of mine as a child, this show is famous for its great set; the set used for the maingame slid in at the beginning of the game and then split away for the Pitfall Round. And that bridge was great, too, with its bright colors and flashing lights, not to mention the great music (including a cool theme song with a jazzy saxophone solo!).
Amazingly, during its initial run, the show had an extremely limited stateside lineup of about a dozen stations (among the larger markets that carried it were New York, Cleveland, and Los Angeles).
Near the end of the show's run, a small prize was awarded when a contestant reached the fifth section in the Pitfall Round (the lit panel display for that section, which originally read "$500", was changed to "PRIZE"), and the value of the grand prize was reduced from $5,000 to $2,500.
Catalena Productions, which produced Pitfall, folded in 1982, resulting in the show's cancellation. Sadly, this occured before they were able to pay off many of the contestants who appeared during the show's final weeks, and those contetstants never recieved their winnings.
However, the contestants weren't the only victims. Although host Alex Trebek was paid for emceeing the first 13 weeks, his check for the next 13-week taping session bounced twice (though at one point, Catalena falsely claimed it was being "deferred" for tax purposes). As a result, Trebek refers to Pitfall as "one of the great tragedies of my life" and keeps the bounced check for his $49,000 salary framed on his office wall to this day.
The series was originally pitched by Catalena as a possible entry for fall 1979, with John Barton (who was also co-producer, and would ultimately become the announcer for the eventual series two years later) as emcee, and a different format that involved celebrity/contestant teams (with Nipsey Russell and Marty Allen among those who participated). Many years later, in separate interviews for the 2020 series "The Search for Canada's Game Shows", both floor manager Nick Orchard and writer Rick Drew recalled that the celebrity format was scrapped after one of the guest stars, who grabbed the cage area atop one of the elevators, had his fingers crushed in the process and subsequently threatened a lawsuit(!). As a result, the series ended up being shelved, with both the set and gameplay given considerable revamps over the next two years.
"As to the questions used in the bonus round, you didn't need to be a genius to answer them, but then, the contestants that they picked for 'Pitfall' were hardly geniuses!" - Mandel Ilagan, GS fan
To further illustrate Mandel's statement, here are a few select "Stupid Answers":
Q: In bowling, how many strikes does it take for a perfect game?
A: 12; the contestant responded "3"
Q: How many quarters in a baseball game?
A: This is a trick question; baseball games don't have quarters, they have innings. The contestant responded "Four"
Q: What was the family name of the children in the story of "Peter Pan"?
A: Darling; the contestant responded "Jones"
Q: Where would a woman wear her "Peter Pan"?
A: On her blouse; it's a collar. The contestant responded "Underneath"
(I thought this was a family show!)
Q: What hero's theme song was the "William Tell Overture"?
A: The Lone Ranger; the contestant responded "William Tell"(!)
Q: What does a milliner do for a living?
A: Makes hats; the contestant responded "Mends shoes"
Q: Budapest is the capital of what country?
A: Hungary; the contestant responded "Turkey"
Q: The continent is Australia. How many countries are on it?
A: One (Australia); the contestant responded "Ten"
Q: You're in a race car; your right foot is on the brake. What is your left foot on?
A: The clutch; the contestant responded "The floor"
Q: You went hunting, and you just shot a brace of quail. How many did you shoot?
A: Two; the contestant responded "27".
Q: What do you call a pig that's being fattened for meat?
A: A porker; the contestant responded "Bacon" (to which Alex quipped "You got in too late!")
Q: The doctor just checked your patella; what did he check?
A: Your kneecaps; the contestant responded "My throat".