The Price Is Right model Manuela Arbelaez made news last week when, during a playing of the show’s Five Price Tags game, she mistakenly revealed the price of a car before the game was over. Host Drew Carey did the right thing by awarding the prize to the contestant, and the $21,960 mishap led some fans to wonder whether Manuela had lost her job as a Price model. No, she hadn’t, and she reassured her fans that the producers were understanding—as well they should be. This is hardly the first time that a staff mistake caused a prize to be awarded to a player. Such a snafu is known as a “technical win” in Price fan circles, and it has happened dozens of times over the show’s history. Here are a few of the myriad ways that pricing games have gone awry since the modern version of Price debuted in 1972.
In the game Ten Chances, a contestant has to identify the price of three prizes before they run out of turns. When set up properly, the host removes a card from the big board for each item to reveal a jumble of numbers; the contestant has to write down the price of the prize using those numbers. Then after every guess, the host—in this case Bob Barker—hits a button, and if the contestant is correct, the price is revealed.
As this playing begins, however, Bob pulls off the first card to find that the usual number jumble isn’t there. Instead, he’s inadvertently cut straight to the price reveal. Bob realizes that the whole game is probably blown, but even amid this mess he finds a way to play it for drama. (Bob was often at his best when the show didn’t go according to plan.) Because Ten Chances typically takes much longer than this, Bob knows he has some extra time to kill, so he shares a bit of behind-the-scenes intrigue: The usual game producer was out that day, and none of the three people who checked Ten Chances before the taping caught this huge error. “We’re going to have a talk with them after the show,” Bob says, smiling but not kidding.
The now-retired game Penny Ante had one of the coolest sets in the Price pantheon—a long, eight-lane highway of prices that lit up a stripe of lights and played a fantastic “wubba-wubba-wubba” sound whenever the host punched in a contestant’s guess. (The clip above is pretty blurry, but the game is easier to see in another YouTube video.) Penny Ante was neat, but it was also haunted, with occasional mechanical glitches—as seen in the episode excerpted above. When the mechanism prematurely unveils the correct answer, Bob uses the mistake as an opportunity to have some fun, and the contestant makes out okay in the end. The same cannot be said for Penny Ante itself, which was pulled from the rotation not long after this show so that its technical problems could be addressed. But while it was waiting for repairs, the Penny Ante set was left out in the rain (really), so it was trashed and permanently retired.
Flip Flop is a quick game. Presented with an incorrect four-digit price, the contestant has to decide whether to reverse the first pair of digits (“flip”), the last pair of digits (“flop”), or both (“flip flop”) in order to make the price correct. But the panels used to flip and flop can be tricky and sticky, especially when flustered players are trying to manipulate them. With a stuck panel making it impossible to execute his desired flop, the contestant in this episode panics and slaps the big red button, revealing the price as Bob cries, “No!” There’s no better Bob Barker than a pissed Bob Barker, and the emcee milks the moment by walking away and declaring, “I’m going home.” Finally, because all Price mishaps have a happy ending, Bob awards the contestant the prize and playfully snarls, “Get off the stage!” as he shoves the poor kid away. Eventually, the producers tweaked Flip Flop, moving that shiny red button to a less tempting position on the side of the game, where it remains.
Even a barely perceptible slip-up can force the Price producers to reward a player with ill-gotten gains. In this playing of Push Over, the contestant is supposedly playing to win, in the words of announcer Rich Fields, “a computer desk and a Dell computer!” Except the computer is actually an HP, which the show staff doesn’t realize until the commercial break. Drew Carey explains in the ensuing Showcase Showdown that because of the incorrect branding, the contestant gets the prize—even though he missed the correct price by more than $5,000. Now, most players don’t even listen to the announcer’s prize copy, as their adrenaline is pumping too hard for them to concentrate, and none of the producers believed that this guy lost because he heard “Dell” instead of “HP.” But it’s cheaper to just give away an outrageously overpriced desk than it is to deal with a lawsuit, and so an ersatz winner is born.
The March 3, 1989 episode of Price featured the most bizarre sequence of pricing game miscues of the show’s run. The trouble starts with Punch-A-Bunch, a game in which the player pokes holes in a punchboard filled with various money amounts, printed on folded slips. On her second punch, the contestant nearly pulls the slip out of the hole prematurely, but Bob jumps in to put it back. He’s proud of his quick reaction, thinking he dodged a bullet. In fact, the weirdness is only beginning. When Bob looks into the first hole that his player punched out, he finds that it’s empty. After a futile search for the slip, he’s compelled to give up and award the top prize of $10,000. (The sound effects person is unprepared for this turn of events, and the result is a halfhearted jumble of dings and whoops.)
Bob moves on. The next segment features One Away. In this game, the contestant is presented with a wrong price where each digit is one away from the correct price. The third digit here, for instance, is a 1, so the player has to decide whether to change it to a 2 or a 0. The joke’s on her, though, because when the actual retail price is unveiled, the third digit is a 6, meaning that the game was unwinnable. After the commercial, Bob explains the situation as briefly as possible, likely dazed by a one-two punch of boneheaded production errors.
In interviews after her Five Price Tags brain fart aired last week, a publicity-minded Manuela Arbelaez described the event as the “biggest mistake ever in game show history,” but it wasn’t even the biggest mistake in Price Is Right history—this 1989 cavalcade of dipshittery would be a strong contender for that title. The show has been on for 43 years, after all, so Manuela will have to do more than misplace a novelty price tag to make her mark as Price’s most bungling model. She might start by crashing a car or two.