I love a studio game show where contestants run around an elaborate set: people darting and slipping around Double Dare’s obstacle course, climbing through themed rooms on Legends of the Hidden Temple, dumping groceries into their carts on Supermarket Sweep, or running to mini-stores in Shop ’til You Drop.
CBS’s newest game show, Raid the Cage, is similar—so similar that, the more I thought about it, the more it seemed like Supermarket Sweep, if you were to lift away the grocery store and leave everything in piles instead.
On each episode, two people who know each other, Amazing Race-style, compete against another team of two. The pair splits up for each round of play: one becomes the gabber and answers trivia questions, and the other becomes the grabber, who grabs prizes.
One major difference between Raid the Cage (CBS, Fridays at 9) and other trivia shows is that the question-answering player is given the answers to all the questions: 11 possibilities for 10 questions. They just have to pick out the right answer. All 11 multiple choice answers stay on screen for that round, even if they guess incorrectly.
Host Damon Wayans Jr. asks the questions, and otherwise fades away because he doesn’t have much else to do. But he also has a co-host, Jeannie Mai, because why have one person stand around when you can have two!
Each correct answer from the gabber adds time to the grabber’s clock. For their turn, the grabber runs into the cage to—you guessed it—grab prizes. The twist: They do not know how much time has elapsed.
Players dart around, trying to gather as many prizes as they can and get out before time runs out and a glass door slides closed.
That is the fun of the show: watching to see if someone will get smashed in glass elevator doors while trying to get out with their haul. If someone gets trapped inside the cage, they get to come out and keep playing, just without those prizes.
Some of the prizes are very big: a kayak, a golf cart, an actual car (which has a driver in it, though the contestant has to push), making the dash for the door more comedic.
Inside the cage, players can just hoard prizes, or choose to attempt mini-challenges that have larger, more-valuable prizes.
Across three rounds, the players’ prize totals are added up, and the team with the highest dollar value moves on to the final round, and the other team gets screwed.
With contestants going for prizes with the greatest value, which are rattled off for our benefit before we see a total, it’s very reminiscent of Supermarket Sweep. That show also had bonus prizes and a handful of mini-challenges, like grinding that damn coffee.
Raid the Cage lacks, however, the coherence of shelves, the organizing principle of grocery shopping, or the sense of doing something subversive. It also lacks a cage.
Excuse me for being so literal, but I was rather disappointed that a show called Raid the Cage has no actual cage.
The cage is simply a wide-open space with a shiny floor and LED screens that takes up nearly the entire set. Prizes are arranged in four corners. The mini-challenges get some clever set design, and that is the extent of the show’s personality.
When players grab for prizes, it’s not always clear what they’re grabbing, so co-host Jeannie Mai is there to give some ADR about what, exactly, is happening.
After the prize run, co-host Jeannie Mai runs through they’ve gathered. Some prizes are generically identified, such as an acoustic guitar or a 14-carat diamond necklace, while others are given full-on mentions, such as a MacBook and a Yeti cooler.
It is yet another game show that makes it possible to end an episode without a winner: The couple that goes to the finale has 90 seconds in the cage, but if they don’t collect at least $50,000 worth of things, they don’t get any of them. (They do keep their first-round prizes.)
Raid the Cage doesn’t let us play along as much as I’d like. During the trivia round, when players miss an answer, we see the correct one (the player does not). We’re also told which box in the cage has a special prize, and how much time is remaining in the cage.
I suppose the latter is about cranking up the tension for viewers, though the player themselves doesn’t know until a three-second countdown begins.
The show is based on an Israeli format that first broadcast a decade ago, and has been produced around the world since. It was actually developed by NBC a few years ago, but never went anywhere.
I do appreciate a game show with non-stop play; I cannot watch NBC’s insufferable The Wall because of how much time is spent standing around talking and fretting.
Still, Raid the Cage’s six rounds of trivia and cage runs got repetitive quickly for me, and I wondered what a half-hour version of this show would look like, with all of this compressed rather than stretched to an hour.
In the one episode I’ve seen, Raid the Cage’s elements just blended together: generic jumping contestants, coached to be even more enthusiastic; the familiar darkened set with yellow and blue graphics moving across LED screens; generic thumping music underscoring the action. Of course, this is a game show, so different players will change the dynamic.
Raid the Cage is fine. It works. Like CBS’s other new game show, Lotería Loca, Raid the Cage is a very simple game, and that can be a strength. And this game involves far more skill.
Yet of the two, I’d watch Lotería Loca any day, just because it’s more vibrant and fun. Ditto for ABC’s Supermarket Sweep revival with host Leslie Jones. Alas, it got cancelled after two seasons. If it couldn’t find an audience, I’m not sure how Raid the Cage will.
Perhaps being smashed in doors is enough! As Damon Wayans Jr. says, “If you’re the kind of maniac who sticks their arm between the doors of a closing elevator, this show is for you.”
Raid the Cage
Trivia questions plus running around for prizes makes this Supermarket Sweep, generic edition. C
What works for me:
- Watching people and prizes getting smashed in doors
- Massive multiple-choice questions
What could be better:
- A quicker game?
- A less-generic set