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Brazilian Game Show Wins Huge Audience by Ridiculing Participants

December 23, 1991

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil (AP) _ Television game-show host Silvio Santos flashed a sly grin at the contestant, Christiane Maciel, and held an egg above her head. The studio audience gasped.

″How about it, Christiane?″ Santos coaxed. ″I’ll give you 10,000 cruzeiros ($10) if you let me mash this egg on your head.″

Maciel, 18, an unemployed maid, refused. ″How about 20,000?″ said Santos. ″No? How about 40,000 3/8″ She studied the audience, then nodded, embarrassed.

Down came the egg. The yolk dribbled down her head. The audience went wild.

″Yes, ladies and gentlemen, she’ll do anything for money 3/8″ boomed Santos, as the band played and Maciel was escorted off under a barrage of laughter.

The scene was typical of ″They’ll Do Anything for Money,″ a game show on Brazil’s SBT network, the nation’s second-largest, that has zoomed to the top of viewer ratings polls.

The program, which pays audience members money to be the butt of pranks, has touched off a ratings battle that has all Brazilian networks thinking up new ways to ridicule contestants.

The new crop of shows has also sparked debate over what’s funny and what’s simply cruel.

″Brazilians have a certain sadistic streak,″ said Helio Chiari, the show’s stage director. ″When we see someone fall, we laugh instead of helping. Our show taps into that black humor.″

Some observers say the public’s appetite for cruel humor is growing as Brazil’s economic crisis worsens. Rising crime, high inflation and unemployment have ″killed confidence in the government and society, making people jaded and cynical,″ said sociologist Helio Jaguaribe.

″If the economy keeps getting worse, these types of shows will multiply,″ said Jaguaribe. ″Humor is a mirror of a nation’s heart, and ours is now dark.″

SBT struck pay dirt by accident. In July, Santos, who is also the network’s owner, strained his vocal chords while hosting his ″Silvio Santos Program,″ an 11-hour smorgasbord of game and talent shows.

To fill the hole, Santos broadcast the pre-recorded ″Anything for Money″ show, in which a woman won $500 by putting a toy pistol to her head and shooting herself with black ink.

The program was a hit, winning 24 percent of total viewership on its debut. It soon ran every Sunday and by September had higher ratings than ″Fantastico,″ an evening news program on Globo TV, Brazil’s No. 1 network.

Globo hit back, changing the ″Fantastico″ news format from soft, family- oriented items to sensational reports on black magic, child killings, and drug raids by police.

The network also changed its Sunday afternoon kids’ show ″Fausto’s Olympics″ to add some participant-ridiculing segments. Within two weeks, its Sunday ratings inched up past SBT several points.

SBT counterattacked with ″Hidden Camera,″ a spinoff of the American show ″Candid Camera,″ and ″Get it Right or Get Splattered,″ in which contestants who give the wrong answers to trivia questions get a pie in the face.

Now, other networks have joined in the trend.

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