Rarely does an episode of a game show reach cult or memorable status. Ken Jennings Jeopardy! streak. The guy that figured out the pattern on Press Your Luck. Usually game shows are made to be consumed quickly and forgotten even quicker. The McDonald’s hamburger of television. Yet here we are, twenty years later, to discuss an infamous episode of Hollywood Squares. An iconic episode known as, “you fool!”
For those of you unaware of the show, Hollywood Squares is a glorified game of tic-tac-toe. The show has come and gone over the years but the story remains the same. A host introduces two contestants; one representing X and one representing O. To the side is a three-story grid of nine spaces, each with a celebrity of varying degrees inside. The contestants’ alternate turns. On their turn they will select a square by calling on the celebrity. The host will ask that celebrity a trivia question. The celeb gives an answer and the contestant must decide if they agree or disagree with the answer. If the player believes their famous teammate is correct and they are (or they believe the celeb is incorrect and they are) the player gets their respective letter. The game continues until there are three X’s or O’s, or in the event of a tie until one player gains the majority – 5 squares. This is the situation for the infamous episode.
Whoopi Goldberg is in the center square. Jason Alexander is there. Penn and Teller. Bruce Vilanch. Few other people to fill out the panel. Then there’s Gilbert Gottfried in the top right corner. Square number three. A corner. A good place to go for your point. Whether the players had no strategy, or whether they had something against Gilbert is unknown. Maybe they play center out or bottom-up. Maybe it’s his voice. The answer is lost to history. What is not lost though, is this complete episode on YouTube.
The board is filling up and it’s becoming clear there will not be a direct winner. This is also the first game. These games are usually a bit more rapid-fire and 3-5 rounds fit into a standard 30-minute episode. Not this night. The players just aren’t that good. The gameplay is poor. The answers are weak. The always outspoken Penn and Teller (well, mostly Penn) are the first to call this out. They are called on, the player gets the answer wrong and Penn yells out, “you fool!” Gilbert is sitting there. Alone, bored, top of the board but at the bottom of popularity. An aura, a feeling, comes from Hollywood and through twenty years of time and three thousand miles of space. The moment when Gilbert decides, “screw it”.
Gilbert Gottfried is now the sole remaining square. The one that no one called on now becomes the only celebrity that anyone can call on. He is amused by this power, like a king of a forgotten land. ‘Would you believe winter is coming?’
He also takes this moment to have a bit of fun. Revenge is too strong a word, but both players experience a comeuppance. Gilbert takes all of his stage experience and toys with the players. Giving just enough seriousness to wrong answers and a bit of levity to correct ones. A trick that causes both players to constantly guess wrong, which keeps the game going. Gottfried picks up on Penn’s joke from earlier and bellows “you fool!” with each incorrect answer. The wrong answers don’t stop, and thus his ridicule shows no end. It is a little silly, then mean spirited, then guffaw knee-slapping punching the person next to you on the couch hysterical.
It’s odd that out of all the Gilbert has done over his career this absurd game show moment is in the top three or five (just behind voicing a parrot). However, anything great will always remain in the greater community consciousness and there may be no greater game show performance than that of the fool.