The cheerful voice of Chris Harrison booms from the TV as a jazzy theme blasts in the background. "From the state that gave us Rollerblades! The Vikings! And a mall with over 500 stores and a seven-acre indoor theme park..."
No, it's not 2018 and he's not introducing future Bachelorette Becca Kufrin. It's 2001, and Harrison is hosting the thrilling game show Mall Masters.
The Bachelorette may be new to Minnesota — the upcoming season marks the first time a Gopher State resident has been picked for the starring role — but longtime host Harrison has a history here.
Before The Bachelor launched in 2002, Harrison hosted a short-lived game show that was filmed at Mall of America. Mall Masters, which ran for just five months in 2001 on the Game Show Network, had contestants vying for $5,000 by answering questions vaguely related to stores at the mall.
Many of the contestants were Minnesotan, and one episode that's emerged on YouTube features Reed Sigmund, who's now a well-known Children's Theatre Company actor; he starred as the Grinch in last year's holiday show. "I love the Muppets," Sigmund told Harrison by way of introduction, "and I used to think about them all day when I had a job cleaning tar off of road cones."
To earn the opportunity to be quizzed about, say, the history of A&W root beer, contestants had to buzz in and try to guess what the majority of 100 shoppers said when polled about a given topic. "Which of the following most likely exists?" one such question asked, with the options being a giant squid, bigfoot, and unicorns. Despite the fact that giant squids actually do exist, 67% of people wandering around the mall guessed unicorns.
Another question asked shoppers who's the sexiest politician's daughter: Eleanor Mondale, Amy Carter, or Chelsea Clinton. Sigmund confidently buzzed in to answer Chelsea Clinton, only to discover that most respondents had picked Amy Carter over Chelsea Clinton, who had just turned 21. (Eleanor Mondale came in second.)
Sigmund hung his head in shame. "Yeah," chided Harrison, "you put that head down, Reed." Sigmund ultimately made it to the bookstore-themed final round, though, winning the grand prize with a question about Shakespeare.
Contestants who correctly guessed the majority answer in each poll question advanced to a trivia round. The awkward format cut to a remote camera where yet another random shopper — one not even standing at the store in question — answered the question. The contestant then had to guess whether the shopper was correct.
"Which of the following is Irish in origin, indeed?" asked one question pegged to the store Irish Indeed. A contestant named Luke, a proud Notre Dame fan, guessed golf since, "I think St. Andrews is the first golf course, and it's in Ireland." Sorry, Luke: It's in Scotland.
The correct answer was Claddagh rings, prompting Luke to ask what a Claddagh ring was. "Little ring," mused the boyish-looking Harrison, who turned 30 during the show's run. "Four-leaf clover or something...you're not gonna wear one!"
The show was filmed at the Camp Snoopy Theater, with establishing shots featuring kids at the Peanut Gallery, shoppers browsing the directory, and food court diners. Video of the Rotunda played behind the concluding round, in which contestants had to answer a series of questions about a particular store to win that five grand.
Kat, a giggly contestant who prevailed over Luke and another contender to make it to the final round of her show, nailed several questions loosely tied to the bath and beauty store Basin ("On which planet is the Hellas Basin?") to score the big prize. In delight, she picked Harrison up and swung him around.
"She won five thousand dollars," proclaimed Harrison, "and I got a free ride!"
He'd catch a ride out of Minnesota before long, little knowing that 17 years later, he'd have a golden opportunity to return. The Bachelorette format doesn't necessarily require the host to visit the star's home state — there probably won't be any rose ceremonies here — but how could Harrison miss the chance to come back to the state that helped show he had what it took to shine on national TV in an ultra-glamorous setting?
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