Treasure Hunt (US game show)

Treasure Hunt (US game show)

"Treasure Hunt" (or "The New Treasure Hunt") was a United States television game show that ran in the 1950s, 1970s and 1980s. The show featured contestants selecting a treasure chest or box with surprises inside, in the hope of winning large prizes or a cash jackpot.

1950s version ("Treasure Hunt")

The earliest version of the show first appeared in the U.S. from 1956 to 1959, first on ABC, then later on NBC. The original show was created, hosted and produced by comedian (and occasional game show panelist on other shows) Jan Murray. Two contestants played a quiz in which the challenger picked one of five categories (shown on a large anchor) on which Murray would quiz the contestants. Each contestant was asked five questions of the chosen category for $10 apiece. The player who won the most money went on the treasure hunt. In the event of a tie, both contestants went on the treasure hunt.

In the treasure hunt, the champion picked one of thirty treasure chests, each filled either with a series of prize packages or a large cash jackpot that started at $1,000 and went up $100 every time it was not won. There were also some booby prizes, such as a head of cabbage or a pound of onions. Before Jan would open the chest, the contestant would pick an envelope from a wheel-shaped board containing sealed cash amounts from $100 up. They were then given the choice of either taking the money or the contents of the treasure chest. No matter what the outcome, the winner got to play another game.

At the end of the show, Jan would select someone from the audience to draw a postcard from a home viewer that had a number from one to thirty written on it. If the cash jackpot was in the chest marked with the same number, the home viewer won the jackpot. If not, they were given a consolation prize. Also, the person who picked the postcard received a prize. Instead of looking in the treasure chest the viewer selected, Murray would open a safe, protected by a security guard, containing a folded piece of paper with the preselected number of the chest that actually held the cash prize.

The set of the 1950s version of Treasure Hunt had a pirate-influenced motif with treasure chests instead of big cardboard boxes used in the 1970s version, an anchor with categories on it, and, when the contestant picked a chest in the bonus round, the "Pirate Girl" (Marian Stafford), who acted as Murray's assistant, would put the box on a movable table that resembled a pirate ship.

1970s version ("The New Treasure Hunt")

Producer Chuck Barris bought the U.S. "Treasure Hunt" format in the 1970s and revived the game in weekly syndication in 1973. This version, called "The New Treasure Hunt," involved women (the producers did not allow male contestants; see below for reason; men were allowed to sit in the audience for support) competing to select one of 30 boxes (also known as "Surprise Packages"), with a top prize of $25,000 hidden in one of them.

Geoff Edwards hosted the 1970s and 1980s versions. Johnny Jacobs was the announcer for most of the 1970s and 1980s versions until his death in 1982; Tony McClay, who had also worked on the 1970s run, replaced him for the remainder of the final season. Models on the 1970s version included Siv Aberg (who would resurface after the 1970s version's finale on Barris's "The Gong Show"), Naome DeVargas, Jane Nelson and actress Pamela Hensley. For a number of reasons, the studio maintained extremely tight security, and thus did not allow cue cards for host Edwards to use. In addition, Edwards, who had prior acting experience, had to memorize every skit due to the lack of cue cards.

The opening theme, closing theme, and the klunk cue were composed by Chuck Barris himself (Barris is an accomplished songwriter). However, the melodic closing theme of the 1970s "Treasure Hunt," also occasionally used as a winners' cue, is formally credited to Elmer Bernstein, because of its resemblance to an instrumental passage Bernstein composed for "True Grit"Fact|date=February 2007. Some of Barris's other music used on previous game shows, such as the unsold pilot for "Cop-Out", was recycled in order to save money; this was a common practice among packagers in the 1970s.


Contestant selection

Before taping began, production staff gave 10 female members of the studio audience small gift boxes. Three of these boxes contained cards with the numbers 1, 2, and 3 inside them. As host Edwards instructed them to open their boxes, the three contestants with numbers came down to the table at the center of the stage. These three women then picked one of three jack in the boxes, the contestant with the number 1 getting first choice, and so on. The one who chose the pop-up surprise (e.g., flowers, dolls) earned the right to go on the Treasure Hunt. Unlike the original 1950s version, the show did not use a question-and-answer method of determining contestants; much like the similar "Let's Make a Deal", "The New Treasure Hunt" did not require special skills or knowledge at all, with contestants relying entirely on luck.

The Treasure Hunt

After being shown two or three of some of the prizes hidden among the 30 packages, the contestant was asked to select one of the boxes, which one of the models would then bring down to the table. Once the box was chosen, and after a commercial break, the contestant had the option of taking a cash payoff (ranging from $500 to $2,000 originally; later in the run, up to $2,500), or keeping the box instead and winning whatever was inside. Possible prizes included a package of several items, vacations, automobiles, checks for anywhere between $5,000 and $14,000, or worthless booby prizes called "klunks" (a word coined by Geoff Edwards himself, similar in meaning to that of "zonks" on "Let's Make a Deal"). One box contained a check for the grand prize of $25,000.


Upon making her selection, the contestant was not shown what she had won immediately; like most of the other Barris-packaged shows, the entire premise of this show was to display (and exploit) the female contestants' emotions. Host Edwards would engage the contestant in a comedic skit, usually using props, to intentionally mislead the contestant as to what she had finally won. Very often, a contestant would be shown a "klunk", only to have this lead to the actual prize, which could be just another "klunk", but was often much bigger.

Producers had to devise nearly 30 skits per episode (66 on the 1980s version). Due to the lack of cue cards, the taping would be stopped after a box was chosen so that Edwards could be briefed on what he was supposed to do. (The delay was edited out of the show.) Aside from his hosting and radio work, Edwards was an actor; thus, producers encouraged him to build the tension as he saw fit, even to the point of sheer unbearability. The only time no skit took place was when the contestant won the grand prize. The common method of the reveal would entail Edwards suggesting to the contestant she should have kept the money in the envelope, before revealing that "all you have ... here ... is TWENTY-FIVE THOUSAND DOLLARS!!!" Hysterics occurred following the revealing of the check; shrill sirens went off, confetti and balloons dropped from the ceiling, and, on a few occasions late in the run, the contestant was swarmed onstage by Barris staff members and humorously given roses.

Two games were played per show, each involving one half of the studio audience (the two halves faced each other, similar to seating at a sporting event, and unlike most conventional television studios). If the contestant found the check during the first half of the show, another was hidden for the second half.

Grand prize reveal

At the end of each episode, if no one won the top prize, Edwards ritually asked a real-life bonded security guard, Emile Autouri, if he hid the check, to which Autouri's response would always be "Yes, I did". Autouri would then hand Edwards a slip of paper, and while Autouri went to retrieve the box which contained the grand prize, Edwards would show the audience the slip of paper with the correct box number. Finally, Autouri would bring the box to Edwards, who would physically reveal, then replace the check within, before leaving the set with the box. In an ongoing gag, occasionally before the reveal, Edwards would attempt to converse with Autouri; however, Autouri always remained completely silent.

1980s version ("Treasure Hunt")

"The New Treasure Hunt" returned in daily syndication in 1981, with Edwards again as host; however, there were some notable differences. First, the title was shortened to the original 1950s name, "Treasure Hunt". There were now 66 surprise packages on stage, and instead of a flat $25,000, a jackpot that started out at $20,000 and increased by $1,000 every day until won, until it reached the maximum of $50,000.

The top prize was won 4 times: $23,000; $20,000; $50,000 and $21,000.

The model on the 1980s version was 27-year-old beauty Jan Speck, who later had acting roles in various movies (many of which were directed by John Badham, whom Speck married shortly after "TH" completed its run). Barris had no direct involvement in the 1981-82 version other than packaging it (he shared executive-producer credit with Budd Granoff this time around); by then, he spent much of the year in France.


Again, two games were played per show, one with each half of the audience. In this version, the female members of the studio audience were given balloons. One of these balloons contained a card with a star on it. On Edwards' cue, the contestants popped the balloons; the player with the star came down to center stage where she then faced the previous game's winner. There were now only two jack-in-the-boxes, with the newcomer receiving the choice between them. As in the 1970s version, the contestant who had the pop-up surprise in her jack-in-the-box went on the Treasure Hunt.

The player selected from one of the 66 boxes, and again was given the opportunity to sell the box back to Edwards for a cash payoff, now worth only between $500 and $1,000. In this version, the prizes were also of much lesser value than the 1970s series; however, winning the right to go on the Treasure Hunt also guaranteed a contestant the opportunity to play the next game for a chance to go on another one. Winning contestants frequently only won one or two appliances, a trip, or a small room package; the cars were scaled back to inexpensive models (especially the Chevrolet Chevette); there were also no longer checks worth less than the grand prize. However, a 52-day cruise valued over $18,000 was offered regularly, and was won at least once. The klunks, of course, remained.

Grand prize reveal

At the end of the show, if the check was not won, Geoff again visited with Emile Autouri to find out where the check was hidden, and again Autouri remained speechless except for saying "Yes, I did". On this version, Edwards would also bring small children up to try to get Emile to crack a smile, but still to no effect. Autouri, however, did play on to Geoff's teasing several times, once pretending to fall asleep while Geoff was talking to him. At the end of one episode in which the top prize was won during the second game, Autouri responded "Yes, I shall" when Geoff asked him to get another check ready for the next show. Finally, near the end of the series, Autouri broke character and asked for a cue card, catching Edwards totally off guard (perhaps an inside reference to the fact that cue cards were still not allowed on the set.)

Episode status

Only one episode from the Jan Murray-hosted run exists, and the Barris/Edwards versions of "Treasure Hunt" do exist, with the 1980s version having aired on GSN almost in its entirety.


An often-talked about incident on "The New Treasure Hunt" concerned a contestant on the 1970s version named Vera Hockenbecker, who upon being told that she had won a reproduction of a 1937 Rolls-Royce Phantom convertible, fainted on stage. This incident was replayed on the CBS news magazine "60 Minutes". Producer Chuck Barris expressed his pride in the occurrence, given the show's premise.

In addition to playing on the presumed emotionalism of female contestants, the decision of Barris to only allow women in the game was reportedly a safety precaution; he was concerned that a male contestant might become angered by the show's antics and physically attack Edwards or other staffers.

During the 1976-77 season, Barris wanted to make "The New Treasure Hunt" even more sadistic, including a skit in which he would instruct Edwards to show the contestant a car, but then tell the woman she only won a small part of the vehicle. Edwards refused and was initially fired, but was brought back soon thereafter; he missed no episodes as a result of his protest.

ee also

*"Deal or No Deal" -- Game show similar in concept to Chuck Barris' "Treasure Hunt"
*"Let's Make a Deal" -- Another game show similar in concept

External links

* [ webpage with a complete episode of the '50s version of "Treasure Hunt"]
* [ Matt Kaiser's "Treasure Hunt" page, focusing on the 80s version]
* [ IMDB entry for "The New Treasure Hunt"]
* [ IMDB entry for the 80s version of "Treasure Hunt"]
* [ Chuck Donegan's page outlining the rules of the show]
* [ "The New Treasure Hunt" at Game Show Utopia]
* [ "Treasure Hunt" at Game Show Utopia]
* [ Vidcaps of (The New)Treasure Hunt]

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