I don’t know how I got to this, but I’ve been borderline obsessed with the Russian version of Wheel of Fortune, which is called Pole Chudes. I do not speak Russian, and can’t solve Cyrillic letter puzzles, but the fascinating thing about the show is how little it has to do with the actual word game. Also, this show is Russian As Fuck, which I greatly enjoy.
I really like watching foreign TV I can’t understand, and find things like the tone of the announcers and commercials to be unintentionally hilarious. When I was in college, my pal Simms was friends with these guys who were maybe music majors or in a band. Their house was cool as hell, because the basement was covered in egg carton crates and soundproofing blankets, and they had a bad drum set and a bunch of shitty instruments, like old Teisco guitars and band instruments and toy synthesizers, and we’d go over there and beat the hell out of everything in a total noise symphony. Anyway, one of the guys worked at Sahara Mart and had a copy of the Bollywood movie Raja Babu, the VHS tape complete with TV commercial breaks, and I got a dub of it. The spectacle of a Bollywood musical and all the dance numbers is one thing, but I also thoroughly enjoyed the commercials for various pre-made curries, rices, and banking centers. And falling down a YouTube k-hole looking for Russian game shows brings on a similar experience.
A few brief thoughts and observations on the show:
- “Pole Chudes” means “The Field of Wonder.” It is a reference to the Aleksei Tolstoy book “The Golden Key,” which is based on The Adventures of Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi. Tolstoy’s version of the book is a sort of fork of the original Collodi book in the same sense as Disney’s sanitized derivations of other fairy tales, with many of the gruesome bits like the burning of feet and sharks swallowing people and whatnot. Also Pinocchio’s nose doesn’t grow when he lies. The game show has nothing to do with any of this.
- The show is an official Merv Griffin-created version of the US franchise. There are about 60 international versions of Wheel, and many of them are bizarre in some way, like a Polish version named Koło Fortuny, which always offered a free dishwasher for the toss-up puzzle.
- Pole Chudes has a few rule changes, such as a prize symbol, which lets a player choose 2000 points, or a secret prize as a buy-out, which is sometimes a vegetable.
- Unlike the rapid-fire gamified puzzle version shown in the US, the game itself is secondary. Most of the show has to do with the host interviewing and interacting with the guests. If you edited out all game elements from the US version of Wheel, you’d have about three minutes of footage per episode. With Pole Chudes, you’d probably have a solid 50 minutes that would resemble an American variety show from the seventies.
- The host, Leonid Yakubovich, is a white-haired, big-mustached guy who looks like he’d be running a Russian deli in the East Village of New York. He is absolutely normal, and worked as a heating technician at the ZiL auto plant before getting into show business. He looks like the great-uncle or grandfather every Russian would have.
- Half the time, the wheel has tons of food and farm grains and baskets of bread, like it’s a restaurant table.
- I don’t know the process for getting guests, but they are incredibly random and look like they were bussed in from outer Siberia for the greatest moment of their lives. It’s a strange mix of old babushkas, village idiots, and guys with 80s-nerd glasses and the facial hair of a town rapist. They also seem to have a lot of children on the show with parents, in the ever-painful “host asks the cute kid questions and gets baby-talk dumb answers so the old grandmothers can laugh.”
- Each guest brings the host a gift from their town, usually something culturally significant. So a good portion of the show is always the host and contestants eating jars of pickled wolf ears in a borscht sauce from Vladivostok, and chugging down fine vodka from ornate bottles that look like they’re out of the 19th century.
- There is actually a museum by the studio filled with gifts brought to the show.
- The show inexplicably breaks into musical numbers or displays of children in historical uniforms dancing to folk tunes, like some kind of Soviet propaganda film broadcast on the government TVs that only got one channel.
I can’t explain it any more except to say it is Russian As Fuck. There are a lot of full episodes on YouTube, but for a good overview, go straight to the 1TV web site and watch this minute-long teaser: http://www.1tv.ru/sprojects/si=5810