Hundreds of millions of people around the world have spent their lives pouring over the good word of the Bible, so it’s not a surprise that a TV show testing contestant’s knowledge of the Scripture would be a hit. But few people could have predicted that a game show called The American Bible Challenge would be a hit on a secular cable network.
Yet that is just what happened when the Sony-owned cable network GSN premiered the series in August, 2012. The premiere episode garnered ratings of more than 1.7 million and the viewership for the season topped 13 million. It was a record-breaking audience for a show that is centered entirely around testing just how much people know about the people, places and teachings of the Bible.
And I have filled him with the spirit of God, in wisdom, and in understanding, and in knowledge, and in all manner of workmanship. —Exodus 31:3, KJV
Hosted by comedian Jeff Foxworthy, “Challenge” looks very much like any other game show. There is a live audience, buzzers and lights and the recently completed second season even included a live band led by famed Gospel singer Kirk Franklin. But everything else about the show is a pleasant surprise.
Each episode includes three teams of three people who are competing for the chance to win $20,000 for the charity of their choice. The winner of each episode competes at the end of the season to win $100,000 and bragging rights as the team who best knows the Bible. One of the entertaining things about the show is the diversity of the contestants.
The teams have ranged from three nuns to a trio of bikers who mentor kids on the weekend. The teams reflect the wide range of people you would find in any church and it’s funny to see how your prejudices about people play out throughout the episode. Watching a team of construction workers reveal their knowledge of the Scripture is entertaining. But watching them use their knowledge to outplay a trio of divinity students is hilarious.
The first round of questions are multiple-choice and pretty straight-forward. But the following rounds are more inventive and a lot more entertaining to watch. Round two’s questions involve trying to predict the audience response to questions such as, “Would you rather fast for 40 days or eat manna for 40 years?” Round three questions are physical challenges, such as using a spoon to catapult a fork into the glass containing the right answer.
In round four, teams are asked to choose their strongest player, who then competes against the other team’s strongest player in a series of biblical questions. The entire team plays in round five, in which a team is given a question with six answers and they have to choose the three correct ones.
The two teams with the highest score then move to the final round, nicknamed the “Final Revelation.” In that round teams are given a category for the questions and have ten minutes to study a Bible backstage in preparation for the round. One team is then brought out with the other team left secluded offstage. They have the chance to answer as many questions correctly as possible in sixty seconds. Each team is given the same set of questions, so it comes down to the level of biblical knowledge of each team. The winning team receives $10,000 for their charity and the chance to compete for $100,000 at the end of the season. The runner-up team wins $5,000 for their charity.
The American Bible Challenge is everything a good game show should be. It’s entertaining, fast-paced and the format allows the audience to play along with the teams and test their knowledge of the Bible. But the show is also proof that you can have a good-natured, family friendly show that doesn’t compromise on production values.
Despite the fact that there are a couple of dozen faith-based TV channels, there are few shows that can hold up to the quality of shows that are routinely cranked out by the traditional Hollywood networks. “Challenge” shows that a show can be centered on faith while not compromising on the presentation.
Hopefully the success of the show will inspire some of the faith-based networks to try their hand at creating more mainstream entertainment.