Facts, Secrets, and Truths From the Set of Family Feud

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When host Richard Dawson first walked out on stage to introduce Family Feud in 1976, he probably had no idea the game show would still be running nearly 45 years later. During that time, over 2,000 episodes have been filmed, and thousands of contestants have competed for their share of money and fame.

From the perspective of an engaged audience member, Family Feud looks like an expertly run bit of family entertainment. From the perspective of an insider who works behind-the-scenes, however, the show is riddled with stresses, controversies, and hidden facts. Below are 40 of our favorite ones.

1. Only Proven Families Can Get On Family Feud

Although some might think you can waltz up to the studio with a group and friends, claim that you are a family, and get a chance to win a few bucks, that’s far from the case.

The show’s producers have been around long enough to know that plenty of people are willing and able to fake being a family for a bit of fame and fortune. To avoid that, they have instituted strict rules that require contestants to provide proof that they’re family.

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2. Family Feud Was Based On Match Game

Richard Dawson, the original host of Family Feud, was also a regular contestant on the TV show Match Game. In fact, he was more than just a regular contestant, he was a fan favorite rooted for by audiences across the country.

That’s not the only thing the two TV shows had in common. Family Feud took most of its inspiration from the final round of Match Game – the round where contestants filled in blanks to see if they had a matching answer.

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3. Richard Dawson Meets His Favorite Contestant

In May of 1981, the Johnson family went on Family Feud to try their luck. When walking around to chat with them, host Richard Dawson was visibly lovestruck by one of the Johnsons in particular – the 27-year-old Gretchen.

During the show, Richard and Gretchen could barely contain their flirtations. It was obvious to family members, staff, and crew that some serious chemistry was going on. However, before the flirtations could grow into anything else, the show ended and the contestants had to leave.

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4. Richard and Gretchen Go On A Date

There was so much chemistry between Richard and Gretchen that he asked for her number after the show. She obliged, wrote it down, and the next day Richard called her up. No answer. He tried again. No answer.

He assumed she gave him the wrong number to deflect attention. In reality, she was getting some teeth removed. When she did pick up, Richard invited her to Los Angeles. They had dinner (Beef Wellington) and a few years later, they got married.

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5. Family Feud Films Multiple Episodes A Day

Although fans at home might assume that it takes one day to do one episode of Family Feud, that’s untrue. Even though the sets are elaborate, the host changes clothes, and the editing requires time, the crew still manages to get through more than one episode a day.

A slow day typically nets four episodes, and a fast day can net up to six episodes! How much work they get done depends on the contestants and how many jokes Steve Harvey tells.

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6. Contestants Are Fed Well On Family Feud

Although being an audience member or at-home viewer of Family Feud is pretty fantastic, being on the show is even better! The producers and crew members provide contestants with all the fuel they need to stick in there for a few hours. 

It starts before the taping with a big continental breakfast to make sure everyone’s well fed. After that, around lunchtime, food from Subway is brought in to make sure that contestants are able to pull through the grueling schedule without fainting or being hungry. 

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7. The Family Feud Surveys Are Done Anonymously

One of the most beloved and famous parts of Family Feud is the “survey says” section. Where do those surveys come from? The Wall Street Journal had the same question, so they decided to investigate it a bit. 

It turns out that no one knows they’re being surveyed for Family Feud. Rather, a polling company named Applied Research-West calls up random people and asks them to answer 30 to 40 questions. Their answers are used on Family Feud, but the people are never told that. 

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8. The Family Feud Money Takes Months To Arrive

Although winning money on Family Feud would be great, most likely it’s not going to allow you to retire forever. Sure, it’ll cover some bills, but it might take a while to actually get to your bank account. 

We know this because Cole Simmons, a one-time contestant, revealed to the press that it took nearly 3 months for his money to arrive. Not only that, the money was automatically split up among family members and was subject to income tax. 

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9. If You Win $100,000, You Get Banned For 10 Years

In general, the amount of money that families can win on Family Feud depends on how well they do. For example, contestants who excel at the Fast Money round can make up to $20,000. If families continue to do that for five consecutive games, they can make up to $100,000!

However, producers have laid down some rules to make sure that doesn’t happen too often. If a family ends up winning $100,000, they can’t return to Family Feud for at least 10 years. 

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10. The Losing Contestants Can Still Win Money

Most Family Feud games involve a winning team and a losing team. However, just because a team lost doesn’t mean they go away empty-handed. On top of the 15 minutes of fame and game show fun, they also get cash bonuses during the show. 

They aren’t huge cash bonuses, but it’s better than nothing. For example, for every point that the team earned during the show, they get $5. Unfortunately, those earnings are subject to the same 90-day waiting period. 

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11. Richard Dawson’s Famous Kisses

Nearly every game show has a gimmick that makes it stand out from the crowd. The successful game show Jeopardy had Alex Trebek’s mustache, The Price is Right had a thin mic, and Family Feud had Richard Dawson’s kisses.

Dawson, the original host, didn’t plan on putting that signature move in. However, in 1976, a nervous woman was on the show and didn’t want to let her family down. To calm her, Dawson kissed her on the cheek – just like his mother did to him. 

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12. The Kisses Grew In Popularity

That instinctual kiss ended up having a beneficial effect because the woman’s family ended up winning that episode of Family Feud. That omen was all it took for the host to start giving little pecks to each female contestant. 

It soon became Richard Dawson’s signature move, and each female contestant would ready themselves before Dawson came over. Some even tried to plant one on his lips. Although the host and contestants seemed fine with it, the crew found it creepy. 

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13. The Complaints Start Piling Up

Nowadays, a TV host regularly kissing contestants to wish them luck would be a clear violation of personal privacy. Back in the mid-1970s and early 1980s, however, standards were different. That being said, a few executives were getting uncomfortable with the tradition. 

Quite a few people wrote in to complain about Dawson’s kissing, so he decided to put it to an audience vote. In the end, a few hundred wanted a halt to the kissing, but a few thousand wanted it to continue. 

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14. When Dawson Returned In The 90s, Kissing Was Gone

Although Dawson’s kisses were a big gimmick and tradition on Family Feud in the early days, they didn’t last forever. The show was canceled in 1985, came back in 1988, and saw the return of Dawson in 1994.

By that time, however, he had given up on the kisses. Although those who voted against it in the 80s were glad, others wanted to know why. It turns out Dawson made a promise to his daughter not to pass smooches with anyone but his wife. 

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15. Dawson’s Jokes Fell Flat On A Sponsor

The Watergate scandal eventually caused Richard Nixon to resign from being President of the United States in 1974. Although that may seem unrelated to Family Feud, there is a deep connection.

Richard Dawson, the host at the time, loved to make jokes while taping the show, and one of his favorite things to joke about was Richard Nixon. One of the show’s sponsors was unimpressed and threatened to leave. When the producer asked Dawson to tone it down, it didn’t end well. 

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16. Dawson Refuses To Edit Out The Jokes

Richard Dawson was quite the iconic and bombastic host. Usually, the host is at the mercy of the show’s sponsors because they pay most of the bills, but Dawson was having none of it.

Instead, Dawson went on live television, called out the sponsor, and said they were free to go if they liked. Later on, when ABC – the company that owned Family Feud – tried to edit out the comments, Dawson said he’d quit if they did. The comments were left unedited. 

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17. Wild Auditions

Not only is playing Family Feud competitive, but so is the process of getting on the show in the first place. There is a limited amount of spots available compared to how many people want to play, so it’s important to really stand out. 

Over the years, that motivation has led to some pretty wild auditions. Families are eager to get air time and win some money, so they tend to be over-the-top during the auditions. Although helpful, it’s also important to be yourself. 

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18. Dawson (Tries To) Play Himself In The Running Man

When host Richard Dawson appeared in the 1987 movie The Running Man, he appeared as a game show host (albeit, not the Family Feud game show host). Dawson was hired so he could play himself – but that didn’t work out too well. 

Richard tried to “act like a game show host” by having the film extras in the fake audience come up to the stage. However, scriptwriters and the film crew thought it was too much so they skipped over it. 

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19. Louie Anderson’s Legacy

Over the long history of Family Feud, there has been a variety of hosts. Some, like the original host Richard Dawson, have left an indelible mark because of their personality. Others, like Louie Anderson, have left a mark for other reasons.

Anderson’s mark on the show was financial. Over the course of his four years as host, he persuaded the producers to up the ante on the prize money. Eventually, they agreed – it went from $10,000 to $20,000. Great job Louie!

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20. Dawson Was A Hot Head On Set

Richard Dawson went from being a regular on Match Game to being host of Family Feud – one of the most popular game shows in television history. Over time, it might have gone to his head a bit and caused him to be quick to anger. 

To give him the benefit of the doubt, being a popular TV host is stressful. That being said, it still seems like Dawson was a bit of a hothead when it came to minor disruptions on set. 

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21. Dawson’s Long Stories Caused Trouble For The Editors

Although game shows are on a pretty tight schedule, there’s always a bit of leeway for hosts to joke with the contestants and audience members. Dawson, however, seemed to take that privilege a bit too far. 

Sometimes he would just go off on long stories or convoluted jokes that seemed to serve no purpose other than wasting time. All of this caused a lot of extra work for the editors, who had to snip it down to size to fit the scheduling slot. 

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22. After Dawson Won An Emmy, He Felt Invincible

When people imagine what it would be like to be famous, they often forget about the dangers. One of the chief dangers is that of having an inflated sense of self. Some people who hit the big time think that they can do no wrong. 

This happened to Richard Dawson after winning a Best Daytime Game Show Host Emmy in 1978. Multiple crew members and co-workers said he was insufferable after that. He even challenged the producer’s decisions because he felt all-powerful. 

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23. Richard Dawson Had a Complicated Relationship with One of the Producers

Although the outward appearance of Family Feud is that of a smoothly running show, the behind-the-scenes reality was a little rougher. With tough shooting schedules and big egos, not everyone gets along all the time. 

This was the case with the producer Howard Felsher and Richard Dawson. Felsher wasn’t happy with Richard’s behavior, and Richard wasn’t happy with having someone dislike his behavior – so he got Felsher banned from the set. Luckily, the boss Mark Goodson simply gave Felsher an off-set executive producer position. 

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24. A New Host For The New Show

Over the course of its history, Family Feud has been canceled and revived more than once. The first revival, however, came in the late 80s to early 90s. The show’s producers knew that Dawson would be problematic, so they scouted around for another host.

One of those was famed NFL quarterback Joe Namath. However, he got cold feet right before signing the contract. After that, the hosting job went to stand-up comedian Ray Combs who carried it for a total of six years.

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25. Dolly Parton Was Considered

After a while, the production team decided that Roy Combs wasn’t the best fit. They decided that creating a celebrity cast would help to attract more viewers, so they decided to give the country music star Dolly Parton a call. 

Although their hopes were high, Dolly Parton declined the offer almost immediately, so we have no idea what the show could have been like. After that offer fell through, the producers decided to hire comedian Louie Anderson to host the new show. 

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26. Richard Dawson Lost Weight To Host Again

After the initial run of Family Feud was canceled, Richard Dawson lived a relatively normal life. However, once he found out the show was getting picked up again, he had a desire to host once more. The new production company had the complete opposite desire – they didn’t want anything to do with him.

Dawson was persistent though, and eventually, he and the producers struck up a deal. Once he lost 50 pounds, he’d get to host the show once again. 

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27. Dawson’s Short Reboot

Although Dawson dropped the 50 pounds and regained his job as the host on a newly revived Family Feud, that didn’t mean viewers flocked to watch. Unfortunately, during the years that Ray Combs hosted, the ratings dropped and never seemed to come back up. 

The producer who Dawson clashed with many years before agreed to help Richard get comfortable again as host. At first, this worked out well and Family Feud was picked up by 100 stations. After a year, though, Richard Dawson called it quits.

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28. Ray Combs Gets Fired And Stops Caring

From 1988 to 1994, the comedian Ray Combs hosted Family Feud. During his tenure, the show’s ratings dropped pretty dramatically – audiences just couldn’t get behind him. This caused tension with the producers and a decision was made to fire Combs.

In a stroke of misjudgment, they told Combs before the season was over. This meant that Combs had very little desire to play a happy-go-lucky host, and some of his later episodes turned out nasty and mean as he made fun of the contestants. 

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29. Ray Combs’s Awkward Final Episode

Although he knew that his contract wasn’t getting renewed at the end of the season, Ray Combs decided to finish up the season he was currently hosting. However, as alluded to above, he stopped caring. In the final episode, there was one contestant who didn’t earn a single point. 

Ray tore into him by saying “I thought I was a loser until you walked up here.” After the show ended, Ray simply walked off-stage without saying goodbye to either the audience members or the contestants. 

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30. Losing Family Feud Ruined Ray Combs

After leaving Family Feud, Roy Combs’s life took a turn for the worse. Although he got another job hosting a show called The Love Psychic, it was short-lived. His dreams of success were dashed, and he was heartbroken.

Both his professional life and personal life were going downhill. He invested in a few comedy clubs, but they failed. Around that time, his wife filed for divorce. Both of these caused a decline in his mental health, so he was checked into a facility.

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31. Ray Combs Ended His Life At 40

The few days before Ray’s death were very chaotic. He was hospitalized for a suicide attempt and, shortly thereafter, he called his wife and threaten to ruin her house – which he did. When the police came and found Ray, he was banging his head on a wall and seemed very unstable.

They brought him to a medical facility where he was put under close watch. However, the next day in the early morning, he committed suicide. Staff tried to revive him, but it was too late.

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32. Ray Combs Amassed A Lot Of Debt

Although Ray Combs’s wife knew that his life wasn’t going well after losing Family Feud, she was unaware of just how bad it was. It turns out that Ray was in substantial debt. 

Although he had been earning around $1 million a year at the height of his fame, he squandered it after losing his fame. The failed comedy club ventures alone resulted in over $700,000 in debt. His wife eventually sold off treasured assets to pay it off. 

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33. A Long-Term Dip In Ratings For Family Feud

Family Feud was a big hit when it first came out (which is why Dawson won an Emmy), but over the years it had trouble maintaining high viewership. Other game shows like Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune were doing far better. 

 

 

That began to change, however, in 2010 when the show’s producers decided to hire Steve Harvey as the host. The viewership quickly grew until it reached a sort of apex in October 2016 when it was voted the most-watched show for six months. 

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34. Steve Harvey’s Strict Rules For Co-Workers

As we’ve seen from the posts above, how things look on the outside are far different from how things are on the inside when it comes to Family Feud. For example, host Steve Harvey has brought the show newfound success, but at the cost of being a very strict host.

He sent out messages and emails to crew members with a dozen or so rules that he’d like them to follow – mostly it’s about not disturbing him in his dressing room. 

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35. Steve Harvey Has Courted Some Controversy

Over the years, the outspoken host Steve Harvey has made statements and jokes that people find controversial and offensive. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Harvey used to tell jokes about women not wanting to date Asian men. He has also said offensive things towards women and members of the LGBTQ community.

Some comments have flown under the radar, but some have courted controversy – not enough to cause professional trouble, though. These jokes mixed with his strict rules show that Steve’s not always a happy-go-lucky guy.

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36. Outrageous Questions Bring In Viewership

Family Feud has relied on a variety of methods for gaining viewership over the years. One of the main ones is hiring a captivating host that people want to watch – Richard Dawson was the first, and Steve Harvey is the latest. 

A more recent one is to add in some questions deliberately designed to make people laugh or, in certain cases, to feel uncomfortable. This tactic has boosted ratings but called into question how far this family-friendly show is willing to go. 

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37. Steve Harvey Isn’t Happy With All The Questions

As host of Family Feud, Steve Harvey is game for most of what goes on. However, every once in a while, a question nudges him the wrong way – usually one of the absurd or hilarious ones that producers put in there to provoke a reaction. 

On one show, the sentence was “All men are dogs that need to be -.” Harvey didn’t like the question, so after the contestant correctly answered “neutered”, Harvey chimed in by saying “All men are dogs. That’s not true.”

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38. Steve Harvey Has Heard Some Odd Answers

Over the course of 10 or so years, host Steve Harvey has heard a lot of odd answers from contestants on Family Feud. Fans are always interested in learning what weird ones stick in his brain. 

Luckily, an interview of Late Night With Seth Myers shed light on that a bit. Harvey said a contestant answered “grandma in a birthday suit” when asked about the last thing a robber might expect. When asked about a word beginning with pork, one contestant answered “pork-cupine.”

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39. Richard Dawson’s Way Of Dealing With Weird Answers

Each host of Family Feud has dealt with outrageous (or at least hard to understand) answers in their own unique ways. Modern-day fans of the show might be familiar with the “Steve Harvey Pause” – that moment of silence he gives when trying to figure out if a contestant is serious or not. 

Richard Dawson had another way of dealing with outrageous answers. He would either say “good reply” with a sarcastic grin or pretend that a wild answer made perfect sense. 

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40. After Family Feud, Richard Dawson Struggled Professionally

Family Feud brought an enormous amount of fortune and fame to Richard Dawson’s life. For quite a while, he was the talk of the town as the Emmy-award-winning host of one of the most popular game shows on TV.

When the show stopped, however, things changed. Due to his difficult-to-work-with reputation, very few producers were eager to hire him once Family Feud ended. He still managed to live a decent personal life, but his professional career was pretty much over. 

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