Lisa Rose, Lisa Rose/©2012 GSN
Confetti is falling as Christina Levasheff of Orange County, Calif., stands on a stage between her husband Drake and their friend Dean Bobar. The team of three, called Judson’s Legacy, has just won the championship round of "The American Bible Challenge" game show and claimed $100,000 for the charity of their choice. As Jeff Foxworthy, the show’s host, walks over to congratulate the team, Levasheff closes her eyes, trying to comprehend the moment.
“How did we get here?” she remembers thinking to herself.
The episode, which aired Oct. 18 on GSN (formerly the Game Show Network), culminated a record-breaking debut season for the show, which is an amalgam pop culture, Bible literacy and charitable giving. More than two million viewers tuned in for the premiere alone.
To answer Levasheff’s question, at least in part, Judson’s Legacy won the show by beating out 17 other teams in a bracket-style competition spanning nine episodes, each featuring several rounds of creatively posed trivia questions. One round, called CSI: Holy Land, asks participants questions about a crime committed in the Bible. Another, titled Faithbook, shows posts from a Bible character’s “Faithbook” page before asking participants to name the character’s identity. In last round, The Final Revelation, each team is given a copy of the Bible and 10 minutes to study a given topic before answering as many questions as they can in 60 seconds.
In its first season, the show gave away more than $200,000 to 18 charities. It also helped to revive biblical literacy in a nation that’s saturated with Bibles, yet famously ignorant of the Good Book. Last year, the Gideons alone gave away an average of two new Bibles per second. Still, only half of all U.S. Christians can name the Four Gospels. As the joke goes, “To most Christians, the Bible is like a software license. Nobody actually reads it, they just scroll to the bottom and click, ‘I agree.’”
Gaming the Bible
"The American Bible Challenge" played particularly well among the Dallas, Memphis and St. Louis markets and among women aged 25 to 54. The show has also spawned The American Bible Challenge Game, which is the top-ranking Bible trivia game for digital and social platforms with more than five million gameplays and 400,000 users.
All of this has GSN considering additional religious-based programming. According to David Schiff, a senior vice president for GSN, such content is in development, though nothing has been commissioned yet.
“This is an example where there was a huge swath of the country that wasn’t being catered to by mainstream entertainment,” he said. “We’re really excited that we tapped into this and activated a huge portion of the faith-based community. I hope it’s a lesson to other entertainment networks that there’s an audience out there.”
Meanwhile, preparations for the second season of "The American Bible Challenge" roll forward. Expect the show’s tag line to stay the same: "If you don’t know the Bible you don’t have a prayer." Also look for the gospel choir to return along with plenty of “amens." Beyond that, producers plan to shake things up by involving religious celebrities (a la Tim Tebow or Miranda Lambert) and by finding participants who, while passionate about the Bible, don’t necessarily look like your average Bible-study member. The sole requirement to be considered for the show is the ability to pass a Bible knowledge test.
Capturing the imagination
Some may balk at the marriage of pop culture and religion, but professor Stephen Prothero of Boston University noted that the two have long gone hand in hand. “Before you teach people you’ve got to first capture their imagination. Religion and entertainment have always been dancing together throughout American history. I think it’s effective.”
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