"See these people," said Bob Eubanks, pointing to four suburban Maryland couples sitting nervously under the hot lights. "For the next 30 minutes, they're going to make total idiots of themselves."
That is the name of the "The Newlywed Game," the titillating marital IQ test that has been televised for the last 14 years, pitting husband against wife in the never-ending battle of who can out-embarrass whom in front of millions of strangers.
Eubanks, the 42-year-old host who wore a Pierre Cardin suit and a Hollywood tan, brought his show to Columbia Mall yesterday, the fifth and last stop on a weeks-long promotional tour.
There, before a crowd of about 300 squealing shoppers, children in strollers and men in jogging suits, the four couples competed for the chance to make the finals at the Resorts International Casino in Atlantic City. The grand prize is a one-week trip to the Bahamas.
With that in mind, Donna Savage, a frosted-blonde executive secretary who was voted the sexiest wife by the rest of the husbands, revealed that she has never touched her navel. She won't let her husband touch it either. The answer was in response to Eubank's question, "My wife has the ugliest (blank) you've ever seen."
The concensus among the other husbands was: toes.
The object of "The Newlywed Game," which, according to Eubanks, has "no redeeming social value," is to see how spouses will predict each other's answers to certain questions. The more provocative the question, the more embarrassing the answer.
"The first time you and your husband made whoopee," Eubanks asked the wives, "did he or did he not have to talk you into it?"
The women blushed. Three of them answered no. Darlene Lipshultz, a bookkeeper from Columbia, said yes. Her husband predicted she would say no. "Honey," he whispered over the microphone. "Don't you remember . . . ?" Eubanks shouted. "Her mother must be in the audience!"
The crowd loved it.
The last question ended with a show and tell. The wives were asked which of the four husbands had the sexiest legs.
The men formed a chorus line, turned up their trousers and rolled down their stretch socks.
Eubanks walked to onstage and fondled the exposed calf muscles of contestant John Ake, who works for C&P Telephone Co. "You look like a Purina ad," the show's host announced. His wife Linda, a schoolbus driver, looked shocked.
When the points were added up, couple No. 2, Diane and Mike Brown, won. "I really did it as a joke," said the diminutive Diane, accepting congratulations from the other contestants. Now she and her husband will drive to Atlantic City to compete with three other couples. And they get to see Frank Sinatra.
Over the years, Eubanks said, the show has had its ups and downs. In 1974, for example, they went off the air for two years. "Nobody was getting married," he said yesterday. "Everybody was living together." But now, he said, marriage is stronger than ever.
"Is the show cruel? I've been asked that before," said Eubanks, sitting in an office near the show's make-shift stage yesterday. "No. I don't think it is. There's no harm. Just charm. You can't take it seriously."
Eubanks said the only inducement to doing the show is "to have fun." There are no big prizes. In fact, when the show's originator, Chuck Barris (also famous for creating "The Gong Show") wanted to give away new cars, Eubanks said he vetoed the idea, saying he wanted to stick with something smaller, like a television set.
"These people are John and Mary Public," he said. "They're just like you and me." Nevertheless, Eubanks recalled some startling anwers to several questions over the years.
"You know, I ask them what their favorite foreign country is and they said 'Hawaii.' Or one time the question was, 'What's your wife's favorite reed instrument.' Some guy said, 'a book.'"
Eubanks also recalled the time he asked the wives "What's the one thing your husband told you he didn't want you to say on the show?" One of the women answered, "That he's stealing money from his business."
"We had to cancel that show," Eubanks said with a laugh.
"Husbands and wives know each other pretty well," Eubanks said.
Especially the couple who agreed on one point of English literature. The question was: if you went to see Henry the Eighth twice, would you say you had seen it twice or would you say you want to see Henry the Sixteenth.
Eubanks shook his head. Henry the Sixteenth."