Inside ‘Game Changer,’ the internet’s favorite game show


Chaos reigns supreme in Game Changer, a game show where the game itself is a total mystery to the contestants — at least, until they start playing.

Now streaming on Dropout, an independent comedy platform that celebrated its fifth anniversary in Sept. 2023, Game Changer throws its rotating panel of comedians into a new game every episode. Armed with nothing but prompts given to them by host and Dropout CEO Sam Reich, they must determine the rules of the game, adjust accordingly, and play to win. It’s as much an exercise in adaptation as it is a non-stop laugh riot.

Game Changer‘s versatility from episode to episode is its not-so-secret weapon. Only here will you find players improvising ridiculous character monologues and NSFW pickup lines, crafting entire musicals on the fly, or baring their souls to a lie detector for a handful of points. Only here will you see comedic twists on Survivor, The Bachelor, and Simon Says — sometimes in the same season.

Game Changer is one of the mainstays of Dropout, which also produces series like actual play show Dimension 20 and nerdy correction quiz show Um, Actually. These titles have helped build a solid viewership base for Dropout in the mid-six figures (this is as specific as Dropout is willing to get at this time), but they have also taken off outside of the streaming service. You may have seen viral Game Changer snippets pop up on TikTok or YouTube Shorts, such as Ally Beardsley getting an impromptu haircut for cash or Zac Oyama debating whether smashing a vase will earn him a point.

Given its devoted fanbase, ridiculous challenges, and penchant for virality, Game Changer may just win the title of the internet’s favorite game show. To learn more about the ins and outs of the series, Mashable spoke to Reich about Game Changer‘s origins and best moments, its social media appeal, and what viewers can expect from Season 6.

The beginnings of Game Changer

A game show host in a pinstripe suit stands next to a screen reading "Game Changer."

Credit: Courtesy of Dropout

Upon Dropout’s launch in 2018 as the streaming arm of CollegeHumor — which fully rebranded to Dropout in Sept. 2023 — the priority was scripted series, as opposed to the unscripted series which dominate the service today.

“When we set out to do Dropout, there were two different kinds of content on the platform,” Reich told Mashable in a video interview. “There were shorter-form, more premium scripted series, and there were longer-form, less premium unscripted series. We had assumed that the former would bring people into the platform, and the latter would keep them there. Then it turned out that the latter did both, and the former did neither, which was a big lesson for us.”

With that lesson in mind, Dropout pivoted harder into unscripted territory. To throw some ideas out there, Reich pitched the concept that would evolve into Game Changer: a surreal game show he’d been developing titled What the What. At first glance, it would be a normal game show, complete with a colorful set, big prizes, and a host in a snazzy pinstripe suit. But the show’s ever-changing rules would add a little mayhem — and a lot of comedy — to a tried-and-true format.

“As a Monty Python devotee, that absurdity-in-a-suit thing is really at the core of what I find funny,” Reich explained. So when response to the initial What the What pitch was “middling,” as Reich describes it — “You take a roomful of writers and ask them to pitch unscripted ideas, people aren’t necessarily very enthusiastic about that” — he spearheaded the project.

“I had resisted being in front of the camera for like, over a decade in my role at CollegeHumor, but I decided to take this particular project on as a pet project,” Reich said. “And now I’m a game show host.”

Game Changer‘s greatest hits

A group of game show contestants berate the host while standing around a fake pipe bomb.

Credit: Courtesy of Dropout

According to Reich, Dropout’s audience were receptive to Game Changer right away, and it’s not hard to see why. The constantly changing concepts allow for a wide-ranging showcase of Dropout’s comedic ensemble, and also for a number of different entry points into the show for new viewers.

“I think that the episodes that are the best hook into the world of Game Changer are the ‘improv is magic’ episodes,” Reich said. That playlist includes Season 1’s “Make Some Noise,” where players have to mimic increasingly challenging sounds; Season 4’s “The Official Cast Recording,” where players devise a brand-new musical from scratch; and Season 5’s “A Game Most Changed,” where players improvise a William Shakespeare play.

“These are the episodes where people — especially outsiders to improv — will come and watch and go, ‘I didn’t know comedy like this was possible,'” said Reich.

There is another hook for possible Game Changer viewers, and that’s the discomfort that comes with thrusting unknowing players into a wild situation. Often, that discomfort generates some of the show’s funniest moments, including instances when players push back on Reich’s schemes — much to his delight. (In an interview with Polygon, Reich said of players’ pushback: “I love when they give me shit. They have every right to; they should.”)

People — especially outsiders to improv — will come and watch and go, ‘I didn’t know comedy like this was possible.’

– Sam Reich

If you prefer your game shows with a heaping helping of discomfort — think Impractical Jokers or Jackass — Reich has a separate set of recommendations for you. Check out Season 2’s “Do I Hear $1?,” where players out-bid each other to complete humiliating tasks, or Season 5’s “Name A Number,” where players bet on how well they can do in unknown challenges. Also falling into this category is Game Changer‘s magnum opus (so far!), Season 5’s “Escape The Green Room.”

“Escape The Green Room” is one of Reich’s favorite Game Changer episodes ever, and certainly one of the most complicated games to pull off from a technical standpoint. In the episode, contestants Brennan Lee Mulligan, Siobhan Thompson, and Lou Wilson think they’re about to film a normal episode of Game Changer (if there really is such a thing). However, they soon realize that they’ve been locked in the Dropout green room, and they will have to solve elaborate puzzles to escape. Reich worked with art director Chloe Badner and escape room designer Tommy Honton to develop this multipart mystery, which involved installing a fake wall and pulling off a magic twin swap ripped straight out of Christopher Nolan’s The Prestige.

“It was a Herculean effort, and it felt like a rocket launch,” Reich said. “So many things could have gone wrong, and very few of them did.” The episode unfolds with a devious intricacy, made all the better by Mulligan, Thompson, and Wilson’s frustration at their plight — and determination to get back at Reich by beating him at his own game.

A game show built for social media

Three game show contestants perform an improvised Shakespeare scene.

Credit: Courtesy of Dropout

On top of its inventiveness and increasingly elaborate execution, another one of Game Changer‘s biggest strengths is how well it holds up in the jump from long-form to short-form. Its viral potential — as well as that of other Dropout shows — drives Dropout’s marketing efforts. It also proved crucial in rebuilding Dropout in 2020, when CollegeHumor’s parent company IAC withdrew funding and sold CollegeHumor to Reich. Hundreds of layoffs followed, and the future of the brand became completely tied to the success of the Dropout streaming service.

“When we took over the company in 2020, we treaded water there. Throughout the first six to eight months of the pandemic, we weren’t losing a ton of subscribers, but we weren’t gaining a ton of subscribers either,” Reich explained. “And then we started posting clips of Dimension 20 to TikTok, and those started to take off. And when they took off, we saw a direct correlation to new subscribers.” Clips from Game Changer soon followed. Now, these show clips are Dropout’s main marketing effort.

“We didn’t know that we were creating a show that would translate so well to short-form vertical video. It was actually a happy accident,” Reich said.

However, Dropout soon harnessed the success of its social media strategy to develop new shows. Make Some Noise, a spin-off of the Game Changer episodes of the same name, was created in part due to how well those episodes’ clips were performing on social media.

“It’s the first example of us doing a show that in some ways is reverse-engineered for social,” said Reich. “And it’s really delivered: Make Some Noise has brought more folks into Dropout than just about any other show on the platform.”

Other Game Changer spin-offs followed, including the salacious secret-spilling Dirty Laundry and the musical improv bonanza Play It By Ear. “We might continue to spin shows off from Game Changer,” Reich said. “The batch of stuff that we have in development now, none of them are directly Game Changer-inspired, although you can absolutely see how some of them could be Game Changer episodes. There’s a little bit in which the vibe of Game Changer has informed our development strategy, even if not directly.”

What’s next for Game Changer, and for Dropout?

A game show contestant and host speak while standing by a screen that reads "Game Changer."

Credit: Courtesy of Dropout

By the end of 2024, Dropout will have premiered seven new shows, doubling the number of currently airing shows on the platform. Reich also plans to continue submitting Game Changer for high-profile awards in more “traditional” media spaces, following up on 2023’s early #EmmyForGameChanger social media campaign with a submission to the Peabody Awards and further Emmy aspirations.

“We’re at this interesting influx in traditional entertainment where what is ‘traditional’ is kind of getting redefined,” Reich said of the decision to bring Game Changer into the awards conversation. “Our shows are half-hours or longer, and they’re premium by a bunch of definitions of the word. So why shouldn’t we count?”

Another major event on the horizon is the Feb. 2024 release of Game Changer Season 6, which Reich teased as “wildly ambitious.”

“I blacked out during parts of the shoot, so I’m really excited to see what we got,” he laughed. “But it was truly as wild as the show has ever been.”

Obviously part of the fun of Game Changer is not knowing what you’re going to get coming into each episode. But Reich did confirm that Season 6 would feature a third installment of “Sam Says” starring Vic Michaelis, Lou Wilson, Jacob Wysocki, and a Sam Reich puppet (pinstriped suit and all) that lurked in the background of our Zoom call. “The shoot for that episode was somehow over three hours,” Reich said. “How are we going to consolidate that into 30 to 45 minutes of content? I have no idea.”

This next season, we’re sort of affectionately nicknaming the mindfuck season of the show.

– Sam Reich

Then, there’s a two-part season finale that sounds like the most technically challenging thing Game Changer has ever done. “[The finale] was more difficult than ‘Escape The Green Room’ for a number of reasons. I can’t get too into it,” Reich said. “But this episode uses 18 cameras.” (“Escape The Green Room” used 16.)

Overall, though, Game Changer Season 6 aims to lean harder on the idea of contestant discombobulation. “It’s probably the truest we have been yet to the original premise of the show, which is this notion of keeping players in the dark for a long period of time and letting them figure out the game as they go on,” Reich said. “When we were originally developing the show, and as we got into later seasons, we were sort of concerned that that level of discomfort wouldn’t necessarily be fun to watch. But this next season, we’re sort of affectionately nicknaming the mindfuck season of the show. We keep players in discomfort for longer this season than I think we’ve ever dared to in any other season.”

(For die-hard viewers out there, this includes a season premiere that apparently frustrates Brennan Lee Mulligan to no end. “The Game Changer fans seem to love it, for whatever reason, when episodes are devoted to making Brennan upset. And I think we found a whole new way to do that,” Reich divulged. “This one isn’t quite as explicitly a troll, but it’s a good one.”)

With Game Changer continuing to grow and work through various improv games and more high-concept ideas, Reich has found himself turning more to game designers than comedians for pitches. “As the show wears on, we sort of back ourselves into a corner where we can’t repeat ourselves, and that corner becomes smaller and smaller with every season of the show,” Reich said. Certain episodes of Season 6 he even describes as “small miracles” in terms of pulling them off.

“I feel every season like I’m flying a little too close to the sun and my wax is going to melt and I’m going to crash and burn in the ocean. But it hasn’t happened yet,” Reich laughed. “It’s working, which is a terrible lesson to learn!”

But as Reich says at the start of every episode, “The only way to learn is by playing, the only way to win by learning.” And there’s no doubt that the wacky game Game Changer has been playing since 2019 has certainly created a winning formula all its own.

Game Changer is now streaming on Dropout.

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