A Zonk is an unwanted booby prize from Let's Make a Deal, and the only prize on a game show that is worth nothing.
Very early in the show's history, the worthless gag gifts given to contestants who had made a wrong decision were not referred to by name. At some point, the show began calling these items Zonks. Those were those items that were:
- Live animals, including everything from farm to zoo animals.
- Large props, such as moose heads and giant "crying towels."
- Various items "for every day of the week" such as fur-covered garbage cans, washboards and washtubs, etc.
- Junked furniture, musical instruments, appliances and cars.
- Ridiculously large amounts of food.
- Trips to non-existent destinations.
- Fake furs, fake currency from other countries (or play money), etc.
- "Your own ..." item(s) the contestant owned. For such deals, the host would ask the contestant for a given item, such as a purse or pair of shoes and the item being taken backstage; the deal's last segment invariably ended with the Zonk being the "your own" item(s).
... and much, much more.
During the "Door 4" segment of the 1984-1986 version, there were two spaces on that game's large carnival wheel that said "Zonk"; any contestant risking the $1,000 given upfront for a chance to win that game's top prize (a car) and landing on "Zonk" won nothing but a t-shirt saying, "I was Zonked by Monty Hall," with the show's logo in the back; landing on spaces marked $100 or $200 also were considered Zonks.
Although they are usually considered worthless or ridiculous joke prizes, traders legally won the zonks. However, after the taping of the show, any trader who had been zonked is offered a consolation prize (currently $100 cash; the show's house minimum) instead of having to take home the actual zonk. This is partly because some of the zonks are intrinsically or physically impossible to receive or deliver to the traders (e.g. live animals, the guy in an animal costume or the props/employees that are owned by the studio itself). A disclaimer at the end of the credits of later 1970s episodes read, "Some traders accept reasonable duplicates of Zonk prizes."
Almost always, when the Zonk prize was revealed, the trading deal with that contestant ended, either having him sit down (having officially lost) or the host revealing that he had made a correct decision and revealing his winnings. However, there were occasions where a Zonk was the cover for a legitimate prize. One famous example is where a model is doing the wash (in a washtub and washboard that had served as a Zonk) and "finds" either several thousand dollars in cash, a set of car keys, a pair of plane tickets (for a trip), etc. in the pair of holey jeans. In another episode, the contestant was shown a half-scale replica of a 1920s Ford Model T pie wagon presented as a comedy skit, which led the contestant to believe she was Zonked, but then Monty Hall approached her first to ask if she wanted to trade it for a chance at the Big Deal of the Day ... and only after she accepted did he reveal that it was a legitimate prize and -- after describing it in more detail -- stated its value of $3,300. Another time but during the current version, Julie Chen hosting a deal and the Zonk involved included $5,000 in cash.
With few exceptions, a contestant who won a Zonk was out of the running for the Big Deal of the Day. But more than once, either because other traders who had won larger prizes were satisfied with their winnings or there were no or very few big winners during the show, a zonked contestant was allowed to go for the Big Deal. Other times, a contestant given a "claim check" or other mystery container at a point earlier in the show traded what turned out to be a Zonk for a chance at the Big Deal. More than once, those contestants ended up winning the Big Deal of the Day.
Except for a period very early in the show's run, including the 1963 pilot, Zonks were not included in the Big Deal of the Day, although the low-range door often contained cash or merchandise worth less than $300, particularly on the daytime and daily syndicated versions. On occasion, Hall would refer to small consolation prizes -- in particular, cash amounts of less than $300 in trading deals involving cash -- as "Zonks," although these were not officially such.
In the CBS version, any games that feature Zonk spaces or cards (such as Smash for Cash, Accelerator) will bankrupt the player and leave with nothing. In “Go Big or Go Home”, the space “Go Home” acts the same way as a Zonk. Any contestant who gets Zonked will be invited by Wayne Brady to appear in the Zonk Redemption show at the end of the season (see below).
Starting in the 2012-13 CBS daytime revival, the show invited viewers to provide zonk ideas to producers. At the end of the season, the zonk declared the most creative was worth $2,500 cash to the winner and other viewers' Zonk ideas were also used. For every viewer-developed Zonk, Wayne announced the viewer who provided the Zonk.
Since the end of each season starting in the 2012-13 season, the show offers a Zonk Redemption episode, where the audience consists of those traders who were zonked in their first appearance (either by zonking during a particular game or choosing a prize containing a zonk) to try to turn their fortunes (or in this case, misfortunes) around and trading back the zonk they already won for a real prize (such as cash and car). If the contestant redeems, Wayne will declare the contestant as "Redeemed!"
In 2005, Trato Hecho (Done Deal), the short-lived Spanish version of the show, offers their version of a Zonk called a Chasco (Spanish for "letdown") see "Similar Character" for the description.
In the Hall version, a onimous piano tune is played.
Sometimes a funny horn is played followed by the piano tune.
In the final season of the 70s syndicated version (from Las Vegas) as well as The All New Let's Make A Deal, a four note stinger followed by a big band playing a ominous coda.
On the short-lived 2003 version, a three note trumpet was used.
In the CBS version, a similar but more orchestrated three note zonk jingle was used accompanied by orchestra hits. When a contestant got zonked, the last note sounds longer. Starting in the 2012-13 season, this zonk cue plays only the first and last notes with the last note got shorter when the contestant is half zonked. (i.e. If a couple picks the first Zonk card from Smash for Cash). When a contestant is fully zonked, the zonk cue is played in full with the final note three seconds longer than usual.
Let's Make a Deal (1963-1968, 1968-1976, 1971-1977, 1980-1981, 1984-1986, 1990-1991, 2003, 2009-present)
Cash Tornado (Bad spaces on the Force Field game on the 1994 pilot)
Gameshow Marathon (seen in episode 2 in 2006)
The Price is Right (Seen only one week when several minigames from Let's Make A Deal were featured.)