Two Families, One Host: The Truth Behind Family Feud

Family Feud is simple: Two teams of families try to come up with the most popular answers to a list of survey questions to bring home the grand prize. Since 1976, the spin-off of Match Game has been taking over the airwaves as one of the most popular game shows on TV.

Steve Harvey / Richard Dawson / Steve Harvey / Louis Anderson
Source: Getty Images

Initially hosted by Richard Dawson, followed by Ray Combs, Louie Anderson, Richard Karn, and John O’Hurley, the show’s current presenter is the iconic Steve Harvey. With his thick mustache, big smile, and hilarious reactions, the show has remained successful. But there is a lot more to the show than you see on TV.

The Secret to Success

Having a charismatic and entertaining host is key to a great game show. The host is the leader of the show, who guides the contestants and sets the tone for the game. TV historian Tim Brooks said, “In more game-oriented shows, the host is essentially a traffic cop,” but Steve Harvey is different.

Steve Harvey poses on the set of Family Feud.
Source: ABC

Steve Harvey is very involved with the contestants on Family Feud, which makes the show hilarious. However, the producers say the show’s consistent ratings come from the more risqué questions. The humor in the questions allows Harvey to have more fun with the players, making it entertaining to watch.

It Was a Different Time

If you have been a long-time watcher of Family Feud, you might remember when host Richard Dawson would kiss the female contestants. Today that would be cause for a lawsuit, but the ‘70s were a different time. He would kiss the women on the mouth but said there was logic behind this move.

Richard Dawson leans into kiss a contestant.
Source: Reddit

Shortly into the first season, Dawson noticed a nervous female contestant. When she was asked to name a green vegetable, her hands were shaking, so he grabbed her hand and said, “It’s not open-heart surgery.” She was still nervous, so Dawson kissed her like his mom would when he was little.

Not Everyone Was a Fan

Even though attitudes were different in the ‘70s, not everyone was okay with Dawson’s on-air smooches. Many viewers complained about his wandering lips, so he conducted an informal survey. Dawson asked viewers to write in if they liked the kissing or not. Surprisingly, those who didn’t like it were in the minority.

Dawson leans in to kiss a female contestant.
Source: Twitter

Producer Howard Felsher said about 14,000 people responded “kiss,” while only 300 or 400 people said, “don’t kiss.” Those numbers would have been very different today, but people in those days weren’t bothered by his “harmless” advances toward the female contestants. In fact, Dawson married a contestant he kissed.

They Don’t Know It’s for the Show

Although people know that the game is based on survey answers, most don’t realize when or how the surveys are conducted. The Wall Street Journal discovered that Family Feud uses a polling firm named Applied Research-West. The firm calls random people to complete the survey without disclosing what it’s for.

The answer board from Family Feud.
Source: ABC

The survey includes 30 to 40 questions selected from 100 submitted to executive producer Gaby Johnston daily by writers and consultants. Topical questions air within three weeks of the survey, and others are used in later episodes. Initially, people responded to questions for Family Feud through a mailing list.

Dawson Didn’t Care

During Dawson’s reign as the Family Feud host, he made a lot of jokes about a former president. Sponsors complained to ABC, so the network warned Dawson to stop. However, he went on-air, saying if the sponsor didn’t like the jokes, they could pull out.

Richard Dawson is hosting Family Feud.
Source: Tumblr

ABC planned to edit his comments out, but Dawson threatened to quit, forcing them to keep the footage. Dawson wasn’t worried because he knew the sponsors would stay with the show for the money that they earned from Family Feud.

Louie Anderson Increased the Grand Prize

Before 2001, families who won the Fast Money Round could only take home up to $10,000. However, when Louie Anderson became the host, he changed that. He grew up watching Family Feud and understood that viewers live vicariously through the people on game shows.

Louie Anderson hosts Family Feud.
Source: YouTube

Anderson wanted to see the winners walk away with more money because it would bring in more viewers. The producers agreed to double the prize money to $20,000. He said, “You’re rooting for those people who are playing. So, I feel very proud about my days on the Feud.”

Best Way to Get on the Show

Besides being part of a family, Family Feud likes to choose entertaining people to be on the show. Co-executive producer and head of casting Sara Dansby said being energetic is important because there is “no such thing as over the top.”

Steve Harvey reacts to a crazy answer from the contestants.
Source: YouTube

Dansby added that people should pick their most outgoing family members when putting a team together. The casting directors love loud, energetic contestants. Dansby also suggested that families be authentic and have fun with it. It’s not that serious, so people should just let loose and be themselves.

Harvey Has Heard Bad Answers

Fans of Family Feud have seen Harvey react to some hilarious answers during his time as the show’s host. While talking to Seth Meyers, Harvey explained that he has heard people say things he would never think of and wonders why people choose such random answers.

Steve Harvey is shocked by contestant’s answer.
Source: YouTube

When the question was “Name a word or phrase that begins with pork,” a contestant answered “pork-cupine.” Harvey had to remind the person that “pork-cupine” was not a real word. After several years, Harvey is still shocked by what people say.

Dawson Pretended It Made Sense

While Harvey calls out dumb answers, Dawson pretended they made sense. He once said, “Everything about the show fit perfectly for me and how I think.” He typically said “good answer” in a sarcastic way if the person said something silly.

Dawson explains to a contestant the rules.
Source: YouTube

Even if the person’s answer made no sense, Dawson tried to make the contestants feel like they were on to something. If the question was, “Name a vegetable you have to peel to eat,” and the person said “grape,” Dawson would say, “good answer.”

A Global Obsession

Family Feud is not only popular in America; it has also been translated into several different languages for various counties. Algeria’s version, Familetna, debuted in 2014, and Familien-Duell was Germany’s version of the show. There have also been a lot of Latin American adaptations.

The hosts of 100 Mexicanos Dijieron pose on set.
Source: Twitter

Mexico’s version is called 100 Mexicanos Dijieron and Que Dice La Gente, which ran from 2006 to 2008. La Guerre des Clans airs in Canada, and Vietnam previously had a version called Chung Sirc. However, none of them beat the original with Steve Harvey.

You Have to Be a Family

It might seem like anyone can gather a group of friends or strangers and go on the show pretending to be a family, but it’s not that simple. The show’s producers have been in the business long enough to know that people can fake being a family to win money.

A family of contestants pose with Steve Harvey on set.
Source: Tumblr

To make sure the contestants are being honest, Family Feud’s producers require potential participants to provide proof that they are related. Some people use birth certificates, family trees, photos, and even home movies. If you have been in a person’s life long enough, they are considered family.

Dawson’s Favorite Guest

One of the many girls that Dawson kissed while hosting the show was Gretchen Johnson. She came on the show in May 1981 with her family when she was 27 years old. Dawson was visibly infatuated by Gretchen. The two flirted throughout the episode.

Richard Dawson and Gretchen Johnson on set.
Source: YouTube

Everyone from the crew to her family members realized Dawson and Gretchen had serious chemistry. But the episode finished filming before their flirtations could grow into something more. Luckily, he asked for her number, and she later became his third wife.

Multiple Episodes Per Day

It might seem that the episodes take a full day to film. But even with the elaborate sets and multiple rounds, the crew manages to get through more than one episode in a day. The crew typically shoots four episodes per day.

The video cameras on the set of Family Feud.
Source: Facebook

On a fast day, the crew can film up to six episodes. They must be able to focus really well because we would be completely distracted by all of Harvey’s jokes. That would definitely slow down production, but the crew has gotten used to his sense of humor.

The Famous Phrase

Game show hosts usually come up with their own catchphrases but hosts for Family Feud have passed down the famous quote “Survey says!” Whenever the host says these two words, everyone in the audience and at home knows to turn to the big screen to see the answer.

A still from Family Feud.
Source: ABC

Everyone hopes they won’t see the big red X, but sometimes their answer isn’t a match. The Family Feud catchphrase is one of the most iconic game show lines in TV history. Besides Price Is Right’s “Come on down,” “Survey says,” is the most recognizable line.

Worst Answer Ever!

As we said before, there have been some pretty lame answers on Family Feud, but one of them was so dumb it didn’t make it into the episode. In an unaired clip, Harvey asked the teams to think of another way to say “Mother.”

Steve Harvey reacts to an answer.
Source: YouTube

The contestants guessed typical answers like “mom” and “mommy.” However, things went left when two team members guessed nana and nanny, earning themselves two big Xs because it’s the same answer. They lost the round because someone said “mommy,” which was already on the board.

Not a Quick Transfer

Winning Family Feud has to be pretty exciting because they go home with a big prize. However, the money isn’t transferred when the episode ends. Former winners have said it takes a while for the prize money to get to your bank account.

Contestants pose together on set.
Source: Twitter

Cole Simmons, a former contestant, said it took nearly three months for his money to arrive. Additionally, the show automatically splits the prize among each family member before the transfer, and their earnings are subject to income tax, so they don’t actually win that much.

An Earning Limit

The most money a family can make on the show is $100,000. If the family does well in the Fast Money round, they can win up to $20,000 and are usually brought back to compete against another family. However, Family Feud has an earning cap for repeat contestants.

Steve Harvey celebrates with a winning family.
Source: ABC

According to the rules, a family can’t come back to the show for ten years if they win five consecutive games. The producers put this rule in place to allow new families to have a chance to play Family Feud and to prevent one family from continuously returning.

No Age Limits

The word family might be in the show’s title, but the questions aren’t always appropriate for younger crowds. But Family Feud doesn’t have age limits for who can participate on the show. The general rule is that the family member should be 15 or older, but it’s not set in stone.

Steve Harvey poses with some young-looking contestants.
Source: ABC

Younger contestants have been on the show, and Harvey knows how to have fun with them. Whenever the question is too mature for the participant, he gives them a knowing smirk and makes a sly remark that only the adults will understand.

Losers Can Still Win

Even the losing families can walk away with some money on Family Feud. In addition to their 15-minutes of fame and game show fun, losing contestants also get cash bonuses during the episode. They aren’t close to the grand prize amount, but it’s still money.

Steve Harvey pretends to take a phone call during the show.
Source: YouTube

For example, each point earned during the round is worth $5. Therefore, the family could come close to winning and still walk away with a cash prize. Unfortunately, those earnings are subject to the same 90-day waiting period as the grand prize.

Sudden Death Round

When Richard Karn hosted the show, Family Feud added the “Sudden Death” round in 2003. The round appeared on episodes when neither team reached 300 points by the end of the game. It gave contestants an extra chance to win or lose.

Richard Karn is hosting Family Feud.
Source: YouTube

The dramatic question added some extra excitement to the show when its ratings were dropping. It was also an opportunity for a low-scoring team to steal the win in the final moments of the game. On the other hand, it caused some leading teams to lose because of a wrong answer.

Unaired Questions

Contestants have given outrageous answers over the years, but there have been times when no one responds to the question. Therefore, some footage from Family Feud has been left on the cutting room floor because no one wants to see contestants stand in silence.

Harvey is waiting on an answer during the show.
Source: YouTube

If no one can answer a question, it is tossed, and a new question appears on the board. The round is restarted, and everyone pretends that the no-answer segment never existed. It must be odd for the live audience to see the show one way and watch it edited on TV.

Keeping It Diverse

If you are a long-time viewer of Family Feud, you might have noticed that the show tries to include diversity on each episode. If one team is white, producers try to choose a Black, Hispanic, or Asian family to compete against them.

Contestants face off on the set of Family Feud.
Source: ABC

It was a strategic move by the producers to appeal to a wider audience. As a primetime show, Family Feud didn’t want to exclude anyone from their show. They decided to add in families that reflected the people watching at home, helping the viewership grow.

Celebrity Family Feud

There are various versions of Family Feud around the world, including Celebrity Family Feud. The fun twist puts celebrities against their family members. Some of the famous participants include Kanye West, the Kardashians, Snoop Dogg, and more. The spin-off has been well received by audiences.

Salt-N-Pepa appear on Family Feud.
Source: ABC

Harvey is also the host of Celebrity Family Feud, and he doesn’t hold back on the jokes, even for his famous friends. He has known many of the celebrities for years before they appeared on the game show, so the banter between him and the contestants is natural and hilarious.

The Show Went on a Hiatus

Family Feud initially ran from 1976 to 1985, with Dawson as the host. It was one of the most popular game shows on TV, but ratings started to decline in the mid-‘80s. Dawson was growing tired of the rigorous taping schedule but considered doing one more season.

Richard Dawson speaks to the cast of ‘Eight Is Enough' as they compete on the game show, 'Family Feud'.
Photo by ABC Television/Fotos International/Getty Images

However, after a few meetings, Viacom and ABC decided not to renew the show. The daytime version ended in May 1985, and everyone thought Family Feud would be off the air for good. Luckily, other networks believed the show could still work.

Back With a New Host

After a three-year hiatus, Family Feud returned to viewers’ screens on a different network, with a new host. CBS decided to pick up the game show in 1988, hiring Ray Combs as the presenter. The show continued with the same format but aired in the morning.

Ray Combs poses on the set of Family Feud.
Source: CBS

Family Feud replaced The $25,000 Pyramid, and it started with high ratings. Unfortunately, networks started giving more attention to syndicated programming, and game shows declined. Many CBS affiliates dropped Family Feud from their lineup, causing the show to move timeslots.

Rebranding the Show

In 1992, CBS tried to save Family Feud by expanding it to a full hour and changing the name to The Family Feud Challenge. The new format featured three families, two competing in the first half and the champions competing with a new family in the second half.

Ray Combs is hosting Family Feud.
Source: YouTube

Unfortunately, the new format didn’t help the show’s ratings, and it was canceled again. It seemed like there was no hope for Family Feud. Mark Goodson Productions had to find a way to get better ratings, or it would be off the air forever.

He Believed in the Show

Johnathan Goodson took over his father’s production company in 1992, and he wanted to make Family Feud work. He considered another host change, and Dawson’s name was brought up several times. However, Goodson was loyal to Combs, and Dawson had issues with many people.

A photo of Johnathan Goodson.
Source: Tumblr

Many staffers from the original series worked on the revival, including executive producer Howard Felsher. Dawson and Felsher had significant tension, causing unease over the idea of Dawson’s return to Family Feud. But Goodson felt change was necessary to save the show.

Returning to the Show

Although many said Dawson was “insufferable to work with,” Goodson believed his return could save Family Feud. They agreed to a contract, and Goodson gave Felsher an off-set executive producer position, so he wouldn’t have to work closely with Dawson.

Richard Dawson is hosting Family Feud.
Source: ABC

Once again, the show was revamped with the Family Feud Challenge format, a modern set, and themed episodes. Dawson’s return gave the show a brief rating surge, but it wasn’t a long-term fix. After one season, Dawson retired permanently, and the show flopped, leading to a four-year hiatus.

He Was Mean

During the period that Combs hosted Family Feud, the ratings dropped to an all-time low. Audiences didn’t like the comedian as much as other hosts, which led to the producers firing him to bring back Dawson. Sadly, they gave him the bad news before the season was over.

Ray Combs asks the contestants questions.
Source: YouTube

Combs had little motivation to finish the season as the happy host he once was and started being rude and nasty to the contestants. He stopped caring, and during his final episode, he was awful to a competitor who didn’t earn any points, calling him a loser.

His Life Was in Ruins

On his last day of filming, Combs walked off the set without saying goodbye to anyone. His life started falling apart due to financial issues, and he didn’t get hired for other roles. Combs invested in a few comedy clubs, but those also failed.

Ray Combs backstage at the Taping of ‘Family Feud’.
Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./Ron Galella Collection/Getty Images

To make matters worse, his wife filed for divorce around the same time. Combs decided to check himself into a mental facility. He was put under close watch, but that wasn’t enough. In June 1996, Combs took his life in the facility.

Another Shot

Family Feud returned to TV again in 1999 with Louis Anderson as the host. Although he increased the grand prize amount, Anderson only lasted as the host for four seasons. He had many ideas for the show, including calling Dawson to come on for a tribute episode.

Louis Anderson poses on the set of Family Feud.
Source: Imgur

Dawson refused, and Richard Karn took over the hosting duties in 2002. He lasted four seasons, like Anderson, and was replaced by John O’Hurley in 2006. While Family Feud was once a big hit, which is why Dawson won an Emmy, it struggled over the years.

He Saved the Show

Like many times in the past, Family Feud was at risk of cancelation. The show’s Nielsen rating was 1.5, and producers didn’t want to lose it. In a last effort to save Family Feud, O’Hurley was replaced by Steve Harvey in 2010.

Steve Harvey is hunched over laughing on the set of Family Feud.
Source: YouTube

Within two years, Harvey’s presence increased the rating to 4.0. Harvey made the show one of the top game shows, behind Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy. The Nielsen rating hit an all-time high of 6.0 by 2014.

He’s a Strict Host

Harvey brought Family Feud newfound success, but he came with very strict rules. He sent an email to the crew with several rules that he wanted them to follow, mostly about not being disturbed in his dressing room. He had a bit of a complex.

Steve Harvey on the set of Family Feud.

He was already famous before hosting Family Feud, so Harvey felt he could set as many rules as he wanted. He has been a risk for the show because of his controversial remarks toward women and the LGBTQ community, but he is still a popular host.

He’s a Busy Man

Throughout his tenure as Family Feud’s host, there have been speculations about Harvey returning for more seasons. In 2010, he signed a five-year contract, which was renewed for another five years in 2015. But as 2020 rolled around, it was unclear if he would continue.

Steve Harvey hosts at the Mandalay Bay Events Center.
Photo by Jacob Andrzejczak/WireImage/Getty Images

Harvey had several jobs outside of Family Feud, including hosting Little Big Shots, Steve Harvey Funderdome, Steve, and Steve on Watch. He also launched Steve Harvey Global, so people wondered if he had time for Family Feud. Harvey also had complaints against him.

People Complained About Him

Harvey might be hilarious, but the Federal Communications Commission received many complaints about him. The FCC is responsible for regulating media, including network television. People complained about his suggestive jokes, even though the off-the-cuff humor makes the show entertaining and enjoyable to watch.

Steve Harvey of ‘STEVE’ speaks onstage.
Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

Some insinuations are over the top, but if Harvey didn’t do this, Family Feud would most likely be on the verge of cancelation again. As for now, Harvey is safe and the longest-running host in the show’s history. His humor and style offer a refreshing take.

He’s Not Always Happy

Harvey usually doesn’t complain about many things, but occasional questions rub him the wrong way. The producers add ridiculous and absurd questions to get a reaction out of him. But if he doesn’t like the question, he shows his frustration.

Steve Harvey looks shocked while on the set of Family Feud.
Source: YouTube

For example, one of the questions was, “All men are dogs that need to be -.” Harvey was visibly annoyed by the statement, so after the contestant answered “neutered,” he said, “ All men are dogs. That’s not true.” It wasn’t his best moment on TV.

He’s Unscripted

Harvey started his career as a comedian in the ‘90s after making it to the finals of the Johnnie Walker National Comedy Search. His success as a stand-up comedian led him to acting roles and a talk show. While hosting Family Feud, Harvey has used his comedy skills.

Harvey breaks into laugher on the set of Family Feud.
Source: CBS

While the show is briefly rehearsed, Harvey is unscripted during the tapings. The producers only give him the questions and let him say whatever he wants in between. His humor comes naturally because of his comedic past, and most of his jokes leave the audience in stitches.

A PR Disaster

Millions of fans might love him, but most people can’t forget Harvey’s PR blunder of 2015. While hosting the Miss Universe pageant, he announced the wrong woman as the winner on live TV. He blamed the incident on poor communication and generously apologized.

Steve Harvey listens as Miss Philippines 2015, Pia Alonzo Wurtzbach, answers a question.
Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

However, there were reports that Harvey had been drinking heavily before the show. It was an awkward moment because the woman who thought she won had to be de-crowned. Harvey’s reputation took a hit, and, unfortunately, that wasn’t the last time he faced backlash.

His Offensive Jokes

As we said before, Harvey has been called out for his suggestive jokes. But in 2017, he offended the Asian community during a segment that aired on his talk show. He made a few jokes about the book How to Date a White Woman: A Practical Guide for Asian Men.

Steve Harvey during
Photo by Jesse Grant/WireImage/Getty Images

In the segment, Harvey said, “You like Asian men? I don’t even like Chinese food, boy.” The clip was cringe-worthy and caused quite the controversy. Harvey did not understand why people were upset with his comments, but he eventually apologized.

Third Time’s the Charm

Outside of his work on TV, Harvey has an interesting personal life. He has been married three times and has seven children. He first married Marcia Harvey in 1981, and they had twins Brandi and Karli and a son, Broderick Harvey Jr.

Steve Harvey attends an event with his family.
Photo by Michael Loccisano/Getty Images

Harvey and Marcia divorced in 1994, and he married Mary Shackelford in 1996. During their marriage, they had one son, Wynton. Mary accused Harvey of cheating, and they divorced in 2005. Harvey is currently married to his third wife, Marjorie Bridges, since 2007.

He Adopted Her Children

When Harvey and Marjorie married, she had three children, Morgan, Jason, and Lori, from a previous relationship. Harvey adopted her children and treated them as if they were his own. Since blending his family, Harvey has said he is the luckiest person.

Marjorie and Steve Harvey attend an event.
Photo by Raymond Boyd/Getty Images

Along with his seven children, Harvey also has several grandchildren, and his family keeps growing. Although he had a troubled past in his previous relationships, Harvey said his third marriage made him a better man. He said, “It was like being reborn.”

His Daughter Is Famous

You might have heard about Harvey’s adopted daughter, Lori Harvey, because she has made a name for herself in Hollywood. Lori is a model, entrepreneur, and socialite. She mostly gained fame from her high-profile relationship with actor Michael B. Jordan.

Michael B. Jordan and Lori Harvey attend the 2022 Vanity Fair Oscar Party
Photo by John Shearer/Getty Images

The two dated for two years after meeting through mutual friends in 2020. The stunning couple made headlines several times, but Harvey approved of his daughter’s boyfriend. Lori and Jordan seemed happy, but the two recently split in June 2022. They deleted all their pictures together and unfollowed each other.

He’s Got Money

Harvey has accumulated a large net worth from his ventures and hosting jobs. As of 2022, Harvey is worth an estimated $200 million. He earns about $45 million per year, and at least $10 million comes from his hosting job on Family Feud.

Steve Harvey arrives at the 2017 Summer TCA Tour.
Photo by Gregg DeGuire/WireImage/Getty Images

Despite his past controversies, Harvey is extremely successful, and it doesn’t seem like he is going to slow down any time soon. He is still hosting Family Feud and recently started hosting the ABC series Judge Steve Harvey. Harvey’s schedule must be packed.

He’s a Philanthropist

Harvey has made mistakes throughout his career, but he has also given back to many communities. He and his wife founded the Steve & Marjorie Harvey Foundation to provide youth outreach services. The foundation hosts a yearly camp for fatherless children.

Steve Harvey poses with members of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity at a charity event.
Photo by Paras Griffin/Getty Images

He also partnered with Kent State University to provide scholarships to the school. Harvey has been recognized for his philanthropic work, winning the Humanitarian Award at the BET Awards in 2011. Harvey also works with Walt Disney World to provide yearly workshops for 100 students.