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Unlike most game shows, all the players are on a single team of six people acting in cooperation. This team is usually made up of college students, but sometimes celebrities (particularly bands or musicians, such as Justin Bieber, given that this is MTV) will play with friends along to fill out the table, with the occasional theme teams such as six of the New York Giants, or six Hooters waitresses. Celebs and theme teams will generally play for charity rather than for winnings.
The team assembles in a library and must remain quiet as much as possible. They're then given cards faced down and each picks one at random, then all flip them over at once. For most games, five of the players will have a green SAFE card, with one unfortunate being given a yellow card with a skull and crossbones. (In some games, only one person is safe, and the other five are required to finish the task at hand.) The unfortunate chosen must then endure a "Punishment Game", which involves some truly bizarre (and quite hilarious) tasks, such as:
- drinking water or milk dirtied in various manners (such as drinking dishwater, hot dog water, seaweed soda, or wasabi-milk)
- eating unusual food mixtures (such as Swedish Fish covered in tartar sauce, or an entire meal blended together into a not very appetizing slurry) or non-food items (such as a 'pizza' made with homemade modeling dough)
- withstanding mildly to moderately painful attacks (ranging from being a target in a carnival bean bag game to men having to straddle a pool table or shuffleboard table and thus enduring an object making forceful contact with the crotch) or foul odors
- having various objects, particularly food items, shot at them by teammates using compressed gas guns or 'water' guns (one game involved the punished wearing a bowl around his head and neck while his teammates shot lettuce, tomatoes, bacon bits, and salad dressing at him)
- having to perform manual dexterity tasks of varying difficulties (such as catching dishes with gloves covered in dish soap, or applying makeup while the hands are being pulled by a marionette crossbar)
To say the least, the bystanders must try their best not to burst out laughing or exceed the noise level during the punishment (shown to the viewer via a noise gauge). In fact, the more surreal games are not difficult to accomplish, but by keeping everyone quiet while the game is in play. (The game that usually shows up every episode, "Bad Door," works on this principle.) If they manage to complete the task and stay below the gauge, they win some money, which goes up each round. And each successful task adds more cash to the pot. Not a bad deal just for keeping quiet in the library, eh?