As a teenager growing up in the early ‘90s, I managed to
pester convince my parents to get Sky TV. It’s hard to encapsulate the feeling in today’s Netflix laden, on demand world, but the euphoria of being able to watch more than four channels was truly liberating at the time, and while I only really begged my parents to get it so I could see The Simpsons and WWF, having a love for video games also allowed me to discover a host of related shows to cater my fixation. One of which was The Children’s Channel’s The Super Mario Challenge.
Officially produced in association with Nintendo, The Super Mario Challenge was essentially a TV version of cult Nintendo 90 minute advert movie The Wizard, only less of a kiddies knock-off of Rain Man and 100% less Fred Savage.
The show was presented by John Lenahan, whose name makes him sound like a Beatle with a speech impediment, but he was in fact an American magician jobbing as a kiddies’ game show host, that was only ever watched by me and whoever uploaded this video to YouTube.
Mr. Lenahan also seems to be having an identity crisis throughout the show, as he calls himself by his real name, while also constantly referring to himself as Mario in the first person. Despite looking more like a dishevelled Luigi.
Anyhoo, a typical episode of The Super Mario Challenge always began with John/Mario Meeting the contestants…
“This episode we welcome Douglas from London. He likes drawing, making Super Mario comics and has a pet rat, which John is disappointed that he didn’t bring along.
And secondly, we have Chris Stiff from Kidlington, who
drew traced a Mario badge to wear on the show. Chris wants to be a doctor or a ‘Super Mario designer’ when he grows up, but with a name like Stiff, he was obviously destined for a career in porn or undertaking (or possibly the two combined).”
The first round of TSMC is a race to the end of the level. John tells the contestants they’re playing Super Mario Bros. 1, despite the fact it’s quite clearly Super Mario 3.
Douglas completely arses up the challenge by dying in the first thirty seconds, so Chris is awarded a giant polystyrene coin. (It’s probably oversized so he can’t try to use it wrangling a free Mars Bar from the vending machine down the hall).
The next segment of the show is ‘Super Mario Tips’, where Mr. Lenehan gives essential game winning advice, such as how we can discover the holy grail of Super Mario 3… A block that has ten coins in it!
It may sound like blatant filler (which it is) But John promises us that getting ten coins is always worth our while (which it isn’t).
Back to round two, the points round, where Chris and Douglas must get as high a score as possible on the level with the “dreaded micro Goomba blocks”. John tells them he doesn’t care how many lives they lose, as long as they don’t lose all of them.
I think we’ve established that Mr. Lenehan clearly never listens to himself on the show by now.
The match is pretty close, but Douglas loses once again thanks for his amazing tactic of jumping over enemies, rather than on top of them.
Douglas begins to look tearful when his rival is awarded TWO giant polystyrene coins this time. But John tells him not to worry about this humiliating defeat.
Can Douglas make a comeback in the final round?
The final round is a single level, where the players must get as many points and coins as possible, while keeping all their lives. This round takes place on “the land of the giants” according to John. Douglas feels that craning his neck back every time he jumps will get him to leap higher, which it ultimately does as he wins the round by the skin of his teeth.
Thanks to the show’s nonsensical scoring system, Douglas is awarded THREE polystyrene coins for his victory, securing a sudden death tie-breaker…
But alas, Douglas’ previous victory was a fluke, losing the round after immediately deciding to become friends with a piranha plant.
Thanks to Chris’ superior ability in “not dying as much” (according to Lenehan), he makes his way to the semi-finals.
Unfortunately, I don’t know what happened to Chris afterwards, as no one ever recorded those episodes and uploaded them to YouTube twenty- seven years in the future. But I’m sure he’s living a life of luxury designing “Super Marios” in a mansion paid for with giant polystyrene coins.
The Super Mario Challenge sadly only lasted one season, most likely due to only three Super Mario games being available in the UK at the time of recording (in fact, Super Mario 3 wasn’t even released in the UK until half way through filming the series) so, the tiny number of games available only gave it limited scope. But TSMC was replaced the following year with Head To Head presented by the ever awesome Violet Berlin. Head To Head covered multiple SNES and Mega Drive games; it also had me on as a contestant sporting a highly regrettable mullet.
As for John Lenahan, he stayed in the UK and continues his magic career to this day. John’s probably best known now for voicing the infamous Talkie Toaster in Red Dwarf, and was also the first ever person to be kicked out of The Magic Circle, after showing how a Three Card Monte scam works on an episode of the BBC’s How Do They Do That?.
John still occasionally dresses up as Mario, but only when he’s feeling lonely.
If you fancy checking out this episode, you can have a butchers on the YouChoobs here.
Also, my video gaming drivel is at: youtube.com/Larry if you’re interested.