Ken Tucker says that the USA network's naked card sharps are a sure bet

By Ken Tucker
Updated May 30, 2000 at 04:00 AM EDT

Strip Poker

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Why ”Strip Poker” may become a hot-weather hit

We’re in late-night limbo this week. Dave’s in reruns, Jay’s in reruns, Conan is taking last week’s departure of sidekick Andy Richter so much to heart that he’s gone into reruns for a week. So what to do? Read a book? Excellent idea — I particularly recommend Philip Roth’s poignantly cutting new novel, ”The Human Stain,” and Martin Amis’ cuttingly poignant new memoir, ”Experience.”

Of course, if you MUST watch late-night TV, there’s always ”Nightline,” which might not be a bad bet if Vladimir Putin does something mean to Bill Clinton during their ”dueling poker faces” summit meeting this week. But speaking of poker faces, before tuning in ”Nightline,” check out the USA network’s new 11 p.m. game show ”Strip Poker.” It explores vulgar depths not plumbed since Chuck Barris’ notoriously short-lived ”The $1.98 Beauty Contest,” a 1978 farrago hosted by Rip Taylor in which skimpily dressed women paraded before a panel of celebrity judges.

”Strip Poker” is just as crude, but seems less cruel, if only because its exhibitionists are so enthusiastic. On ”Strip Poker,” a pair of guys face off against a pair of gals in a game of poker played, as is always true of card games played on television, with enormous cards handled not by the players but by Jennifer Victoria Cole, a slinky… um, what else to call her but a card girl, who lifts the pips high into the air so they’re clearly seen in camera range.

Both teams face questions from the requisite leering host, in this case the likable Graham Elwood, and the team that answers first and correctly gets to better their hand by drawing a new playing card, while the loser must — hence the title — remove an article of clothing. Of course, you know it’s all a tease — you can see the layers of clothing the contestants wear, so you know no one’s going to go around in the buff, even if the USA network’s PG-level permissiveness did not also serve as a bottom-line prohibitor of nakedness.

Speaking of bottoms, both male and female, they frequently emerge in the later rounds of the game, minimally covered by bikini briefs. Virtually all the contestants on ”Strip Poker” look like bodybuilders, professional strippers, or both. The result is a highly toned wiggle- and jiggle-fest that concludes, as in the halcyon Chuck Barris ”Dating Game” era, with the ”as nekkid as they can get” contestants doing a little boogying-down with the host over the credits.

”Strip Poker” may be a sucker’s game, but you can make amends for being drawn into its tawdry lair by reading another chapter of Martin Amis or by spending the half hour following your ”Strip” session by switching the channel and atoning for your sins with Father Ted Koppel.

Strip Poker

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