Contestants try to avoid shooting ‘The Final Straw’ on ABC game show

What do you call a game show where contestants on ladders must pull objects from a 16-foot-tall pile without them falling? An oversized game of Jenga, perhaps?

“I won’t say that word,” said Janelle James, host of ABC’s latest contest series “The Final Straw,” “but yeah, that’s a fair assessment.”

  • THE FINAL STRAW – ABC’s ‘The Final Straw’ stars Janelle James. (ABC/Matt Sayles)

  • THE FINAL STRAW - Hosted by Janelle James, 'The Final...

    THE FINAL STRAW – Hosted by Janelle James, ‘The Final Straw’ is a larger-than-life competition series where four teams of competitors face off in an epic battle against gravity and physics as they attempt to remove objects of enjoyable themed stacks in hopes of taking on The Mega Stack for a chance to win the grand prize of $250,000. In round one, best friends-turned-business partners compete against not only each other, but also roommates when they encounter a 50s restaurant-themed pile. In round two, siblings and a pair of cyclists race against a children’s room themed pile and hope the pile doesn’t fall. The winners of each round compete on the medieval pile to see who will have the chance to win the grand prize. James is also joined on stage by the delightfully mischievous Tipsy the Panda, who is determined to destroy the batteries. (ABC/Christopher Willard) Contestants KATE MAKARI, MATT PAPILLI, ASHA LAROUX and CAROLYN A’LISE SUTHERLIN join host JANELLE JAMES and Tipsy the Panda.

In the 10-episode, half-hour program that kicks off Sunday, James (“Abbott Elementary”) presides as four teams of ordinary people face off in four rounds without disrupting the work. Each ride is themed, ranging from basketballs and small kitchen appliances to wedding items and groceries. The team that makes it through all four rounds with their stack still standing wins a grand prize of $250,000.

For James, whose background is in stand-up comedy, this represents her first gig as a game show host, which she found intriguing in part because it allowed her to use many of the same skills. she uses on stage – thinking on her feet, reacting in the moment and being funny on the spur of the moment. Or, as she puts it with a hearty laugh, “getting paid to talk (expletive). … That’s what stand-up is and that’s what a game show is, after all.

She also found the game itself fun.

“The show is set up to look easy but it’s pretty hard to do,” she said. “And there is also an element of danger because there are all these objects and then these things fall. And so yes, it’s quite tense. There are tense moments like any good competition and then you win a lot of money. You have the potential to earn a lot of money in the end.

The rounds are staggered, so players can win $5,000 each on the first and second rounds, $10,000 on the third, and the $250,000 jackpot on the fourth, also known as the “Mega Stack”. They can also lose all the money they earned in previous rounds if they choose to advance and their turn lands on them. So teammates may find themselves arguing on camera about whether to step forward or stay up.

This is where things can get interesting, says James.

“Hosting a game show is like a new way to watch relationships blossom or fall in real time depending on money,” she said. “That’s my favorite part, it’s just seeing people argue not just about what money they’ll make if they win, but how much money they’re going to walk away with.”