For the majority of us whose bodies have essentially fused to the couch in these months of the pandemic shutdown, the most physical activity we’ve gotten has come while watching episodes of the ’90s game show Supermarket Sweep, which Netflix acquired and made available for streaming in July.
The collection of the episodes quickly ranked among the streamer’s most popular offerings, as audiences lost their minds for contestants in baggy sweaters with fake collars sprinting through grocery store aisles in search of a particular jar of spaghetti sauce that could win them $5,000.
There is something about the show that demands an athletic viewing experience; you only realize that you have leapt out of your seat, are jumping up and down in the living room, pointing at the TV and screaming “start with the hams!” when your partner walks in and looks at you like you need to be committed.
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Supermarket Sweep is undeniably a capsule of its time. An epic tangle of perms and curls, a battalion’s worth of shoulder pads, and a kaleidoscope of patterned vests and blouses date the episodes to 1993 at first sight. There’s the earnest, utterly wild euphoria when the winners learn they’re getting the cash prize. Even the idea of carefree trips to the grocery store invites pangs of nostalgia in current times.
While watching the entire collection of episodes is a curiously rousing experience, there’s one that has seemed to have garnered more attention to the others, thanks to a pair of young male contestants who have, in the last few weeks, gone viral.
Brandon and Kevin originally stood out for demographic reasons. College students at University of California, Santa Barbara, they were not only the rare all-male team, but a good decade—maybe even two—younger than the average age of the women competing.
Then they totally dominated the game. Like, destroyed it. There are videos online of people watching them play, marveling over the extent to which they owned the trivia rounds and then their strategy in the sweeps.
Finally, the way they introduced themselves had people wondering, “Are they… you know…?”
When host David Ruprecht asks Brandon how he knows Kevin, Brandon says, “Kevin is my roommate from Santa Barbara.” This was the ’90s. These are two young, attractive men with nice haircuts who are “roommates.” Was this a euphemism for something more?
TikTok user and Supermarket Sweep obsessive Emmaline Childs posted a call on her account, guessing that because they were in college at the time, the pair might have kids who would be the right age to be on TikTok. “If this is your dad, duet this!” she said, referring to the practice of taking someone else’s video and pairing it with a new one of your own.
She was right. Brandon’s daughter, Emily, found it and dueted it with it, showing photos of herself with her dad. Then Kevin’s wife created a TikTok account and posted a video of their three boys reenacting their final sweep in a local grocery store, which is about the most adorable way to go viral. At the end of the clip, Kevin himself poses with his sons.
Still, the question remained: Where are they now, were they really just roommates, and, most importantly, are they still friends? After putting more effort into searching than I care to admit, I tracked down Brandon L’Herault and Kevin Keenan to talk about their friendship—still going strong!—their epic episode, and behind-the-scenes secrets of Supermarket Sweep.
(“Brandon and Kevin” have become so ubiquitous among Supermarket Sweep bingers in recent weeks that it wasn’t until writing up this story that I realized I forgot to even ask them their last names and had to go back to them to find out. Like Cher and Madonna, the icons of the game show world are simply Brandon and Kevin, and, against typical journalistic style, we will be referring to them as such.)
Neither Brandon, who lives in Santa Clarita, Calif., nor Kevin, who lives in Austin, Tex., are on social media, and have been relying on friends and family to keep them posted on their new viral fame.
Kevin occasionally succumbs to curiosity and searches #SupermarketSweep on Twitter, where he discovered the swath of tweets saying, as he puts it, “Roommates? Hahaha…” Brandon hadn’t know that part of their viral fame was owed to the presumption that they were a closeted couple, and people’s hopes that they were still together all these years later.
Both find it very funny, and both clarify that they are indeed straight—Kevin is married with three sons and a foster daughter, and Brandon has a daughter with his ex-wife.
They’re still great friends, though they see each other less now that Kevin’s family lives in Texas. Kevin was at Brandon’s wedding. Brandon regrettably couldn’t attend Kevin’s because it was in Hawaii and his daughter had just been born.
The now-47-year-olds were 21 when they auditioned for Supermarket Sweep on one of those college student, “wouldn’t this be a funny story one day?” whims. (Their minds…)
They used to come back to their six-student shared house after their morning classes and watch Supermarket Sweep every day when it aired on Lifetime. “There were only like 12 channels at the time and half of them were showing soap operas,” Brandon remembers.
Realizing they were actually pretty good at the game, they called the number at the end of an episode with audition information and made the 90-minute drive to Los Angeles to try out. They scanned the crowd outside the studio and realized they might have an advantage.
“There were a lot of old grandmas, you know, and some housewives. There were no guys there at all,” Kevin says. Coordinators were looking for people with a lot of enthusiasm and energy to cast. “We looked at each other and said, are we going to ever see anybody here again in our lives? Then we just cranked it up to full. We can dork out with the best of them.”
Brandon remembers the exact date they taped their episode—May 20, 1993—because when they got back to Santa Barbara after an 11-hour day of filming, they watched the Cheers series finale that aired that night. The long day is because the show filmed six episodes at once, one segment at a time.
When you see Kevin and Brandon cheering in the audience when they are announced as contestants, it is one of six different times a version of that scene was shot. Production filmed all the contestant announcements for each episode in a row, then all the trivia questions and Mini Sweeps, and all six final sweep rounds in a row. It’s a lot of down time to keep energy up through.
“We just kind of annihilated,” Kevin laughs, remembering the taping of their Mini Sweep rounds.
From the “Cat Chow” fill-in-the-blank onward, they dominated, as if they were grocery-shopping savants. Kevin got every single question correct in his gameplay round, even guessing “Steero.” Outside of “what did you do with the money?” he says that is the question most frequently asked by people who recently watched the episode on Netflix: “How did you know what Steero was?”
(It’s a brand of bouillon cubes. A latchkey kid growing up, he used to forage the cupboards for food and never forgot the time he came upon the Steero canister and tried tasting the cubes inside.)
They offer sheepish giggles when their fashion is brought up. While certainly faring better than the Aquanet and polyester commercials that many female contestants might as well have been shooting, the billowing, patterned short-sleeve button-ups they wore, with enough extra fabric in the sleeves to fit another arm, scream “the ’90s!” just as loudly.
“That was probably my number one outfit,” Kevin laughs, remembering the button-up paired with whitewashed jeans and Nike Flight hightops. “When you’re 21, you have your number one outfit, like your good outfit.” Brandon simply sighs: “I’ve gotten more than enough comments on my attire…”
Those sweaters with the fake collars that contestants are bizarrely forced to change into solely for the final sweeps elicited the same cringes then that they do now. Five years ago, Brandon bought Kevin a replica of one as a gag gift, never imagining that the show would be put on Netflix and suddenly everyone would be talking about those sweaters.
Before the taping, they had decided that Kevin would run the sweep round. “I was a little more athletic,” he says. “Brandon’s six-foot-five frame was better for blocking shots.”
The ease with which he hurled 14-pound turkeys and massive jugs of laundry detergent into his cart was immediately noticeable in contrast to the struggles of the show’s other contestants. The crux of the set’s perishable groceries were props—otherwise they would spoil under the studio lights—but they still had real-world heft.
His first stop was to the coffee grinder, using all the extra lead time they had accumulated in the Mini Sweeps to pick up a $100 bonus. But right off the bat, he encountered a snafu that he’s still bitter about three decades later.
It was only supposed to take 10 seconds to grind the coffee. But after 30 precious seconds of waiting, he realized there was something wrong with the machine. The cameraman told him to just move on and producers did award him the bonus in the end, but he missed out on extra cash he could have accumulated in all that dead time.
“I still think they owe us like four or five hundred dollars,” he says.
The shopping carts, he remembers, were incredibly heavy. When they were full, they were essentially 200-pound wrecking balls that the contestants struggled to push around the store. But Kevin had no problem getting his cart to move, to the hazard of Laura, a woman on another team whom he nearly took out completely.
In fact, as they both remember, Laura had a rough go of the final sweep. A medic had to be brought in after the segment and production had to pause for 15 minutes because she was so out of breath that there was concern she might have suffered a heart episode. “These are people who had never had to do that sort of CrossFit-type exercise in their lives,” Brandon says.
Where the pair really shone, however, was in the last challenge of the game, in which together they searched the aisles for three specific products which could earn them a $5,000 bonus in addition to their grocery total of $1,009. Contestants get about 15 minutes before filming begins to roam the aisles and get a sense of the layout of the fake store. Their strategy of dividing and conquering in the search for these items is the chef’s kiss to their domination, and one that really impressed Sweep superfans.
After their episode aired, they each received checks for $3,004.50. Kevin bought a mountain bike, and remembers a trip the two took to Las Vegas soon after the money deposited. Brandon invested in a giant stereo system from Circuit City, in service of future house parties at UC Santa Barbara. That set him back about $875, he remembers. The rest of the money funded dating and his social life in his last years at college.
It wasn’t the pair’s last go at game-show glory. Each competed, though separately, on the Fox Sports game show Sports Geniuses. And they’re aware of the Supermarket Sweep reboot in the works at ABC, with Leslie Jones as host. If they ever do an all-stars episode with contestants from the ’90s run of the series, Brandon and Kevin are ready and willing to don the ugly sweaters again.