Ask the Game Show Winner

…not the game show host!

Quite unexpectedly, I have become a game show geek - meaning that I don’t watch the shows a whole heck of a lot, more if I’ve got time and nothing else is on. My first experience with game shows started with a disastrous tryout for Jeopardy! at 17 - definitely a humbling experience - but I was successful in a tryout for Wheel of Fortune in 1993. We were college week champs!

I took… well, a lot of time off, and auditioned for Win Ben Stein’s Money in 2000. Made it to the isolation booth vs. Mr. Stein himself, but he miraculously tied me at the end.

Next was Jeopardy! By this time I had moved out to Boston so I had to pay some cash to get to L.A., but I did win one day (and picked up a nice case of food poisoning that laid me low for a week). My least favorite experience ('cos I got sick - the show people were quite nice).

Latest was Who Wants to be a Millionaire. In this case, I went for two days (basically because I appeared on the tail end of the last show they taped the first day) and managed to do pretty well.

My haul from the shows:
Wheel of Fortune: $34,250
Win Ben Stein’s Money: $2,200
Jeopardy! $16,500
Who Wants to be a Millionaire: $50,000
TOTAL $102,950 before taxes

Questions about trying out, getting on, having meaningless banter with the hosts, what goes on backstage, what happens after the show - ask 'em here!

So, any other shows you’re looking at playing?

Do you have any ideas on a new game show? Or any old show you’d like to see revived?

What did you think of the Stormin’ Mormon’s streak on Jeopardy?

Awesome stuff dude!

Any groupies?

Have you ever won a non-cash prize like a car or a one year supply of Rice’o Roni? Do you have the option of taking cash?

What were your questions on Millionaire? And please put the answers in spoilers!

And what have you done with all that moolah?

How did you prep for each individual game show? (What things did you do the same, what things did you do different for each).
Nervous much?

ronincyberpunk -

No other shows are on the radar screen for me. The whole reality show genre isn’t my bag and most new game shows are like that. I am not a big fan of shows where only the top winner gets stuff (Dog Eat Dog, The Weakest Link). There’s plenty of pressure on you during a game show. Who needs the extra aggro? Comedy Central has an interesting show (Distraction?) where you answer questions while they try to disturb you with naked bodies, etc. Interesting, but not really my cup of tea…

I would like to see a team trivia game on TV. Sort of Family Feud meets Jeopardy! It would be fun to watch a team of folks battle each other.

Ken Jennings was really impressive. I don’t know when they changed the rules, but it did strike me as a little unfair. There was this blind guy named Eddie on a few years back who was amazing. He would have given Kenny boy a run for his money. What people don’t realize is that the key to Jeopardy! (and also the dearly departed Win Ben Stein’s Money) is timing. Being able to anticipate the buzzer is key. There are lights that indicate when the buzzers are active, and once you hit the buzzer you are locked out for several seconds. Wait too long, someone else will buzz in. Go too early, and you’re locked out. The buzzer is operated by the judges who are off-stage to the left of Alex. After a while, if you survive, you can anticipate their rhythm. Imagine the advantage you have after 2-3 victories over the newcomers.

None of this is to take away from Ken, his knowledge base is pretty awesome.

flander -

Strangely enough, I did attract an entourage, but it was completely innocent. For Wheel of Fortune, we came to Boston from Texas for College Week. The crowd was mostly older folks but there was a large contingent of special needs kids from a local school. They thought I was the greatest thing since the Beatles. I was signing autographs and posing for pictures with 'em. Neat kids and a lot of fun.

Vanna White was so excited when I won, she busted a bra strap. She felt the need to share this with the audience at the end of the show. Beyond that, nah. I always have my mom or my wife in the audience so I’m not going to be real successful in attracting groupies…

jamlad -

Nope. All cash. My non-cash tokens include: t-shirts, pens, and the Jeopardy! CD-ROM game (alas, PC only). My college week co-victor, Jim Bob (seriously, that’s his name - I told you I was from Texas) won Doan’s Back Pills and Eskimo Pies. He received shipments twice - once, when the show originally aired, and again when it repeated. A UPS truck came by and dropped off a crate of each.

HeyHomie -

That’s gonna take a while. When I get back this evening I will figure out how to post the questions with spoilers!

The WoF money was used to buy a car and my first Mac. I still have both, though the car is quite dinged up and the Mac is obsolete. The rest of it I have squirreled away in savings. I’m a grad student and I live pretty modestly.

Uncommon Sense -

What an apt screen name, judging from your questions! I always re-read E.D. Hirsch’s Dictionary of Cultural Literacy. It serves the purpose of reminding you of stuff you knew, or kind of knew, but forgot. The section on The Bible and idioms is particularly helpful.

The last three shows are all trivia based so I watch the trivia shows on TV and GSN. Just to get a feel for what kinds of questions they ask. (For instance, for the longest time Jeopardy! had a question writer who was from Nebraska and there was almost always a question about Nebraska, or Nebraskans on the show.) Also, you learn about the show’s pace. Jeopardy! usually steers you in the right direction with answers so lots of times it’s not about knowing the absolute correct answer, but about knowing the topic well enough to know the likely ones.

For Ben Stein and Jeopardy! I watched the shows with a clicking ball-point pen in hand, to get used to the process of buzzing in. I also think I have the home versions of the games on my computer, but they are of limited value.

I don’t usually get nervous. I always say to myself that I’m there to have a good time, and set really low expectations for myself. Basically, let’s go on TV, look like we have common sense, and win $100 (or something like that). I try to relax, get to know the other contestants (usually fun and typically someone is a fanatic, telling you what questions to expect, etc.). Show producers really want you to do well and do all they can to make you feel smart, witty, and together. I also take time to pray (I have some dearly departed relatives who were great at trivia and word games, and I ask them to help me out if they can!). Once you get on stage, after make-up and all that, it goes incredibly fast. As you focus on the game, you block out the crowd. Plus there is usually a huge wall of lights that makes them impossible to see. (Also, security because of the game show scandals in the 1950s and FCC regulations is pretty tight - they warn you not to look in the crowd too often. My buddy actually got shushed by a security guy at Win Ben Stein’s Money because he was yelling my name out!)

How did you win $50K on Millionaire?

I thought it went from 32 to 64?

The next time I go to California (probably around Christmas), I’m going to LA to try out for Jeopardy!. What was the tryout like, and do you have any advice?

On the daily syndicated version (with Meredith Viera as the host), it goes from $16,000 to $25,000 (25 taking the place of 32), then 50, 100, 250, 500, and a million.

I don’t know if the sweeps-week specials with Regis still follow the old format.

So how does one get on these game shows? Do you have a better chance of getting on one if you are visiting or live in a particular city? Can you give us a basic rundown of the application, interview and/or audition process?

Tentacle Monster, are you a military person? 'Cos the only folks from Mountain Home I’ve ever encountered are.

The tryout for Jeopardy! was here in Boston. Long lines, take a number, etc. Once I got in to the “test site” (which was a hotel conference room), they put on a DVD of Alex T. telling us about the show, how the Clue Crew was an exciting new development on the show (?), and finally, fifty questions that we had to answer on paper. They don’t tell you the correct number you need to “pass” but I suspect it is around 35-45. I definitely got three or four wrong, and reached on the same number. The rest I felt fairly confident about. But as I said earlier, we all have certain topics we know cold, and others we are blank on.

The room of about 70 or so was whittled to about eight once the grading was complete. I think a lot of folks overestimate how “easy” the test is. Sitting at home, knocking 'em out on regular Jeopardy! is quite different from answering mid-range Double Jeopardy! questions with a time limit.

I think we did an “interesting facts about you” inventory, either on paper or orally to the contestant coordinators. Then we stood in groups of three on the carpet, and one of the coordinators pretended to be Alex as they asked questions. Sometimes they would say, “Okay, Hippy, you answer this question and ask for the next category.” I think they want to see if you can make the game flow. If you sit there going, “uh, I dunno Alex, give me a sec” you are going to disrupt the flow of the game. Ideally, they want to see all of the questions revealed. They also coached us - don’t say “Alex, I think I’ll take Potent Potables for $800, if you don’t mind.” Rather, it’s “Potables, 800.” Stuff like that.

The other problem lots of folks have is the concentration grimace. You have to look at least friendly or something north of terminally depressed. Unfortunately a lot of folks look that way when they’re concentrating. You might have someone watch you as you answer questions watching the show to see if you have any weird tics that you’re unaware of. Try to smile and have a good sense of humor about the whole thing.

The last piece of info might not be helpful because you can’t do much about it - but I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention it. TV is full of middle-aged, balding, White men from suburban areas. If this describes you understand that the majority of people trying out, and likely passing the test, fit this demographic. This is good news if you are a) female, b) a person of color, c) from an interesting place, or d) have some other marker of difference that makes you stand out fairly quickly. As a friend once said to me, I am probably a contestant coordinator’s dream contestant. I’m African American, (at the time) had dreadlocks, have lived all across the U.S. and overseas, pretty good at the small talk stuff, and I have a lot of cool stories - brushes with famous people, neat projects and achievements, that kind of thing. (God that sounds egotistical!) But it points to the fact that I know what makes me interesting. (For example, when I tried out for Ben Stein, my answer to “Tell us something interesting about yourself” was “Every night I sleep with 205 18 year olds.” I was a residence hall director in a freshman dorm at the time, and the producers thought it was funny - Ben Stein’s show was always full of double entendres and innuendo, so it fit their shtick.) You should know those things about yourself as well. A friend can help you decide what you should make clear and evident about yourself.

If you are a middle-aged, balding, White men from a suburban area, make sure your personality shines through. When I was in the green room at Jeopardy! with fellow contestants, there was an Italian American guy from Brooklyn who was a hard hat. They loved him - the way he talked, what he did for a living, and his gregarious nature. Be like Anthony! (or more correctly, be like your unique self…)

After the tryout, I was sent home and told to wait for a phone call (this was October 2003. The call came in November, and I taped in late November). You have to pay your way out to L.A. and for your lodging, though there is a Jeopardy! discount available at some fancy hotel. Me, I crash with my Hollywood buddies (not actors, advertising and marketing guys).

I think I was lucky. In my tryout some people said they had passed the test several times over several years. I’d go in with a positive attitude, but not expecting much.

Trunk, HeyHomie answered your question. I was on the Meredith syndicated version, not the Regis one. The producers noticed a trend where contestants would strive to get to $64,000 and then leave. It’s a good payout and not that risky. So to make the show more interesting, they changed the “safe” levels, thinking that people would be more likely to gamble if the only “safe” point after $25,000 was $100,000. Maybe it’s good for the show but I wouldn’t have minded an extra $14,000!

Dragwyr: I’ve lived in Texas, California, and Massachusetts when I tried out for these shows. The only one I tried out for in L.A. was Win Ben Stein’s Money. Again, I stood out because I was from the central coast, not L.A. or the exurbs. I think appearing on a game show previously makes you more attractive, especially if you performed well. That means you won’t freak out, or clam up when the lights come on. I think any endeavor where there’s stress and public attention to what you do is good prep from a game show, so if you have those kind of experiences, I’d be sure to mention them. A lot of my interviews asked me, “Is our show harder than others?”

IMO, the test for Ben Stein was the toughest.

Yep, I’m in the Air Force. I’m a young, artificially bald, white boy from the country. I do know a couple of interesting facts about my hometown of Poplar Bluff, Missouri. People remember me. And if it’ll help me get on the show, I’ll show up in full service blues (or at least some new, crisply-pressed BDUs. Blues are rather uncomfortable). Hell, I’ll put a quarter in my nose if it’d help.

TM, my dad was a 26 year vet of the USAF. Worked on F-111s, and when we were about to PCS from the UK, a lot of folks got orders to Mountain Home and Minot. We ended up in Texas. I consider myself lucky…

Definitely go in your dress blues… that’s a good call.

Hey Hippy Hollow, I just got back from auditioning for Millionaire.

I passed the test and had an interview with a producer. Then, the producer I interviewed with had me briefly interview another producer.

Do you think there’s any significance to that?

Hmm, when I auditioned for Weakest Link, they had a maximum of 3 game show appearances for any contestant. They also would not allow any contestant who had appeared on any show within the past year. Did you ever find that to be a problem?

Don’t know if I am violating some board policy by resurrecting this thread, but I just realized there are two posts I never responded to…

HeyHomie, that is indeed a good sign because that’s what happened to me! Good luck. Have you heard back from them yet?

dalej42, I usually don’t broadcast the fact that I’ve been on other shows. If they ask I tell. There is a general rule that you cannot be a candidate for public office or appeared on a game show in the last year. My appearances were in 1993, 2000, 2003, and 2004, I think… I’ve never heard of a three-show rule… must be specific to “Weakest Link.”