Thursday, January 28, 2010
In Part One, I told you how smart I was. You no doubt decided whether or not to believe me, and I'm assuming you did since you returned for Part Two. Or maybe you just wanted to come back and see me make an ass of myself again. In any case, I left off with a promise to tell you about my adventures as a game show contestant, and so I will.
I've written about the game show, Think Twice, in passing, but never as a stand-alone. If you recognize some of this, it's because you're a long-time reader and you've seen bits and pieces of it in previous posts. I've collected those pieces for inclusion here, expanding upon them as I felt necessary. The sections concerning Who Wants To Be A Millionaire and Jeopardy were previously complete posts unto themselves, but here I've trimmed them. If you're some sort of insane Suldog completist, you can find the originals somewhere in my deep and distant archives, but undertaking the task of doing so will not give anyone an added appreciation concerning your reasoning skills.
(In the first sentence that follows, I believe I've made up a completely new word. There will be no added charge for your confusion. That's just the sort of nice guy I am, and you're welcome.)
My first foray into the world of game show contestantry, and the only one to thus far result in my actually appearing on TV, came via the defunct PBS show, Think Twice. Yes, it was a PBS game show. Considering the lack of success with which it met, it's not surprising that they haven't had another one in their lineup since. The show ran for thirteen weeks - that is, only thirteen episodes, since it was a once-weekly show - so you probably never heard of it. Most people didn't hear of it; that's why it ran only thirteen weeks. It aired about sixteen years ago.
My supervisor at the time was Kevin Fitzpatrick, a truly nice guy to whom I owe much of whatever success I've had in the voice-over field. He hired me for my first paying job when I was just about to hang it up and go flip burgers some 20 years ago. While we were working together, he came across a notice in a newspaper calling for contestant tryouts for a new game show being filmed in Boston. He was going to try out and he suggested that I might also. Long story short, I was asked to be a contestant and Kevin wasn't. I don't know why they liked me more than him. He's intelligent, personable, at least as handsome a pasty-skinned Irishman as I am, and certainly as much at ease with public speaking. Just luck of the draw, I suppose.
I showed up on the day of taping and was given the royal treatment - professional make-up, good food to eat while waiting, and my own personal balcony to go out on and have many cigarettes precipitated by nerves. A staffer trailed me everywhere, supposedly to keep me from being contaminated by inadvertently coming upon answers to the questions - that is, cheating - but it may have been because they didn't trust me to dispose of burning materials without setting their building on fire. In any case, it was very heady stuff to have my own version of the Secret Service, as well as to be prettied up. The make-up artist even painted realistic fake eyebrows onto me. My real ones aren't very visible, being blondish and sparse, so that was thoughtful, if a bit off-putting the first time I saw myself in a mirror afterward.
As alluded to in the previous paragraph, all of the contestants were kept in a relatively small secured area. We were not to be talked to by anyone outside of the production crew. This was to make sure of no irregularities which could come back to haunt PBS. We waited for our various shows to be taped, spread out over a six or seven hour day. Mine was the third show to tape, and commenced three hours or so after I had arrived.
Since the game was played by teams, I was partnered with a pleasant and knowledgeable woman who had previously been a losing contestant on Jeopardy. We found out about our partnership only shortly before being led into the television studio to begin our taping. That was the general rule for all teams. You didn't know your partner for too long. I suppose this was a way of avoiding any sort of signaling or collusion.
I have a tape of the show, at home, but I can't bear to watch it. I don't like watching myself on film. I never look as good as I think I look in my mind. However, if I ever get it transferred to DVD, I might post it here for your enjoyment, such as it will be. I'll give you an example of how it worked, though.
The host, Monteria Ivey, would ask a question like "What two federal holidays occur during the month of January?" Then, the first person to ring in would answer, perhaps, "Martin Luther King Day". Since that was a correct component of the two-part answer, it would then be left to that person's partner to supply the second half of the answer; in this case, "New Years Day". If the partner could not supply the answer, or if the original answer had been wrong, the opposing team would get a chance to steal the points by answering correctly.
Now, that was pretty straightforward and fun, and I think if the show had ONLY done that, it might have been a success. However, for some ungodly reason, the producers decided to have three different formats of rounds in the show, and the other two rounds were much harder for the audience to grasp. I won't go into them here. If you want the convoluted particulars, click onto the link for the show given above.
My team led throughout the show. Then came the final question on the final round, concerning country music. I knew dick about country music at the time. I still don't know a heck of a lot about it. However, I now know who Kitty Wells was. I had never heard of her then. I'll never forget her now.
(MY WIFE was in the studio audience. When they announced the category as country music, she turned to her friend, with a crestfallen look, and said, "Jim doesn't know anything about country music...", and she was right.)
So, we finished second. The winning teammates each received a $2,500 investment portfolio, a home stereo, and a $500 shopping spree. I received a whole bunch of gift certificates, most of which we used to do our Christmas shopping that year. Those we didn't use - about half the total - were for computer software. Since I didn't even own a computer back then, I had no idea what software even was. I gave those prizes to my buddy, Kevin, for his help in getting me involved in the first place. Total winnings I actually received and then used? Perhaps $250.
It was a fun experience, even as the loser. Less fun was...
WHO WANTS TO BE A MILLIONAIRE?
... which I was not on. I passed their test, but they decided not to use me.
Auditions were held in New York, so I traveled there at my own expense to compete. The audition itself was a simple process. We were checked in by staff and then handed a sealed envelope containing the written test. After being seated, we were given some instructions concerning the filling out of answers on a separate form, and then we were allowed to open the envelopes and begin the test.
The test consisted of thirty questions, multiple choice, and we were given ten minutes to complete it. If we passed, it was on to the personality interview, wherein someone would decide if I was personable enough to make a national television audience want to root for me. Or perhaps decide that I was a blowhard psychopath. In the interest of fairness to ABC, as well as future contestants, I won’t give you any of the actual questions. However, they were mostly of this caliber:
What do you use to drain your spaghetti after cooking?
A – A Colander
B – A Calendar
C – A Tennis Racket
D – Your Hands
Well, OK, it wasn’t quite that stupid, but it wasn’t MENSA stuff, either. A particularly bright ten-year-old would have had a decent shot at it. And – getting back to the personality thing - I didn’t stand up in the middle of the test and shout, "I came all the way to New York to take this fucking idiotic test? Why didn’t you just grab all the people off of the first short bus you saw passing by and save me the trouble?" I filled out the test paper as instructed and, in the approximately six minutes I had remaining after doing so, I re-checked my answers, making sure I hadn’t drooled on the form or anything else which might have been off-putting to the judges.
The tests were very quickly graded and then we were told which of us should stay for an interview and which should go home. We had been given numbers with our tests. I was number 12. They called out the numbers of those who passed the test:
"193... 137... 126... 12..."
Yes! I passed the written test!
After being informed that I'd passed – I’d estimate that 1 in 8 of those tested did so – I had my picture taken. I smiled nicely. I was very pleased with the photo, too. I don’t think I photograph particularly well, but this one came out well. I looked reasonably intelligent, somewhat friendly, and I had no hanging boogers in my nose. So far, so good.
Then it was on to the personality interview, wherein it appears they concluded I was a blowhard psychopath. I received this postcard from the production staff about two weeks after my trip to New York.
From the results, you might think I had answered the interviewer’s questions in the following manner:
Interviewer: Hi, Jim! I’m Debbie.
Me: Debbie? Hah! Are you the one who did Dallas? Hah-hah!
Interviewer: What do you do for a living, Jim?
Me: I disembowel rabid weasels.
Interviewer: That must be fun!
Me: Not if you’re the rabid weasel.
Interviewer: What’s the first thing you’ll do if you win a million dollars?
Me: Give it to Al-Qeada. Either that or I’ll rent out a roomful of whores and snort massive amounts of cocaine off of their asses until I die.
Interviewer: What sorts of hobbies do you enjoy, Jim?
Me: I thought I made that clear with my previous answer. Wow, you’re really thick!
Interviewer: Well, it’s been nice talking to you, Jim. We’ll let you know in a few weeks whether or not you’ll be placed in the contestant pool.
Me: Like I give a shit, sister. Hey, what are you doing later tonight? Would you mind if I snorted some cocaine off of your ass?
The interviewer’s questions really were like those above, but I didn’t give hideously inappropriate answers. I was nice. I wasn't threatening. I thought I was at least fairly humorous. Maybe the swastika I painted on my forehead was a bit too much. I thought it was a nice homey touch, but you never can tell what’s going to turn some people off these days.
Truthfully, I don’t know for sure what I did to turn them off. They don't tell you why they decided not to use you. Here's some conjecture.
Since the time of my testing, I’ve talked to a few other people who passed the written exam and who also were not invited to appear on the show. They are, without exception, nice people and possessed of a higher-than-average intelligence. And I hope this isn’t too self-serving, but I think that’s the problem. I think the producers weren’t looking for the highly intelligent. I have a feeling that what they really wanted were the reasonably intelligent – those who know how much two plus two is, but not necessarily what someone might do with that information - combined with the type of perky which I, unfortunately, never have been.
Hey, it’s a TV show. I know what they’re trying to do is appeal to the widest possible audience, and just because they decided not to use me, I don’t need to feel like it’s some sort of personal insult. Luckily for me, as a voice-over talent, I work in a subjective business. I know what it’s like to be rejected for reasons having nothing to do with intelligence, talent, or personality. Sometimes, what you’ve got simply is not what someone else needs or wants. I’ve had ample opportunity to get used to being passed over in a like fashion, and I know how to deal with it like an adult.
This is the show I've always really wanted to appear on as a contestant. Thus far, I've taken the tests three times. One was an in-person testing, while the other two have been on-line.
I know for sure that I didn't pass the test when I took it in-person. Under those circumstances, they let you know if you passed or failed. I didn't pass. I believe I was right on the borderline, though, and I'm pretty sure I blew my chance by thinking too much. I gave an answer to one of the questions which, looking back on it, was definitely wrong, and the reason I gave that answer, rather than the readily obvious correct answer, was precisely because the readily obvious correct answer was readily obvious. I thought it was too easy. I know better now, but I can't travel back in time, and that answer probably kept me from getting a crack at the personality interview.
The first time I took the on-line version, I'm reasonably sure that I did pass it. However, they don't tell you if you passed or failed when you take that version of the test. The only way you know for sure if you passed is if they call you and invite you to a further in-person testing. I never received a call. Not receiving the call does not mean you didn't pass, however, as they have a limited number of seats available for the further testing and if too many applicants pass the test, they enter all into a random drawing for the seats at the live testing.
And now, I've taken the test again, as I related in the first part of this story. I don't know for sure how I did. As I said, they don't let you know immediately if you passed or failed. I truthfully think I didn't do as well this time as I did on the previous on-line test. But, hope springs eternal and maybe I'm just being pessimistic. At any time during the following 365 days I might receive a call from the Jeopardy production crew, giving me congratulations and offering me another chance to prove that I am, indeed, a smaht kid. Only time will tell.
If I don't get that call, you can expect this entire two-part posting to be re-run the next time they hold the tests. I'm either going to get onto that show someday or go to my grave having tried every possible avenue to do so. If they take it off of the air before either of those things happens, I'll personally go to California and bomb Columbia Pictures Studios.
Oops! I probably shouldn't have said that. That's the sort of thing that will get you labeled a blowhard psychopath during your personality interview, and I wouldn't want that.
Soon, with more better stuff.
[The Jeopardy photo came from this site, where you can read the story of the man on the right, an actual contestant at one time, the lucky bastard.]