Wednesday, March 14, 2012

My 15 minutes (maybe 20) of TV fame were up long ago

Everyone has something interesting or strange they've done in their life. And I do mean everyone. I've never met a person yet who, if you talk to them long enough, won't surprise you with some quirky hobby, experience or brush with fame they've had.

Mine, as my wife will readily tell you, is that I've appeared as a contestant on two game shows: "Who Wants To Be a Millionaire" and "The Price Is Right." I say that my wife will tell you because she claims I'm so impressed by this fact about myself that I make a point of bringing it up with any new person I meet.

This isn't true, of course. This blog has been humming along for, what, three months? And I don't remember mentioning it once.

Because I readily acknowledge two facts about my game show experience:

(1) The whole thing was a lot of dumb luck on my part, and

(2) The only person who's truly impressed is me. I know this.

Game shows went out of style long ago. When I was growing up, you could turn on the TV almost any time between the hours of, say, 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. and find a game show on somewhere. And that was when we only had four channels! And our TVs weighed 500 pounds and were operated by little handcranks. And we had to ride our horse and buggy into town if we wanted to watch one of those newfangled "cable" TV shows.

Anyway, yes, I realize that game shows are more mocked than respected these days. This process started 20 years ago and reached its nadir with the retirement of Bob Barker. Bob was the last link to the good old days of game shows, and when he left "The Price Is Right," a piece of the past went out with him.

I actually got to meet Bob when I was on "Price." (That's what we veterans call it: "Price." Well, OK, I'm probably the only who calls it that. Just go with it.) I made the decision to fly out to Los Angeles and attempt to get on the show in 2006, soon after Bob announced that that season would be his last. No offense to Drew Carey, but if I was ever going to become a contestant, it had to be with Bob.

I also really liked Meredith Vieira, the host of "Who Wants To Be a Millionaire." I was a contestant there during the first season of the syndicated show, which began in 2002 after ABC had managed to air the original so many times that Americans got sick of Regis Philbin.

Meredith was very touchy feely. She was always reaching over and patting my shoulder or touching my arm. After the show aired, people told me she was flirting with me. I told them to watch other episodes. Meredith flirts with EVERYBODY. Man or woman, doesn't matter to Meredith. Her way of making you feel comfortable in the Hot Seat is to hit on you. I guess it works.

Bob was also very smooth. And tan. Like scary tanned. He was bronzed from head to toe, and given that he lives in Southern California, it was hard to tell how much of it was real and how much was spray-on.

It didn't matter, though, because this was BOB. Right in front of me was Bob Barker. In the flesh. This was the guy I had watched countless times while laying on the couch when I was sick and stayed home from school. The guy who carried that long microphone around and wooed the ladies without even trying. BOB BARKER.

He did have pretty significant crows feet, of course, but give the guy a break. He was 83 years old at the time! And it was clear that, if he had wanted, he could still break me in half. Yet he looked you right in the eye when he spoke and treated you like you were the most important contestant in the history of the show. That's something he learned over 35 years of hosting TPIR, I'm sure, but it's also largely an innate talent.

During the commercial breaks, Bob would take questions from the audience, and he was hilarious. These were probably all questions he had been asked a million times before and his answers were likely rehearsed, but it didn't matter. People howled with laughter. Bob was in control of that studio from the moment he walked in.

Anyway, to answer the questions that 95% of people ask (and that I would certainly ask) when they find out about me and the game show thing:

(1) How did I get on? Like I said, dumb luck. The Millionaire people held tryouts in Cleveland and I think I just happened to fit their "Goofy White Guy" profile quota for the day. And for Price, my pre-show interview happened to be with a producer with whom I could really relate. He and I clicked. If it had been someone else, I doubt I would have been chosen to "come on down."

(2) How did I do? I won $32,000 on Millionaire and $2,500 and four electric guitars on Price. One guy in my Millionaire group of contestants won $250,000. It made my $32K look kind of piddly. On Price, I made it all the way to the Showcase Showdown at the end of the show before losing.

(3) What question did I miss on Millionaire? It was about Mary Cassatt and the kinds of portraits she painted. How come no one ever cares about the 10 questions I got right?

(4) Was the big wheel on "Price Is Right" heavy? Yeah, sort of. But if you're a guy up there spinning it, the last thing you want is to give it a wimpy spin and get booed off the stage, so you try your best to wing it around several times in manly fashion.

(5) Did they take taxes out of your earnings? The Millionaire people did not, while the Price people took California taxes but not federal taxes. The taxes actually weren't that bad, surprisingly.

(6) What did you do with the money? Kept my family alive with a roof over their heads. And I think I bought a hockey jersey, too. I'm quite the big spender.

I'm sometimes asked what my next game show will be, and the answer is "none of the above." I think my short-lived TV career is pretty well over. It's nearly impossible to get onto "Jeopardy" and "Wheel of Fortune." And I have no desire to do something like "Survivor" or "Fear Factor." So I'll just keep the DVD recordings of my appearances along with my memories and leave it at that.

And I'll keep my hockey jersey, too. It really is cool.


  1. Watched you on Millionnaire...accidental happening as I was channel changing and saw a familiar face. Shouting out the answers as if you could hear became the activity for a few minutes. (Yes, I actually know answers now and then) One answer was 'Charlotte's Web' (if memory serves me right here) and I was yelling into the TV, come on Scott, you have kids, you should know this one! Hey, btw, you were on another TV show way back that where you got your start? :o)

  2. You regularly mention in your blog how your wife is always right and once again she is right. You mentioned being on game shows in your 12/28/2011 blog post.

  3. PAY NO ATTENTION TO BRYONN THORNBURGH! HE LIES! LIES, I TELL YOU! Darn it, Bryonn, you're killing me here... ;) I stand, once again, corrected.