You’re in the television studio. The lights are in your eyes. The audience is on your side. $10,000 is at stake, and people across the nation await your answer. You’re living your dream – you’re on a television game show.
But how did you make it here?
We’ve all thought about it – playing on the game show we’re watching. How realistic is that fantasy?
Fifteen years ago, I would have said it was a ridiculous long shot. After having played three game shows, though, and auditioned for a few others, I can say that it’s not impossible.
There are two keys to getting on a game show: Playing the game well, and convincing the producers that you are someone viewers want to watch.
To get on a show, study that show. Understand which skills are needed. If you don’t have those talents, look for another show.
“Jeopardy!” rewards fundamental academic knowledge and an ability to interpret clues embedded in the answers, plus you need to be able to retrieve the material in 3 seconds.
“Wheel of Fortune” looks for enthusiasm above other qualities, as does “Family Feud,” which also loves players who are willing to be a little bit naughty.
Consider your favorite show. Identify its core, the thing that drives it and makes it work. That’s the trait you need to succeed at that show.
Consider, too, that some games may not prefer all of their players to be top strategists; they’d rather you just go all-out. This may have helped me on my first successful audition – I was working on very little sleep, which made me punchy, and made me not care what anyone thought, in a really good, confident way. It made me sassy and funny, like some people get after their first drink or two.
My next successful audition also came on very little sleep, so I knew to arrange it that way for the third one. Setting aside your inhibitions might be the trick, however you want to make that happen.
‘Be yourself, but bigger’
If you play lots of bar trivia and know your stuff, it can be hard to accept that being good at the material isn’t enough. The shows are casting for television, so you need to stand out as a particular kind of character.
Figure out the thing about you that’s interesting to TV viewers, and play it up. Don’t lie about it, but celebrate it. It’s OK to exaggerate a little.
If you’re a robot sitting there answering questions, people sitting at home will change the channel.
When “Who Wants To Be a Millionaire?” was at its peak on primetime, from 1999-2001, one of the best pieces of advice floating in fandom was from Phyllis Harris (now Cheek): “Be yourself, but bigger.”
Cheek, who played on “Greed” and “Millionaire,” was explaining that contestants are more than repositories of information. They are players. They are characters we root for: kooky grandma, goofy college student, stressed-out college student, alpha dude, child prodigy, party person, country bumpkin. Or whatever fits you. Pick the one thing that is the most “you” and make it obvious. Be funny. Be the person who has been married six times. If you have a physical trait that’s different, own it.
To beat the audition process means standing out. If you’re asked what you would do with a big prize, don’t say that you would invest it or pay bills or travel. You probably will do those things, but there is nothing about those answers that’s memorable. Stand out. Say you will do something with Nutella and a tuba. One of my favorite answers to this question was, “I think Stonehenge needs some graffiti about now, don’t you?”
With a little sass, you too, can catch the eye of a game show producer, get on the show, and win.
Ellyn Ritterskamp works in the McClatchy Publishing Center in Charlotte.
Forrest Brown contributed.
Topping off the tank
Once you’ve auditioned and you’re waiting for the call, or even after you’ve gotten the call, use the time to prepare in very specific ways.
There are three kinds of knowledge:
▪ The material you don’t know. Don’t study this. It’s too late.
▪ The material you’re good at. Don’t study this. You already know it.
▪ The material you once knew but have forgotten. Study this hard – U.S. presidents, state capitals, world capitals, chemical symbols, planets and moons.
Practice playing the game. Figure out ahead of time what you will do in game-specific situations (how much you’ll wager, which lifeline you’ll use). There are ways to practice many of these things months before you get on the show. Don’t make yourself have to do it for the first time under the spotlight.
Remember why they cast you. Have fun.