Tuesday, September 21, 2010
To Tell the Truth...Girls are Scary!
My Career as a Professional Game Show Contestant
Part 1: To Tell the Truth...Girls are Scary!
$550,000. That is the total amount of money I could have won on all my various game show appearances if everything had gone perfectly.
$11,450. That is the actual amount of money I walked away with. Clearly I left a lot of money on the table!
Over the years, I have appeared on dozens of game shows, including some of the most popular examples of the genre (Wheel of Fortune, Deal or No Deal) and some that I can guarantee you never heard of (Catch 21, something called Celebrity Says.)
The one question I have been asked the most over the years is, “Why don’t you write a book about all your experiences on TV game shows?”
There is a good reason why I have not. There have been many books written about that very topic, and they all had one thing in common -- the person writing the book won a ton of money on TV game shows! For example, in 2006, Ken Jennings, the winningest game show contestant in history, came out with a book called Brainiac: Adventures in the Curious, Competitive, Compulsive World of Trivia Buffs. His combined winnings for all his appearances on both Jeopardy and Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader total over three million dollars. Now that is a person who people want to read a book by!
I’m really good at getting booked as a contestant on game shows, but I haven‘t had much luck when it comes to winning the big prize.
If I was to write a book like that, it would be called How To Get on TV Game Shows and Walk Away With Almost Nothing!
I was always a fan of game shows as a kid. Some of my earliest childhood memories are of watching shows like Beat the Clock, The Joker’s Wild, and Match Game. But I never actually thought about being a contestant on a TV game show until one day in the year 2000 when I got a call from the casting director of a show called To Tell the Truth.
I had recently had my book published -- The Shy Guy’s Guide to Dating -- and the producers of To Tell the Truth thought it would be fun if I appeared on the show along with two other guys pretending to be me, and had a celebrity panel try to guess which of us was the real relationship “expert.” (The best thing about writing a book about any subject is that for the rest of your life, you will be considered an expert on that subject -- even if you know nothing about it!)
Going on To Tell the Truth seemed like a fun way to make some money and promote my book at the same time. It also meant an all-expenses paid trip to Hollywood, so it was a win-win all around. (I was living in Florida at the time.)
So it came to pass that in November of 2000, I flew to L.A., where a limo picked me up and took me to my hotel. If you ever have the opportunity to be flown across the country and picked up in a limo, you should take it. It really makes you feel like a big shot to be riding in a limo that someone else is paying for.
The next day, another limo took me from the hotel to the studio. It was there that I met the other two “Barry Dutters” -- the guys who would be pretending to be me on the show. They were both actors, although they were not supposed to admit that on the show.
(Most of the people who appear on game shows and reality shows are actors, but the people who produce those shows do not want you to know that.)
The first fake “me” was a musician named Jeff Bek. No, it was not the famous Jeff Beck who is a guitarist. It was another one, one you probably haven’t heard of. He had written the music for a CD about Nosferatu the vampire and he gave me a copy of it. (It sounded pretty good.) The other Barry was an actor named Rob Myers. On the show, Jeff said he was a car salesman and Robsiad he was a “a handyman from Rhode Island."
The three of us met with the producers who took on us a tour of the studio. There were other game shows filmed on the same soundstage, including Family Feud. Me and the other Barrys had fun clowning around on the set of Family Feud. The other Barrys told me they had each been given copies of my book the night before the show, in order to make their impersonations of me as convincing as possible.
If we successfully fooled the four-member celebrity panel, plus the audience, we had the chance to win $5,000 (to be split between the three of us -- cheap show!) My two impostors were taken to a separate area, and I was led to a dressing room where I sat with a contestant who would be taping another episode later that same day. He told me his name was Barry Levinson.
I had heard that name before, of course, and I was surprised to be meeting the Academy-Award-winning director of Rain Man on such a low-budget show. Then he revealed that he was a different Barry Levinson. This one was a guy who dressed in a mustard suit and ran something called the Mustard Museum.
As an aspiring filmmaker, my enthusiasm dimmed considerably at the prospect of hanging in the green room with the guy who ran the Mustard Museum.
Fortunately I didn’t have to wait long. I only had to hear a few mustard stories before it was time to get down to business: convincing everyone that I was not the real Barry Dutter!
Under the rules of the show, I was sworn to answer truthfully to any question I was asked by the panel. My doppelgangers were allowed to say anything they wanted to convince the panel that they were me.
The show began with the three of us standing on the stage and each of us saying the same line that had been given to us by the writers. The line was, “I’m Barry Dutter - and girls are scary!” That was a funny and memorable way to start the show. I particularly liked the way the last guy in our line emphasized the word “scary!”
Host John O’Hurley (so unforgettable as J. Peterman on Seinfeld), then said, Now it’s time to find out who is the real Barry Dutter -- and what his problem is!”
The celebrity judges were Bryan Cranston (the dad from Malcolm in the Middle, now best known as the lead on Breaking Bad); comedienne Paula Poundstone; Meshach Taylor of Designing Women; and an upcoming young comic named Lynne Koplitz, who was surprisingly pretty, for a female comedian.
The premise of my book was that I was a former shy guy who got over his shyness and wrote a sort of "training manual" to help other shy guys get out there and meet girls. So the panel and the audience should really have been looking for the contestant who was the least shy of the trio.
Lucky thing for me, most members of the panel were looking for the guy who seemed the shyest, so that helped steer a few votes to the fake Barrys.
Host John O’Hurley seemed to be having a lot of fun with this segment, at one point referring to me as “the coy Casanova.”
My doppelgangers were very convincing. They both came across as kind of quiet, reserved, but all around nice guys. I came across a little cockier, and anyone paying close attention would have realized that I was the one they should have voted for.
The panelists decided to have a little fun at my expense. When I explained that shyness is just fear of rejection, Paula Poundstone promptly rejected me, and then encouraged Bryan Cranston to do the same.
Lynne Koplitz said that if I had a girlfriend, she was an idiot for falling for the cheesy pick-up lines in my book. She then apologized for being so nasty, and then she did an impression of her mother criticizing her for being so mean and saying that was why she was still single.
After the votes were tabulated, it was time to find out if we had fooled everyone. The first the three panelists guessed incorrectly, which put $3,000 in the hands of myself and my cronies. Lynne Koplitz correctly picked me as the “Shy Guy Guru,” partly because she “felt so bad” for the way the panel had poked fun at me. She did note that I "seemed like the most reformed" of the group, which shows that she is smart as well as pretty!
All that remained was for the audience to guess wrong and that would have added another $1,000 to our total. Much to my astonishment, the audience figured out that I was the real Barry Dutter. I guess they had been paying attention!
John O’Hurley asked for the real Barry Dutter to please stand up. Me and my impostors fidgeted a little bit, playing out the suspense, before I finally stood up and revealed myself as the real me.
Paula Poundstone felt like she had been duped. She blurted out, “He was shy for two weeks when he was twelve!” I think Paula had missed the point about me being a former shy guy, but whatever, she got some big laughs at my expense anyway.
With that, the show was over. I still had a couple of hours to kill before I went to the airport. I thought about sending a signed copy of my book to Lynne Koplitz's dressing room, and seeing how she responded. But I chickened out. To this day, I kind of regret that I did not try to meet up with Ms. Koplitz after the show. She came across as playful, funny and approachable. She’s kind of like a bigger-boned Cindy Crawford. She has a joke in her stand-up where she says, “I’m the Cindy Crawford you could get.”
She seemed like the kind of girl who would have been fun to hang out with. But I ignored all the advice in my own book and didn’t even bother trying. Instead I asked my driver to take me to the movies.
I went and saw the first Charlie’s Angels movie, which was moderately entertaining, but probably not as much fun as hanging out with a pretty stand-up comedienne would have been.
Two hours later, the movie was over and it was time to head back to the airport and catch my plane home. The trip was worthwhile, over all. I made my $1,000 on the game show (after the three-way split), but I think I would have benefited much more from spending time with Lynne Koplitz.
I guess sometimes girls still are scary -- even to a reformed shy guy!