Thursday, November 18, 2010
Howie Mandel makes Me a Very Bad Deal
By Barry Dutter
In September, 2008, I was working a bartending job at a hotel in L.A. One night, a woman came in with her husband and sat at my bar. We got to talking and the woman asked why I had moved to L.A.
I told her it was my goal to become a professional game show contestant. She asked what shows I had been on. I told her I had just been on DEAL OR NO DEAL. She asked how I had done. I told her that out of a possible $500,000, I had walked away with a paltry $250.
The woman had not seen my episode, but she felt she had a pretty good idea of what went wrong. “I know what happened,” the woman said. “You fell into a Greed Coma. Me and my husband watch the show, and we see it all the time. People have the chance to make real money, but they fall into a Greed Coma, they keep rejecting deals from the Banker, and they go home with nothing. That’s what happened to you!”
“That’s not what happened,” I said. “It wasn’t like that at all. They never made me a good deal.”
The woman was not listening to me. She had already made up her mind. She kept repeating “Greed Coma” over and over again, like it was her mantra. I have never struck a woman in my life, but I really wanted to jump over the bar and strangle her.
She had it all wrong. There was no Greed Coma on my episode, because they never gave me an opportunity to be greedy.
I knew what the know-it-all woman was referring to: the way that some contestants on DOND will turn down very generous offers from the “Banker” and then end up losing it all. But my episode didn’t go that way.
Let me start at the beginning.
In 2008, DOND was a successful prime-time show, and the decision was made to launch a syndicated version. Howard Mandel would host the syndicated version in addition to his duties on the prime-time one.
When the syndicated version was first announced, the producers held a massive casting call for contestants for both versions of the show. The people that they loved would appear on the prime-time version. The people that they were not that excited about would go on the daytime version.
I tried out and was picked for the daytime version. I have to admit, I was kind of offended that I didn‘t get picked for the nighttime version. Just a few years earlier I had been on NBC’s THE WEAKEST LINK in prime-time. Suddenly I was no longer ready for prime time? Hmmph!
There were some significant differences between the daytime and nighttime version of DEAL. For one thing, they eliminated most of the models who hold the suitcases. Only two girls made the transition to syndication.
The producers of the show figured they could save a bundle of money by not paying anyone to open those cases. They could just bring in 22 contestants per episode, let one of them play the game, and have the remaining contestants open the cases.
The syndicated version was a half hour, as opposed to the one-hour nighttime version. Another change: unlike on the nighttime version, contestants were not allowed to bring their families with them to cheer them on.
The number of suitcases was cut from 26 in prime time to 22 in daytime. Out of those 22 cases, only about six of them had sums of money in them that were worth playing for. This meant that statistically speaking, more contestants than ever would be going home with relatively small amounts of money.
Oh, and the most significant change of all: the top prize was cut in half from $1 million to $500,000. Winning half a million is not nearly as impressive as winning the full million, but I figured it was still worth thirty minutes of my time.
I was kind of bummed that I wouldn’t get to be on the prime time version with the bigger audience, the bigger money, and my family cheering me on, but this was the only offer on the table, so I took it.
I actually prefer to be on trivia shows rather than a show like DOND, which is based on pure luck. But I wasn’t going to turn down the chance to win half a million bucks!
When you audition for a game show, it helps to have something unique about yourself, something that makes you stand out. At the audition, they had asked me what I did for a living. I told them I was the writer of a book on how to pick up girls. (That one book has gotten me booked on more shows than anything else I have done.)
When they chose me to be a possible contestant, they said they really wanted to play up the “pick-up artist” angle with me. I told them I had a crush on one of the suitcase models and that I would try to “put the moves” on her, and they said that would be great.
It was in April of 2008 that I was summoned, along with a few dozen other potential contestants, to a studio in Culver City for the chance to be on DOND.
There was no guarantee that any of us would get on. The way the syndicated version worked was that 22 possible contestants were brought out on stage. Each one was given a suitcase and assigned a number. At the beginning of every show, one of the models would spin a wheel, and whichever number came up, that would be the contestant who got to play the game.
They taped five episodes a day, which meant five people out of 22 would actually get to play the game, and the others would go home, having wasted a whole day with no chance of winning anything.
Obviously I was really hoping for a chance to play. I had wasted enough days on the sets of game shows where I never even got a chance to play.
Shortly after we arrived, I met my fellow contestants. I got to talking to one of them -- a pretty black girl named Kimberly who told me she was a singer. After a bit of questioning on my part, she admitted that her stage name was Charlie Superfly, and she had been the winner of the Miss Black Howard Stern Beauty Contest on Howard’s radio show.
Being a loyal Stern fan, I instantly remembered "Charlie." Her first appearance on the Stern Show, where she trash-talked the other contestants on her way to winning the title of Miss Black Howard Stern was one of my favorite moments of the show in the last ten years.
Over the next few hours, I got to spend a lot of time with Charlie Superfly. She told me that she was struggling to make it as a singer, and that the one thing she most needed (aside from winning a million dollars on the show) was a job. I told her about my two appearances on the Stern show, and we bonded over our love of all things Howard.
By the end of the day, I would be wishing I hadn’t met her at all.
Before you go on a game show, there are people whose job it is to make sure you are familiar with all the rules, where to stand, what to say, etc. One casting lady on DOND took me aside and said to me, “I hear you’re going to hit on Tamika!” “Who’s Tamika?” I asked. “She’s one of the models on the show,” came the reply. “The one you have the crush on.”
I had to admit that even though I did have a big crush on one of the girls on the prime-time version, I didn’t know her name. (It turned out that the model I really liked on the nighttime version was not one of the ones they brought with them to the syndicated version.) Still, I assured the casting lady that I thought Tamika was hot, too, and that I would be happy to pursue her on TV. The casting lady was satisfied that I would perform correctly on stage if my number came up.
After all the contestants received instructions in how to open a suitcase, it was time to start taping the show. (None of us was allowed to open our own suitcases until we were asked to do so on the show. We practiced with an empty case.)
Myself, Charlie Superfly, and 20 other contestants took our places on the stage. I was holding case number 8. Charlie was holding case number nine. We were standing right next to each other on stage.
The taping began. Howard Mandel came out and gave us all a friendly hello. The two models -- a hard-bodied Latina named Tamika and a cute blonde named Patricia -- came out on stage. They spun the wheel and the first contestant was chosen: a train conductor from Washington D.C.
He had an okay game. He walked away with $12,000, which is respectable, but considering he had the chance to win $500,000, not too impressive overall.
Then it was time to tape the second episode. Tamika spun the wheel again. The ball landed on the number 8 -- my number! Yes, thanks to the whims of fate, out of 22 possible contestants for that episode, I was the one who was lucky enough to have the ball drop in my slot.
I gave Charlie Superfly a big high five (actually a high ten). Then I grabbed my suitcase and ran down on to the stage. This was my tenth or twelfth game show that I had been on, and it kind of blew my mind to be doing this show, after having done WHEEL OF FORTUNE, THE WEAKEST LINK, etc.
When I arrived on stage, I gave Howie Mandel the appropriate fist bump. As I took my place behind the podium, I was caught up in how surreal it was that I keep ending up on these shows. The first words out of my mouth? I said, “Howie Mandel! DEAL OR NO DEAL!” I was still kind of incredulous that I was there.
The game began and Howie asked me if I wanted to switch my suitcase for another. There was a one in 22 chance that my suitcase held $1,000,000, and if I traded away the million dollar case, I would never live it down. I couldn’t think of any strategic reason to trade in my case for another one, so I told Howie I would keep it.
Many years later, I saw a person wrote into the world’s smartest woman, Marilyn Voss Savant, in her column in Parade Magazine, and asked her if she would keep her assigned case or trade it away. She said she would trade it because one of the remaining cases had a 1 in 21 chance of being the million dollar case, and thus, better odds.
The game began as Howie asked me to call out five suitcases to start.
I started calling out random numbers that have no special meaning to me. Number six, number one. I was off to a great start -- those suitcases, once opened, contained very low amounts of money.
The third number I called out was 14. The person standing behind case #14 opened it up. This case had a little sign inside of it that read, “$500,000.”
I had just “lost” half a million dollars. But no worries. There were still two or three good suitcases up there somewhere -- ones containing $250,000, $100,000 and $50,000. AS long as those cases remained in play, there was a chance I could walk away with some big money.
I picked a couple more “low” cases, and was feeling pretty good about the game so far. Sure, I had just lost the Big Prize, but the other cases I picked were all on the “Left Side” of the board, where all the small amounts were.
Considering I still had some big money up on the board, I was sure the banker’s first offer would be in the $20,000 to $30,000 range. (If it had been $30,000, I would have taken it!)
You can I imagine my surprise when Howie took a phone call from “the Banker” and announced the banker’s first offer: $1.00.
Yep, you read that right. One U.S. dollar. I couldn’t believe it. According to Howie, the Banker thought I was a goofball and that I was going to lose. According to me, this was a cheap-ass show that didn’t want to give too much money away and they realized that if I just kept opening suitcases, eventually all the good prizes would be gone and I would walk out with nothing.
I don’t know why they picked me as the guy who gets dumped on. I guess they the writers of the show thought the concept of the “relationship expert” who is not in a relationship was too tempting to resist making fun of.
That initial phone call from the so-called Banker pretty much set the tone for the rest of the show. Howie asked me to try to put the moves on Tamika. I actually thought Tamika was the less attractive of the two models who worked the daytime show. Sure, she had a killer body, but her face seemed kind of mannish to me. The other girl, a sexy little blonde named Patricia, was much more my type.
I asked Tamika out on a date by saying, “Hey Tamika, I’m about to win $250,000. Let’s go out for a drink. If I lose, you can take me out!”
Tamika seemed horrified by the idea of going out with me, regardless of whether I won or lost. She never did say she would date me, even though she could easily have faked it for TV. As a guy who has done a lot of fake reality TV shows, I was very disappointed that she didn’t play along with my scenario of the two of us going on a post-show date. I felt like saying, “Come on, honey -- this is TV! Lighten up a little! You don’t actually have to date me. Just pretend like you want to!”
Howie tried getting me to ask out some of my fellow contestants. The first woman he wanted me to talk to said she was married. The second woman was “Kimberly,“ AKA Charlie Superfly, AKA Miss Black Howard Stern.
I asked Kimberly if she wanted to hang out after the show. Playing for the cameras, she smiled and said, “Any time!” Howie said, “The book works! You just sold another copy!”
Of course Charlie Superfly was not really looking to date me, but at least she knew how to fake it!
The game continued with me unfortunately eliminating the $100,000 prize. But I still had the $250,000 case up there somewhere. The Banker made another offer: $9,500. Now I should point out that this is the largest single sum of money that anyone has ever offered me for doing nothing.
But in the context of this show, that is a paltry sum of money. I still felt like I was being insulted. How dare the Banker offer me under 10 grand when I still had $250,000 up on the board. I told Howie, “No deal!”
The game continued with Howie again taking a break to ask me to hit on Tamika some more. She kept blowing me off and I liked the other model better anyway, so I turned my attention to the little blonde, Patricia, and started hitting on her. All of this wound up getting cut out of the finished show, which was disappointing to me because I think they were trying to paint me as some kind of stalker who was obsessed with Tamika, but the reality was I thought she looked like a tranny and I thought Patricia was much cuter.
As the game proceeded, I continued to open case after guess. Each time, I took more and more high-dollar amounts off the board. I tried to keep my new friend Charlie Superfly in the game by not calling on to open her case till the end. This proved to be a costly mistake since her case had no real value. I figured an out-of-work actress/singer could use the screen time. She later told me she appreciated the favor but added that it was really not necessary.
By the end of the game, I had only four cases left. One of the cases held $5,000. The rest held crap. Howie asked me what I would do with the money if I won. I told him I would use the money to publish a children’s book. He got a big laugh by asking, “A book on how kids can pick up girls?” “No,“ I explained. “It’s a traditional children’s book. Like a fairy tale.” (The real fairy tale on that day was the one about me winning half a million dollars!)
The banker offered me $1700 to walk away. I had played DOND on my computer enough times to know that when you only have one high-value suitcase left, that is the time to accept the Banker’s offer and take his deal, because the next case you open will most likely be that high-dollar case.
All I had to do was to tell Howie that I was ready to make a deal. At that moment, I looked out into the faces of the other contestants and I saw my new friend, Charlie Superfly, chanting “ No deal!”
Now, I’ve been on a lot of game shows and I’ve never let anyone else influence any of my decisions. But at that moment, in all the excitement, when I saw Charlie screaming “No deal,” I kind of got caught up in her enthusiasm and I told Howie , "No deal!"
(After the show was over, one of my fellow contestants came up and told me he thought that I had done nothing wrong throughout the game, that I had just had some bad luck in picking cases. I would argue that I did do one thing wrong, which was to not accept the $1700 deal right toward the end of the game.)
Sure enough, the next case I opened was the $5,000 one. This meant I had thrown away all the good cases and was only left with a few bad ones.
Now the highest case left was a $500 one. Howie asked me one last time to hit on Tamika. I did a variation of my opening line by asking her, “Hey Tamika, I’m about to win $500. What are you doing after the show?“ “Going home!“ came the quick reply. Bitch!
In the final play of the game, I was asked if I wanted to keep what was in my case or accept the banker‘s offer of $250. I took the $250. Then I was instructed to open my case. My case had $500 inside. But I had just sold my case for $250.
Howie ended the game by saying, “Barry -- you made a bad deal.”
My episode was over, but I got to stay and watch the next three episodes tape. The next guy won $24,000. The next girl was an 18-year-old college student, newly arrived in L.A., who rejected a $30,000 offer from the Banker on her way to winning a whopping $80,000. The contestant in the final episode won $33,000.
So here are the final tallies for the five episodes taped that day:
$33,000. (Which one of those numbers is not like the others?)
At the end of then day, all of us “winners” were taken to a room to sign paperwork for our winnings, which would be mailed to us three months later. I felt like I really didn’t belong in that group. I mean, every other contestant had won a decent amount of money
-- enough to pay off some credit cards, go on a vacation, buy something nice. What did I win? Chump change.
Aside from turning down that $1700 offer toward the end of the show, I really felt I didn’t do anything wrong. Sure, in hindsight, I should have accepted the $9500 at the beginning of the show. But that is not how the game is played. There is not a player alive who would have accepted $9500 when there was still $250,000 on the board.
I do feel the Banker kind of screwed me. The writers on the show were working overtime to blast me with insults that were then funneled from the Banker to Howie.
When I said I wanted to use the prize money to publish my next book, the Banker said I was not going to win enough to publish a pamphlet. A funny line, to be sure, but man, it hurts when you’re losing hundreds of thousands of dollars, getting rejected by a girl you don’t even like, and getting insulted on national television too!
I did learn a few lessons from my DOND experience, as degrading as it was. 1) Don’t ever let anyone -- not the audience, not your fellow contestants -- influence any of your decisions on a TV game show. You are the one that has to live with your choices, not them. Of course the audience and your fellow contestants are always going to encourage you to continue playing -- it makes for a better show. But you can’t be pumped up by their cheers to do something foolish.
In the end, my “friendship” with Charlie Superfly wound up costing me about $1500 -- not a huge sum of money, but I still would rather have walked with $1700 than $250. The funny thing is, I know that if our positions had been reversed, she, the unemployed singer, would have made the very deal she convinced me to reject.
Ah well. Water under the bridge.
If I had accepted the Banker‘s highest offer, that $9500 would have been my biggest game show win to date. But I have no regrets. If I had said “No deal” to $25,000 or more then I would have been upset. But a lousy $9500? That wasn’t going to be a life-changing sum of money for me.
Like I said, there never was any Greed Coma because there was never a big enough offer for me to get greedy over.
If I’m mad about anything it’s that the Banker made a monkey out of me with his insulting offers. The writers scored some cheap shots against me. I fought back as best I could, but when there is money on the line, you’re not really focused on snappy comebacks. All you really care about is winning.
I guess in the end, it was my book about dating -- the very thing that got me on the show in the first place -- that inspired the writers to make a big joke out of my whole episode. Maybe if I had told them I was a bartender or a newspaper writer, they would have backed off a bit. But a relationship “expert” who can’t keep a relationship going -- let‘s just say they saw an easy target and went for it.
I was hoping my stint on DOND would sell a lot of books for me. Although the title of my book was never mentioned by name (for legal reasons), Howie did say my full name several times -- enough times for anyone who wanted to look me up on amazon.com to buy a copy.
Alas, when my next royalty statement came a few months later, I saw no up-tick in sales. I had not gotten that big bump that I was hoping for.
But there was one unexpected financial benefit. When I did receive my $250 a few months later, I took it and invested it in a comic book collection which I then sold on eBay for $4500, so I guess you could say it’s like I won $4500 on DOND, albeit indirectly…
I knew going into it that DOND was a game of luck, not skill or intelligence. Let’s face it: a monkey could play DOND and win just as easily as a human. I really prefer to win my money the old-fashioned way, by standing behind a podium and answering trivia questions. In this day of game shows being increasingly stunt-oriented, the type of Q & A shows that I like are becoming increasingly rare. But there are still some out there.
Oh yeah, I guess I do have one regret about my time on the show. At the very end, when Howie thanked me for coming and it was time for me to say goodbye, I thought of a funny closing line I could have said.
I wish I had said, “Watch for my new children’s pamphlet, coming soon!”