Tuesday, December 28, 2010
You've got baggage. I've got baggage. We've all got baggage.
But would you be willing to go on national television and spill the beans about all your biggest flaws? In 2010, a new game show was launched based on that very premise. The show was called BAGGAGE, and it dared to ask the question: how much baggage are you willing to put up with in a romantic partner?
The show was hosted by that ringmaster of sleaze himself, Jerry Springer, who was the perfect choice for the job. The premise of BAGGAGE was that a single man or woman would have to choose between three people of the opposite sex for a date. In the first round, each of the three possible companions would have to reveal a small bit of “baggage” about themselves -- i.e., something that would send up a red flag and possibly make someone not want to date them.
In the second round, each contestant would have to reveal a slightly bigger piece of baggage. And in the third round, the potential daters would have to reveal their biggest baggage yet.
During the course of the game, contestants would be eliminated until there was only one potential dater left. Then, the tables would turn, and the person who was originally doing the choosing would have to reveal their baggage, and the person they chose would then get to decide if they wanted to keep or dump the chooser. If the chooser and the contestant both liked each other, they would get to go on a date together.
If they didn’t like each other, they would go their separate ways.
It was all in good fun, and I don’t think the contestants ever actually went on a date together. This show was not about the actual date. It was about what you’re willing to put up with in a partner.
Sometimes the show featured one woman choosing between three men. Sometimes it was one man choosing between three women. I think they may have even done a gay episode.
Everyone who appeared on the show got paid $500 just for showing up, which made this one of the highest-paying acting jobs I ever had. That may not sound like a huge sum of money, but it’s not like we were exactly working very hard for it!
The contestants came up with some pretty bizarre baggage -- things like body odor, excessive sweating, and living with their moms -- so Jerry surely felt right at home among all the oddballs and misfits.
Each potential contestant for BAGGAGE was given a lengthy questionnaire that asked you what were the three worst things about you. I decided that my three biggest pieces of baggage were as follows: 1) I am 45 years old and have never been married. 2) I have a collection of over 30,000 comic books. (This used to be true, though I sold them off years ago.) And 3) I have a ghost that follows me around and haunts me. (Not true, but I used to live in an apartment where a girl had died, and I did hear some creaking in the walls once...)
I made up that last one, but I thought it sounded funny and would play well on TV. The questionnaire had dozens more questions, essentially asking the same thing over and over again: What are some more reasons someone would not want to date you? What about you would raise a red flag in a potential dating partner? What are some of your worst habits? Etc.
Essentially, they were repeating the question because they figured some respondents might not give their best answers to the question the first time. They figured that if people have things about themselves that they are embarrassed by, they might be hesitant to disclose that information right off the bat. But with repeated questioning, the thinking seemed to be that the average Joe would crack under pressure and spill his guts about his deepest, personal shame, like picking his nose or bed-wetting or whatever.
I was pretty happy with my three initial answers than I had given, but I tried my best to give them more, in case they wanted to pick something else. I wrote that I lived at my sister’s house, which is another huge red flag for potential daters. Girls are instantly suspicious of any guy who does not have his own place.
I think a lot of guys on the show were saying that they lived with their mom’s, so in retrospect, maybe a guy living with his sister wasn’t so bad.
The questionnaire also asked each contestant to name the three best things about themselves. That is a hard question to answer and be clever at the same time. We all want to say we are smart, funny, witty, charming, good-looking, etc etc, but how to boil it down to the top three?
For my top three I wrote, 1) I’m funny, 2) I’m a very handsome man, and 3) I’m not that good in bed, but I try really hard!
I thought that was a funny line, and it didn’t seem like any of the non-baggage stuff about was ever going to get used on the show. Mostly I wrote it as something to amuse the casting person who was reading my questionnaire.
I guess it must have worked, because a few weeks later, I was picked to be on the show. My episode would involve a pretty girl choosing between me and two other guys.
Problem was, one of the other contestants was also named “Barry.” The producers asked if I would mind using a different name on the show. I had no problem with that. I figured, if I’m going to go on TV and make a fool of myself, at least I could do it under a fake name.
I offered to go by my middle name -- Vinnie -- and the producers were cool with that. Vinnie was actually supposed to have been my birth name until my Italian mom had a last-minute change of heart, so calling myself “Vinnie” really wasn’t that much of a fabrication.
Before the show began, I met the other Barry, and the third contestant, a man named Rick. Most of the contestants on BAGGAGE were over 35, so this was a perfect show for a guy in my age group. The casting dept. tried to steer away from having people under 35 on the show, because the thinking was that guys over 35 have had way more time to accumulate more baggage. (They were right about that!)
Me and the other two contestants were each given three suitcases of different sizes. The bottom suitcase was a large one with wheels and a handle. The other two suitcases -- a medium sized one and a small one -- rested atop the large one. Each suitcase had a card inside revealing a piece of “baggage” about us.
Each of the contestants met with a producer who discussed what their baggage would be on the show. I was told the producers had chosen as my baggage these three things: 1) Collection of 30,000 comic books; 2) 45 and never married; and 3) Haunted by a ghost.
I was really glad they had gone for the ghost one, because I thought it was unique. I mean, one of the other two contestant on the show said his baggage was that he slept with Anna Nicole Smith. I figured my ghost story was way better than that!
Me and my two competitors were given instructions on how to wheel out suitcases into the stage, and how to open our bags. (Of course, I was an old hand at opening suitcases on TV, what with all my experience on DEAL OR NO DEAL) Then we were briefed as to what our final baggage would be on the show. In my case, I was told they were doing a last-minute substitution. They had eliminated the one about me being haunted by a ghost -- and replaced it with one about me being really bad in bed.
Whaaaaaaaat?!! I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I had never listed that as part of my baggage. I had only written that as a joke when describing my positive traits! I never in a million years would have agreed to be on a show saying I was bad in bed!
But there was no turning back now. All of our personal information had already been written down on cards and inserted into our suitcases. Like it or not, I was going on TV and saying I was a lame lover.
The only consolation for me was that I had already agreed to use a fake name. I could justify my appearance on the show by telling myself, "I’m not saying that Barry is bad in bad. I’m saying that my character, 'Vinnie' is bad in bad."
Yes, I was being sandbagged once again on national television, but this time, at least, I was being better-paid for it. I felt that for $500, I felt it was worth the humiliation.
Finally it was time for the show to start. Me and the other two guys took our places backstage. Jerry Springer came out and introduced the girl who would be doing the choosing: a pretty 35-year-old redhead named Jennifer.
In the first round, me and the other two contestants opened our small suitcases. My small baggage was the huge comic book collection. The second guy said he once slept with Anna Nicole Smith. And the third guy said he didn't own a car.
Jennifer gave her initial impression about each guy, based on their small baggage. In my case, she said,” He might have a case of Peter Pan Syndrome.” (Considering she had never met me before, I thought she was pretty accurate!) For the guy with bad breath, she said he could just take some breath mints. The one she said she was most worried about was the guy who slept with Anna Nicole Smith.
I thought it was kind of funny that something so frivolous as sleeping with a celebrity would be considered baggage. I mean, it’s not like Anna Nicole Smith was known as the biggest slut who ever lived. I guess it threw up a red flag because of the fact that she died of a drug overdose.
Jerry Springer did a brief chat with me and the other two guys where we got to introduce ourselves.
Then it came time for round two. The show stopped taping as the producers filled us in on what would happen next. I was told that my “medium baggage” would be the one about me being “Bad in Bed.“ I couldn’t believe they were going with that as my medium. I mean, what woman in the world is going to pick a guy who says he’s terrible in the sack? Couldn’t they at least have saved that one for my “Large” baggage in round three? Ah well. I was getting paid the same whether I won or lost the game, so all that was left to do was to keep on playing .
At the start of round two, me and the other two contestants all walked away from our cases and sat down on a couch. This time, Jennifer was told what each man’s “Medium” baggage was, but, in a twist, she wasn’t told which baggage went with which contestant.
As soon as she heard the three pieces of Medium Baggage, Jennifer’s mind was made up. She knew she could never be with a guy who is bad in bed. Whoever that person was, he had to go.
She told Jerry, “Sex is very important to me, and I don’t want to have to teach anyone how to do it.”
Jerry Springer instructed each of the three contestants to walk to the “Medium” suitcase that belonged to them. Me and the other two guys walked over, each of us pretending to go for different cases, in the tradition of the old “To Tell The Truth” technique of faking out the audience.
Finally we each ended up standing behind our proper suitcase. Jennifer apologized and sent me packing. I took my suitcase and headed backstage to watch the rest of the show.
In the final round, Jennifer was asked to choose between the remaining two contestants, each of whom had a ridiculous amount of baggage. One of them had no job, and the other had no car. In L.A.!
She chose Rick, the guy with no car. At that point, the tables were turned, and Rick got to hear what Jennifer’s baggage was. She said, “I love my cats more than any guy I will ever go out with.”
At that point, Rick was given a chance to choose to go on a date with Jennifer or to reject her, based on her baggage. Rick chose to reject her, saying, “She sounds crazy to me!”
I thought it was hilarious that Jennifer was getting rejected by a guy with no car and bad breath.
The funny thing about this show was that the couples on BAGGAGE didn’t actually have to go on any real dates, they just had to agree to go. So there was no real reason for Rick to reject Jennifer. He had nothing to gain by doing so.
But it made for great TV!
After the show was over, I got to talk to Jerry Springer for a few minutes. He seemed like a nice guy and he genuinely felt bad about the way I got booted off the show. I was about to get my picture taken with Jerry when a production assistant suddenly ran over to me and said, "We need you backstage for your Exit Interview now!"
I was brought backstage where a cameraman filmed my parting comments while the P.A. asked me questions. I was asked to say a few words about how Jennifer really blew it by not picking me. The PA suggested I say something like, "I may not be any good in bed, but practice makes perfect!"
I refused to say "practice makes perfect" because to me, that sounded too much like I would be masturbating. I mean, what other way is there to practice sex?
Instead, I said, "I may not be great in bed, but I can always get better."
It wasn't exactly what the PA was looking for, but it was the best I was willing to give her.
After my Exit Interview was over, I had the chance to talk to Jennifer for a few minutes, and we had a big laugh about the whole thing. She said she felt bad for rejecting me because I was bad in bed. I told not to worry about it, it was all a show for TV.
I like to think if Jennifer and I had met in real life, she would have had a chance to see that I’m really not that horrible in bed. If she really took the time to know me, she would have had a chance to find out about my REAL baggage.
Like my obsession with appearing on TV game shows…!
Sunday, December 12, 2010
By Barry Dutter
Quick: name a five-letter word for “Nonsense.“
Whatever word you just came up with, I can guarantee with 100% certainly that your answer is wrong.
Problem is, that was the clue I was given when I had a chance to steal the game and win it all as a contestant on MERV GRIFFEN’s CROSSWORDS.
In the world of game shows, Merv Griffin was a god among men. He created two of the longest-running game shows of all time: JEOPARDY and WHEEL OF FORTUNE.
But no one is perfect. It wasn’t enough for Griffin to create two beloved game shows. He had to try for a third, to complete the trifecta.
So he came up with CLICK -- a show based on that then-new invention called “the Internet.” It was hosted by Ryan Seacrest and it lasted for two seasons from 1997-99. No one remembers CLICK today.
But Griffin wasn’t beaten yet. He still felt he had one more classic show in him. For years, Griffin had tried to create a game show based on the common crossword puzzle. But he just couldn’t figure out how to make it work.
Shortly before he died, he finally figured out how to do it. He lived just long enough to see the start of production. But Griffin’s death did not stop the show. In true showbiz tradition, production continued on the show after its creator had died.
In a tribute to its legendary creator, the show was called MERV GRIFFIN’S CROSSWORDS. It debuted in the Fall of 2007. There is obviously an inherent flaw in a show about crossword puzzles -- namely, that it just isn’t much fun to watch someone solve a crossword.
Even the idea of watching two people compete to solve a puzzle seemed to not be that exciting. But Griffin came up with an angle that made this show unique.
Yes, there would be two people competing to solve a crossword puzzle -- but there would also be three back-up contestants, known as “Spoilers,” who, at any time, could replace one of the two main contestants and take all of their winnings.
The way it worked was like so: if at any point during the show one of the two main contestants got a question wrong, one of the Spoilers had the chance to steal if he or she knew the correct answer. If the Spoiler got the answer right, he would then replace the contestant and take all their prize money. The Spoiler could then be knocked out of the game at any time by one of the other two Spoilers -- or even by the contestant they had just replaced!
The addition of the Spoilers added an unpredictable element to the show. It created the possibility that a Spoiler could sit back, let one of the main contestants rack up a whole bunch of money, and then come in and steal it all at the very end with one correct answer.
I can’t recall any other show in the history of TV where all you needed was one correct answer to win it all.
That was the angle that Merv Griffin figured would make his show CROSSWORDS as big a hit as WHEEL OF FORTUNE and JEOPARDY.
Alas, Griffin’s golden touch was not infallible. CROSSWORDS lasted only one season. Audiences just never really got excited about a show based on crossword puzzles.
This is no reflection on Griffin. After all, he is the man who made a game show based on Hangman and it became of the biggest successes in television history.
I had appeared on that show, WHEEL OF FORTUNE, way back in 2001. I won $5,000 on WOF, and I was hoping to have even more success on CROSSWORDS. I had moved to California in the summer of 2007, and as soon as CROSSWORDS was announced, I tried out for it. If you live in the L.A. area, it’s always best to try out for L.A.-based shows in their first year, when only local people are given the chance to audition. Once a show starts airing, they generally open up the contestant pool to include the rest of the country. Better to try out before the rest of America even finds out a new show exists.
All applicants for CROSSWORDS were given a written test, which was perhaps the hardest test I had ever taken to get on a TV show. I got a lot of answers wrong, but I got enough right for the casting lady to call me a few days later and say I was being considered for the show.
I didn’t like the fact that there were five contestants per episode. That meant you only had a one-in-five chance of going home with money. I really prefer game shows where you only play against one or two other contestants, or, even better, ones where you play alone!
I consider myself to be a fair crossword puzzler. I can usually complete the daily USA Today puzzle -- well, almost complete it, anyway. There are usually a few answers I leave blank that I just can’t get. Still, the advantage of a show like this was that you didn’t have to know all the answers -- you could let your opponents could fill in all the ones you didn’t know, and if you had the high score at the end, you could go home with all the money.
The casting people said that contestants would be matched up with other players based on our test scores. All the people who got A’s on the test would play together. The people who scored B’s would play together. And so on.
That was good news to me because some people really kick ass at crossword puzzles. The last thing you want to do is go up against someone who is a master puzzler. I mean, what’s the point of going on a show and getting trounced on national television?
I got the call a few weeks later to come in and be a contestant on the show. I was told that I would be one of the Spoilers. I wasn’t thrilled about that, but at least there was still a chance that I could steal it all and go home with money. Or so I thought.
It seems that somewhere along the line, the producers forgot all about that “matching up contestants based on their test scores” thing.
Because when when we started taping, it soon became clear to me that the two main contestants were two of the greatest crossword puzzle-solvers of all time.
Me and the other two Spoilers never stood a chance. The man and woman chosen as the main contestants were so good that between the two of them, they answered almost every single question correctly. They were neck and neck the whole way, slugging it out like two prize fighters in a heavyweight championship bout.
It was the type of clash that must have been fun for the audience to watch -- and not so much fun if you were one of the back-up contestants hoping one of them would screw up.
During the taping of the show, there were only three times when the two main contestants got an answer wrong. One time, the woman standing next to me, another Spoiler, got the answer right and got to join the game -- only to be booted out in the next round by the very contestants she had just replaced.
That left only one chance for me to jump in and possibly win it all. My opening came with this question: Name a five-letter word for ‘Nonsense.’”
Usually with a crossword puzzle, you try to fill in the letters from other words so you can solve any clue that has you stumped. But the way this show was structured., that was not an option. Most of the time, you were given completely blank spaces and told to fill them in with the correct word. (Kind of makes you think they screwed up the concept of this show right from the start.)
I had to admit I had no clue. All I could think of was the expression, “stuff and nonsense,” which as an old saying they used to use back in the 1800s. I figured I would say “stuff” as my answer, even though it didn’t make much sense. I figured it was a long-shot, but it was the only word that came to mind. I only had one crack at this. If I gave the wrong answer, I would be locked out for the rest of the game.
I gave my answer: “Stuff.” I felt like an idiot saying it. It just didn’t feel right.
As I had anticipated, I got it wrong. The correct answer was “Hooey.”
Hooey? Were they frickin’ serious? I knew that “stuff and nonsense” was a pretty outdated expression, but who the hell ever uses the word “Hooey?” Seriously, has anyone used that word in the last 80 years? I doubt it very much.It's like something your great grandfather used to say during the Great Depression: "That's a load of hooey!"
After I gave my wrong answer, there was nothing I could do but watch the two main contestants battle it out for the cash prize. A few minutes later, the show was over. Someone went home with a bunch of money, and once again, I got nothing.
I was promised that I, along with all the other losing contestants, would receive an official MERV GRIFFIN’S CROSSWORDS wristwatch. That sounded like a good souvenir for me, as a perennial game show contestant to have. But the show was canceled shortly after and I never did receive my watch.
Looking back now, I feel like I got sand-bagged on that show. I had been promised I would be up against opponents who were of equal intelligence. Instead, I was like lamb being led to the slaughter. Me going up against those two super-brainiacs was like a kindergartner taking on a college professor.
I do feel there is one thing I could have done to redeem myself. When faced with a tough question like the one I had, where I clearly did not know the answer, I should have said the answer that every true Howard Stern fan would have given: “Baba Booey!”
It would have been hilarious to have the host explain to me that “Baba Booey” was not a five-letter word and therefore could not possibly have been the correct answer.
I wonder if they would have stopped the tape and made me give a different answer. You know there is no way they would have aired that on TV.
Ironically, my joke answer of “Baba Booey” was really not that far off from the correct answer of “Hooey!” The only difference is that people still use the words “Baba Booey” and nobody says “Hooey” any more!
The next time I am on a game show and they give me an impossible question like that, you can be sure that my answer will be “Baba Booey!”
Hey, if I’m going to lose anyway, I might as well have fun!