Sunday, December 12, 2010

My Worst Game Show Experience Ever!

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!

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