By Barry Dutter
A few years ago, I was trying out for a game show, and I started thinking: if you win money on most game shows, you get about $50,000 on average.
But if you get a job working on a game show, you could potentially make much more than that in a year, and continue to make a good living in the years to come.
As a guy who usually loses on most of the shows he goes on, it made sense to me to get a job working on a game show instead of being a contestant. But in what capacity? “Host” would be my first choice, but those jobs tend to go to people who are very well established in broadcasting.
I thought it would be fun to work in the Casting Department for a game show. After all, who knows more about getting on a game show than I do? But then I talked to someone who had done casting for DEAL OR NO DEAL, and they said that casting was a nightmare. Apparently you have to work long hours for low pay, make lots of phone calls, and deal with incredibly annoying people who will scream, laugh, yell, and generally act as crazy as possible in a desperate attempt to get on TV.
The way the job was described to me, it didn’t sound like much fun. But I still craved a position on a game show. I would just have to work in some other capacity, in some department other than casting.
I wasn’t exactly sure what job I wanted, and I wasn’t sure how to get it. I mean, I have very little actual experience in TV production, and they don’t just go handing out jobs like that to anyone. Or do they?
Maybe I did have a way in…When you try out for as many game shows as I have, you find your name on a short list of people who get called to test out new shows. One time I got hired to test a game show that took place in an elevator. It was like that show CASH CAB, only set in an elevator. We filmed a pilot episode, but the show never made it onto the air. Too bad. It was a blast -- and it inspired me to create a new game show that took place on an escalator. (Just kidding!)
Another time I was part of a team of eight people hired to work on a presentation for a show based on a popular board game. When you get together with your fellow game-show testers, it’s kind of like a group of army veterans getting together comparing scars. Except we’re comparing which shows we were on and how much money we won.
But I had a remarkable come-from-behind win. We were only playing for demonstration purposes, not for money, so it didn’t mean anything, but still, it felt good to beat the front-runner. When it came time to actually do a presentation to the network chiefs, I was told by the producers to let Megan win.
As a game-tester, I was getting paid the same either way, so I did as I was told, and I totally understood the reasons why I had been asked to do so:
1) Women tend to get more excited when they win. A woman winning big money on a TV game show is generally more fun to watch than a man winning.
And 2) The primary watchers of TV are women, so it makes sense that women like to see other women on TV, especially when they are winning life-changing sums of money. Out in the corporate world, men often make more money than women. But on a TV game show, a woman has the same odds of winning big money as a man.
In late 2009, I got a call to help test out physical challenges for a prime-time game show. These were very physical games involving a lot of jumping, running, spinning, etc.
For the next week, I was part of an elite group of ten guys and gals who were put through the ringer, playing different games all day long for eight hours a day. It was a nonstop barrage of often intense games, similar in a way to an army boot camp. To this day, it was the most arduous week of my life.
As grueling as that week was, I was thrilled when they called me back for more about three months later. I wound up working on that show, on and off, for the next year. The work was not consistent. We would do two weeks here, a few days there. But I probably put in about 50 days over the course of a year. All in all, it was one of the most fun jobs I’ve ever had!
Every morning I would drive to the studio where the new challenges awaited. I would enter a sound stage where there would be a huge variety of games, ready to be played. The job of myself and my fellow games-testers was to play those games and have our data recorded by administrators. The producers of the show needed to know which games were too hard or too easy, and how to prevent people from cheating.
At one end of the room was a craft services table filled with candy, soda, potato chips, cookies, and every type of junk food you could think of.
It was like a child’s idea of what a “job” would be. When you’re young, your parents warned you that someday, you would have to get a real job -- that life wouldn’t always be nothing but playing games and eating candy.
Yet, there I was, going to work every day at a job where my only purpose was to play games and eat candy! (You almost needed the candy to get that sugar rush and keep your energy level high!)
I used to love it when I would go out to a bar after work and someone would ask me, “What do you do for a living?” And I would hold my head up with pride and say, “I play games!”
It’s a shame the job didn’t last longer. I would have loved to have continued at it. I will never forget the year that I spent there on that sound stage. My career as a professional games-tester may be on hold for now, but there will be always be new shows that need testing.
I may never fulfill my dream of winning big money on a TV game show, but at least I have found a new goal, one with more realistic expectations: pursuing a full-time career as a Professional Game Show Tester!