By Barry Dutter
There is one game show I swore that I would never go on: LET’S MAKE A DEAL. My reasoning as this: they make you wear stupid costumes on that show, and that's degrading. Plus, most of the contestants don’t even win money -- they win dumb prizes that they don’t even need.
Then in October, 2011, I met an actor who told me he had just gone on LET’S MAKE A DEAL (or LMAD, as we in the industry call it) and won a $6,000 hot tub. As soon as the tub was delivered to his door, he put it up for sake on Craigs List.
After he told me that, I started reconsidering my policy toward LMAD. It occurred to me that I was looking at the show in the wrong way. I was looking at it as this embarrassing show designed to humiliate people and get them to act like fools in order to win prizes. But I came to see it as a chance to win a potentially valuable prize that I could then sell for some fast cash.
I hadn’t been on any game shows for a while, and I figured, “Why not? This could be an easy way for me to get back in the game.”
I decided I would try out for LMAD the first chance I got. As fate would have it, I wound up not having to even audition for the show. Shortly after I met that actor, I got a call out of the blue from a casting agent from Freemantle, a company that produces a variety of game shows.
I had tried out for a show for Fremantle that I didn’t get picked for. They asked if I would be interested in being a contestant on LMAD instead.
Funny thing: if the casting associate had asked me that question a few weeks prior, I would have said, “No, thanks, it’s not my kind of show.”
But since I had just met the guy with the $6,000 hot tub, I had changed my tune. I eagerly accepted the casting agent’s offer to be on the show.
Like most people, I had always assumed that the contestants on LMAD were randomly selected by the host as he strolls through the audience. Turns out, there is nothing random about it. Just about all of the contestants are preselected by a casting agency, to ensure that they are of proper game show caliber (i.e, that will perform well on TV.)
The casting agent asked what costume I was planning to wear. I said I was thinking of going with the doctor outfit I had worn for the past couple of Halloweens.
He urged me to reconsider, saying that costume was kind of boring. He noted that a white lab coat would not play well on TV.
I told him I would try to think of something better. Now I had a hit of a quandary. My doctor costume had just been rejected, and I didn't feel like spending any money on another costume. But I did have another option. My brother-in-law had dressed as an 80’s rocker for Halloween. I asked if I could borrow his costume, and he said yes.
The rocker costume consisted of a big black wig (with a red headband), a black t-shirt with a skull on it, and a pair of leopard-skin tights. I tried it on but I wasn't crazy about it.
I started thinking back to my doctor outfit. Then I had a brainstorm: I could combine the two costumes. I put on the doctor outfit and the wig from the rocker costume.
I would call myself “The Rock and Roll Doctor.” Voila! I now had a colorful costume, one that would be comfortable but not boring.
The night before the show, I went to work at my bartending job at a local restaurant. I was chatting with a coworker, a cute 23-year-old blonde named Colleen.
I told Colleen what I planned to do when I got on the show. I said, “If Wayne Brady offers me a choice of $1,000 or what’s behind the curtain, I’m gonna take the cash.”
But then Colleen said something that changed my mind. She said, “How would you feel if you took the cash and then found out there was a new car behind the curtain?”
I had to admit, she had made a great point. I hadn’t had much luck in game shows over the years, so I had been thinking fast cash was the way to go.
But what if there was a new car behind the curtain? The show seems to give away at least one new car on every episode. The odds of me winning that car were just as good as anyone else’s. It wasn’t that I needed a new car -- all I was thinking about was the 25 or 30 grand I could get if I sold it.
I told Colleen, “You’re right. I guess I will take the curtain.”
There was always the chance I could get a junk prize -- a “Zonk,” as they call them on the show.
But I soon learned that even if you win a Zonk -- like an old pair of boots or a toy car instead of a real car -- you don’t actually take the junky prize home. They actually give you $100 cash instead.
So really, even if you take the curtain and get the Zonk, it’s still not that much of a risk.
You’re still going home with money. I feel like you’re foolish if you don’t go for the curtain. Most of the prizes on the show are pretty good and can be resold for big bucks. They only have one or two stinkers per episode. So why not take then chance that maybe you’ll win something great?
Basically I was employing the same philosophy I had used on DEAL OR NO DEAL: if you’re going to be a contestant on the show, you might as well play the game the way it was meant to be played.
On the morning of the taping, I found about half the people in the contestant pool were dressed in colorful costumes and the other half just wore regular street clothes. One girl was dressed as a giant Rubik’s Cube. Basically she was in a huge cardboard box that had been decorated to look like a Rubik’s Cube. Her arms stuck out through holes that had been cut in the sides of the box.
All I could think of was how uncomfortable she was going to be, sitting through four hours of TV tapings in that get-up.
Before the taping began, all the audience members had to meet with some casting associates who would make the final decision about who would be on the show.
I made sure I had a lot of energy for this meeting. There were about 250 people in the audience for LMAD. All of them thought they had a chance of being on the show. The reality was, most of the actual contestants were sent by Freemantle. Only a very small percentage of people were picked to be on the show without having been sent by the casting agency.
We had some time to kill before we started taping. They took all 250 of us, and had us wait in a long line of benches in the parking lot. I wound up chatting with some of the other audience-members. One girl who caught my eye was dressed in a cute firefighter’s outfit. It was such an eye-catching costume, I figured the producers had to pick her as a contestant.
Sure enough, it turned out that she had been sent by the same casting agency that sent me. She was an actress who was just doing this show to make some extra cash.
Her name was Carmen. We started talking about what we would do if we got on the show. She told me, “If I get offered cash or the curtain, I’m taking the cash.”
I told her that was a bad idea. I said she had very little to lose by taking the curtain instead of the cash. But she insisted that she needed fast money, and that was the choice she was going to make.
(The ironic part is that when you win money on game shows, you actually have to wait about six months before you get it, so the idea of making “fast cash” really doesn’t come into play here.)
Secure in her decision, Carmen wandered off. An old man next to me started talking to me. He had shown up wearing the unofficial California uniform: a t-shirt, shorts, and flip-flops. The casting people had told all audience-members that you had to be wearing a costume if you wanted to get on the show. Based on the old man's outfit, there was no way he was getting on.
The old man went into the costume shop on site and picked up some items to improve his chances. He bought a sheriff’s star and a policeman’s hat.
Those two items, combined with his white t-shirt, gray shorts, and flip-flops, were supposed to constitute some sort of policeman’s costume.
It was one of the worst “costumes” I had ever seen. I knew that the old man didn’t have a chance in hell of getting on the show, not with that get-up.
But I didn’t want to be too negative so I simply wished him good luck. After an hour or so of waiting outside, they finally brought us into the studio.
The audience-wranglers had been told ahead of time which audience-members had been sent by the casting office. Those contestants were to be strategically placed in aisle seats toward the front of the stage, where they could easily jump up and interact with the host.
One of the audience-wranglers led me to a seat in the front row.I looked behind me and saw all the other hopeful contestants in their colorful costumes. About 8 rows back sat the old man in the horrible cop costume. He waved to me, as if we were old friends. I gave a half-hearted wave back. I didn’t want this deadbeat tagging along and trying to steal my thunder.
The old man called over one of the ushers and told them that I was his friend, and we needed to sit together. The old man had figured I was going to be a contestant, and that if he sat next to me, that would somehow increase his odds of getting on the show.
The usher took one look at the old man’s pathetic costume and said, “You’re fine where you are.”
I was glad to hear that. I wanted Wayne Brady to pick me for the show, and I didn’t want to be rejected based on some random hanger-on that was sitting next to me.
I looked up at the old man and shrugged my shoulders, as if to say, “I’d love to help you, but… sorry! It’s out of my hands!”
That was the last I heard of him. I wound up sitting next to a couple of cute girls to my left and a young couple from New York behind me. The audience was about 45% black, 45% Latino, and maybe 10% white.
If they were looking for one of the contestants to be a white male who had taken more than two seconds to put his costume together, I figured I had a good shot.
The show began. Wayne Brady came out and said he was ready to bring the first three contestants up on stage at once. He called on two girls… and me. One of the girls was the Carmen, the cute girl in the fire-fighter outfit. Another was a pretty blonde dressed like Fay Wray (complete with a giant King Kong hand grabbing her around her waist.)
But Wayne seemed most intrigued by my bizarre costume.
He asked if I was supposed to be a Mad Doctor. I explained that I was a Rock and Roll Doctor.
He asked, "What does a Rock and Roll Doctor do?"
I replied, "He writes prescriptions. Like this one: Take two prizes, no zonks, and call me in the morning.”
He smiled and said, “If you're the Rock and Roll Doctor, prove it.”
He had the DJ crank up a song, and stuck a microphone in my face.
I had to admit, I was totally unprepared for this. I mean, if he had given me a few minutes warning, I probably could have written a few lines of a song. But I am the worst when it comes to ad-libbing a song on the spot in front of an audience.
And there I was, standing before a guy who worked for several years on the improv comedy show, “WHOSE LINE IS IT ANYWAY? I’m sure if you asked Wayne Brady to ad lib a song about a Rock and Roll Doctor, he could come up with one on the spot (and sing it very well, too.)
But I’m not Wayne Brady.
As the DJ cranked up his song, I was trying to listen to the music, to see if he was playing a popular song or just some generic “rock“ music. I couldn’t think of anything clever, so I just sang the words “Rock and Roll Doctor” over and over again. The music was loud, the audience was clapping along, and I was screaming out the words as loud as I could.
The audience seemed to enjoy it. Wayne Brady, not so much. I’m not sure exactly what he had expected, but hey, he’s the improv guy, not me!
After about 30 seconds, Wayne cued the DJ to stop the song. He dubbed me “David Lee Not.”
It was not my best performance, but I like to think that what I lacked in singing talent and actual lyrics I made up for with enthusiasm! (My song wound up being cut out of the finished show, thank goodness!)
Ironically, that whole incident was the very thing I had hoped to avoid when I said I didn’t want to be on LMAD. And yet, there I was, dressed up in a crazy costume, dancing around like a monkey for the amusement of the crowd. Wayne Brady was like the ringmaster and I was his trained seal.
But here’s the crazy part -- I actually found myself enjoying it. On most game shows, you don’t get much of a chance to perform or be funny. Here I was given the opportunity to do both.
I mean, if you’re going to do a show like LMAD, you might as well have fun with it.
It occurred to me that if they ever made a movie of my life as a professional game show contestant, a good opening scene would be to show me, dressed in my crazy doctor outfit, singing frantically to the crowd, as a disapproving Wayne Brady looks on.
And then there would be a voice-over where I say, “I always said I would never do a show where I would be embarrassed or made to look foolish. But let me explain how I got here…”
With my singing display over, we were ready to start the game. Wayne an envelope to me and each of the two girls.
Wayne said that one of the envelopes contained $700, and that whoever had the $700 envelope would get to play first. It turned out that I had it.
Wayne asked me if I wanted to keep the $700 or go for what was behind the curtain. My original plan had been to play it safe and take the cash. But with my new attitude, I had no choice but to reject the cash.
A pretty blonde spokesmodel named Tiffany was waiting to show me my prize.
I told Wayne, "Tiffany is just what the doctor ordered. I know she's got something better for me behind the curtain."
The curtain opened and my prize stood revealed: an oven range worth $2200 and some additional cooking items worth another $300.
I don’t really cook any food, ever, other than the occasional hamburger, so I really had no use for a new stove. But all the contestants had been instructed to act excited when we won, so I smile and applauded like I had just won the lottery.
I felt like I had made a good deal, because even if I sold the prizes for only $1,000, that was still more than I would have made if I had taken the cash. (Contestants have to pay taxes on all the prizes they win, even cash prizes.)
After I won my prize, it was time for the two girls to play. The first one up was Carmen, the cute girl in the fire-fighter outfit.
Wayne offered her $500 cash -- or she could take what was behind the curtain. She said she would take the cash. Wayne asked, “Are you sure?” She said yes, she really wanted the money.
Everyone in the audience thought she was an idiot. The producers had told us before the show that we could sell our prizes if we didn’t want them. This girl had just thrown away a brand-new $6,000 motorcycle.
She completely missed the point that it didn’t matter if she rode motorcycles or not. All that mattered was that she won a valuable prize that she could sell when she got it.
She was so happy with her decisions, the producers actually had to reshoot her reaction to when the curtain opened and revealed the motorcycle. They told here that she needed to look more disappointed when she saw the prize she passed on.
Then it was time for the blonde girl -- "Fay Wray" to choose whether she wanted to keep her cash or go for a new prize.
Fay Wray took the cash and avoided a zonk. That was smart game-play. You figured one of the three prizes had to be a zonk, and sure enough, it was the last one. As the show went on, there was still a chance that I might be able to trade in my oven for the “big deal of the day.” It all depended on if the other winning players chose to keep their prizes or not.
They started with the guy who won the top prize that day -- a new car. He said he was happy with his car and wanted to keep it. There were still three other people ahead of me in terms of the value of their prizes. The next contestant was a girl who had won a day at spa valued at several thousand dollars. Everyone I talked to in the crowd agreed that overall, this was the worst prize of the day.
She wound up trading in her spa package for a chance to choose between three curtains. One curtain contained a zonk, one had a new car, and the third had the prize she actually won -- a trip to Jamaica worth a few grand. She was clearly much happier with the Jamaica than she would have been with her spa package.
With that, the show was over. There would be no chance for me to trade in my prize. I was stuck with the oven.
After the show, all the winning contestants were taken to a room to fill out some paperwork. I tried to talk to the fire-fighter girl to see how she felt about her decision. (And let’s face it, I wanted to say, “I told you so!”)
But there was no convincing her. She felt she had made the right decision,
And at the end of then day, you really can’t tell another person how to play a game. She played it the way she wanted to play it.
My experience on LMAD was a positive one, over all. It turned out to be my third-biggest game show win ever.(Sure enough, I did sell the oven for an even $1,000. Thank you, Craigs List!)
The show reaffirmed my belief that if you are going to play a game, you’ve got to play it right. You’ve got to go all in. Embrace the rules of the game and just go for it.
If you are just going to show up on a game show and play it safe, then you are going to a) make for some bad TV, and b) go home with a lot less than everyone else. Producers aren’t looking for contestants who play it safe. Think how boring LMAD would be if every contestant took the cash and nobody ever took what was behind the curtain.
Sometimes, in a game show, as in life, you have to take what’s behind the curtain. Sure, you don’t know what’s there -- it could be something amazing or it could be a zonk.
But isn’t that what makes life interesting?
From the year 2000 to 2011, I appeared on over a dozen game shows. Out of a possible half a million dollars I won about $13,000 in cash and prizes. A pretty poor track record over all.
But I got some amazing stories and I had some unforgettable experiences.
I still think I’m destined to win a large sum of money on a TV game show someday. But if it never happens, I’ll still have a great time trying!