And this time, I was determined to do it right. I decided to train harder than I had ever trained before. Like Rocky Balboa going in to a championship fight, I was going to work my ass off, take it seriously, dominate my opponents, and dazzle them with my game play, and leave them so intimidated, all they could do was sit there slack-jawed while I took home $50,000.
At least, that was my plan…
In June of 2012, I found out that the Game Show Network had decided to bring back the old $100,000 Pyramid show, now simply calling it The Pyramid. (The top prize on the revived version of the show would be $50,000. I guess they didn’t include that number in the title of the show because it would have sent the wrong message for TV viewers to know the show was giving away less money than it used to. The reality is that GSN is a cable network and can’t afford to pay out as much money as the big networks.)
It was on a sunny June morning that a woman named Kimberly, who has cast me on several other game shows, called me up and asked me if I wanted to try out for the new Pyramid.
It had been almost a year since my last game show appearance, so I was definitely up for it. I went in for the audition at a fancy high-rise in L.A. I was in a room with about 25 other potential contestants. Strangely, most of the people in the room were guys. This was unusual because women usually make up at least half of all game show contestants.
We were given a written test, which was very heavy on pop culture. I think I got about 5 wrong out of 30 questions. A solid "B!"
Our host, Kimberly, went off to grade the tests with her associates. When she returned, she announced the names of the people who had passed. I was one of the lucky ones who was asked to stay. (Naturally!) Interestingly, none of the female contestants had passed the test.
There were about ten people left in the room, including myself. Kimberly led us through the rules of the game and gave us lots of helpful tips. Our auditions were being videotaped, so we were told to be animated, be expressive and to make lots of hand gestures when we played the game. As an Italian-American, I usually talk like that anyway, so for me, this would be a walk in the park.
I was paired up with a partner, a guy who played the first part of the game very well, but he played the second part very poorly. It was like he didn't understand that there are two distinctly different parts of Pyramid, each with distinctly different sets of rules. Despite my partner’s shortcomings, I still managed to perform well, which is not an easy thing to do when your partner is dead weight.
At the conclusion of our audition, I had the feeling that I had a strong chance of getting on, and my audition partner most certainly did not. (He just didn’t seem to understand the rules of the second half of the game.)
For the next few weeks, I decided I would devote my life to mastering the game of Pyramid. My sister, Susan, happened to have the home version of the game gathering dust in her garage, so at every family gathering thereafter, I enlisted all my relatives in helping me practice.
Susan was particularly strong at the game. My 83-year-old dad didn’t quite seem to get the rules, bless his heart. He played it like it was some bizarre combination of Charades and Password, which gave us a lot of laughs, but didn’t really help me practice at all.
Or did it? When you play Pyramid, you are teamed up with two celebrities. Although it’s not done intentionally, it often happens that one of the celebs is smart, and the other is kind of dumb. So practicing at home with a player who just doesn’t quite get the rules of the game is, in a way, good practice for actually being on the show.
For the next few weeks, I treated Pyramid like it was a part-time job. I trained for it with all the intensity of an Olympic athlete.
I watched a bunch of episodes of Pyramid on youtube, but really, I felt the greatest benefit to me was actually playing the game live with real people. My family was very supportive, and honestly, we all had a blast playing. Whether I actually got on the show or not, I had to admit, Pyramid had really livened up some family gatherings.
About a month after the audition, I got the call. I had been picked as a contestant. We would be taping in a week.
I managed to cram in a few more practice sessions. I wanted to be more prepared than any other contestant. I wanted to intimidate the hell out of my opponents. I wanted to go in there and be such a strong player that my opponents would tremble in fear.
It was going to be a massacre, and my opponents would never see it coming.
To the other contestants, this might have been a chance to have some fun. For me, it was serious business. Sure I was going to have fun, too, but mostly, I was there to make up for all my losses on all those other shows!
As far as I was concerned, that $50,000 was mine to lose.
My call time was 7AM on a Wednesday morning. I set my alarm for 5:30 a.m. I was so excited about the show, I found it impossible to sleep that night. I tossed and turned till about 3AM, then finally got about two hours of sleep before I thankfully woke up on my own. (My alarm never went off! Oops!)
I was dead tired, but I knew I could sleep later in the day, after I won the money. Everything I had done for the past two months had led to this day. Now it was time for me to see if all my training had paid off.
I drove to the studio where I met about a dozen other contestants -- including Kathleen, a pregnant woman who was scheduled to be my opponent. (Pyramid likes to have Boy vs. Girl match-ups.)
It occurred to me that if I played as well as I was planning to, I would forever be known as the guy who crushed a pregnant woman on national television. But I couldn’t afford to think like that. I couldn’t worry about my opponent at all.
All I could do was focus on playing the game to the best of my ability. If I won, I could always send her a nice baby present later.
There were five episodes of PYRAMID being taped that day. Kathleen and I were scheduled to be the contestants on the second show of the day. That meant we had a couple of hours to kill before our taping began.
A producer instructed us to play the Pyramid while we were waiting. “We want you to be a comfortable as possible with the game when you get out there on stage,” we were told.
At this point, it occurred to me that I was about to spend a couple of hours practicing with the girl I would soon be facing on-stage as my opponent.
This seemed like a really bad idea to me. I had been practicing for months. Kathleen revealed that she hadn’t had a chance to play the game at all -- she had only watched old Pyramid videos on you tube.
I wasn’t really comfortable with the idea of practicing with my opponent, but what else could I do? I wanted to practice as much as possible before I went on the show, and there wasn’t anyone else to practice with. (All the other contestants were being sequestered in a different room.)
As we started to play, it occurred to me that Kathleen was not that strong of a player. But something interesting happened over the course of the next two hours -- Kathleen got a lot better.
She went from being a novice to being my equal in about two hours. Now, Kathleen was a very quick learner, and odds are, she would have developed her skill at the game no matter who she had practiced with.
But all I could think of was that I had just trained my opponent in how to beat me.
But again, I couldn’t think like that. There were so many random variants in any given game of Pyramid -- from the categories to your celebrity partners -- that it’s impossible to predict the outcome of a match between two opponents who are evenly matched.
By the end of two hours, Kathleen and I had finished giving each other all the clues on about 100 index cards. A certain amount of game fatigue was starting to set in. We were both done with training and ready to get on with the main event.
Finally we were informed that the first show had finished taping and it was time for us to begin taping our episode.
We got to met our celebs: the blonde girl from the sitcom Rules of Engagement, Megyn Price, and the black guy from Fox’s New Girl, Lamorne Morris.
Megyn revealed up front that she was fanatic about the board game Boggle and that she was very competitive at word games. Lamorne did not confess to any love of board games, which made me think he might be the weak link on this episode.
I was to be teamed up with Megyn first. I had already picked her out as “the Smart One,” so I was glad to be paired with her for the first half of the game. (Nobody gets to be a Boggle fanatic without being smart!)
I figured I would have a very strong first round, which would give me a psychological edge going into round two.
The game began. As I had expected, Lamorne was not a strong player. He struggled to get easy clues right. My opponent, Kathleen, began to get increasingly frustrated by his lack of serious game-play. (I figure his agent convinced him to do a game show just for some extra exposure.)
What I had not expected was seeing just how excitable Kathleen became during the game. She started talking super-fast, blurting out words so quickly that nobody could understand her. It was kind of bizarre. At one point, she became so frustrated with Lamorne, she started jumping out of her seat, which I had never seen anyone do before on the show.
She hadn’t been like that at all during our two hours of practice. Apparently Kathleen was a very excitable girl. She was getting so stressed out playing the game, the quality of her game-play was deteriorating.
My partner and I, on the other hand, were really gelling. We got seven out of seven correct answers in round one, seven out of seven in round two, and things were looking pretty good for round three.
The category was “Things That Come In Fours.” I knew we were in great shape when I offered up, “The Four ‘Blank’ of the Apocalypse,“ and Megyn fired back with the correct answer, “Horsemen.”
We had about three seconds left on the clock when I was given my final clue: I had to get my partner to say “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.”
I had to think fast. The words “kung fu reptiles” came to mind. But instead I recalled the lyrics to the theme song from their old TV show. I blurted out “Heroes in a half-shell!” As the buzzer rang, Megyn replied, “Turtles…ninja turtles!”
She made it just under the buzzer. We had scored another seven for seven. A perfect game! I jumped up and gave Megyn a big hug. We had just made it to the winner’s circle. At that moment, I felt like a game show God!
Megyn was the perfect partner. We totally clicked in every way. Two competitive game-players who were both on the same wave-length,
I couldn’t predict what was going to happen in the winner’s circle, but I was delighted to be heading there with Megyn. I chose to give the clues to her in the winner’s circle, but honestly, I think we could’ve done just as well with her giving and me receiving.
The winner’s circle round started off with some easy clues. Names of Candy Bars, Things Madonna would say...
We continued racking up points and adding more money to my winnings. It was beginning to look like my bad luck streak was finally over. This might be the first game show where I finally win some serious money.
And then… reality came in. I came across a clue that I blanked on. The clue was “People Who Have Whistles.” I started off with the first thing that came to mind: a train conductor. And after that… I had nothing.
At that time, It was July. The only sport I watch is football, and the fast football game I had seen was the Super Bowl back in early February. So it was clsoe to six months since I had even seen or thought about a referee. At that moment, I knew my “Perfect Game” was over.
Looking back now, I could have said policeman, gym teacher, coach… there are so many things I could have said. But at that moment, all I could think of was ‘train conductor,” and I knew that nobody would be able to guess the correct answer based on that.
We had 4 out of 6 correct answers. We still had to guess the clue at the top of the pyramid, which is always the hardest.
The top clue was, “Things You Soak.” The first thing that came to my mind was “Laundry.”
I blurted out a few more things that you soak: an umbrella, your hair, I repeated laundry… My partner was coming closer and closer to getting the correct answer, but unfortunately, there is a certain amount of randomness in the winner’s circle. You might be able to get a person to say, “Things You Clean” or Things You Wash,” but it’s very hard to get someone to say “Things you Soak.”
At one point, I grew so desperate for her to say the right answer, I uttered the word “Soap,” as if “soap” were something that you soak. Let’s face it, you don’t actually soak your soap!
What I was really trying to do there was to say a word that was so close to the correct answer that it might get my partner to blurt out the correct answer by accident.,
No such luck. Our time ran out., Our score in the winner’s circle was four out of six, enough to bring me $3,000 in prize money. I didn’t win the $25,000 that I could have won, but still, not bad for 15 minute’s work.
And we still had the second half of the game to play. (Of course, I was painfully aware that in the second half of the game, I would be teaming with the "dumb" celebrity. I could only hope that my opponent’s over-excitedness would trip her up again and I would return to the winner’s circle at the end of Round two for a chance at another 25 grand.)
Before we started round Two, I had a chance to chat with my new partner, the “Dumb Celeb.“ He confessed to me that the show was not going well for him. He asked if it was possible for me to give him all the clues in Round Two. I explained to him that the rules of the show dictated that he had to give me clues for the first part of round two, and then I could give clues to him the next two times.
Round two began with the dumb celeb giving clues to me. We did ok. We got 4 or 5 out of 7 -- not bad. Then Kathleen went with the Smart Celeb. Kathleen was as excitable as ever, blurting out her answers in a high-pitched screech that made them almost unintelligible. Kathleen’s partner, the Smart Celeb, was kind of frightened by the intensity of Kathleen’s game-playing.
Then I made the blunder that may have cost me the game. Presented with a list of categories, I picked one called “One Night in Bangkok.” I had a bad feeling about that category. I figured it could be anything from 80s pop tunes to geography, but if it was geography, I was in big trouble. It was my worst subject.
The host made a joke about our total lack of confidence going into this round. I tried to rally my partner with false boast of, “We got this.” But we all knew I was just faking it.
The round started off with a couple of easy answers like “Noodles” and “Curry,” but then it quickly fell apart when I couldn’t come up with a good description for “Basil.” I knew it was spice, but beyond that, I had nothing.
We stumbled badly over that category. So badly, in fact, that it seemed the game was over right there. My opponent picked her next category, which turned out to be “80s Pop Groups.”
I was kicking myself. That category should have been mine! I would have totally dominated it. It turned out to be very easy band names. In fact, most of the bands had names like “The Police “ and “The Cars” -- words which would be easy to describe even if your partner had never heard of the actual bands.
They finished with 5 out of seven. Suddenly I was back in the game. If I could have a strong performance in the final part of the round, I actually had a shot at winning! I gave the clues to Lamorne. It all came together for us. We got seven for seven -- a perfect score, which is pretty hard to do when your partner is not exactly a game whiz.
Now the heat was on Kathleen. She needed to get a six to tie the game and seven to win.
Kathleen and Megyn started cranking out answers, one after another. For the first time, I counted along in my head every time she got a correct answer. She got one right. Two. Three. Four. Five. I was still winning.
Then she got the sixth one right. Now we had a tie game. There was just enough time on the clock for her to get that seventh answer and seal the deal.
But she just couldn’t do it. I waited for the host to confirm it, but my count had been correct: she gopt 6 out of 7! Now we would have to have a tie-breaker round!
Kathleen and I would each have to name as many clues as possible beginning with a different letter of the alphabet. The two letters were N and K. I would to go first. I was asked which letter I wanted. I chose K, because I figured the K words would be easier. The were was five-minute break for a technical issue., During the break, I ran through my head as many words as I could think of that began with the letter K: Kite, Kitchen, Knife, Kill, Killer, Kitten, etc.
The round began. As usual, I gave and my partner received. We started blasting out correct answers. “Kite” came up, as I had expected. We were really on a roll until we got to “Kayak.” I offered, “It’s like a canoe and you paddle it…”
My partner, the Dumb Celeb, knew that the answer started with a K, but he just couldn’t think of the word “kayak.” I don’t blame him. It’s not a very common word. I had to pass on that one.
We ended up with seven correct answers in 30 seconds. Now the heat was really on Kathleen and Megyn. They needed to get 8 words in 30 seconds to beat us.
Kathleen made the smartest decision she had ever made in her life: she chose to receive the clues instead of give.
Megyn was a very strong giver. If Kathleen could just calm down and not get so excited, she might have a chance. A strange change came over Kathleen in the final round. Instead of being this Nervous Nelly, she stayed calm, cool and collected.
She wasn’t screeching out her answers any more. She played better than she ever had before. Again, I counted the answers in my head. Five, six,. Seven, tie game, could we go into double-over-time?
No. She got Eight answers for the win. My game was over. Kathleen went on to the winner’s circle with Megyn.
Lamorne and I watched from the sidelines as Kathleen tried for the big money. It turned out to be the easiest winner’s circle I had ever seen. One of the clues was “Places Where You Take your Kids.” Now, you go up to any stay-at-home mom and ask her to name “Places Where You take Your kids,” and they are going to get it right. They couldn’t have given her an easier question.
It would be like asking me to name Marvel Comics super-heroes.
Most of the other clues in Kathleen’s Winner’s Circle were equally easy. It blew my mind how easy her questions were. One answer was “Female Politicians.” All Megyn had to do was list “Hillary Clinton” and “Sarah Palin” and Kathleen knew the correct answer. They did give her a tougher one at the end -- "Types of Taxes" -- but by then, Kathleen and Megyn were on a roll, and there was no stopping them.
Sixty seconds later, it was all over, and Kathleen had just won $10,000. I was brought back on stage to congratulate her. I was happy for her, but all I could think of was, “Man, if I had gotten her questions, I could had that 10 grand easily.”
It was like a repeat of my time on THE WEAKEST LINK, where my opponent got some easy pop culture softballs in the final round and I got super-hard science and history questions.
You definitely have to wonder if the producers have a file marked “Easy Questions,” and they pull it out when they really want a particular contestant to win.
From the perspective of an audience-member or a home viewer, you couldn’t ask for a better ending to the show. I would think most people in the audience were rooting for the pregnant girl, especially after I crushed her in round one.
Does anyone really want to watch a show where a pregnant girl gets badly beaten by her male opponent and goes home with nothing? Or would you rather see a show where the expectant mother pulls off a miraculous come-from-behind win and goes home with 10 grand?
That ending couldn’t have been any better if it had been scripted. Heck, if I was watching the show at home, I probably would have rooted for the pregnant girl, too. Every parent knows how an extra ten grand would come in handy when you have a baby.
After the show was over, Kathleen and I had a few minutes to chat. She told me that in the final round, she had just told herself to relax, and that was what led to her victory. Weird how she was just able to turn it on and off like that. If she hadn’t gotten so hysterical during the early part of the game, she would have played much better.
At any rate, she was the big winner of the day. I still got to keep the $3,000 I had won -- my third best game show win ever.
Kathleen congratulated me on my game play, calling me a great player and a worthy opponent. Yeah, I was good -- just not good enough to win. Seems to be my lot in life when it comes to TV game shows.
It seems I am destined to be the perennial runner-up, the guy who wins a few thousand dollars, but never enough money to really impress anyone. Yes, it’s nice telling people you won $3,000, but it’s not a life-changing sum of money.
I’m really waiting for my first win of five, six or seven figures. To me, anything under ten grand is kind of chump change.
The fact is, my total lifetime wins on all the game shows I have been on is under 20 grand, and I know people who have won more than that on one show.
Pyramid was in many ways the best possible chance I had at winning big money. It was a fairly easy game for me (at least the first half). You didn’t have to answer any hard trivia questions. You just had to try to get your opponent to guess a word. Simple!
I had a lot of fun playing the game. I will never forget how good it felt to play a perfect game in the Round one, and really for the first time in my life, to know what it felt like to possibly win big money.
At the end of the day. I wound up not snatching away 10 grand from a pregnant woman, which I guess makes me kind of a hero. I like to joke that I lost on purpose because I felt bad for the pregnant chick, but anyone who knows me knows that is not true!
My performance on the actual show was virtually identical to how I played during all the practice rounds with my family.
I guess the lesson here is to know your strengths and don’t be surprised when you get tripped up by your weaknesses. For all the practicing that I did for the show, ultimately, it all came down to luck; you never know what clues you are going to get.
In my mind, I will forever go over the things I could’ve done differently that would have won me the game: If I had not picked the category of “One Night in Bangkok.” If I had gotten the 80s pop bands category instead. If I could’ve thought of any people who use a whistle besides a train conductor. If my opponent had not calmed down in the final round. If I had gotten her questions in the Winners Circle instead of the much more difficult ones I got. If Lamorne had known what a kayak was…
At the end of the day, I have only myself to blame for my loss. Still, a loss where you walk away with $3,000 is not a bad one at all.
I could have gone home with nothing, so it’s all a matter of perspective.
I don’t know what game show I will be on next. It seems like I’ve already been on most of them at this point. They are going to have to invent some new ones!