Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Spinning wheel, got to go round

The demo wheel
I recently tried out for Wheel of Fortune.

The invite came from a friend who had applied online to be a contestant. 6-8 months later, an email invited him to try out for "Best Friends Week." Thinking strategically, he called me, rather than his true best friend, hoping that my vast (but ultimately shallow) knowledge pool would provide a tactical advantage.

We arrived at the hotel conference room, where about 70 other "best friends" had been summoned. Wearing our best game faces, we tried to convey the enthusiasm that all TV producers covet as we scouted out our competition. The odds weren't in our favor: hot college girls to our right, a Price is Right veteran1 to our left who oozed ordinary-guy charisma.

First, the producers had us complete a questionnaire, and then each pair was asked to simply state their names for everyone to hear. After that, we started to play a simulated game. The producer spun the wheel (pictured above) on our behalf and quietly took notes as we were each called upon. People who didn't answer fast enough, didn't make sense, or didn't have that Sajak-esque aura somehow always landed on BANKRUPT after a few spins. Winners of each puzzle won autographed Vanna White glossies, bobbleheads, and/or handsome Wheel of Fortune beach towels.

Finally our turn arrived. The category was "Phrase," and one player had already gone, leaving us with:
(image via atom.smasher.org/wof)

We instantly has the same thought: it must start with "I'VE".

So my friend spoke for us with conviction, requesting "A 'V' please!"

What happens to a dream deferred? Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun? Well, in our case, it got shot down with a feisty buzzer, compelling us to sit back down. I hammed up my disappointment, thinking I may yet impress the producers with my stage presence.

Upon taking my seat, I had the simultaneous thoughts that:
  1. the first word could just as easily been "I'LL"
  2. there are a lot more common letters to choose than"V"
We were not called on again. Many others got a second go-round, and we clapped hard for each player, but our unquestionable spirit was not rewarded. Nor was the person who asked to spin again when solving our original puzzle, which at that point read:

Finally, there was a worksheet with shockingly difficult fill-in-the-blank puzzles (i.e. the answer to one, a "Before and After" one, was MARILYN MONROE DOCTRINE). They were collected after five minutes (along with our questionnaires), and they were "scored" in a backroom.

In reality, the puzzle is used as a cover for people to rationalize why they weren't picked. The producers only look at the questionnaire answers, which asked us, among other questions, for our favorite celebrity, whether we had been on a game show before, and "something that you're proud of."

Of the 30-40 duos, only 10 were asked to stay2 to play another round. Months later, the show aired, and the BFFs to my left won big money (as they say in game show speak).

But I am not deterred, as I hear they are bringing back American Gladiators, and I like my chances.

Not only a contestant, but a star: he won a car. After the show, the local dealer called him to get his preferred color. When he said that he was just going to resell it anyway, they gave him the car's retail value in cash.

The Price is Right veteran and hot college girls were indeed chosen.