The Best Time I Auditioned For a Game Show
by Marisa LaScala
Give us 6 UNIQUE FUN FACTS about yourself. Fun facts can be anything from your biggest achievements, to a special talent, to a life story. What sets you apart from every other contestant? Make yourself stand out! Start with: What game shows have you appeared on? When? How much money did you win?
I have never appeared on a game show. Frankly, I’ve never really thought about appearing on a game show. Sure, I’ve mentally spent the jackpot prizes I’ve seen on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? and set a personal limit for taking the deal on Deal or No Deal? — as soon as it hit six figures, I’d be out — but I’ve never really strived to be in the hot seat on either one.
I am, however, a game-show fan. In high school, when the other upperclassmen used their off-campus lunch privileges to take long walks and smoke cigarettes, I went to a friend’s house to watch The Price Is Right. My sister and I had mapped out a game plan for Supermarket Sweep (start with the expensive turkey and ham, then grind the coffee for the $100 bonus). We dreamed of retiring to Tahiti with our winnings, spending our days drinking rum-based cocktails. Even today, there are countless times when I, about to embark on some task, think to myself: “No whammies.”
But I never wanted to be a contestant in real life. I learned as the curtain rose on my high school’s senior class production of Grease — where I had the plum role of Dance Contestant #2 — that I have stage fright. And so, shying away from a life on the stage, I’ve happily relegated myself to playing the home game.
UNIQUE FUN FACT #2: I am actually pretty good at trivia.
I’m talking “trivia” in the real sense of the word: useless facts. I absorb them and keep them with me at the expense of helpful information, like the times and dates of dentist appointments.
I joined up with a bar-trivia team and started going to weekly quiz nights. We don’t always win, but we usually place high enough to get a few free drinks.
There are a couple of Jeopardy! alums (mostly winners) who attend regularly, in addition to one guy that famously has been on Jeopardy!, Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?, and (my favorite) Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego? So, when a dude with a clipboard showed up on trivia night saying he was casting for a game show, I filled out the form with the rest of my team despite the stage fright. All I had to do was put down my name, phone number, and a few UNIQUE FUN FACTS about myself. I scribbled down whatever came to the top of my head, figuring that, with such game-show pros also in attendance, it’d never go any further.
The next day, I got a call from an unfamiliar number.
UNIQUE FUN FACT #3: I babble when I’m caught off-guard.
The person on the other end of the phone said he was calling from the game show. Since I wasn’t expecting the call, I was especially ill-prepared for the open-ended prompt he started the conversation with: “So, tell me about yourself.”
I knew he was, essentially, asking for some more UNIQUE FUN FACTS about me. I tried to remember some of the compelling people I interviewed, the amazing experiences I’ve had, the bright things I have planned for the future. I’d like to say I dazzled him, but I’m pretty sure I just rambled. Once again, I figured the casting process had ended, and I wouldn’t have to worry about how my skin would look in HD.
The babbling must’ve come off as “high-energy,” though, because he followed up with an online application. Here, I figured, was my element. I had time to compose my thoughts, and figure out how to phrase them for maximum impact. I could, as they requested, make myself stand out!
The application had a few components. There was a request for photos. (A few need to be close-up shots of you looking your best, and please send some photos that show your personality as well!) There was a survey questionnaire. (Was I a risk-taker? What would my friends say about me?) My favorite, by far, was the online quiz, which seemed pretty easy. (Sample question: Who is the lead singer of Pearl Jam?)
But then, at the end, was the bombshell: a call for 10 more UNIQUE FUN FACTS about myself. I started with my best story (about the time I fainted in a prison — long story), but, by the time I got to number 10, all I had left was the fact that I could wiggle my ears and raise one eyebrow at a time. (Both true.) I started wondering if maybe I wasn’t that unique or fun after all. And did I really want to be on a game show anyway?
UNIQUE FUN FACT #4: When my cubicle was too close to the ad-sales department, I used to have nightmares about becoming a salesperson.
And yet, there I was, in a cluttered office in Manhattan, coming up with a 30-second sales pitch for the weirdest product of all: me.
A few days after turning in my online application, I received an invitation for an in-person, on-camera audition. When I arrived, I was taken to a conference table where two other potential contestants were already chatting. A man in a purple shirt, gel in his hair, was talking to a woman in a printed top about how his major weight loss inspired him to launch a fitness-based business.
A short time later, a producer came in and handed us back our lists of 10 UNIQUE FUN FACTS. He told us to use them to create a 30-second, on-camera pitch about ourselves. He left, and we worked in silence. I struggled, trying to cram in as many of my UNIQUE FUN FACTS as possible. Somehow, I found it hard to segue from my prison story to my ear-wiggling ability.
Before I had it cracked, a different producer came to practice our pitches with us. Printed Top went first, and, man, did she have a stockpile of UNIQUE FUN FACTS. She was a first-generation American with immigrant parents. She’d played in the World Series of Poker. She once pitched a film to James Cameron. She’d had a successful career, but left it to pursue something she was more passionate about. She had so many hooks. I… could raise one eyebrow? Oh, and I can roll my tongue, too.
UNIQUE FUN FACT #5: Spontaneity isn’t my strong suit.
Producers called us in one-by-one to deliver our pitches to the camera. This time, Gel Hair went first. As soon as he left, I took the opportunity to pepper Printed Top with questions. Did she really meet with James Cameron? Yes, she’d won a lunch with him at a charity auction, and used the face-time to discuss a script she’d written with her sister. Was she nervous about it? Yes, but she figured she’d have nothing to lose.
We should’ve been using the time to practice our pitches, but I just kept asking her questions. Each one would lead me to a new UNIQUE FUN FACT about her, which would end in another question.
Before long, it was my turn to face the camera. “Good luck,” Printed Top and I both whispered to each other before I stepped into a black-walled room with bright studio lights. A third producer was adjusting the camera. Before he had a chance to turn it on, I’d managed to eke out one question: “How’d I do on my online quiz?”
“We don’t have the results,” he said. “All we have here is a note saying that you took it.”
Gutted, I took my mark. I figured my quiz score would be my best selling point, but it turned out that how you’d perform on a game show actually factors very little into how you get cast on a game show. Instead, I had to rely on my wan, 30-second pitch, one that had zero mentions of James Cameron.
“I’m going to ask you a few questions,” the producer said.
“Should I do my pitch?” I asked.
“We’ll get to that,” he said, and proceeded to ask me questions about myself. Each one cannibalized a UNIQUE FUN FACT from my 30-second pitch. For each question, I had to give a response while simultaneously thinking of something to replace it with when it came time for me to actually do my pitch. Each replacement fact felt like it needed to be somehow bigger than the one it was replacing. By the end, I wouldn’t say I was lying, but it felt like a complete exaggeration. I was nothing like how I’d be in real life if you met me on the street, outside of the game-show casting process. Then again I wasn’t looking to be me — I was trying to stand out!
“That’s great, Marisa,” the producer said. “Let’s just do one more to give the editor another option. Just say your name, where you’re from, and one interesting thing about yourself.”
By this point, I’d already come up with UNIQUE FUN FACTS for my initial sign-up application, some more for my phone interview, even more for my email application, and a few more than that to replace the ones covered by the producer’s on-camera questions. I was tapped out. There was nothing fun, interesting, special, or unique about me that this game show did not already know.
All that came out was: “Hi, my name is Marisa, I’m from Brooklyn and… I like movies.”
UNIQUE FUN FACT #6: I should be the one asking the questions.
When I think back on my casting experience, the only aspect I truly enjoyed — apart from taking the online quiz, which I could do anytime on Sporcle.com — was talking to Printed Top. “I really hope you get it,” I told her as I left my audition, and I meant it.
That’s when I realized: Maybe the interesting thing about me is that I’m actually interested in other people. My one, true UNIQUE FUN FACT is that I’m much more comfortable pulling the UNIQUE FUN FACTS out of those around me. When I was in my audition, all I really wanted to do was ask the producer about his job. How did they choose the contestants in the end? If the online quiz score didn’t matter, what did?
I didn’t get on the game show. Wiggling my ears was not my key to fame and fortune.
Or was it? A few weeks later, I received an email about possibly getting a second chance to be cast on the show — but it would take another audition (at 7 a.m. — ugh). I let myself delete the email. Tahiti will have to wait.
Marisa LaScala is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in xoJane, PopMatters, Time Out New York, and the website of the Condé Nast Traveler. You can read more of her writing on mlascalawriting.com.