How I Won $10,200 on Game Shows

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Can you spin a wheel, answer in the form of a question, or guess the price of a showcase without going over?  If so, this is a fun way to earn some extra cash.  Way back in the 1900s, when I moved to Hollywood as a stand-up comic, I won $7,200 on Wheel of Fortune and $3,000 on the now-defunct DEBT.  Being a contestant on game shows was fun and profitable.  I’ll tell you how you can do it too!

DEBT was a trivia show hosted by Wink Martindale in 1996.  This was a perfect fit because I have a flair for minutia and know everything that is not on the SAT.  I wrote that line in my comedy notebook.  I went back to read it later: “I know everything that’s not on Saturday.”  What the…?  That never got big laughs on stage.  Some jokes do better in articles.

In late 1997, I reprised my role of “Chip – The Game Show Contestant” on the grand-daddy of them all: Wheel of Fortune.  Here’s a photo of me and Pat Sajak.  Who’s cool now?  Take that Ed Grimley.  I was the big winner on my day, and made enough to be on that week’s Friday Show of Champions.

Individual results may vary, but here’s how I got on those game shows:  

First up, I called the “If you want to be a contest” number that ran at the end of the closing credits of every show.  But these days, the internet is also your friend.  I have links below to a slew of shows.

Once you get a chance to “audition” to be a contestant, you should treat it like you are actually on a broadcast of the game show.  The producers are imagining how you would do on the show, based upon your “audition”.  Look your best, speak clearly and have something interesting to say when the producers ask you about yourself.  It’s like going on a first date with America.  I told Pat Sajak I was a haberdasher.

Bottom line: Would you wanna watch you on TV?  This is no time to be a mumbling, meandering stiff.

Thousands of people audition for some of these shows.  You can do what you want.  But after I auditioned for Wheel, I sent my headshot/postcard once a month expressing my hope to do the show.  A few months later, they called me to see if I’d be the stand-by contestant in case anyone freaked out.  If I did that, they would move me to the front of the line for being an actual contestant.  Done.  I put in my day.  Everyone kept their cool.  I went home.

After I was scheduled to appear on Wheel, they called a few days later to say I could not do it since their research showed I had been on another game show in the past 18 months.  I had just appeared on Comedy Central’s Make Me Laugh.  I’d come too far to give up now.  I reasoned with them that I was a comedian on that show, not a contestant like I would be on Wheel.

I told them that no one would recognize me, because I am a man of many disguises – like The Jackal.  They agreed to have me on Wheel.  Whew.  I still have some of that Turtle Wax.  They weren’t kidding about a lifetime supply.

Nowadays there are reality/game shows that require contestants have a certain talent like singing, modeling or cooking.  These are TV shows first and are cast with personalities.  In 2006, I participated in one such show: NBC’s Last Comic Standing where I was a semi-finalist.  That was a reality show disguised as a stand-up comedy competition.

There isn’t anything wrong with that kind of “contest” as long as the producers are upfront about it.  When I read my contract, there was something about NBC and producers having input.  If I didn’t like it, I didn’t have to sign it or participate in their reindeer games.  They even ran that disclaimer at the end of every broadcast:

For me, it was just a fun venue in which I told my jokes!  I even laughed when I saw the show and the editors made it look like I assumed I was going to be named a finalist.  They used a clip of me getting off my stool, then they cut to Roz when her name was announced, then to me in a different shot being dejected.  All three of these shots were cobbled together from different unrelated situations.  Well played, Editor!

The takeaway on being a contestant on a reality show: Don’t agree to do it if you are uncomfortable with how you might be portrayed.  Are you prepared for that?  That is the $64,000 question.  If the answer is “No”, stick with the old school game shows.

Click on these links to get information about how to be a contestant on Jeopardy, Wheel of Fortune, Price Is Right, Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, and Let’s Make a Deal.  You can also peruse these links to see how to get “cast” in reality & game shows on ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC and the Game Show Network.

For full immersion, there are blogs like Game Show Follies.  A few more resources that might help you in your search are TVtix.com and TVtickets.com and AudiencesUnlimited.com

Good luck!  Have you been on a gameshow?  What was your haul?

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4 COMMENTS

  1. Thanks for the good info, Chip! I was once on a game show called Shopping Spree. It was fun! I came off looking like a total doof, though. Luckily the chances are slim that my episode will ever surface again.

  2. Two game shows: Win Ben Stein’s Money ($5k), Wintuition ($1500).

    Definitely have your anecdotes prepared. Also, game shows don’t like to cast people who say they’re actors, so be sure to list your day job if you’re actually trying to be an actor.

    NEVER say you’re an improvisor. That’s death as far as your chances of getting on a game show these days.

    Oh, and if you don’t live in L.A. (where most of these shows are shot), they want you! Imagine watching a game show, and everyone is from L.A. Casting people hate that for their game shows. Trick is, they usually won’t pay to have you come to L.A. Figure out a way to get here and stay here cheaply, and you’re almost guaranteed a spot. It also helps to not be an older white guy.

  3. I also did “Win Ben Stein’s Money.” I forgot about that one! That was $5,000. But, the one where I looked really goofy – mostly because it was 1985, partly because I was not at all TV savvy – was “Wheel of Fortune.” It was before I moved out to LA, and I knew I needed a car, and somehow, I decided that I was going to win a car. (Believe me, I am not what you’d call a “positive thinking” person. But I was so focussed on this.) This was before “Wheel” awarded any cash. It was all merchandise. I got lamps, china, and a stereo, and I got to go to the bonus round, where I won an ENORMOUS Oldsmobile Toronado. When the show aired, and I was given my prizes, I went to the dealership in Torrance, where I was instructed to go, and I briefly took possession of the car, and then sold it back to the dealer. I could have made more money selling it on my own, but where was I going to store that monster?! I instead got a Toyota Camry. It was a happy time for me.

  4. Great stuff! I received an email from veteran game show casting producer Laura Chambers. She wrote:

    Hi Chip,

    Most important (and you would think self-evident) is REALLY KNOW the game. It helps to be a fan and to study the game. It is just like a job interview… you wouldn’t go to one of those without knowing about the widgets the company produces… Trying out for a game show is no different.

    The odds are likely that you will be in a very large group with lots of other folks who look or sound like you. You have to find a quick way to make the casting producer remember YOU out of a large group… Best way is to have a one or two sentence description about yourself that makes you mysterious… I used to give this an example… “Hi, my name is Laura Chambers and I play games all day for a living.” They automatically want to know what kind of games? How does someone get paid to do that all day?

    Those are my top two suggestions…

    Laura

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