How To Get On A Game Show
From a very, very young age, I’ve always dreamed of getting on a game show. I was lucky enough to have my dream fulfilled in 1998 when I made it on Jep!, a kid’s version of Jeopardy! hosted by Bob Bergen, the voice of Porky Pig. (Fun fact, he was also the voice that introduced my final college portfolio presentation, because he’s amazing.) If you’ve watched the episode, you’ll notice two things. One, I’m freaking adorable and I wonder what happened. Two, I was ill-prepared for wagering strategy and that’s why I lost. (That, and we were learning the state capitals in school while I was taping the show. The irony is palpable.) So naturally, with my dream partially realized, I kept the drive to get on another game show alive.
I got on Wheel of Fortune during my Senior Year in high school. I didn’t win (again) but at least I moved up from third to second place. Wheel of Fortune was a bigger show, I won more money, I felt great about my performance (and still vehemently object to Prize Puzzles adding to the total of a player) but was still disappointed that I didn’t get the big win. The dream remained alive. I fast forward to after college. Armed with a wider array of knowledge, years of finger-flexing reaction-training video games and enough Trivial Pursuit cards to build a small bungalow in the wilderness, I applied for GSN’s import of one of my favorite UK game shows, The Chase. My personality and knowledge got me a call back, and my amazing team of trivia masters and mavens brought home one of the biggest pay days in Game Show Network’s history.
I could sit here and write a $4 book about all my tips and tricks for game show auditions, but that would be disingenuous. Here’s priceless advice for your next game show audition: Dress well, be friendly, be interesting and do everything the casting directors tell you to do. I’m a singular voice who’s had a linear experience that has crescendoed nicely into the record books and a modicum of respect from the 82 people who watched the show. Instead, I scoured the globe (and my address book) to talk to men and women who have been on every side of the podium.
The collective knowledge of their experiences is more valuable than any advice I as one person could give. My experience getting on Fisher Price Jeopardy! isn’t as ideal as, say, 2014 Jeopardy! Tournament of Champions winner Ben Ingram. I may have been a Plus One on Who Wants to be a Millionaire, but my audition process was “who’s available to go to Connecticut on Friday” and that’s a pretty low barrier of entry. So I talked to Josh Eldridge, the Tennesseean who invited me to share in his bank-breaking day on the show. I’ve never casted a game show, so I don’t know what casting directors are looking for. That’s why I spoke with Beverly Pomerantz, one of the most prolific game show casting directors ever.
I want to bind up the collective wisdom of everyone who’s been through an audition process to help you if and when you decide to go through the audition process—and trust me, you should. I feel like Matthew Lesko in his stupid question mark suit telling you that there’s free money in them thar Hollywood Hills, and the only way you’re going to get a chance to get any is if you take that first step and sign up. So for you, game show fan and potentially future game show contestant, I craft you this guide with the words of people who know this process expertly, and I give this to you. And as I continue the conversation with even more notable names, friendly faces and champion-types, I will add to this page with more information. I have made and will continue to make sure to have a diverse listing of people in this document so no matter what you intend on trying out for, whether it’s a long-standing classic like Jeopardy! or something new that no one’s ever seen, you’ll have a leg up on everyone else in the room.
If you’d like to share your story with us, or if you want to keep abreast of new updates, make sure to follow our Facebook page for more information. Now, on with the show. First, I talked to a man who hasn’t just been on 5 game shows, but 19 different shows.
The first person to talk to on how to get on a game show is probably the man who literally wrote the book on how to get on game shows. Scott Hostetler has been on almost every game show you’ve ever wanted to be on: Wheel of Fortune, Press Your Luck, The Weakest Link, Match Game, Pyramid and 15 more different shows, on US and UK shores. Known as the Game Show Guru, his book, Winning Secrets from The Game Show Guru, details his strategies on trying out for game shows and winning money. He sat down with me and we talked about his career and how the hell he keeps getting picked.
“One of my friends described me as ‘bubbly.’ I guess I’m ‘effervescent.’ If you go in with a positive attitude, a smile on your face, you’re engaged with them, you’re not sitting back—if they say something to the group like ‘hey, how are you doing?’, you stand up and say, ‘I’m doing great!’ You have to let them know, hey, I’m here, I want to be on this show.” Scott’s journey started, depending on if you consider it a game show, on The Gong Show. “Well, it depends on what you want to call my first. My first actual game show was The Gong Show. A couple of guys and I were sitting around, watching TV, and we decided we could put a singing act together and go try out. So we did that, we told some bad jokes, sang some bad songs, and Patty Andrews of the Andrews Sisters gonged us,” he tells me.
His first actual game show was Wheel of Fortune, which he says he auditioned for by accident. “I was in college, and my aunt called me. She knew I didn’t work or didn’t have school on Tuesdays, and she asked me, ‘Will you drive me to LA? I got an audition for Wheel of Fortune!’ I said, ‘OK, that’s fine.’ So I picked her up and drove her to LA. We’re sitting in the Merv Griffin Studios lobby and a girl came down. She said, ‘OK, who’s here for Wheel of Fortune?’ and my aunt said, ‘My nephew drove me down here. Can he try out too?’ The girl said, ‘Sure, we’ve got some room. OK!’ So we went up and tried out, and they took me and not my aunt. I wasn’t the Game Show Guru back then, so I don’t know how I did it!”
But now, almost 20 different game shows and over $300,000 in cash and prizes later, Scott is the Game Show Guru. He claims that every person he has personally coached who has appeared on a TV game show has won money, which is an impressive hit rate! So I asked him for some good tips. First, I asked him the secret to getting on so many different game shows. And apparently, the secret is persistence. “For the next five years [after Wheel of Fortune], I tried out for everything. Joker’s Wild, High Rollers, Card Sharks, and I kept trying out and kept trying out, and didn’t get picked up… until I was finally selected for Press Your Luck in 1983. Great show. When I was being rejected, I was gaining experience, learning why I wasn’t getting picked, what did I do wrong, what could I have done better, and I picked up some tidbits. Pretty much, I get picked up for everything as long as I pass the test.”
Hollywood is a surprisingly small town, so being persistent and regular with auditioning for game shows, especially if you’re in the Los Angeles area, is beneficial. “After a while, casting directors get to know you because you’ve been on their show and you’ve done a good job. Their job is to get good people on their show. So, I come in, and they say, ‘Scott! How are you?’ I’m great, how are you? It’s being upbeat, it’s being personable, and remembering that you’re always auditioning. From the time you walk in, you’re nice to everybody.”
Of course, there’s that pesky knowledge test that befalls most trivia game shows. I wondered what Scott did to prepare for those tests. “Some people are trivia buffs, or they’re not. If you’re not, don’t go for a show with trivia. Go for Wheel of Fortune, a show with a puzzle or something. Or, a game like Deal or No Deal, which is strictly personality. How I prepare and keep my trivia knowledge up is that I read a lot. I like to read trivia books. A book I just finished was 5 People Who Died During Sex: and 100 Other Terribly Tasteless Lists, which has lists of top ten things of all kinds of things. I like looking at those types of things.”
“Also,” Scott continued, “traveling really helps. When you see the Bayeaux Tapestry, then you learn while you’re standing there looking at it. A guy recently said to me, ‘Yeah, we bought Alaska in for $72,000,00.’ I said, ‘No, we bought Alaska for $7,200,000. I saw the check.’ We actually wrote them a check. It wasn’t to Catherine the Great, it was to the Russians, but it was signed by William Seward: 7, comma, 200, comma, 000. 2 cents an acre. So yeah, you remember that stuff.”
As many auditions as Scott has been to, I ask him if he’s seen any colossal mistakes. “I talk about this in my book. I was auditioning for High Rollers. The casting director stands up and gives a little speech. She says, ‘OK, everybody. I want you to stand up and tell me about yourself. I don’t want you to tell me you like gambling or games or game shows, because that’s why you’re here! And I don’t want you to tell me about your family, because that’ll only make me think I should have them on the show. So you, sir, go first.’ And this guy stands up and he says, ‘Well, I know you said not to say anything about gambling, but I really like it, and I really like game shows and everything. And my family said I should try out for this, they’re really great, they said I’d do really well on this.’ And I was just shocked! I was sitting right behind him and I thought, ‘She just said don’t do that!’ If there was a trap door, I’m sure they would have opened it up. Whatever the contestant coordinator says, DO IT! They’re the ones taking your pictures and pushing it over to the producer.”
If Scott were to give one piece of advice to someone applying to be on a game show, what would it be? “Well, let me give you two things. One, you’ve gotta watch and know the show. Look, particularly, at the people who are on the show. They’ve already made the selection. You can see what they’re wearing, you can see how they’re acting—Price is Right is not a good example because people wear a lot of different things! But you can see how they’re acting. The Chase, for example, I’m too old for. They’re not going for my demographic. So they go for younger smart guys, like you.” Aw, shucks, you’re too kind.
There’s an aside to that piece of information. What happens if the show you’re auditioning for hasn’t been on the show yet? Every casting notice I’ve seen only gives vague ideas to how the game could possibly play out. How would one prepare for that? “I am a good game player. I play a lot of games. I grew up on board games: Clue, Risk, Trivial Pursuit, Monopoly. First off, if you’re a good game player, you listen to their instructions because nobody knows how to play the game. So they give their instructions and then everybody plays the game. Play by the rules that they set out. Use the strategy they use. In a mock game situation, it doesn’t matter if you win or lose. If they say, ‘And, you can do this or this,’ then do it! It shows you were listening, it shows you’re interested in the strategy of the game and you’ll impress the casting director. Even if you lose, you say, ‘oh, pshaw,’ and clap and all that. Listen to the instructions because I feel, if someone tells me how to play a game, I’m at an advantage because I’m a game player.”
Scott’s last piece of information requires introspection. “Another thing you can do is—and I say this in the book—prepare ahead of time, because they’re going to ask you to say some interesting things about yourself. If someone asks you for three interesting things about yourself right now, you would struggle for answers because unless you’re a crazy egomaniac, you couldn’t come up with something. Before you go to the audition, think about three things. Do you have hobbies? You could even ask friends: What’s interesting about me? Maybe you’re really good at card tricks. I told one guy who liked to do card tricks, ‘have a deck with you, because if you say, “I do card tricks!” they’re going to say, well, then show me one! and then you pull out a deck, you will be memorable.’ They will remember that.”
Ben Ingram is the pride of Florence, South Carolina. He was an eight-time Jeopardy! champion, winning over $177,000 dollars. He then went on to defeat Arthur Chu and Julia Collins to win the 2014 Jeopardy! Tournament of Champions. Jeopardy! is a lot different, audition-wise than any other game show, and when we spoke, he explained exactly why.
“Oh my gosh, I can’t remember. It was early in ’12. I can’t remember if it was January or March, but I was training for a century ride, which is a hundred-mile bicycle ride. I wound up doing it eventually. It took a long time. I was visiting my girlfriend at the time—she’s still my girlfriend—that’s where she was at the time, in Spartanburg, SC, and I just had a pretty long ride, either 20 miles or 40 miles. And I came up and took a shower, and Liz said, ‘Hey, the Jeopardy! test is coming up. I think you should register.’ Now, I was tired, so I said, I really don’t want to do that. Nothing’s going to come of that. But she insisted that I do it, so I registered and I wound up just taking it on my laptop just lying on the floor in her apartment in Spartanburg, and it wound up working out.”
Work out indeed.
The online test is an in-home 50 questions quiz. Those quizzed have approximately 15 seconds to read a clue and type in a response. No score is given after the test. They just say they’ll keep in touch. “Actually, I took the test then forgot about it. Which is why I can’t remember when it was,” Ben tells me. But the next step in the process is a great story:
“This is something I won’t forget: it was in I think September or October, later that year. I was actually in India, of all places. I was working for a different company then than I do now. They wanted to send some of their newer employees to work off-shore for a few months just to get to know the people and get to know the company better. I was there for a couple of months and I was very, very homesick. And back then, I had to work late at night so the hours would match up with the States. I was waiting for the cab to pick me up and take me back to my apartment, so I checked my personal e-mail in this deserted office building in India, and I didn’t hear anything from home. But I was so homesick and honestly so desperate for human contact that I checked my spam folder. And there was an e-mail in there from Jeopardy! Productions and it said, ‘Dear Mr. Ingram, we’d like to invite you for an in-person audition in Baltimore on December 1st. Please reply within 48 hours.’ I checked the time stamp, and it said ‘Sent 47 hours ago.’ So, that was close.” Let that be a lesson to you, potential Jeopardy! champions: check your spam folder.
His audition was in Baltimore, right near the dicey Light Rail tracks that cross Lombard Street. “My interview was in the afternoon. We weren’t staying in the hotel where the audition was. We went in, grabbed a bite, had a drink, went upstairs. There was a big easel in front saying ‘Jeopardy! Contestant Auditions.’ They said, ‘Here, fill out this form, and go into the lobby and sit down and fill it out.’ There were about a dozen people just scattered around the hallways. Some leaning against the wall, some sitting on the floor, some sitting in chairs, and you could tell some of them because they were toting almanacs and newspapers and atlases under their arms, sort of last-minute preparation, I suppose.” The form had all your basic information but also asked for five fun facts about yourself. Tips are scattered throughout this guide on how to make yourself as interesting as possible for these facts. Prepare ahead of time, frame the facts in an interesting and engaging way, and try to think outside of the box.
“So I filled all that out,” Ben continued, “and then at the appointed time, they had us wait outside these big wooden double-doors. They took Polaroid headshots of us, gave us each a Jeopardy! pen, and then we went in. It was like a medium-sized meeting room, about the size of maybe two bedrooms put together. So about 40 of us in the group, sat in tables of two or three. I didn’t win the door prize, which was given to the person who had traveled the farthest—I think it was someone from Colorado. She won a Jeopardy! hat, but I ended up winning a Jeopardy! hat later.”
They better give him a hat, after this:
I asked Ben what the actual audition process was like. “They did a great job of making it a fun experience. At first, it just seemed kind of hokey. They’re all just saying, ‘hey guys, a lot of applause, a lot of laughter’ and everything. They were shouting out clues at us and asking us to give responses. You know, just raise your hand if you think you know a response. They didn’t call on me until almost the very end, but what they called me on was, it was one of the two word play categories that usually always come up. They were Before & After and Rhyme Time. They called me for one of those and I got it, and that made me feel pretty good.” Jeopardy! can be a creature of habit a lot of the time. Knowing categories that come up a lot can be beneficial for preparing against gaps in your knowledge. Preparing for those can be found in our Show-Specific Resources page at the end of this article.
The potential contestants all got another 50-question quiz, but this time, it was written on paper. How was the difficulty compared to the online test? “I think it was similar. But then again, it’s only 50 clues. That’s a small sample size. But the difficulty was similar. You have to write it this time, on a piece of paper. So if you have bad penmanship or if you haven’t written anything with a pen in a while, that might be a difficult thing to pass. Some people are faster at writing, some people are faster at typing. After that, they go off and they grade them. So we were just talking amongst ourselves.”
As someone grades the test, the contestants play a mock game. To Ben’s surprise, they didn’t have an initial cut of contestants. “I thought they were going to make a cut then, like you get a passing score? No one knows what a passing score is. I thought if you didn’t get a passing score, they were going to cut you. But those were the old days. They don’t cut anybody anymore.” He surmises it’s because the online test did a lot of cutting already, and it’s poor form for someone to travel so far to miss out on the whole experience.
During the mock game, three potential contestants were chosen to play a mock game, complete with mini game board and signaling devices. “They encouraged you to hit the button more than once. I thought that was a trade secret. I had done my homework after I found out I was going to be auditioning. I had read up on some tips from some of the more successful contestants, and most of them said, ‘hit the button more than once.’ So I thought I had an advantage because I had kind of a trade secret, that only a few other people knew about. But the contestant coordinators encouraged everyone to hit the button more than once, I thought to myself, ‘well, there goes all that research, what’s the point?’ I felt like I didn’t have the leverage anymore of having that secret in hand.” Another lesson, future champs: always listen to what the contestant coordinators tell you to do and DO IT.
“During the mock game, they don’t keep score. They go through maybe 6 or 8 clues and you don’t know who signals first. Only the contestant coordinators do. So sometimes, they call on a name. They don’t necessarily call on the name of someone who signals first. They want everyone to have something close to an equal number of chances. What they’re looking for is not so much how much you score, but how well you keep up. How well you enunciate. How well you keep the game moving along. I think more than anything, I think they’re looking for people who do not freeze up under pressure.”
After the mock game, they tell everyone that they’re in the contestant pool for the next 18 months. If they don’t receive The Call beckoning you to Los Angeles within 18 months, you’re eligible to take the test and hop back in.
I ask Ben for three pieces of sage advice for anyone auditioning to Jeopardy!:
“Speak up and speak clearly, because that’s really what the contestant coordinators really want. The second thing is just listen to the contestant coordinators because they’ve been in show business for a long time. Like, decades among them. They know what makes a good contestant. They will help you try to be a good contestant so just take their advice and you’ll go far. The third thing is just be yourself, enjoy yourself, don’t tell any lies, smile a lot, don’t go over the top. Just try to be a little bit more expressive than you might normally be, but smile a lot, relax and enjoy it.”
Beverly Pomerantz’s resume as a casting director reads like a list of the greatest game shows of all time: Family Feud, The Price is Right, Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader. She’s been casting game show contestants for a long long time. “I’ve been casting games shows for, oh my gosh—over 30 years. My favorite game show growing up was Hollywood Squares. Years later, my first job in the business was with Merrill Heater, who created Hollywood Squares. I didn’t work on Hollywood Squares. My first job was All-Star Blitz with Peter Marshall, who was my favorite host. I really felt blessed with my favorite producer and my favorite host years later. I thought it was so cool.” (Aaaand that’ll be the last mention of All-Star Blitz in this piece.)
Beverly recalled a story about a contestant she casted for Are You Smarter than a 5th grader who was asked to come back in a few days. Angered and frustrated, he initially refused. After two days of cajoling and asking him to return, he eventually ceded to her request and made it back onto the show. It turned out to be the best decision of his life, as he ended the revived 2015 season of the show with a $300,000 win.
I talked to Beverly about what she looks for when she’s casting people for game shows. “Of course, energy and enthusiasm. Are they fun? You have to have personality. I could tell you so many stories of why people didn’t get on and why ones did get on. You have to be really personable and outgoing. It always helps to know how to play the game, if the game’s already on the air. It’s to your benefit to learn how the game is played.”
And of course, keep your attitude at the door.
“I had a husband and wife apply for Catch 21—not together, they came separately. The wife was great; we had her on. The husband came in about two or three weeks later. I go upstairs and he’s reading the newspaper. So what we wanted to do, what the producers wanted to do, was to show how the game was played and what to expect when you’re on camera. We wanted them to pay attention. This guy couldn’t care less. He had his feet up, he’s got a newspaper. There were like 30 people in the room and all the producers. So they said, ‘Bev, take a look at this guy.’ So I went over to him and I was very nice, and I said, ‘Excuse me. You really need to listen to the producers and watch how the game is played, so when you’re downstairs, you’ll understand it.’ He goes, ‘OK, OK’ but he’s kind of snotty. I walk away.
Three or four minutes later, he’s still reading the paper! So again, I went over to him and I said, ‘This is really to your benefit. Really, I’d appreciate if you put the newspaper away and respect everybody who’s giving you the information.’ And he looked at me and he goes, ‘I told you I would. What part of “yes” didn’t you understand?’ And everybody in the room gasped. They couldn’t believe it.
But I was really nice, and I said, ‘Oh, hey, can I see you for a second?’ And he got up, and I put him in the hallway and this is all I said: ‘BYE BYE!’ To this day, he couldn’t understand why! I ran into him recently. His excuse was he was an ac-torr. I told him, ‘Don’t be an ac-torr. This is a game show.’ And that’s really, really, really important when actors come in. This isn’t an acting job. It’s from your heart. They want real people who want real emotions and not acting emotions. That’s really important.”
One of the things that Bev stressed to me was how you physically present yourself during your audition. “First of all, I think dress is important. Not outrageous. I just had a girl the other day, I was casting a pilot of a game show. I almost fell over when I saw her walk in. Thank God she had leggings. It was the shortest—she said it was a dress, it wasn’t a dress; it was a top. She turned around, and if she held her arms up a little bit you’d see the whole butt and her panties and everything. I said, ‘No, no, no. I cannot bring you into the producers like this.’ This was for a pilot—a presentation. She said, ‘Well, I do have leggings.’ I said, ‘Well, put the leggings on!’ I’m telling you, this is so important: have your hair and makeup done. I don’t mean, don’t go out and spend money to have your hair and makeup done. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen women or guys come in with torn jeans—not like, fashionably torn jeans. Walk in as if you’re going to be on camera. That’s how we’re looking at it. Walk in with your hair and makeup done. A nice outfit on. Nice shoes. Look like you’re ready to play the game if we were going to put you on camera right then. So camera-ready.”
At the end of the day, the job of the casting director is to pluck the most entertaining people out of the available auditions to fill out that piece of the game show puzzle. It is certainly not your birthright to be on a game show, as much as you may want it. In order to take part in this piece of entertainment, you have to be able to fit well in the machine that is the entertainment industry. “They can be good at playing the game, but if they don’t have personality… I remember a couple, I worked on a show called The $1,000,000 Chance of a Lifetime. I’m just different; I think I see contestants sometimes a little differently. I overlook certain things. I remember this couple—they had tried out for every game show in town. She told me, ‘Bev, we’ve tried out for every game show.’ Just an average-looking couple. Nothing to write home about. Nice. She told me that they auditioned for every show in town.
“This couple, whether they were a couple or just single, they went to every game show. Never got on one game show. I kind of saw why, you know? But I saw something in them that I really liked, and I wanted to give them a shot, so I kind of just said, ‘Come on, be a little more enthusiastic and give me a little more energy.’ I put them on the show, they walked home with a million dollars. This couple would have NEVER gotten on the show. NEVER. I’m pretty good at working with people. If I like them, I like people. Sometimes they just need a little guidance. If they are a little quiet, I try to work with them. ‘I love what you said, but say it with a little more enthusiasm’ because I tell contestants, the louder you are, the more fun you have, the audience is going to be pulling for you. Be nervous excited, not nervous tense. When you’re nervous excited, you talk and stuff comes out. When you’re nervous tense, you block things out. To these contestants who say they never get on, even thought they’re smart, there’s no personality behind it.”
Josh Eldridge lugged himself around the East Coast to get on Who Wants to be a Millionaire. He flew from his home in Tazewell, TN to New York City to try out for the show, then immediately took a train to Philadelphia, PA, to partake in the 3rd Annual 24-Hour Game Show Marathon. Once the show called him back and said he’d be on, he drove to Stamford, CT to be on the show before walking away over $60,000 richer. Josh shares with me what he said and did to get on the show and win the show’s ultimate prize—a bear hug from Terry Crews.
“First bit of advice: get a good night sleep the night before, give yourself plenty of time to get to the venue. It sounds funny for something as exciting and fun as a game show audition, but treat it like a job interview. But only slightly not as serious,” he tells me. Josh’s first audition was a local audition in Nashville, for WWTBAM’s 10th Anniversary special, hosted by Regis Philbin. “I basically left at 9:30pm the night before to get there for the 7:30 am session. Totally wasn’t on my a-game for that one, surprisingly enough. [I] didn’t get any sleep, so I made a piss-poor first impression when it came to the face-to-face interview. Acting like you’re strung out on heroin isn’t really on a lot of coordinators’ list of desirable traits,” Josh tells me with a wink.
As for the Millionaire test in New York City, it was surprisingly difficult. “The routine was that they passed out those scantron sheets, told us to remember the number on our answer sheet, and told us we had ten minutes to answer 30 questions,” Josh told me. “If you did your homework in watching the show, you’ll have a good idea on material mechanics. In my case, a few of the questions were ones used over the course of the previous season. Even then, if you did your homework on the show, you’d know that the questions they use can be sussed out from the context of the question and the choices they give you.”
I asked Josh how he thought he fared. “I felt like I had done halfway decent at it. Even if I hadn’t done well enough to make their cut, I figured ‘to hell with it,’ I was in New York, in June, and if I didn’t have a good time there, the city was big enough for me to find my own fun. While we were waiting on the results, we all just sat around and conversated. The time came, one of the staffers came through and read off a list of numbers of the tests that had passed, and thanked everybody who didn’t pass and invited them to try again. What shocked me was that out of our group, there was only four that passed. Myself included.”
I can speak to Josh’s success during his interview, because he asked me to be his Plus One when he made it on the show in 2014. Backstage, the producer who was responsible for casting him continually raving on how funny and charming he was. That wasn’t an accident.
“When I gave [the contestant coordinator] my life story, nothing about me was dull. I did not tell her I was an unemployed ne’er-do-well who still lived with his parents and wasn’t entirely sure of his next step in life—even though that’s precisely what I was. I was an ‘Appalachian Bohemian’ who did country thangs in a slightly-more-intellectual motivation: I’d chop firewood listening to Miles Davis, I’d make abstract art from things I found in the woods, and I’d argue chess strategies over a jar of moonshine. That was the truth, because they were all things I had done. It’s the Instagram method- you’re there to give them a snapshot of your life. Put an interesting filter on it.”
Josh gives good advice on selling yourself to a contestant coordinator. “This is your first chance to make a good first impression. You’re wanting to show them you have the qualities they’re looking for: be glad, upbeat, show them that you’re excited to be there—cause, hell, I was. Don’t force it, don’t act excited, be excited. These are people who are paid to spot and weed out phonies.”
I asked Josh if there was one thing he would’ve done differently. The thing with Josh Eldridge, though, is that he did that one thing differently. It paid off big time. “Every audition I went to before this—and I’ve tried out for a few—I went into it with a make-or-break attitude, but this time I didn’t. And every time before, I had thought I did okay, but then thought of a couple of points where I stuttered or stammered or thought I had said the completely wrong thing. But this time, I said [forget] it. This audition wasn’t the only reason I was in NYC, so I think that played a big part in not playing it as seriously as I used to—Not serious, but respectful. I didn’t exaggerate to make myself more interesting, but I presented the truth in an interesting way.”
When he’s not talking to experts around the country about antiques while hosting the hit PBS show Antiques Roadshow or patching up relations on Temptation Island, Mark L. Walberg’s one the host of the traveling Price is Right Livecircuit. He’s also been the host of several different game shows, including Russian Roulette and On the Cover. We talk about what makes a good contestant, from the eyes of a host.
“That’s a tough one. Most of the answers I’d give you would be just the clichés: high energy, positive attitude, pay attention. I think what happens is, a lot of times, you gotta remember that contestants are that gray area between actor and real person, in most game shows. Most contestants have asked to be on a show, they’re auditioning for the process. But, they’re not quite actors, but they’re a little bit more than just regular ol’ folks on the couch. I like to say: high energy, positive attitude. And listen! Listen to the host, listen to the game, and pay attention. One, you look better and two, you have a better chance of being successful.”
Positive attitude is more than just what you say—it’s how you carry yourself on camera. “Sometimes, you’ll see on Jeopardy!, the people who are clicking really hard on their buzzers and they’re sure they’re not ringing in because they’re sure the thing’s broken? That negativity? That’s never good for a contestant.”
I talked to Mark for this piece because of his unique viewpoint: he’s been on both sides of the podium, having competed on three game shows himself: The Weakest Link, Street Smarts and Lingo. “And I won all three of them, I just wanna let you know. I may be better as a contestant than as a host,” he tells me with a laugh. And being a model contestant necessitates knowing the game you’re applying to back-to-front.
“That’s the most underrated part,” he says. “It is so important. Knowing how to play the game is so important! That’s really the hardest part for casting. You need people who have this great energy that are watchable, but even if you’re watchable but you’re terrible at the game, for game show people like you and I who really like game shows, it’s almost offensive to see people not play the game well.”
As a future game show contestant, you probably have many reasons you want to get on a game show. To be on TV. To win lots of money. To change your life. To get famous. Any of those reasons are valid, for you. But if you want to maximize your chances of getting on a game show, you’re going to have to balance these reasonings with the show’s objective of making entertaining television. Mark explains:
“The balance for a contestant is to be likable and energetic and fun, but play the game expertly. The line is, and this is the part that’s difficult for most people, because there’s so much money on the line: the attitude of, ‘It’s still a game,’ is really healthy. We want you to compete as hard as you can. We want you to take advantage of every rule there is and be an expert so we at home can feel like you’re a proxy for us—that you’ve figured out what we’ve figured out. We’ve figured out every angle. At the same time, I’d like for it to still be a game. If you win, fantastic! If you don’t, oh well; it was still a blast. That attitude of, ‘highly competitive but it’s not the end of the world’ really sells the home audience.”
Of course, once you’re on stage, there are still ways you can maximize your appearance on the show. Mark’s one tip for being a good contestant is to understand your role in this production. “We want contestants to be energetic, we want them to be fun, we want them to share anecdotes that are funny. Trying to one-up the host? Trying to be comedic and trying to out-do that part of it? That’s not the contestant’s role. Sometimes, that ends up looking smug on the contestant. The whole thing about game shows is we want contestants to play the game expertly who have great energy that we want to root for. As soon as you start to be, ‘let me get one over on the host’—unless you get one over on Alex Trebek, it kind of works because Alex has this erudite, above-us attitude about him. Don’t try to out-funny the host. Help by playing along. Give them something to work with. It’s never a good idea to try to out-cool them. It usually doesn’t bode well on the contestant.”
“Russian Roulette was always a fun show to banter with contestants. That show had a bit of a comedic edge, so sometimes you’d find contestants that would come at me with a little joke. My name’s Mark Walberg so every now and then somebody would try to throw a jive at me, and I had the freedom on that show—it was actually a mandate from the network to have the show be dark—to be edgy. A few times, the contestants would make a mistake of trying to make a Marky Mark joke or something like that at my expense, and I would take them down. “I do this for a living. Be careful.” I always tried to do it in a lovingly playful way. I’m not really a mean dude. I’m not saying, ‘Don’t mess with me, I’m the star of the show.’ That’s not the point of all. In fact, it’s the opposite: a good host is supposed to make the contestant the star of the show. But trying to out-joke the joke makes you look attention hungry.”
Bob Hagh is not only just a BuzzerBlog writer, but he’s also been key in creating a few game show formats that are getting shopped across the world. In 2006, Bob and a group of his friends tried out for and got on a new GSN original show, a revival of the classic 80s word game Chain Reaction. Here, Bob tells me about his experiences and gives his tips on how to excel at an team-based interview.
“When I was on Chain Reaction back in 2007, it wasn’t a solo effort. Throughout the entire audition process, my team was together. We took the test as a group and we played a mock game as a group. A lot of game shows today see an individual doing this process by themselves, and only they have to worry about their image to the casting team. When you are audition for a team game, the producers are looking at how all members in that team intact with each other.”
Chain Reaction was heading into its second season on GSN when Bob and his teammates applied. If a game show has enough staying power to earn a second season, the hurdle to getting selected may change. Now that the general audience (of which contestants generally come from) know what to expect, the audition process may expect more from you. “My two friends knew about the show, so when I told them I wanted to bring them in to try out, I told them to watch a few more episodes to understand the main game and the bonus round. This way, when we went in to take the test and play the mock game, we had a good understanding of the flow. While watching past episodes, we looked at how the teams interacted on camera and what their relationships were. The more unique and entertaining we were, the better chances we had at making a good impression.”
Bob noted that part of his success was lots of preparation. “Some folks like to walk in on an audition blind, but in our case, we used the time leading up to the interview as research and practice. Not only did that prepare us for the test portion (it was just a bunch of Speed Chains, like 50 or something we had to complete in seven minutes), but it gave us leg up on the other teams by feeling confident and thorough through the mock rounds. Also, the bond we had that time—three friends sharing the same major in college—also had a good spin to it.”
In his experience, what did Bob think the casting people were looking for? “Producers want relatable, interesting people on these shows. They want contestants with a fun, entertaining story, an unusual hobby, or an unexpected life event they went through that they could talk about with the host. With teams, find a funny, interesting relationship you share. Sure, ‘best friends’ and ‘couple’ are okay tags, but what about ‘ex-lovers’ or ‘boss and employee’ or even ‘landlord and tenant’? As the audience, you just want to see the reaction from one player when the other screws up an answer. These combos make for interesting dialogue during the show and allows the host to play with those titles as he or she interacts with the contestants throughout the game.”
If you’re planning to audition for a game show that requires teams, heed Bob’s advice. “Team games can be fun to try out for. You want to play with someone you know you can have good on-air chemistry and just have a good time with. With a show that’s been around for some time, knowing just the basis of the game is a good first step in the right direction. It shows you know about the game, and that you’re ready to dive in and play. Also, show your excitement when you get there and be involved in conversation with other potential players. Personality really goes a long way in the audition process, so demonstrating how you feed off others is a checkmark in the casting producer’s notebook.”
Christian Carrion is also not just only a BuzzerBlog writer, but also the epitome of excitement and passion for game shows. And it shows: he keeps getting on them! He’s won a sofa on the Price is Right, made #TeamMeowMeow a household hashtag on the Chase, almost stole Merideth Viera’s job on Who Wants to be a Millionaire. In this essay, Christian discusses his various hits and misses in the world of signing up for game shows.
“While proper gamesmanship and general knowledge no doubt have a place in the tryout process for some shows, you will not have a successful audition if you come into it solely having prepared to play the game. A socially inept applicant who knows exactly how much to wager on any given Daily Double will not make the cut. Game show auditions are mainly about personality. What the casting director sees in those precious few moments is who you are to them. Never mind the fact that you’re always a happy person, or that all of your friends say you should have your own TV show, or that you’re the life of the party every other day. Your audition is your chance to become the person you want to be, and to make the impression of yourself that you want to make. Arguments at home, crappy day at work, bills, insecurities…leave them all at the door. None of it matters. The people you’re auditioning for have no idea who are you or what you’re about until the second you begin talking to them. Turn the happy on.”
“Game show contestants, like most humans, are round characters. They are an amalgamation of the various experiences, heartbreaks, setbacks, interests, challenges, and triumphs that make a person who they are. Television thrives on round characters. Therefore, it is important to present all of yourself to the casting director when explaining who you are. Talk about your interests, no matter how narrow or esoteric they may be. What do you collect? What do you enjoy? What got you interested in those things? How do those interests connect with what you ultimately want to do with your life? Who loves you, supports you, cheers you on at home? If they’re not family, how did you meet them? Answering these questions paints a three-dimensional picture of yourself for people who may have never met you before.”
“Perhaps the most important piece of advice I can give is this: If you don’t get the gig, don’t beat yourself up. There will always be another game show. Say that out loud: There will ALWAYS be another game show. If you’re reading this on Buzzerblog, you’re probably fortunate enough to be a game show fan. Luckily, this genre which we both love so much is one that has existed since the birth of mass communication. Networks love game shows because, compared to scripted series, they’re dirt cheap to produce and they practically pay for themselves, what with the ad revenue and all.”
“We (as well as millions of viewers around the world) love game shows because they are the most pure form of excitement, happiness, and fun that can be found on television. Their popularity has endured for the better part of a century, and that trend can only continue. More people are watching screens than at any other time in our history. The game show is a cornerstone of communication that will never, ever go away. If one game show doesn’t take you, try another. And another. And another. After a while, give that first game show a second try. Search for ‘game show’ on New York and Los Angeles Craigslist. Bookmark that search and check it every day. Send your info everywhere. Don’t say no to an opportunity.”
“One of the prevailing ideas in the game show circle as of late is the notion that game show casting is all about looks, and that a dumb attractive person has a better chance at becoming a contestant than an intelligent, less-attractive person. This is a lie. Casting directors and producers are tasked with finding genial, exciteable, attractive people who can also grasp game rules and strategies. These standards reflect those of television as a whole, going back to the earliest days of the medium. Looks are as important in the contestant selection process as they were on the most popular game shows of the 50s and 60s. That is to say, not very. I would argue that any casting company or game show producer who emphasizes the good looks or physical attraction of a contestant over his or her knowledge or gameplay skills doesn’t know what they’re doing and would be of better service to the game show industry by not existing in it.”
“A genuinely friendly person who displays excitement for the game, has a competitive yet fun-loving spirit, possesses a fair degree of general knowledge or verbal aptitude, and can relate unique or funny personal experiences to the casting directors has a better chance of making it onto a good game show than any airheaded model. I’m 240 pounds, I have a beard, a birthmark on my right foot, one of my teeth is slightly recessed, and I stutter. I’ve been on half a dozen game shows since the day I turned 18. So can you.”
Applying for Shows
Here’s a handy index on where to check for new casting notices over the web.
GSN Casting – For shows like The Chase, Chain Reaction and Skin Wars.
NBC Casting – For shows like American Ninja Warrior, Hollywood Game Night and if you really wanted to, The Voice.
Family Feud Casting – You can either apply online or in person.
Cast Iron Productions – Cast Iron Productions is one of the casting agencies that networks use for on-the-air and upcoming game show productions.
BuzzerBlog Casting – Whenever we get casting notices, we do our best to post about them here or on our Facebook page.
The J-Archive is the best resource for Jeopardy! trivia. Every clue of the past season and almost every clue from the modern run of Jeopardy! exist, answers and questions, on this site. You’ll also find a wagering calculator for Final Jeopardy!.
Also, read over the archives at JBoard.tv for in depth analysis from fans and former contestants alike.
If you want to test your buzzer speed, crank up the Jeopardy! home video game to its hardest difficulty.
Who Wants to be a Millionaire?
Apply for the show. Millionaire generally has audition dates in NYC and select locations nationwide.
WWTBAM and Friends by Ludia has a lot of good material from the show to test yourself with.
It’s also not a bad idea to watch old episodes and learn from them. Millionaire’s writing style is obtuse, but critically thinking about each question and breaking down each question to its basic elements will get you very far in answering them confidently.
Wheel of Fortune
The absolute best source for Wheel of Fortune audition material is our good friends at Buy-A-Vowel Boards. They’ve compiled this incredibly exhaustive guide on how to excel with your limited time at Wheelmobile audition events, and one of their members has crafted this compendium of every puzzle from last season, which tend to get recycled in tests. So maybe memorize this list.
If you pass the Wheelmobile audition and get invited to a final audition, Buy-A-Vowel has you covered with this exhaustive guide for the final audition.
And, if you need a refresher on the alphabet, here’s a helpful toy that you may find useful.
The book I used to study for the Chase was this Trivia Pursuit book. It was easy to go through and helped me get into a good mindset before I walked on stage.
I also used this Knowledge Trainer app to brush up on more difficult trivia, and to work on getting questions correctly quickly. It helped a lot, and I highly recommend it.
The last thing I used was the Chase app (although I used the UK version) to practice strategy for bringing money to the table and working on timing and speed to put the Chaser on the ropes. It helped.