“Crosswords”: Behind-the-Scenes

Yesterday, I posted the videos of me as a contestant on “Merv Griffin’s Crosswords” a few years ago.  That episode aired in April 2008, and I don’t think I’ve watched it since then.  Granted, I watched it a bunch of times in the month after it aired, with various friends who wanted to watch with me.

I couldn’t even watch all of it yesterday, as I was assembling that blog post.  I watched the first part of the first segment, and I had to turn it off.  I just had to.  It’s really tough for me to watch myself on video, and it always has been.  I think there are two reasons for this:

  • It’s hard for me to see myself at that weight (probably just under 400 pounds), because I’m reminded of all the unhappiness that accompanied it.  Everyone has good and bad times, but I see that video and think about how my weight probably (and frequently) was limiting in so many ways.  I know I’m more confident now than I was then.  I know my self-esteem is higher now that it was then.  I know that then, I had simply accepted some things as fact that certainly weren’t fact: that I was going to be obese for the rest of my life; that I’m incapable of improving my health; that I would probably go through life alone.  I’m not making the claim that my weight loss has resulted in all my issues and problems disappearing, because that’s not the case, and I still have good times and bad times, and that will never end, no matter what I weigh.  But now, at least, I feel a lot more in control of my health and well-being, and as a result, other elements of my life seem like they may be beginning to fall into place.
  • You know how when when you hear your own voice on your outgoing message or answering machine (if anyone still has one of those), it sounds totally different than what you think your own voice sounds like?  I feel the same way about video, ten-fold.  I look at it, and think, “Is that what I look like?  Is that how I move, appear, smile, gesture?”  It’s different from how I perceive myself, and it makes me uncomfortable and self-conscious.  This, by the way, hasn’t changed since I began losing weight – I’m just as uncomfortable watching my recent appearance on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” as I am watching on “Crosswords.”  And yet, it hasn’t stopped me from pursuing television opportunities – I’ve been on national TV 5 times in my life, and the thought of opportunity #6, whatever that may be, doesn’t frighten me.  Johnny Depp, by the way, doesn’t like watching himself either.  So I’m in good company!

I also thought I’d share a little bit of what the whole experience was like.

The Audition.  I had read that Merv Griffin was creating a new crossword-based game show, and since Merv’s other shows, Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy, were so good, I thought this one would be good, too.  I also thought there’d be the potential to win a lot of money, which is always a perk.  After some digging on the interwebs, I found audition information, and called and made an appointment.  My audition was set for July 26, 2007.

The audition was held at the studios where they were going to tape the show.  About 60-70 people piled into a big tent set up in the parking lot, and we got an application to fill out.  In addition to contact info and questions about our occupation, age, and so on, there was also a questionnaire about crossword puzzles.  Now, I’m not a regular crossword puzzle solver, and never have been.  I like word puzzles, but I’ve never been into crosswords.  There was questions about how often we did crosswords, and what crosswords we did, and I remember seeing the guy next to me writing about how he did the New York Times puzzle every single day, including the Sunday one, plus he bought crossword books all the time.  I decided to be honest, so I wrote I did a crossword maybe twice a year, and it was the one in TV Guide magazine, where the clues are like “Last name of Canadian singer Celine” and the answer has 4 letters.

Then came the test.  We had to answer about 40 crossword-based questions, with only about 20 seconds to answer each one.  It was hard, but I felt pretty good about it.  We turned in our tests and applications, and waited for 20 minutes while they graded the tests.  They didn’t say how well we had to do, but when they announced the 15 or so people that passed the test, they called my name!  Everyone else was thanked for coming, and the 15 of us were invited into an office, where we had to do an on-camera interview.  The interview was short and sweet: what’s your name, where are you from, tell us something we wouldn’t know by looking at you (I told a story about how I once mooned a theater full of people).  Basically, they wanted to make sure we didn’t freeze up on camera, that the host would be able to interact with us, and that we had some semblance of a personality.

A few days later, I got the call: they wanted to book me as a contestant!  Woo-hoo!  At this point, I still didn’t know exactly what the show was.  It had yet to air, so I didn’t know how the game was played, how much I could win, none of it (the show ended up premiering 1 week before my taping, so I eventually was able to see a few episodes before my taping).  I read in a press release that the show had hired the guy who edits the USA Today crossword puzzles to produce all the puzzles used on the show, so I started doing the USA Today puzzles every day to practice, and learn crossword clue lingo.  I arranged to take the day off of work, and on September 17, 2007, I drove to the studio for the taping.

The Taping.  Like most game shows, “Crosswords” taped 5 episodes in one day.  Since each episode has 5 contestants, they had to book 25 contestants for each tape day, plus a few alternates, in case people get sick, have car troubles, family emergencies, or whatever.  We were all crammed in one big room, where they set up a few curtained off areas as ‘dressing rooms.’  They had asked all of us to bring 3 suitable outfits, so everyone had options, and so the 5 contestants on any given show wouldn’t all be wearing the same color.

The day started with a few long presentations by various producers.  They went over the releases we had to sign, which basically said that consent to be on TV, won’t sue as a result of the taping, and that they can use this footage and our likeness in any way they want, “throughout the universe in all media now known or hereafter devised in perpetuity” – so, really, they hold all the cards.  Then there was an extensive explanation of the rules, which, if you watched the show, gets really confusing, with the spoilers and all.

Then came the waiting.  They announced the five players for the first show they were taping, and I wasn’t one of them.  An hour later, they announced the second set of contestants, including me!  I started getting really nervous.  They put some make-up on me, and I met with a producer to quickly discuss what I should talk about when the host interviews me, and they took us down to the stage.

The stage was small.  I work in television, and it’s pretty much true that everything seems bigger on screen than it really is.  The studio was tiny.  There was no studio audience (so the applause you hear during the show is canned) – just the set, a bunch of cameras, and that’s about it.  We all had the chance to test out how the buzzers worked, and they had us rehearse how to move from podium to podium, so no one collided with anyone.  The spoilers had to practice their entrance down that plexiglass ramp.  They checked in with us, to see if we had any questions, and then the cameras started rolling.

The taping itself is a bit of a blur.  My nerves went away, though, as soon as the show started – that’s the thing with game shows, you really  have to focus and concentrate, because things happen quickly.  Before I knew it, I was being led away to the corner with the other 3 losers to watch the winner do the bonus round.  I’m a competitive person, and was annoyed and disappointed that I didn’t win, but I was also secretly happy that Mary didn’t win the bonus round.

Final Thoughts:  Here’s the thing: “Merv Griffin’s Crosswords” was a pretty dumb show.  I auditioned before I had ever seen it, which is a smart move, because I had a better chance of getting booked (once a show starts airing, the contestant department gets flooded with audition requests).  Had I seen an actual episode first, though, I wouldn’t have auditioned.  I don’t like that the game required obvious word and puzzle skills, but ultimately relies heavily on luck to win.  I was also hoping more money would be at stake.  Oh well.  It was a fun experience, and everyone there was really nice.  I didn’t get to meet Merv Griffin (he actually passed away a few weeks after my audition, before my tape day), but I did get to be a smarty-pants on TV.  So if I ever create a bucket list, I can add that to it, and cross it off.

If you made it this far, thanks for reading!  This turned out to be pretty long post, but this is the sort of behind-the-scenes stuff I love reading about, so I though some of you might enjoy it too.  Time, though, to wrap it up!

Keep it up, David!

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5 Responses to “Crosswords”: Behind-the-Scenes

  1. Joanne Greene says:

    Thanks for sharing your adventure of being on a game show David! That game looked difficult and I bet it was frustrating to build up all that cash and prizes, then have to sit and watch someone else take it over. Was it on Game Show Network? I don’t recall ever seeing it. I’ve always wanted to be on a game show and tried out for Wheel of Fortune twice in the 80’s and Supermarket Sweep with my husband in the 90’s. Made it to the 2nd round all three times, but didn’t get picked to go on air. Wanted to lose 50 pounds before I tried out for Hollywood Squares, but I didn’t lose the weight and it got cancelled.

    • David says:

      Thank, Joanne! It was syndicated. In LA it aired on NBC at noon. In aired on different channels in different cities, at all different times. I was to LOVE watching Supermarket Sweep as a kid and dreamed of going on that show. Racing through a store, loading up carts with wheels of cheese and giant packs of diapers seemed like the coolest thing ever!

  2. Laura B. says:

    The game looked really hard! I know how smart you are, but wow. Making it that far is pretty awesome! You are very confident & look great on camera. Can’t wait until your 6th appearance!!!!!

  3. Pat says:

    Wow. You were on Merv Griffin’s Crosswords? What was that like?

  4. Marcy Fabian says:

    Hi David! You know whats neat about you David…all through your life no matter what your position and insecurities where you still went out there and did what you liked and enjoyed to some degree.Now look at you,you are such a remarkable and talented man.Your family and friends must be so proud of your in your new and expanded life.Now you should go on the Wheel of Fortune and kick some butt.You are definitely an inspiration for every person you meet and will meet.I am so happy for your awesome life!I don’t think I have to say Keep it up any more…right?Bye for now! ~*Smiles*~

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