All the Behind-The-Scenes Dirt From My Appearance on “Jeopardy!”

October 6, 2021

Spoiler Alert: I was a contestant on Jeopardy! on Wednesday, October 6, 2021. In this post, I’m going to share more about what that experience was like, and will include specifics about the show. So… if you haven’t watched yet, and it’s on your DVR or something, then bookmark this page and come back after! (If you missed it and don’t have it on a DVR, um… I don’t know of a way you can watch it. Sorry.)

Before I forget, a couple news articles came out before my episode aired. The one in the Detroit Free Press was written from information about me that Jeopardy! had provided, but I was actually interviewed for the MLive article, which was a fun little bonus.

Anyway. In my last post, I took you through the audition process, and the steps that came after I was offered the chance to be on the show. That post ended after I told the story of how this all came together. Now, it’s time for…

Tape Day!

Jeopardy! tapes five episodes in a day. I had to be there at 7:15am. Because there’s always a returning champion, they need ten contestants for those episodes, and they also book standbys, in case something happens and someone can’t show up. I think there were 11 of us that arrived this day. (Before committing to participate, I asked Lauri, one of the producers, if there was any chance I would fly in from Michigan, only to find out I was a standby. She assured me that I would be a contestant.)

There’s a lot of waiting around, and because of social distancing requirements, we first waited around on the second level of a parking garage that had been turned into a holding area. Then we moved into the Wheel of Fortune studio, where we spread out throughout their studio audience area. This was our home base for the day. I’m a huge fan of that show, so that was a bizarre and fun part of this experience. The make-up chairs were only a few feet away from the wheel, which was covered with a big tarp. We were told not to touch anything on the Wheel set.

We were each given black bags that had a travel-size bottle of hand sanitizer and anti-bacterial wipes in them, and an n95 mask to wear (as opposed to whatever mask we had arrived with). One by one, we went down and showed our clothes options to the wardrobe team, who picked what they wanted us to wear. We also had about an hour of briefings: all the official rules, tips, COVID protocols, legal requirements, and more.

I was seated towards one end of the Wheel of Fortune audience, and shortly before the briefings started, Matt Amodio showed up and took a seat at the other end. Matt was on a huge streak, and what I knew at the time was that he had won the final 18 days of the last season, racking up hundreds of thousands of dollars in winnings (more stats on him later). He’s an incredible player, and his arrival meant that he was still the returning champion. Holy crap. My heart sank a little bit. He’d be hard to beat.

You can’t go anywhere unescorted on a studio lot. Since we couldn’t take our masks off indoors, we were occasionally escorted out to an alley between two buildings, where we could space out and eat and drink snacks. The only time I took off my mask indoors was when I had makeup applied (and rules dictated that I could not talk during that process), and when I stepped onto the actual Jeopardy! stage.

(This, and the previous picture, were the only two pictures I took that day, and I took them before the briefing where they said phones weren’t allowed for any reason and had to be put away for the day. At least I got these two!)

Eventually we were all taken over to the stage, and rehearsals began. Each contestant had two roughly five-minute rehearsals to try out the buzzer, get used to being on stage, and play a mock game. We brought our black bags, and were instructed to use our hand sanitizer every time we stepped on or off the stage. We also had been given powder puffs by the makeup artists, and once we were behind the podiums, they’d tell us where to apply the powder on our faces (so they didn’t have to get close to us), meaning that, in essence, I did my own makeup touch-ups.

Being on that stage was both familiar and surreal. I was so familiar with it, from watching the show all my life, but now I was seeing it from a different vantage point – seeing how the cameras were set up, watching the crew doing their jobs, getting a peek behind the curtain.

We practiced ringing in. Home viewers don’t see that there are rows of lights on either side of the game board that light up when the host finishes reading the answer, and you can’t ring in until they turn on. Being quick on the buzzer is critical. A producer was monitoring our buzzing attempts and during rehearsals (and commercial breaks during tapings), she would advise contestants whether they were jumping the gun and ringing in early (which locks the contestant out for 1/2 a second), or habitually ringing in late. I was impressed with the production’s desire to see everyone succeed.

But alas, it’s a game, and not everyone will succeed. In fact, two out of the three players on every show lose. And now it was time to start taping the day’s shows. They didn’t announce the contestants for each show until right before it starts taping, so I sat holding my breath when they called the first two contestants. I didn’t want to go first. I wanted someone else to go, and beat Matt Amodio. My name wasn’t called, and I exhaled in relief.

The taping began for the first show (which aired on Monday), and Matt’s staggering accomplishments were revealed when he was introduced:

  • This was his 34th show, and by that point he had won $1,267,801. Wowsa!
  • He had won 33 consecutive games so far, and had just surpassed James Holzhauer’s 32-game streak to become second-highest of all time on that list, after Ken Jennings (who won 74 games in a row).
  • Matt was the third-highest money winner in regular game play (which excludes tournaments), after Ken and James. (Ken won roughly $2.5 million. James won roughly $2.4 million, meaning his average daily winnings were significantly higher than Matt’s, although I’d bet Matt isn’t complaining about his $1.2 million.)

I sat in that audience seat and watched Matt dominate that first game, and obliterate his opponents. He won $83,000 – his highest one-day total. He was impressive to watch, and it was thoroughly intimidating.

The same thing happened in the second taping of the day, with Matt winning $50,000 more, bringing his total to $1,400,801. We were lambs being led to our slaughter.

Then they announced the contestants for the third game, and I was up.

After 19 Years of Auditioning… It Was My Moment To Play Jeopardy! on National Television!

I took my spot behind the podium, touched up my makeup, and did a buzzer test. And before I knew it, the theme music was playing, the announcer was announcing us, and Mayim Bialik (whom I love) was walking onstage. [Fun Fact: Johnny Gilbert, who is 93 years old and has worked in television since the 1950s (!), records the intros at another time. During the taping, Sarah, from the Clue Crew, fills in.]

I’m not going to say much about the actual game, since it aired on TV. I was trying to buzz in an awful lot, but Matt was so quick on that buzzer that it was hard to compete. This wasn’t a surprise, as he had 35 shows under his belt. I was told in the first commercial break that I was anticipating the lights a little too much and ringing in early, so I tried to adjust, but based on my performance on the rest of the show, I don’t think I got the hang of it. I knew so many of the responses, but Matt kept beating me to the punch.

The judges’ ruling about my flower-cutting response came after about 10 minutes of research and consultation during the first commercial break. The judges, which came from a third-party company whose sole purpose was to ensure fair play, are thorough and active contestant advocates. They stopped production twice during my taping to research and confirm responses, and they did the same during the other tapings I saw, too.

The taping flew by. In the blink of an eye it was time for Final Jeopardy, and I was squarely in distant third place. Matt couldn’t be caught, and I wouldn’t even be able to catch Casey to get second place. So I wagered nothing. Despite explicit directions, given multiple times throughout the day, to include a dollar sign when writing your wager, I forgot, and they cleared my screen and made me write that zero again, with a dollar sign in front of it.

All three of us got Final Jeopardy wrong. It was a tough category and question. Matt still won the game, winning $16,600 and bringing his total to $1,417,401. Casey won $2,000 for getting second place, and I won $1,000 for my third place – which, after I pay taxes, basically covers my expenses for this adventure. They also gave me, afterwards, a Jeopardy! tote and a Jeopardy! hat (which is too small for my giant head).

After Mayim ended the show we had to banter for about a minute, so they had enough footage to roll under the credits, and all of us, including Mayim, commiserated about the obscurity of that Final Jeopardy question. Matt started talking about how, after the correct answer was revealed, he should have known it, and rattled off all this extra info about that period in French history. I said, “Gee Matt, it’s too bad that these aren’t essay questions!” and that made everyone laugh, including Matt, Mayim, and the crew.

Mayim, by the way, was a warm and friendly presence on the set. She was calm and confident, and genuinely cared about the contestants, joking around with us during commercial breaks. She put me at ease – and I needed it, because I don’t think I’ve mentioned yet that I was very nervous, up until the start of the show. When the theme music started playing, I was became laser-focused on playing the game.

I also have nothing bad to say about Matt. He kicked my butt, just like he kicked the butts of 71 other contestants (and counting). We talked a couple times throughout the day, and he was kind, friendly, curious, and humble. There was no ego or cockiness, and when he seems, on the show, to be surprised by his own success, I believe it to be genuine. I asked him, after our show, if this is getting easier for him. “It’s getting harder,” he responded. “The pressure just builds and builds.” I couldn’t beat him, but I will continue to root for him.

My time on Jeopardy! was over. I signed some after-show documents, and stuck around for the final two tapings, which I can’t talk about, since they haven’t aired.

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed at the outcome. It wasn’t the performance I was hoping for, and I’d like to think I might’ve done better if I hadn’t played against one of the greatest players that show has ever seen. But I’ll never know. This was my shot, and I did as best as I could.

I considered, as I left the studio, not telling anyone about any of this. Very few people knew that I was taping the show, and I could keep it that way. Why promote a game show appearance where I did so poorly?

I quickly dismissed the idea. I knew I had to own every single moment of this experience. I wanted this so badly, for so long, and I had made that known over the years. I’m so lucky to have so many friends and family, from all parts of my life, that would be excited to watch the show and cheer me on, no matter the outcome. Being selected to be a contestant is a major accomplishment in and of itself, and I’m proud of that. Trying to mitigate my embarrassment by not letting others in my life know about the show would’ve been selfish and hurtful. Plus, it wouldn’t work. Jeopardy! is a hugely popular show. Friends watch it. They would see me. I’d have to explain everything after the fact, which would be awful.

I’m happy to be a part of history, even though it’s not the story I would’ve written. Matt Amodio has already become a Jeopardy! legend, and it’s a nice consolation prize (nicer than an ill-fitting hat) to play a very minor part in his story, as one of the opponents he vanquished along the way. Plus, I was there a few days before another big Jeopardy! news story broke: that Mike Richards was fired from producing the show. It turned out that my day on set was the final tape day that Mike Richards was a part of. (For the record, while Mike was just offstage the whole day, monitoring the action, I didn’t meet him.)

I’m writing this before the show airs, and I suspect that watching myself on TV might stir up some of the sadness I felt leaving Sony Studios that day. But just the fact that I’m on this show means that I made a longtime dream come true. It’s a reminder to keep going after the things I want, and to keep challenging myself with new experiences. I’d rather have the opportunity to play and bomb with millions and millions watching than sit at home kicking myself for not trying.

Most of all, as cliche as this sounds, this experience speaks to the power of dreams, and the satisfaction, joy, and pride that’s felt when they come true. This dream took 19 years of auditioning and rejection before I had the chance to get clobbered on national television, but I’m so proud I was able to make it a reality. I’m proud to have been a Jeopardy! contestant. I’m proud to add this chapter to the story of my life.

And now that it’s behind me, I can focus on my next game show goal: to be a contestant on Wheel of Fortune.

Keep it up, David!

PS: My episode of Jeopardy! ended up airing on what would have been my grandmother’s 100th birthday. I miss you so much, Grandma Millie!


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Tune In Alert! Watch Me as a Contestant on “Jeopardy!” THIS WEDNESDAY!

October 4, 2021

Hey friends! It’s David. You know, from Keep It Up, David. It’s been a few months since I’ve posted, but I’m back with BIG NEWS. I’m going to be a contestant on Jeopardy!, this Wednesday, October 6th!

I filmed it in Los Angeles in August, and I’m about to share the story of how I got on the show. But first, some more details: You’ll need access to local broadcast networks in order to watch. It won’t be streaming, it won’t be available online. The channel and time will differ, depending on what city you’re in. In metro Detroit, where I live, it’s on at 7:30pm on NBC/WDIV channel 4. To find out when it airs in your town, click here. Tune in to watch me on Wednesday, 10/6, and save all your questions for after, because I can’t give any spoilers before!

This is all tremendously exciting for me, since going on Jeopardy! has been a longtime dream.

The Audition

The process to become a contestant begins with taking a test, and I took my first test in 2002. I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve taken it since then… I think 7 or 8 times in total? (They now offer tests all year long on the show’s website, so you don’t have to wait for a special day or time.)

The test is 50 questions that appear one at a time. You have 15 seconds to read it, process what they’re asking for, and type your answer. You can’t go back if the answer comes to you after the fact. The whole thing takes about 12 minutes. They don’t tell you how well you did, how well you need to do to move on, or which you got right or wrong. When it’s over, a message pops up that basically thanks you, and says the show may reach out if you passed. I never heard from the show… until I took the online test in January 2020 – and even then I didn’t hear back until approximately five months later.

In June 2020, I was notified via email that I had passed the test, and was invited to participate in an actual audition. They were doing these in various cities around the county pre-COVID, but thanks to the pandemic, they were now all done on Zoom. So I signed into a Zoom call, and took another 50-question online test, this time with a webcam on, so they could verify that I wasn’t cheating, and there weren’t others feeding me answers.

A week or two went by, and then I was invited to another Zoom audition – this one where I was interviewed and played a mock game with other candidates. This audition was more about personality and energy. The testing confirmed I had the smarts, and here they were seeing if I could hold a conversation with the host, move the game along, and was someone the audience could root for – all important things a game show contestant would need to do.

After that, I received an email saying I had passed all the auditions and was officially in the contestant pool – woohoo! This meant that the show could call me at any time within the next 18 months, inviting me to be a contestant on the show. Or, they may not call at all. No guarantees! It was July 2020 at this point. Time to play the waiting game.

Once the new season premiered in September 2020, I knew they wouldn’t be calling me any time soon. At first, all their contestants were from Southern California, and after a couple months, they started featuring contestants from areas within a reasonable drive to Los Angeles (like San Diego, Las Vegas, Phoenix, and San Francisco). This made sense, since the pandemic was in high gear, and booking air travel was risky, for health reasons, and since airlines were cancelling flights left and right.

I more or less put Jeopardy! out of mind.

And then I got the call.

It was over a year later, in August 2021. Lauri from the contestant team called and texted me, and I immediately called her back. It was a Saturday, and they wanted me to be a contestant on a show that was shooting six days later, on Friday. Holy cow!

It was super short notice. Lauri acknowledged that the show had to add a new tape date at the last minute, “due to production changes,” – and I didn’t have to ask why. Mike Richards, who had been named the new permanent host of Jeopardy! a few weeks prior, had resigned the day prior. It was all over the news.

Lauri had to confirm a bunch of information that I had given them during the audition process, to see if anything had changed since my audition. While doing that, I got the distinct impression that, given the last minute nature of this new tape date, they had filtered their contestant pool database by area code so they could book local contestants. I still had a Los Angeles phone number (despite moving to Michigan 2.5 years earlier), so I ended up on that list. I’m not 100% certain that this is true, but I definitely a strong hunch.

Lauri told me she would understand if I couldn’t pull of a trip to Los Angeles with this little notice. She also told me that if I said couldn’t do it, there was no guarantee I’d get another call, even though the show was ethical and always tried to do the right thing in these sorts of situations. I told Lauri I needed an hour to think things through, and an hour later, I called her and said I was in. If this was my shot, I was going to take it!

The Scramble

The next few days were a blur. There was a lot to do.

  • I needed to bring five show-appropriate outfits, which meant I had to go shopping, due to pandemic weight gain. My sister happened to be in town, and she was a godsend, helping with this process. My parents happily agreed to care for my dog while I was gone, which I was very grateful for.
  • There were tons of forms, contracts, questionnaires, and other paperwork that the Jeopardy! team sent over, for me to read, fill out, and sign. I read every clause and stipulation in those contracts.
  • I had to book a flight and plan my trip. Even though I have plenty of friends in LA, I chose to get a hotel room the night before, about a half-mile from where the show tapes, just for convenience. (All on my own dime, by the way.) I told very few people that I was coming to town, and only told one LA friend the reason for the trip. Because of COVID, there was no studio audience, so I couldn’t bring anyone with me to the studio.
  • I had to get a COVID PCR test 48 hours prior to my flight, and send the show my negative test results before getting on the plane. (I had to also arrive a day early and go to Sony to get a second COVID test.)
  • I wanted to study! I had a plethora of episodes on my DVR, so I started catching up on ones I missed. I bought the newest edition of Trivial Pursuit – which is basically 2,400 pre-made flashcards. I read a book about Jeopardy! buzzer strategy that a former champion had written, and read up on other contestants’ appearances online.
  • I also had to get ahead at work, setting up my team to be in a good place so I could leave for a few days. Work was very understanding and gracious, but I didn’t really ask for permission. I had PTO that I used, and only told two of my leaders the reason for my absence, and they were both elated for me. Others were worried about what was going on. I ended up missing a big work event that I had helped strategize and plan, and the other people on that project were worried, due to my refusal to talk about it, that it might be health-related or a family emergency. One leader and friend was worried I was interviewing for a new job!

The reason for my silence was two-fold. I had signed contracts saying I’d keep it quiet until the show allowed me to talk about it, and while I knew that friends and colleagues would be happy and excited for me, I didn’t want to be peppered with questions that I couldn’t answer, about how I did, if I won, and stuff like that. I could not share any spoilers, and it’s easier to not tell people at all, than it is to dodge and weave around everyone trying to trick you into revealing secrets. I technically couldn’t tell anyone or share anything on social media until I received notification from the show’s publicity team that I was cleared to share my air date, which happened nine days before my episode aired. Then, the answer to all those questions was easy to answer: “Tune in and find out!”

I arrived in Los Angeles, went and received my second COVID test, and then… well… You’re going to have to wait until Thursday to read the exciting conclusion, since there’s not much else I can share right now. But you won’t want to miss what I’m sharing on Thursday!

Until then… enjoy the show on Wednesday. I’m excited for it to be on TV!

Keep it up, David!


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“Millionaire” Rerun Alert! Did You Miss It The First Time Around? Watch It Again!

May 1, 2018

Exciting news! My episode of “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire” is airing again this week. Three cheers for reruns!

According to my TiVo listings, my episode is scheduled to air as a rerun on THURSDAY, MAY 3, 2018 in Los Angeles. There’s a good chance it’ll air again in your part of the country, but no guarantees. Keep reading for more info: Read the rest of this entry »

I Was a Contestant on “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire,” and Here’s All the Behind-The-Scenes Scoop!

March 2, 2018

My episode of “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire” aired yesterday. And man oh man, do I have some stories to tell! SPOILER ALERT: If you haven’t watched yet and don’t want to know how I did, stop reading now.

No, seriously, this is your last spoiler alert warning! Juicy details lie ahead! Read the rest of this entry »

I’m Going To Be A Contestant on “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire” and IT’S AIRING NEXT WEEK!

February 19, 2018

Mark your calendars for Thursday, March 1, 2018. That’s the day I’m going to be on “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire,” so tune in!

This has been nearly a year-long process, most of which I’ve kept secret from most people. I auditioned last May and taped the episode at the end of July, in Las Vegas. I was told when we taped it that it would air at some point between September and May, and I would only get a week or two heads up. I got the heads up, and it’s finally airing. On March 1st!

I’ve put together a FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) with everything you need to know to tune in. Keep reading!

Read the rest of this entry »

My Appearance on PYRAMID – Part 2

May 11, 2012

You’re in for a treat, folks!

Yesterday, I shared the first half of my appearance on the game show Pyramid from 2003, and talked about the audition process and my memories from the taping. Click here if you need to catch up.

Now it’s time for the second half! Sit back and relax… and see if I win the big bucks!

Read the rest of this entry »

My Appearance on PYRAMID – Part 1

May 10, 2012

I used to love The $25,000 Pyramid when I was growing up. It was a smart, fun game show, and Dick Clark hosted it with such ease. You could tell he knew how to play the game really well, and I liked that. I had no idea who the celebrities were (Barry Jenner? Linda Kelsey?), but that didn’t matter. It was a show that celebrated quick thinking and effective communication, and to this day, if I stumble across a rerun on GSN, I’ll watch it, and I’ll enjoy it.

A few weeks after moving out to California in July 2002, I learned that a new version of Pyramid was coming on the air. It would be hosted by Donny Osmond, and they had already begun taping episodes. I decided it would be fun to audition, but had no idea how. So I got a ticket to be an audience member, and less than a week later, I was sitting in a soundstage on the Sony lot, watching them tape a show. During a commercial break, I asked someone about auditions, and got a number to call.

The audition process was long. First was a big cattle call audition where dozens of us took a written test. The people who passed the test (including me) stayed and played a quick mock version of the game. Then, a few days later, I was asked to come to a call-back audition, where a more in-depth mock game was played. Then I was asked to come to a third audition, which they called a “boot camp,” where I played the game yet again, and they went over all the rules. It was at that third audition that I was officially booked as a contestant. I was to return three weeks later to tape my appearance.

Read the rest of this entry »

Sundae Slide

December 19, 2011

Remember the ’80s Nickelodeon game show “Double Dare”? I remember watching it at my best friend Sean’s house when I was a kid – he was also my next door neighbor, and his family got cable television a few years before mine. I used to dream about being a “Double Dare” contestant with Sean (contestants were in teams of two) and winning the game, giving us the chance to run the messy, ridiculous, awesome obstacle course at the end of each show.

One of the obstacles was called the Sundae Slide. First you had to climb up a slide that was covered in pudding, then slide down a different slide into a different pile of pudding. Climbing that first slide was one of the hardest stunts on the obstacle course, and it would often make or break the team: if the contestant did well on the Sundae Slide, they had a fair chance of winning the whole thing, but if the contestant stumbled, it was very hard to recover.

Agile and physically fit contestants would straddle the slide, only letting their feet touch the sides of it, and scamper up it like a monkey. They’d avoid touching the pudding altogether, because they knew that pudding + shoes = a loss of all traction. This will jog your memory – The kid at the 15-second mark in this video really struggles going up the slide, but the kid at the 1:55 mark handles it like a pro:

Watching “Double Dare” was a treat, since I couldn’t watch it at my own house, and my dream of being a contestant would keep me up at night: I could win awesome prizes like Casio keyboards, a year’s supply of gum, or (gulp!) a trip to Space Camp! I could take part in sloppy physical challenges that involved vats of whipped cream and picking giant plastic noses! I could be on TV!


Me and Sean in middle school, a few years after my "Double Dare" dreams. I have no idea what I'm doing in this photo.

There was one big problem in my dream of fame and fortune that I needed to solve, though: the team that got to run the obstacle course would alternate through the tasks, and I needed to ensure that Sean would be the one who did the Sundae Slide. This was top priority. The thought of myself, the chubby kid, on the Sundae Slide quickly turned my dream into a nightmare. I knew – I just knew – that I wouldn’t be able to get up that goddamn pudding-covered slide. I knew – I just knew – that the entire 60-second time limit would evaporate as I struggled under my own weight. I knew – I just knew – that the scampering monkey technique was beyond my physical abilities. I knew – I just knew – that I’d end up looking like a weak, pudding-covered fool. I really wanted to go on “Double Dare,” but I didn’t want to humiliate myself in the process. And I certainly didn’t want to be blamed for Sean not winning a Walkman or a pair of rollerblades. The Sundae Slide, simply put, terrified me.

So I developed strategies. If Sean and I somehow got picked to be contestants (which would be a miracle, since I never bothered to learn where the show was taped or how kids got on the show), then I’d be prepared.

  • Plan 1 would be to get Sean psyched for the Sundae Slide, as if we’d already discussed that he’d be the one doing it. I’d start the second we learned we were going on the show: “Sean, you’re going to kill it on the Sundae Slide!” “Sean, aren’t you excited about the Sundae Slide?” I was ready to convince Sean that we had already discussed how he’d do the Sundae Slide, and that he must have forgotten our conversation. Sean’s no dummy, so I’d have to be careful with the mind trickery, but it was worth a shot.
  • Plan 2, to be implemented simultaneously as Plan 1, would be praying daily to God that the Sundae Slide would be broken the day our episode taped. I went to Sunday school and church nearly every week from first through eighth grade, so I could even reinforce my daily prayers with major Sunday prayers.
  • Plan 3 would be to avoid committing to who would go first on the obstacle course until we were in the studio, and the obstacle course was set up, right there in front of us. Then, and only then, would I start insisting on going first or second, whichever meant not doing the Sundae Slide.

Of course, none of these plans were ever actually needed, because I was never a contestant on “Double Dare.” I’m not sure I ever even shared my “Double Dare” dream with Sean, come to think of it.

Last night, I had dinner with a bunch of friends, some of whom I went kayaking with in August. It was a lovely meal and a great time, and on the drive home my mind started wandering. I started thinking about that kayak trip, and how, for most of my adult life, kayaking was out of the realm of possibility for me, a man hundreds of pounds overweight. But thanks to a helluva lot of hard work and determination, I’m changed my life, and now kayaking is possible (and fun!). I don’t remember how I mentally leaped from kayaking to “Double Dare”-related memories, but I had a nice little epiphany, and it’s this: I’m no longer scared of the Sundae Slide. In fact, I’d love to give it a whirl!

So who has a time machine, or access to playground equipment, dozens of pounds of pudding, and a direct line to “Double Dare” host Marc Summers? I need someone to help with the logistics, because I just want to sit back for a little while longer and enjoy the reminder that it’s not just about the number on the scale: my weight loss is, quite literally, rewriting my dreams.

Keep it up, David!


August 1, 2011

I’m writing this post from beautiful and green Seattle, Washington.  I’m up here visiting a really great friend from college, and heading back home to Los Angeles tomorrow.  I’ll have some fun Seattle photos to share, but I’m currently 1 city behind – I haven’t really shared anything about Las Vegas yet!  So even though I’m more than 800 miles north, I’ll happily head back to Sin City so I can fill you in what went down.  You know the motto “What Happens in Vegas Stays in Vegas”?  Not for Keep It Up, David!

If you read my blog every day (and why wouldn’t you?), than you’ll know that I’ve now twice mentioned the fact (here and here) that I came to Las Vegas for a very specific reason, one that made me both terribly excited and nervous, which is why I didn’t share it on the blog before it happened.  But now that it’s over, I happy to report that I planned the whole trip so I could go and…

…audition for Who Wants To Be A Millionaire!

I’m a game show junkie.  Always have been.  My family can vouch that I was solving the puzzles of Wheel of Fortune ever since I learned how to read, and in my adult life, I’ve gone to auditions for six game shows, and appeared as a contestant on two.  You can watch my appearance on Merv Griffin’s Crosswords here, and I’m going to post video from my other game show later this summer (it’s goooood, so come bak for that!).

This year I’ve really been enjoying the syndicated daytime version of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, hosted by Meredith Vieira, so when I saw on the show’s website that they were going to be conducting auditions in Las Vegas, I immediately marked it on my calendar.  The auditions were Friday morning, so I arrived on Thursday afternoon, with a cooler bag of healthy foods in tow, and checked into a room at Gold Coast hotel and casino.

There are a gazillion hotels in Vegas, and I picked Gold Coast because that’s where the auditions were being held.  I was gonna have to wake up at the ass-crack of dawn for the audition, so it was easiest to stay on-site.  Gold Coast is a off-strip property that’s next to Rio (as you can see in the picture) and across the street from the Palms.  Price-wise, it wasn’t the cheapest option, but it was at the lower end of the range, which I appreciated.  I don’t know if I would recommend Gold Coast, but it was fine for my purposes, and the staff was friendly and helpful.

The auditions started at 7am, and the website said that they couldn’t line up before 6am, so, after a semi-restless night (thank you, nerves), I was dressed and primped and downstairs at 5:30am with a book (in case I had to wait for hours) and the application form I had previously downloaded and filled out.  The auditions were being held in one of the hotel’s big ballrooms, and the escalators to the ballroom were blocked off by velvet ropes when I got there, but I was 12th in line!  FANTASTIC!  A constant stream of people arrived and got in line behind me over the next hour, and soon, the line snaked through the casino and went out the door (or so I heard, the line grew so long I couldn’t actually see the end).  Around 6am or so, I learned that there were already dozens and dozens of people in line at the top of the escalator, so I wasn’t actually 12th in line, I was more in the 90s.

At 6:30 or so, they started moving us into the ballroom, which was set up with rows upon rows of tables, filling the whole room.  It could accommodate 500 people in total, and the room ended up getting filled completely with applicants.  A casting producer went over what was about to go down:  We were all going to take a test, and those of us who passed the test would get an interview.  If we didn’t pass the test, well, thanks for coming, and please exit quickly.

Tests were then passed out, and we were assigned numbers.  The test questions were on a sheet inside a manila folder, and we marked our answers on Scantron forms.  We were also given t-shirts and magnets as gifts, and the Millionaire pencil we used to take the test was ours to keep as well.

After explaining the directions, the test began.  It was timed – 10 minutes to answer 30 questions.  The questions were multiple choice, just like the ones on the show, and they ranged in difficulty from easy to really difficult.  Since it worked out to 20 seconds per question, I went through and answered all the ones I knew off the top of my head, and then came back to the ones that I wanted to think about a little more.

The questions ranged in topic from history to science to literature to pop culture to current/recent events, so you really had to know your stuff, and be able to recall it quickly in order to do well.  I used every second of the 10 minutes, which flew by.  I answered all 30 questions, but didn’t have time to go back and double-check anything, which I would have liked to have done.  When the 10 minutes were up, we passed the test to the ends of our rows, and sat around and waited while the Scantron machine scored them.

There are two big mysteries surrounding the tests: the Millionaire folks don’t say how well you have to do to pass, nor do you find out what how you score.  I heard people around me saying that you need to get 27 out of 30 right to be granted an interview, but that was never officially said (at the audition or anywhere on the wesbsite), so who knows if it’s true.

I felt pretty good about how I performed on the test.  I knew a majority of the answers with certainty.  There were two questions I knew I got wrong, because I looked them up afterward on my phone, and two or three more that I remember taking educated guesses on, but couldn’t look up afterward, because I forgot what they were.

After 10 or 15 minutes, the casting producer came back with the big announcement: the assigned numbers of the people that passed the test!  The room got very quiet, and she started reading the numbers.  The list was long – around 70 people out the 500 in the room passed!

Did I pass? CLIFFHANGER! Come back tomorrow and find out!

Just kidding!  I’ll tell you right now.

I… didn’t pass.  I thought I had done well, but obviously not well enough!  I shuffled out of the room, along with the other 430 applicants that didn’t pass, and by 7:45am I was back in my room.

I’ll admit I was crestfallen, but it wasn’t devastating.  I knew the test would be tough, and I knew the odds would probably be against me, and they were: 70 passers out of 500 applicants is just under a 15% success rate, and even then you’re a long way from being on the show: you don’t find out for a few weeks if you pass the interview part of the audition, and those who pass the interview get placed in a contestant pool, which means they may or may not get a phone call over the next 18 months inviting them to be a contestant on the show.  Add in that they did three rounds of auditions that day in Vegas, and three rounds of auditions in 6 or 7 other cities, plus auditions in New York (where the show is taped), and it all adds up to a lot of people vying to be on a show that features, on average, 1 or 2 contestants an episode.

But hey, you can’t be on the show at all if you don’t audition, and I’m glad I went.  I can audition again in the future, and who knows, I very well may.

In case you’re curious, when I got back to my room, I grabbed my computer and headed a few blocks to Starbucks to relax and use their wi-fi (as opposed to paying $13 a day for internet access at the hotel).  Then I went back to the hotel and hit their gym for an hour, spending 40 minutes with free weights and then 20 minutes on a cross-ramp elliptical.  After that, I ate some lunch and took a nap.

OH – and the t-shirt I got was a size Large, and it fit!

The only other Large t-shirts I have are my workout shirts (see a wonderful size comparison showing my weight loss in t-shirts here), so fitting into this shirt is definitely a non-scale victory!

Keep it up, David!

“Crosswords”: Behind-the-Scenes

April 22, 2011

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!