We walked into a room from the seventies. The walls were covered with neon panels, accented by Christmas lights and hippie-style flower cutouts. For all its cheesiness, though, the room was vibrating with energy. People were being ushered to their seats by a swarm of red-coated assistants. The camera crew was hurrying into place. Several interns, distinguishable by their youth and general fluster, were running back and forth across the stage. Then, as if to complement this picture, a man in a deep purple, velour blazer came out on stage to greet us.
“Welcome to… The Price is Right!” George Gray said, in that distinctive announcer voice of his. “Thanks for being with us today. We’ll be getting started in a matter of moments. If you all will just follow the cues that Jerry gives you, we’ll have a great show today.”
Jerry, it turned out, was one of the flush-faced interns. He was skinny as a twig with big, coke-bottle glasses. He won the audience’s heart in an instant. Jerry gave us a few “practice rounds”, holding up an ‘Applause’ sign, then taking it away. We were all jittery, excited, and loud as can be.
Just at that moment, Drew Carey walked out on stage.
The crowd went wild.
The crew of the Price is Right has certainly figured out how to juice up their audience. All three hundred of us audience members had been lingering outside in line for three hours. We’d waited outside the studio gates, let in one by one until the show was considered ‘full’. Then, we’d waited in line to get our pricetag-nametags. Then, we’d had our picture taken. Then, we’d been lined up in front of the one-man firing squad. In groups of twenty, we would stand before the show’s fast-talking producer and be interviewed.
“Hey there, Greg, how are you?” he’d say to the tall man in the Star Wars t-shirt.
“Umm… I’m well, thanks,” would be the reply.
“Greg, if you were from one planet in Lucas’ world, where would you be from?”
The man looked a little ‘deer-in-the-headlights’, but came out with a response, “Umm… probably Tatooine.”
“Thanks, Greg. Melinda, where are you from?” the producer asked, already moving down the line.
And so it went. You had roughly fifteen seconds to engage in conversation. This was the show’s way of weeding out the best game-show contenders from the day’s audience. A pair of interns sat in chairs across from us, scribbling down notes occasionally. I made it my secret goal to charm them over. It was soon my turn.
“Hey there, Deborah, where are you from?” They’d put ‘Deborah’ on my nametag, so that almost threw me at first!
“Well, sir, I just graduated from Wheaton College, right outside of Chicago.”
“Very good. And what did you study?” he asked me.
“I studied archaeology. Had some neat experiences excavating in the Middle East.”
“Wow, wow. Are you on vacation here, then?”
“I actually just moved out to Pasadena. Decided I was through with all those Chicago winters.” I chuckled briefly. “We moved into our apartment yesterday, and could really do with some furniture in our living room!”
He laughed at this one and said, “Well we’ll have to see if we can help you out, Deborah. Thanks for being here today.”
He was already onto the next person before I had a chance to say “Thanks”. I chanced a look at the young man with the clipboard and threw him my most winning smile. He made eye contact with me for just a moment before scribbling something down. I think I might have said a little prayer at that moment…
Finally, we were allowed to enter the studio. After taking a moment to adjust to the ridiculous, retro setting, we were able to recognize just how small the studio was. The stage is no bigger than one you might find in a typical high-school theater. There were twenty people running around on it at all times: camera guys, sound techs, cord roller-uppers, etc. It looked like a weird cross between a choreographed dance and bumper cars.
Drew Carey was absolutely phenomenal. He was so at ease underneath the lights. He casually engaged the audience members, calling on different people and asking where they were from. A group of ladies wearing pink “Drew’s Dolls” t-shirts caught his eye. Turns out they were going to a Barbie Convention. He actually sounded interested in the dolls they were looking forward to seeing.
Then, it was time for the cameras to start rolling. Drew nailed his lines perfectly to open the show, then it George Gray, calling the contestants “Right on down!” Four thrilled audience members ran down front, installing themselves behind the small, miked podiums, ready to bid on the first item. Out came one of the models from behind a wall, carrying a designer handbag. It’s amazing, just knowing how glamorous she will look on television. Sure, the model was pretty, but she was just another person walking around on the stage.
And so, the games began. Walls slid out and flipped around to exhibit a new prize or items needing to be bid on. It was perfectly timed, impeccably choreographed. After each game came a break, during which the cameras were repositioned. Drew would talk with the audience or vanish backstage for a brief interlude. But, after waiting outside for hours, the speed at which everything happened felt lightning-quick.
Another surprise was the amount of suspense you felt for the contestants. We really did want them to win that prize! We shouted out numbers and held up our hands as if we were the most knowledgeable pricers on earth. I was genuinely excited when they won something– and Drew Carey was, too! He would congratulate them, during a break in the action, and ask if they’d been to that exotic locale before or what they were going to do with the money.
Now, there is more to this story. Unfortunately, I am not at liberty to say anything more about the contestants on the show or the prizes they might have won (silly non-disclosure agreements…). HOWEVER, I can highly encourage you to watch the Price is Right on January 11. You will definitely see our group of Wheaties in the audience. And you might, just might, see one of us “Come On Down”…
You’ll just have to wait and see!
Update: Surprise! I was a contestant!! I gave Drew Carey a massive hug, played the mountain climber game, and won a trip for two to New York City. I bombed my spin on the big wheel but the experience was unreal.