February 06, 2008

Orange's Big Day on Television

All right, if you want to hear my long-winded tale about being a contestant on today's episode of Merv Griffin's Crosswords, click below and read on!

In October, the Merv Griffin's Crosswords staff flew to Chicago to hold auditions. They chose 50 contestants and flew 25 to L.A. for each of two taping days (mine was November 10). They paid for the airfare, L.A. ground transportation, and one night at a hotel. I asked them to fly me out a day early (paying for the extra hotel night myself) so I could see a couple friends. So if you think about it, I was already a winner before I'd even gone to the studio—I won a weekend trip to L.A.! It's so exploitative, the way game shows usually don't pay travel expenses for out-of-town contestants and don't give them much in the way of runner-up prizes.

So: Back on November 10, the shuttle bus picked up everyone at the hotel and delivered us to the studio. We contestants bided plenty of time in the green room, having snacks, being told the show's rules, signing our legally binding agreements, watching a couple episodes of Crosswords, and getting to know one another. We had to take potty breaks in an escorted group formation. It was awesomely kindergartenish! Eventually, after two quintets had been carted away for taping, they called another five names, including mine. We visited the makeup artists and the microphone wirers and eventually taped the show that aired today.

The other day, I Googled Crosswords and discovered a game show fan's blog featuring detailed play-by-play writeups of a bunch of game shows. I left a comment saying I hoped he would blog Wednesday's Crosswords, and voila! Here's the color commentary, which I will refer to while I write. So convenient!

Round 1: Ilene Gleicher knew a lot of the answers too, but she forgot what they'd told us about pressing the buzzer button a zillion times (no Jeopardy!-style buzzer lockout) so Jeff Taylor rang in first most of the time. And Jeff knew a lot, so his podium's bank account grew while Ilene's lay fallow.

Round 2: It's the March of the Spoilers! Here we come! Seven-year-old Ben was mighty psyched to see his mom striding down the ramp on TV this afternoon. Jeff continued racking up dollars, but eventually didn't ring in on a Star Wars clue. (He said his friends would razz him because he's a big Star Wars geek and should've gotten that!) STORMTROOPERS! Finally, some payoff for all the times I've watched my son and husband playing the Lego Star Wars video game. I booted Jeff from the money podium. The next clue was a Crossword Extra, and I wagered conservatively. It's not in my nature to bet big. The next clue was terrible. [Plane's lane] is an AIRWAY? Like hell. An AIRWAY is that tube you breathe through. I think the aeronautical path is called an airlane. A few clues later, we learn that there are such things as FANTAIL pigeons and goldfish. Geeze, who writes these puzzles?!? (Oh, right.) More clues, more answers, yadda yadda; I added more than $3,000 to the podium, and held onto it. Not too shabby!

Round 3: Also known as "The round of spoilers! Aughh!" Four-letter word for [Deadlocked], **E*. I said TIED, braap braap, that's wrong. Jeff would've said TIED too, he said afterwards, but once I got it wrong, he rejiggered his thinking and said EVEN—which was correct for the spoil. He retook the money podium and I slunk back to spoiler row. A few clues later, I was the first to ring in for [Where Idi Amin ruled]. Dude! I love geography! But when Jeff didn't ring in and Ilene blanked on it, damn, I didn't want to get it right and take over the Podium of Death in the last round. So I shrugged it off. Nobody else got it (or chose to answer), so I wasn't locked out. But then! I guessed SLANG for IDIOM on the next clue and got locked out. (I have been given credit for being savvy enough to take a dive and avoid the Podium of Death, but I don't remember this one at all. I have no idea if I tanked it on purpose or not. I tend to think not.) So there I stood, in the dark, unable to ring in on anything.

Eventually, Andy is the only one who recognizes the "Wizard of Id" answer, and successfully spoils. (It's a terrible comic strip, honestly.) He opts for Jeff's podium, obviously. Ilene hasn't been budged from her podium the whole show. Nobody rescued her from the PoD. The next clue, Andy and Ilene both ring in. Andy somehow manages to spell RADIATOR without the initial R. (He lost more on ADIATOR than he made on SIRE, so he actually depleted the podium rather than adding to it.) Ilene rescues him from certain spoilage by spelling it correctly, and—bing bing bing, game's over, Andy, you're our winner! I saw on the broadcast that if she hadn't, I was the first spoiler to ring in. If she'd tanked, that $7,250 would have been mine, all mine!

But it was not to be. It's Crosswords, after all, where valor and smarts go unrewarded and sheer, dumb luck can win the game. I would have extended hearty congratulations to a worthy winner if Jeff had won, but alas, he didn't. (And he looked rather peeved, too. Rightfully so.)

Afterwards, Andy thanked Ilene for saving him from the spoil, but he did not look Jeff or me in the eye, much less say, "Hey, thanks for the seven grand! I couldn't have done it without you!" (Hmph.)

Bonus round: We four losers watched the final bonus round on a small monitor in the corner of the studio. For every clue that Andy said "Pass" on, Jeff and I said the answers. Mm-hmm, either of us would've walked out of there with twelve grand and a vacation.

Postmortem: I will agree with what others have said elsewhere—that the show's format and gameplay could stand a ton of improvement. Imagine if the player at the Podium of Death had a chance to gain the money podium. Imagine if the show rewarded skill far more than luck and timing (hey, Jeopardy! does a fine job of that). Imagine if the money moved around with a player, rather than being bound to the podium. Imagine if players could tackle the crossword the way they normally do—with a chance to see the rest of the grid and to eyeball crossing answers and clues. Imagine if I had $12,250 and a lovely vacation. (Sigh.)

But it was still a ton of fun. I wrangled a free California trip out of it, met a couple dozen really nice people, learned about the seamy underbelly of TV production (it's not just Dave Letterman's studio that's freezing cold! the production staff wore coats and scarves), and acquitted myself respectably on national TV. Not to mention the prize! Why, in about four months, I'll receive a lovely blue Merv Griffin's Crosswords wristwatch that doesn't have any numbers on it. Doesn't everyone covet a Croton watch? Hello?

P.S. A friend hopes to upload my part of the show to YouTube on Friday, so I'll post the links in a couple days if all goes as planned. If your local channels don't air the show or you missed it, you'll have another chance to watch me...lose.