View From a Height
Commentary from the Mile High City
Sunday, May 18, 2003
And now for something completely different.

On Thursday, I taped an appearance as a contestant on a new Food Channel game show called "Trivia Unwrapped." I have been on a game show before - exactly once, as part of a team - in high school. I was on a school team for a Saturday-morning, God-what-are-we-going-to-pot-in-this-time-slot show called "It's Academic", with Mac McGarry. McGarry was old then. I think he'd been doing the show for 30 years. He's still doing the show; his official bio claims he's alive, but they probably have to roll him out on a hand cart and move his jaw with a remote control device. Come to think of it, he wasn't that far away from that at the time.

No chance of that with this show, starring Marc Summers, the Crash Davis of game show hosts. Crash, if you'll remember, was in Bull Durham, and soon to break the minor-league record for home runs. That means, sports fans, that he never made it to the majors. Marc, a nice enough guy, to be sure, has been knocking around cable network game shows for 20 years, doing shows like "Double Dare" and, more recently, "Wintuition." I have nothing bad to say about Marc.

After a couple of try-out rounds, where they test you to make sure you have an IQ higher than the food items you'll be asked about, and more personality than a Jeopardy! contestant (seriously, she repeated this at least twice), the survivors gathered on an appointed day to actually play the game. We were all shipped back to some sort of storage facility from Hoth to be read our rights, or, rather, the production company's rights, and be given the rules of the game. (This is a new show.) Also, to be given a couple of tips about, oh Denver. As in, we're in LA. The producers came to Denver because they wanted to get contestants who were just happy to be on TV, playing for ACTUAL CASH AND PRIZES, instead of the burned-out Sisters of Marge in LA, who run from show to show like the chamois of the Alps leaps from crag to crag, and consider anything less than 5 digits to be beneath their efforts. Of course, they wanted to make it look like they were shooting in LA, so they said I was from DC, and edited out a couple of ad-libs from the host referring to Beaver Creek as being,"right here."

What made the experience truly surreal was the combination between comptition and show-biz. Yes, try to win, but also remember to show Personality! Once or twice either a contestant or the host flubbed a line, and they had to be re-shot. The outcome didn't change, and the game was completely fair, but when the camera misses Kobe Bryant taking a foul shot, they don't ask him to shoot it again for the folks at home. Nobody gets a mulligan on an actual answer, but there is a sense of waiting for the yellow flag after everything. Which is weird, because you'd think that the real thing would seem more, well, real. But it doesn't. The show, as you see it, seems more real.

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