There's been a lot of press over the last few months about a man named Ken Jennings. He is famous for winning 74 consecutive episodes of Jeopardy, amassing over $2,500,000 in winnings. That could have been me. Here's my story.
In 1990 I was in my final year of college at the University of California at Berkeley. It was the waning months of an undistinguished college career that begged for some sort of scholastic exclamation mark. Enter TV game show.
Most game shows dare not mine our university system for contestants. Match Game never had a college week, nor did Tic Tac Dough. The juxtaposition of pitting our nation's finest scholars against mere trivia-based contests outrages America's discerning television viewers. Only the finest game shows, such as Jeopardy, dare take on this challenge. Also, Family Feud.
For those of you who have never seen Family Feud, let me explain it. Back in the 20th century, before dating become a televised contest, virtually all game shows featured contestants trying to show their knowledge of one topic or another. Some game shows, such as Jeopardy, were more scholarly and featured a wide variety of topics such as Geography or Shakespeare, while the lesser game shows like Name That Tune tested contestants' knowledge of music. Family Feud, on the other hand, merely wanted to know if you were as dumb as the average American. They'd poll some group of folks, asking them questions like "What's in your refrigerator?" Then, contestants on Family Feud would have to guess what the most popular answers to those questions were. You'd get one point for each person who answered the poll the same way you did. In this case, an answer like "Food" would probably net you 30 points. Something like "Twinkies" might only get you 25.
So, the producers of Family Feud came to our campus that spring, looking to cast demographically-appealing Berkeley students as part of their first-ever College Week. This type of thing typically flies right under my radar, but my girlfriend at the time pounced upon the opportunity, dragging me with her to the auditions. Once I was there, though, being a competitive individual, I gave it my all.
I tried my hardest during the mock games, uttering the Family Feud trademark phrase, "Good answer! Good answer!" at any opportunity. I mustered every bit of school spirit and pep that I could wring out of my 135 lb body in an effort to seem like the kind of College Week contestant that would appeal to the American public. I plastered sincerity on my face and didn't rip it off until the audition was over. I had even pre-prepared game show themed banter. Back in the 70s and 80s, many game shows ended with an announcer stating that "This was a Mark Goodson, Bill Todman production". However, at some point during the eighties, they started leaving off the "Bill Todman" part. So, during the audition, when they asked us potential contestants if we had any questions, I stepped forward and said, "What ever happened to Bill Todman?"
The producer paused awkwardly for a moment and said, "He died."
Ok, so one misstep. The rest of the afternoon went about as well as I could have expected though, given that I was a sarcastic and non-telegenic geek. I left the audition knowing that I had done my best.
A few days later I received a call from the producers saying that I had been chosen. I was surprised and pleased. Unfortunately, my girlfriend had not made the cut. We were forced to assume that she didn't say "Good answer!" with enough gusto. It's not as easy as it looks. Mock sincerity can take a lot out of a person.
A few weeks later, I was flying down to LA for the taping of the show. It was at this time that I finally met my teammates. We were truly a broad spectrum of Berkeley stereotypes.
Albert: Some fraternity bozo
Brett: His fraternity brother
Me: Skinny geek
Other Mike: A flamboyant, tye-dye-wearing, muscley, gay man
Kathy: A wheelchair-bound, law and business student with Cerebral Palsy
Kudos to the producers for selecting this all-white, but otherwise diverse group of Berkeley students.
The Other Mike was a hoot. He was the only kleptomaniac I had ever met. He was constantly on the lookout for things that he could steal, regardless if they had any value to him. You know those white courtesy telephones they have at airports? He stole one from the Los Angeles airport. I can only imagine how barren his hotel room must have been at the end of our trip. He was also extremely flamboyant, singing, performing, and taking off his shirt at the drop of a hat, throughout our trip. This was in stark contrast to the rather strait-laced nature of the rest of the Berkeley team.
The day of our taping we met our opponents:
UCLA: Tall beautiful people, all LAish
USC: Tall beautiful people, but dumber
Stanford: Our natural enemies, Berkeley's rival.
Soon, it was time for the games to begin.
The conclusion to this exciting story in my next post....