Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Bob Barker is RETIRING!!

In response to the news that Bob Barker is retiring, I present my handy-dandy guide to The Price is Right Experience. Otherwise known as my 36 hour adventure into the heart of America's favorite game show, or the definitive guide to The Price is Right Process, or a multi-eyed monster of a blog entry that will destroy cities and eat children. Originally posted on my old blog at fidgit.org, May 28th 2004.


As some of you know, I just finished my ten day vacation to Los Angeles, Las Vegas and San Diego. Before I left, I decided that my life just would not be complete without being a potential contestant on The Price is Right, quite possibly my favorite game show, in the history of game shows, ever. So we sent away for tickets (Send a self-addressed envelope to Tickets, 7800 Beverly Blvd, Los Angeles...) and awaited the day.

The first thing I learned during my month-long wait for the show (besides how slim the Internet Information is on this process), is that merely having a ticket does not guarantee you a seat in the audience. From the (very few, surprisingly) websites dealing with The Price is Right Experience, I learned that you must show up early, wait in a long line, and endure a slight rigamarole to earn the opportunity to be a potential contestant. Little did I know how much rigamarole it would entail.

Our tickets were for Monday, May 10th at 1:30 PM. On Sunday, May 9th, after spending the previous day travelling, we decided to go to Disneyland and Disney's California Adventure theme parks -- and had a really fantastic day that lasted from awakening at seven AM until we left the parks at nearly 11:30. We then travelled back to our hotel so I could try to get a few hours of sleep before getting up at the asscrack to go across the street (our hotel was directly across the street from CBS Studios, which was pretty convenient for this process..) and wait in the line. So I hauled my tired ass up to the room, and called down for a wake-up call at 4:00 AM.

"FOUR AM!?!? Why are you getting up so early??"

"Well, I'm going to do the whole Price is Right thing..."

"Oh! Well you missed out on the seminar!"

(The Farmer's Daughter Hotel holds TPIR seminars every night before a taping of the show at 10:30 PM)

"Yeah, I know.. we just got back from a day at Disneyland..."

"Well come on down, I'll give you a special one!"

So we went downstairs to listen to an enlightening seminar on the ins and outs of The Price is Right Process from Ted, the night manager of the hotel. He told us many fascinating things, many of which I will be telling you about from first-hand experience. The most important thing he told us was this -- that the entire point of the very short interview you go through to be a contestant on TPIR surmises two things: One, that you're an interesting, dynamic, exciting person that will make for interesting TV -- and Two, that you're smart enough to play the games. That's it, really. No drawing numbers out of a hat, no randomness at all. They know exactly who they're calling up before every show, and they are VERY good at picking people who'll make a good show. He also told us something that usually happens during the process, but didn't happen to me (I suspect it was because we were running late) -- that they ask you this question:

"Other than PLINKO, what is your favorite game on The Price is Right?"

How you answer this question can mean the difference between getting selected or not. They're looking for intelligence, personality, and, weirdly enough, physical restraint (i.e. if you flail your arms around or get too excited physically). The reason for this is that Bob Barker is a very frail guy. He's 83 years old, and a good stiff breeze will break every bone in his body. A few years ago, a woman got on stage and actually picked him up -- a friendly gesture on her part that broke four of Bob's ribs and put him out of comission for three weeks.

The seminar ended at about one-fifteen AM. Bear in mind that I had been awake for eighteen exhausting Disneylanding hours at this point, and was already starting to get really loopy. So I thanked him for his time, and he told me to give him our room number so he could call me when the line gets to be a certain length. If you wait too long, the line gets too big, and you might not get into the theatre. The thing that they never tell you about TPIR (and probably other large studio audience game shows) is that huge chunks of the show is 'sold out' in advance to large groups of people. Which is why you always see huge crowds of SIGMA-KAI-WHATEVER on The Price is Right! Those people don't have to wait in line, they just show up with their tickets at a pre-ordained time and that's that. The rest of us mere-mortals have to wait in a very long line. The hotel has this system figured out, as many contestants stay there before their show (as evidenced by this photo of the wall-o-winners that they have in their lobby.) So they know that you're pretty much guaranteed to get in if you're out there by the time the line is between the second and third trees from the gate (their meter, not mine!)

So I gave him my room number, and he said he'd call me! So I ran upstairs to get as much sleep as I could before having to go back down. My companions, not sharing the same single-minded obsession that I have with The Price is Right , decided to (perhaps wisely) forego the experience and went to bed.

Precisely five minutes after I fell asleep, the phone rang! "COME ON DOWN!" the voice at the other end said. So, I grabbed my ipod and indeed "went on down." It was 2:00 AM. Most of my random thoughts on the line experience can be read in the previous blog entry, which I wrote while sitting in line. Suffice it to say, I sat like a lizard from 2:00 AM to 6:00 AM at the front-end of a very long line.

At 6:00 am SHARP, the gates opened up, the crowd gave a WHOOP! and we filed in. I was met at the gate by two very chipper CBS pages in their fire engine red blazers. One of them handed me a yellow ticket slip with a number on it, and the other one (who looked EXACTLY like that old Encyclopedia Britannica kid) very cheerily told me to "Come back at seven!"

Come back at Seven! Precisely 24 hours after I'd woken up! It was like I was at the tail-end of a season of 24 where Jack Bauer did nothing but go to disneyland and mess around with his friends.

So I went back to the Hotel and sat in the lobby, talking to Ted, who was still on duty and very sympathetic to my plight. (though he wouldn't tell me exactly how many times he'd done it, I think he was a little embarrassed of the final tally).

Six-fifty came, and I was back out there. I walked through the gate, another page grabbed my little yellow numbered ticket and scribbled another number on it with a sharpie and informed me to "come back at nine!"

Nine! Oh my, what to do until then. I went back up to the room and tried not to fall asleep, as I would turn into a flesh eating zombie infected with RAGE if that happened to me at this point in the process. I don't deal well with 'naps.'

By the time it was time to go back, Cabel was awake and wanted to see what the hub-bub was about... so we walked back over and milled around for a little while. One interesting thing about being a fan of TPIR basically my whole life is how much the 'shirt people' have grown from from a minority to the majority by a factor of what seems like a billion. I was absolutely in a very small group of people that weren't wearing some sort of home-made TPIR-Centric shirt. Some were really good, and some were really awful (An entire group of women had blue t-shirts with 'BARKERVILLE II' on the front, and 'I LOVE JESUS AND DULCE' written in bright yellow PUFF-PAINT on the back. I listened in to them and found out that Dulce is Bob Barker's cat. Creepy!) Most fell somewhere in between.

Then we all lined up on metal benches outside of CBS Studios (The Bob Barker Prominade) in the order of the number written on our yellow cards, and basically sat there from nine AM until about 11:30. In this decently long time (which seemed fairly short, considering I'd just spend many more hours sitting on the sidewalk), they take your social security number, verify your proof of ID, and give you the good ol' adhesive yellow pricing tag with your name written in huge block letters.

After that, a little door opened up at the far end of the building we were all huddled around, and a little man brought out two folding director's chairs and set them up a few yards from where we were sitting. About ten minutes later a wiry little fella and his assistant came out with their clipboards and sat down. They filed us before these two gents in groups of ten. They basically asked us two questions: Where are you from, and what do you do? They pick every contestant for my show based on these two pieces of information! I find this aspect of The Price is Right Process to be more amazing than anything else, really. Occasionally, they ask a few followup questions -- which makes me think I was on the short list for getting called up. The first guy they asked a followup to DID get up, he was in my group of ten. But here's my exchange with the producer:

"Hey there, (looks at my tag) Alex -- Where are you from and what do you do?"

"Hiya, I'm Alex Pasco, I'm a web developer from Portland Oregon -- and I'm in town for the big game trade show. But as far as I'm concerned, the only games I want to play are RIGHT IN THERE! *pointing at the building behind me*

"Wow, that's great! What kind of web developer are you?"

(here's where my fatigue really got the best of me, because I thought up the witty retort of "The kind that still has a job!" about five seconds after I came up with this brilliant response:)

"Umm, we make all kinds of sites!" (barf)

So he continued down the line, and we continued on to the METAL DETECTOR AND SEARCH PROCESS! The Price is Right (and all game shows, I suspect) are absolute goddamn nazis about cell phones and digital cameras. Not only to protect their intellectual property, but if a phone rings or a flash goes off while they're taping, THAT'S IT! NO SHOW! They declare it a non-show, and everyone immediately goes home. If you've won anything, *FOGHORN* Too bad, so sad, you win NOTHING, and you go out and beat the tar outta the cellphone/camera in the parking lot! Where game shows are concerned, you only WIN anything when your show airs -- before that, you haven't won a thing. So when you see people on TPIR milling around after they win their showcase, they aren't like, going to hitch up that boat to the SUV and drive to San Diego and skipper their three-hour-tour to Catalina Island, no sir/ma'am.

So they verified that I had no phones, cameras, knives, guns, bombs, handcuffs, and that my gameboy advance was none of the above -- and we all got led around the corner to... ANOTHER BUNCH OF BENCHES! BYE BYE SEATVILLE, HOORAY FOR BENCHTOWN! *fanfare* So we sat on those benches entertaining one-another (and in my case, trying not to fall asleep -- 31 hours awake at this point in the tale) by hollering, running around, and one guy spent the entire time standing by the men's restroom and showing every woman that walked by the way in -- which they ALL fell for. Pretty funny, the first few dozen times -- and then it became Gallagher's Sledge-O-Matic.

AND THEN, OH LAWDIE YES! The doors opened up, and we filed into the Bob Barker Studio and took our seats. Fourth Row! Right behind Contestant's Row! Oh for all things that are holy, I couldn't believe I was sitting in the fucking PRICE IS RIGHT auditorium.

The first thing of note, and you'll hear many people say this: It's Smaller Than You'd Think. And yes, it is -- but not as small as I'd been led to believe. The stage and set have been updated a few times since 1972, but you still see vestages of the old TPIR everywhere. Almost EVERYONE who works on the show is old -- the camera guys, the floor director -- the only guys that I could see that weren't old were the new announcer (RIP, Rod Roddy), and another floor director who looked and acted like a coked up 1980s "LA MAN" complete with his hawaiian shirt and windblown hair. They were playing a really with it mix of early 90s/late 80s party songs, including Wild Thing and Bust a Move.
The BACK of Contestant's Row also looks really plain. there's only an indicator saying where you should stand, a microphone, and a little light with an arrow indicating where you should walk if you get called up. The light comes on if you're the closest bidder without going over.

After about fifteen minutes, the new TPIR announcer came out to warm up the crowd and give us THE RULES. The rules were mostly what we all know about how the show works, but there were a few I didn't know, mostly centered around BOB. So check it out. Rule number 1: DON'T HURT BOB. I'm serious, this is a real rule, they make you repeat it several times. Refer to my earlier comment about the stiff breeze. Rule number 2: You can shake Bob's hand. Rule number 3: You can give Bob a hug! Rule number 4: Ladies, you may kiss Bob. Guys: Don't kiss Bob! Isn't that precious?

NOW IT WAS TIME FOR THE SHOW! Cokehead came out and made us stand up and scream our heads off, we were never enough for this guy, he always wanted more more more! I was fine with that, even though I hadn't slept for 33 hours at this point, I was AY OKAY, and GAME for whatever he wanted me to do. So even though the ceiling was growing, and the room spun a little bit every time I stood up, I was good to go. So while we were screaming and yelling, the first four names are called out to COME ON DOWN! It is so loud in that room that you can't even hear the announcer -- so the names are written down on big pieces of tagboard that they hold up in front of the audience.

Then, almost before we know it, BOB IS OUT, and in FRONT OF US - with his slight build (from fifty years of being a vegetarian, no doubt) and microphone that is a physical metaphor for his body. At this point, cokehead doesn't even have to do a goddamn thing -- people LOVE this guy! The crowd is just going nuts, and Bob eats it up.

So the show starts, and I won't really go into most of that -- most of you probably know what goes on during The Price is Right. What was interesting is that between every one of the pricing games, while they're resetting the stage for the next, Bob engages the audience in Q&A. Bear in mind this guy is 83 years old -- but sharp as a TACK! He can read the nametags far out in the audience, and can hear most things you say. He can probably see and hear better than I CAN! He's quick, and funny -- making quips and jokes all the time. You can really see why he is the perfect host of the show. They're inducting him into the Television Hall of Fame this month, and I think that's just faaantastic. I've been watching him on TV since I was three years old -- probably longer than ANYONE currently on television!

Another interesting thing is how DIY a lot of TPIR really is. I'm sure it hasn't changed since the day it premiered. For instance, occasionally you'll see a door with a vertical line on it that parts to reveal a fabulous set of golf clubs, or whatever -- what you don't see is that it is just a big piece of wood with a design painted on the front and wheels attached to the bottom. Two stage hands are holding onto each side, and they THROW IT OPEN and BACK to two other stage hands who catch it and move it backstage. Most of the games involving moving setpieces operate this way. No motors! I love it.

Another thing is that the BIG WHEEL is really impressive in person. I was expecting it to go the 'wow, that's really lame, actually' route but it was exactly the opposite. It's way bigger than it looks on TV, and the colors are bright and pop out at you. It looks like it weighs about a thousand lbs, and the BEEP BEEP BEEP of the wheel is REAL and LOUD. Totally cool.

The entire taping lasted about an hour and a half. Between games, it'd take anywhere from five to ten minutes to reset the stage. When the show was over, we all lost our minds once again, and started to file out of the theatre. I stuck around for a few minutes to watch what was going on -- and they were IMMEDIATELY doing reshoots of Barker's Beauties, the products, and the showcase. I guess that's what they mean when they say the 'Portions of this program not affecting the outcome were edited..' line.

In all, it was an awesome experience, well worth the sacrifice of time and sleep I put into it. Thus, I let you, the readers of TEH INTARWEB, share it with me. If you are a fan of The Price is Right, I URGE you to take part in the experience, it is one in a million.

No comments: