Monday, November 06, 2006

1 Vs. 100 Part 2

On Saturday morning, I went down to the Shrine Expo Center in downtown L.A. to audition to be a contestant on Deal Or No Deal and/or 1 Vs. 100. Well, that's not exactly true. I went down to audition to be a contestant on 1 Vs. 100. Deal Or No Deal just happened to be part of the package, since the two shows share the same producers. I've got nothing against Deal Or No Deal; I've said before how hypnotic it can be in its sheer simplicity. Pick a number between 1 and 26! It's just that I know that I'm not the ideal Deal contestant. I'm not much of a woohooer.

The audition was set to take place between 10 AM and 1 PM. I showed up a little after 8. There was already a line down the block and around the corner. Yikes. In fact, in front of the entrance, I could see chaise lounges unfolded, indicating people had actually camped out for this. Double yikes.

Entering the parking lot ($10! Cheap!), I was stuck behind a very dumb woman. I call her that because as she was trying to enter the lot, someone was trying to exit. So she backed her car up -- directly into mine. I saw her shifting into reverse, and I laid full on the horn for a good three to five seconds -- no use. She never looked behind her, and she never slowed down. Just SMACK, right into my fender. Good start to the morning! There was no damage, and the woman was very apologetic, but if there is any justice, I will not be seeing her on a game show anytime soon.

Walking from the parking lot to the end of the line, I could see that most of the people in line -- I'm guesstimating around 80% -- were obviously there for Deal. They carried plastic briefcases with numbers on them. They wore T-shirts that said "NO DEAL HOWIE" or "BOO TO THE BANKER". They carried signs and other displays. One guy had a full-size Darth Vader cutout with a yellow cape on it. Why? You got me. But all this made me very optimistic about my chances for 1 Vs. 100.

At the end of the line, there were staff people handing out questionnaires (and pens, fortunately). I had to answer such questions as "Tell an embarrassing story about yourself," or "Name something interesting about yourself that people can't tell just by looking at you." (Neither of which is technically a question, actually.) I'll spare you my responses, by which I mean: I don't feel like telling them to you. A longer version of the questionnaire, if you're interested, can be found here.

It took a long time to come up with hopefully clever, original, memorably funny answers for everything (okay, I'll tell you one: for "How many other people live in your house?" I said, "Do the people on TV count? No? Then nobody"), and by then the line started moving -- a little early, actually; it was maybe 9:30, rather than 10 AM. Which was probably necessitated by the gigantic turnout; by that time, the line had gone down the block again, around another corner, and nearly all the way down that block. If they hadn't started letting people inside, the end of the line might have circled all the way back to the beginning.

Inside, the convention floor was roped off to create a giant winding line. I felt like I was waiting for Space Mountain. The space inside was fairly huge; I'd say there must have been a thousand people in that line at any given time. And that's not counting how ever many hundreds or thousands more were still outside, and yet to even show up.

There were several staffers for the show looking down at us over the railings from the floor above. They were obviously scanning the crowd for the most enthusiastic, immediately interesting or eye-catching people for future reference. One guy even had a video camera. The crowd went into shrieking convulsions every time the camera turned their way, or every time one of the staffers encouraged them with a look or a wave. Lots of screaming and hand-waving and woohooing. Again I tell you: I am not a woohooer. I tried for a little bit, but eventually I resigned myself to the fact that try as I might, I could not be that person. I went back to reading my book, while the masses erupted around me. (P.G. Wodehouse, Something Fresh. In case you were wondering.)

One of the staffers took a microphone and explained what we'd be doing. Ten people at a time, we'd be let upstairs, where ten interviewers were waiting for us. In groups, we'd go over to one of the interviewers, and we'd have exactly thirty seconds to talk about ourselves and sell ourselves as good potential contestants. He told us to smile, he told us not to mumble, he told us to only talk about interesting things. And about here is when I started to sweat. I am not a confident public speaker; I don't do well when meeting new people. I am awkward and nervous. I get stage fright. The last time I tried out for something like this, which was for Who Wants To Be a Millionaire, they had had a written test first (which I passed easily), then personal interviews. (Which I bombed at.) I'd been expecting the same order of things here. Finding out the interviews were up first, decreasing my prep time, sent shivers up and down my spine.

So I started working on my spiel. The thirty second hard sell. Product: me. I thought about little else for the next hour and a half, which is how long it took me to get to the front of the line. It was an agonizing hour and a half, let me tell you.

Oh, I forgot to mention the line-cutter. After waiting outside for ninety minutes or so, as I finally approached the entrance of the building, this weaselly little character wandered over from a parking lot and inserted himself into the line right in front of me. I promptly moved back in front of him -- you want to cut in line, you can do it behind me, buster. But once we were inside, this guy kept pushing forward in the line, edging past both me and the guy I'd been standing behind all morning. I thought of calling someone over to get him ejected, but I decided I'd rather not be the center of a scene, and concentrated on my pitch instead.

When we were allowed upstairs, the weasel was directly in front of me. We were separated into small groups to await our interviews; again, he was directly in front of me. I tried to ignore him, and psych myself up for the hard part ahead.

Finally our group got called forward to the interviewer behind table #2. I tried to shake the guy's hand, but he gave me a fist bump instead, like Howie Mandel does on Deal. He had us put our applications on the table in front of us, and he reminded us once again of the thirty seconds we would have. Then he turned to Mr. Weasel: "Go!"

And to my great delight, the weasel did everything the guy downstairs had warned us not to. He didn't smile. He mumbled. He talked about his tremendously uninteresting job. He choked, big time. Sweet! But I didn't have much time to rejoice. The interviewer turned to me: "Go!"

Here is approximately what I said. (You will have to imagine the barely concealed shaking hands and the voice on the verge of shuddering in terror.) "My name is Tom Collins," I opened clearly and boldly, as I knew I would have to: situations exactly like this are where having a unique name comes in most useful. I saw the guy grin in recognition, and so I carried on with the cheesy second part of the line: "Same name as the drink, but twice as intoxicating." Yes, I said it, damn you! And it worked. So there. I continued, throwing all modesty to the wind in favor of humor: "I'm smart, I'm funny, and I'm damn good looking -- obviously. Which is great TV right there." Groan if you will, but it was doing the job. "I'm a trivia fanatic," I said, because I wanted to emphasize I was leaning toward 1 Vs. 100 rather than Deal Or No Deal without stating outright, Please pick me for 1 Vs. 100. "I have a head full of useless junk -- I just need an outlet for it." (Selling it!) And I finished with a trio of goofy tidbits I'd included on my application: "I was once this close to being in the Guinness Book of World Records; I'm two degrees of separation from Kevin Bacon; and I can do a killer Kermit the Frog impression." And that was my thirty seconds!

I knew I had done a good job when other people in the group referred back to me. One guy said his name, then added, "which is not an alcoholic drink, as far as I know." I would have grinned even bigger than I already was if I weren't in agony. I had tensed up so much during my pitch that my back muscles were one big, painful knot. I could barely move for about a full minute. But it was a good pain -- I got through the thirty seconds!

After everyone finished their bits, the interviewer picked up a few applications off the table and put them in a box behind him. "If I pick up your application, you're free to go." He picked up the weasel's application first. Haw-haw! But get the gall on this guy -- he wanders off a couple of steps, then comes back to the table, as if he hadn't left at all!

By that time, the interviewer was asking a follow-up question to those remaining. I believe the first follow-up was, "What will you do if you win a million dollars?" He asked me first, and I already had my joke prepared for this one. "I'm going to build a Doomsday Device inside an active volcano, like a James Bond villain. Either that, or buy a pub in Ireland. I haven't decided yet." That got laughs mixed with curious looks, but I figured any kind of memorable answer has to be good. And when someone else responded to it once again ("I'm moving to the other side of the world from that guy!"), I knew I was doing well.

The interviewer handed out tags with a big M on them to some people at that point, and sent them off to the next stage. A few people, like me, he held back to ask another question. This one was about hobbies. He started on the other side of the table from me. This was when the weasel came back to the table. He butted in next to me, and asked me what the question was. The interviewer saw him, and said, "You're free to go home now." The guy finally got the message, and slunk away. So long, line-jumping weasel!

For the hobbies question, I answered, "I have about 2,000 comic books, which means I have about zero friends." I know, I know: BOO!! HISS!! I played right into the geek stereotype about comic book fans for a cheap laugh. So sue me -- it got the laugh, as I knew it would. But I solemnly promise, if I actually get on TV, I will not use that line.

The interviewer gave two of us a tag marked B, and sent us on our way to the next part. He kept one woman behind, to ask even more questions; I found out later that the potential Deal contestants went through the most extensive grilling.

So I and the other guy with a B tag went on to the next line. We had our pictures taken and stapled to our applications, and we were given an "Answer Sheet," with 30 blanks on it. We were going on to the written test!

We got downstairs, about twenty or thirty of us, and we sat down at tables with a test booklet face down in front of us. Nearby, there was a much larger group taking the test; these were the people with M tags. And it was here I had a revelation about the tags. I knew the M and B people were taking written tests, so we were obviously in consideration for 1 Vs. 100. And the people with the third kind of tag, with an H, had gone into a separate area, obviously for Deal Or No Deal. And I let the other people at the table know what this must mean: the M tags stand for Mob; these people were testing to be in the 100 part of 1 Vs. 100. The H tags stand for -- wait for it -- Howie. The host of Deal. Which meant the B tags must stand for Bob. As in Bob Saget, host of 1 Vs. 100. Which meant we were taking the test to be the 1 -- the contestant who actually interacts with Bob, and has the real opportunity to win big money. OH HELL YEAH!!

I took the test, and I'll say no more about it, because I'd probably get in trouble if I revealed any of the questions or answers, other than: I passed. You better believe I passed! Which means that this Wednesday morning, I'll be at the TV studio in Culver City, meeting the producers of 1 Vs. 100, taking a camera test, and seeing if I can hold my nervousness in check long enough to pass this final stage, and get on the show.

This could be big, people. This could be very, very big. I'm nervous as hell, but I'm crazy excited, too. Wish me luck!

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