Tuesday, November 14, 2006

1 Vs. 100 Part... 4, is it now?

So, last Wednesday, I went down to the Culver Studios in Culver City for my call back audition to be a contestant on 1 Vs. 100. (Everybody watched it Friday night, right? We want to keep the ratings up so that I get a chance to be on the show!)

The drama started early. I slept at my mother's house in Simi Valley, which is over an hour closer to where I needed to be than my place. The alarm clock in her spare room: not the best. You know how most alarm clocks have a push button for Snooze that you can just slap without looking at to get your extra ten minutes, but to actually turn off the alarm, there's a toggle switch you need to be awake and aware enough to trigger? Yeah, well on this clock, the Off button and the Snooze button are both push buttons, and both feel exactly the same when you're 3/4 asleep. Yes, I accidentally turned off the alarm clock when I only meant to Snooze. An hour and a half later, I discovered my mistake. Man, that'll get your heart pumping.

Good thing I had set the alarm really, really early in the first place. I'd been hoping to leave for Culver two hours before I needed to be there; from Simi, it should only be about a thirty or forty minute trip, so I was planning on bringing a book and having time to kill. Instead, I wound up leaving about an hour before I needed to be there. And, of course, I hit some hardcore traffic on the 405. The stop-and-go, one-mile-every-five-minutes kind of traffic. For a while, I was afraid I had run into a back-up caused by Bruce Willis' new Die Hard movie; filming has shut down freeways all around the area at random times during the past week or two. But fortunately, I was through the worst of the traffic before too long. Unfortunately, it was long enough to put me in extreme danger of missing the 11:00 audition time.

I hit the parking garage near the studio in a near panic, parked, and raced down to the studio driveway. But there was a long line still waiting outside where I needed to go, which was a big relief.

While waiting in line, I spent some time chatting with another hopeful, a dapper dude named Kwame who was dressed in the sharpest suit: black with pinstripes, bright white shirt and shoes, pink tie. Very retro-stylish. He looked like he was about to do the jitterbug. Myself, I was in nice black slacks, blue dress shirt, paisley tie. I don't mean to toot my own horn, but I was looking damn spiffy. Toot!

A bunch of other people in line seemed not to have read the call-back form, specifically the part saying: "This will be a taped audition so please come camera ready. Dress as you would if you were actually on the show." Either they didn't read it, or didn't care. Because these were some sloppy looking folks. There were men in ratty T-shirts and jeans, there were women in sweat suits. People! You're trying to make a good impression. Put on a button-up shirt or a dress, for god's sake! Try not to look like you're picking up a case of beer at Wal-Mart. Is the opportunity to take a shot at a million dollars really not worth enough to you to buy or borrow a tie and learn how to tie it? There were only two people in the entire line wearing full suits (which becomes significant later), and other than me, there were maybe a half dozen men wearing a tie.

Soon, one of the casting assistants led us onto the lot and into a soundstage. I've never been inside a movie soundstage before. They're frickin' huge. There were several long rows of tables waiting for us, and we filed in and sat down. There were maybe 120 people in total, maybe more; others kept showing up later. On the tables in front of us were three cardboard cards hooked to a ring; they read A, B, and C.

After everyone had settled down, the casting people began reading out names and calling people over to the side. I figured this was a good thing, so I was thrilled when they called my name. My name got a nice reaction, as it usually does. "Tom Collins? I could use one of those." "I'd rather have a Captain Morgan." Et cetera. Joke away, people, it just means I'm sticking in your minds.

After a number of people had been called to the side -- I didn't count, but I think it was between thirty and forty -- they gave us all little green dot stickers to wear on our shirts, and then they had the rest of the crowd clear out the first two rows of tables for us. Another good sign. We were going to the head of the class. My new buddy Kwame was up there with me.

The executive producer of the show introduced himself, and explained what we'd be doing. A few people from the crowd would be picked and taken off the stage. The rest of us would act as the Mob for a fake game of 1 Vs. 100. One of the casting people picked two contestants; the first was Kwame. He scanned the crowd a bit longer, then pointed to a guy a few rows back, who was also wearing a suit. "We'll take the two people wearing suits," the casting guy said. See? Presentation is important! Too bad I didn't wear my suit jacket.

After those two had been taken out of the room, all of the rest of us had to stand. On a projection screen in front of us, the game questions were displayed, along with the multiple choice answers. We'd then use our ring of cards to pick the letter of the answer we thought was correct. Whoever held up the wrong letter had to sit down.

Again, I'm not going to tell you exactly what the questions were (though I'm dying to tell you at least a couple). But I will tell you that as people kept getting eliminated, I kept standing, until there were only eight people left, including me. I have to imagine it looked good to the producers to be one of those people. Sadly, the next question knocked me out, along with five others, leaving only two standing; the next question knocked both of them out, which is where we stopped. The casting people then brought in Kwame to play the game.

He stood in front of the crowd, behind a little wood podium rigged to look like the answer podium on the real show. After going through the preliminaries -- the casting agent playing host informing us of the rules, Kwame introducing himself -- we got down to playing the game. Again, all of the Mob had to stand, but this time we would not be holding up the cards. The contestant would be asked the same questions the Mob had just been asked. After each question, whoever in the Mob had originally gotten the answer wrong would have to sit, and on the projection screen, we'd see a display of how many people had been knocked out, and how much money this meant Kwame would have won.

Sadly, Kwame's game did not last long. He was eliminated on the second question. He didn't even use one of his lifelines (or "helps," as they are known on this show). Personally, I thought it was a pretty easy question, but an awful lot of people in the Mob missed it, too. Oh, well.

The next guy in a suit was called in. The game continued from the point where Kwame had been knocked out. The new guy only made it through two questions, too. I think -- did he miss on his first question? He might have; I'm not sure now. Anyway, it was a lot quicker than the producers had counted on, I'm guessing. Fortunately, they had another person set aside to act as a contestant, a bouncy, lovely young lady who had shown up a bit late. The host was very happy to see her, as were most of us guys.

Turns out she was a smart cookie; she plowed right through those questions. My favorite bit was when she decided to ask the Mob for help. As the host explained what that meant, the executive producer came up to me and asked me what answer I had given. I had given the correct answer. He said, "You'll be her help." SWEET.

The help she chose was the one where two Mob members are selected, one who has picked the correct answer and one who has picked the incorrect one. They then both explain the reasoning behind their choices to the contestant, who decides which is more plausible. When it was my turn, I again got nice recognition from my name, then gave the story behind my answer. After hearing both of us, the host asked the contestant what she thought. Indicating me: "You could go with the guy who picked answer C -- look at him, he looks pretty smart, with his glasses and beard." Yay, beard! Glad I didn't shave it. (My mother tried to convince me that I should shave because the show was prejudiced against people with beards. I was of the opposite opinion: that it would make me stand out. Nice try, mom!) Anyhoo, the contestant went with me and was, of course, correct to do so.

She kept going and going, finally getting to the last question. The two people left in the Mob had each picked one of the incorrect answers. The contestant picked the correct answer, which meant she had defeated the entire Mob. She won a million make believe dollars! Hooray!! Oh, the thrill of it all.

So! After the game had been run through, the lead casting agent had people in the crowd introduce themselves, as they would if they were on the show. He started with the back row, then worked his way forward until he came to the first person with a green dot. "We'll stop there," he said. This surprised us green dot people a bit. He then sent everyone else in the crowd home, saying, "The people with green dots are the ones who did especially poorly on the written test. They're going to stay behind and retake the test."

They gave us green dots a brief break then, and as we milled about outside, I chatted with another green dot. We tried to turn this disappointing information into a positive. "Well, it must mean that they liked our interviews enough to want to keep us around for a second chance."

When we returned to the soundstage, the casting people had set up a video camera and a microphone at the front of the tables. The casting lead addressed us again. "I lied," he said. "Those of you left did especially well on your written tests. You are now going to do a camera test." That led to some greatly relieved cheering on our part. Whew! I knew I nailed that test, dammit!

One by one, we went up to the front and stood behind the answer podium, and with the camera rolling, we introduced ourselves to the host: name, age, home, job. We then were given a single question to answer, and were told we had $100,000 riding on the outcome. It didn't really matter if we got it right or not (though surely it was better to get it right); what mattered was how we reacted, how we reasoned out the question, whether we had any personality.

When it was my turn, I killed again with my cheesy line, "Tom Collins -- same name as the drink, but twice as intoxicating." Man, I love my name. Then the question. I really want to tell you what it was. Most of the questions asked of other people, I knew the answer or at least had a relatively good guess at it. This one, I was floating. I could eliminate one answer, but had no idea which of the other two was right. I talked out my thought process, and I wound up giving a good reason to pick what turned out to be the correct answer -- but then I talked myself out of it and picked the wrong answer. D'oh!! Oh well. Again, they didn't care if you got it right or wrong, they were just judging how you played the game on camera. I think I did pretty well.

After he'd gone through most of us green dots, the casting lead was informed by one of the assistants that time was running short -- a new group was coming in at 2PM. (Or maybe 2:30; I think it was already past 2 at that point.) The lead cut things short, and all the green dots who hadn't gotten a shot on camera (there were only a handful), he sent home. Ouch! Guess they were calling people up in the order of their interest. I was in the lower middle of the pack. But hey, at least I got my shot.

Then the lead started pointing at other people and dismissing them. It was rapid-fire and thoroughly intimidating. Point -- "You're free to go." Point -- "You're free to go." One after another after another, he thinned out the crowd. He turned over to my end of the tables, and I braced myself. "You're free to go. You're free to go." It took me a second to be sure, but... he wasn't talking to me. He was talking to the person on my left, and the person on my right. I got to stay. I made the final cut!

There were only 12 of us left at the end of it. Kwame was one; the lovely fake millionaire was another. The lucky dozen were led out of the soundstage and into a trailer to sit and wait for the next, and last, part: individual camera interviews.

As we waited, a casting assistant would come and take one or two of us at a time to the interview rooms. After about six had already been taken, the casting assistant came back and looked at us. "Okay, this time, whoever can answer this question gets to go next." We all prepared to pounce. "Who... created... Batman?"

The others never even had a chance. "Bob Kane," I said almost before he could finish. He was duly pleased and impressed. He was a comic book fan, too! Very cool. And good for me.

He led me off to the interview area. I waited outside with yet another casting assistant, a young woman who was the definition of adorable. She filled out a sign that I would be holding up for the camera, complete with my name, phone number, and number of questions I answered correctly on the written test. I finally got to see my result: 23 out of 30. I looked at the stack of applications she had, showing other people's test results -- 19s, 20s, a 21, but nothing higher. "I guess 23 is pretty good," I said. "It's very good," she replied. Yay me!

And finally, I got called into the interview room. Miss Adorable positioned me in front of the camera with my sign and departed. I was left with yet another casting person, who was behind the camera, looking at my application. He had me introduce myself, and I left out the cheesy line about my name this time. I don't know why; maybe because I had just used it so recently. I should've used it again for this new stage of the process. It was a sign of my nervousness returning. I had done well to keep my stage fright in check through the whole day, but this part, with the casting guy telling me to look directly into the camera, not at him... that started unnerving me a bit.

He then asked me a comic book question. I can't recall if I specifically mentioned comics on my application, or if the "Bob Kane" casting guy had tipped him off, or if this was even a carry-over from the first audition at the Shrine, where I told the person there that comic books were my hobby. Whatever it was, he had a pretty decent question prepared: "In which comic book did the Punisher first appear?"

I actually blanked for a second, then fortunately it rushed back. "That would be Spider-Man," I said. "Right, Amazing Spider-Man," he mildly corrected my abbreviation of the title; "which issue?"

"Which issue?" Damn. I took a stab. "I'm not sure exactly, but I'd say around #121." "Close enough," he said. I looked it up later -- it was #129. That was close! I'm nerdily proud of that.

He then asked about the pub trivia contests that I'd mentioned on my application, and I did my best to explain them. He followed up by asking about my "embarrassing" story, which was about almost getting kicked out of Knott's Berry Farm as a child for stealing a pistol from one of the cowboy train robbers during one of their shows. I told it fairly well, I guess, but it's kind of a lame story to begin with, and the casting guy seemed to have no reaction to it. And -- that was it! I was done, and it was time to go!

The casting lead told us that they'd begin making calls to contestants starting Monday -- yesterday. He also said that it could take up to two months to hear anything. And that if we didn't hear within two months, we almost certainly never would.

I'm still guardedly optimistic about getting a call. I made it all the way to the very, very end of the casting process, and I know I kicked ass on my written test. Plus, the name -- that's gotta be working for me. I guarantee, if I were named John Smith, I would not have made it to the final 12. But I'm not wild about that final camera interview. I'm hoping it wasn't as bad as it felt inside my head, or that if it was, how I performed through the rest of the process will carry the day for me.

No call for me on Monday, but my hopes are still high. I think this might really happen! I'll keep you posted, of course. Keep sending good thoughts my way!

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