The Price Is Right has managed to stay on the air for almost five decades in a time slot only popular with the elderly, people in hospital waiting rooms, and kids faking sick to get out of school. In fact, the first thing you notice when you watch it on one of those aforementioned sick days is that the audience is going nuts, acting like they've been waiting their whole lives to sit in that studio.
Well, that's because in many cases, they totally have. We talked to a guy we'll call "Ned," who used to work for The Price Is Right as an usher and audience coordinator, helping decide who to call up on stage. He says ...
If you've seen the show, you know the contestants are drawn from the audience, which consists of people who snag tickets and then wait in line for hours before taping. This, as it turns out, is more complicated than you'd think. The producer and associate producer screens each person as they queue up for the showing to find the ones in that happy medium between "boring" and "might assassinate the host."
"It was the confident but not crazy people that were picked," says Ned. "That's why a lot of college kids were on so much -- they had the energy and excitement, but were not balls-out insane in the audience."
Since the show has been on the air for about half a century, there is a whole subculture of fans/aspiring contestants who have learned how to work the system. "Tons of people told us sob stories," says Ned, "telling producers for the five seconds they got to meet them how 'My mom has cancer' or 'My brother is in jail' or 'I have no money,' and those people were never picked. Neither were the people who performed cheerleading or singing or even flashed the pages in hopes of being picked. If they did that to producers, who knows what the hell they were going to do in front of Bob Barker or Drew Carey."
He describes one guy who tried to sneak in a huge knife, then ran away when security was called. And yes, plenty of women exposed themselves to the staff (both, uh, upstairs and and downstairs). And if that sounds implausible, please note that lots of these people are straight up intoxicated.
"Oh yeah, drunk people were great. Why do you think so many of them are excited? It can be older ladies nursing a breakfast of mimosas or some kids coming up from UCLA who throw entire empty bottles of Jack in the trash on the way inside. As long as they aren't too in the bag, they'll come in and be excited for a long time ... I'm not saying getting drunk will guarantee you a seat, but it can help."
If you're looking to live out your own Price Is Right dreams, here's another bit of advice most aspiring contestants still aren't aware of:
You know that loud "Woo!" you hear in events ranging from sports to standup to non-Catholic baptisms? They disqualify you for doing that on The Price Is Right. Seriously, they specifically check for it. "Those people are NEVER picked. We hate them. Every show does. They're screened for with the question 'So how would you show excitement on the show?' There are lots of acceptable ways, but one of those annoying 'woos' is not one of them."
This policy goes over about as well as you'd expect from inebriated "WOO!" types. "We've been asked by people why they weren't chosen, and when we gave that as a reason, they would say, 'That's discrimination! Basing it on the way I cheer! That's the way AMERICANS cheer!'"
So you've got the college kids who are there to party, but then you've got the lifelong fans for whom this is a religious pilgrimage. The problem is that it's not like buying a ticket to a movie. Nothing guarantees you a seat. They may give out 700 tickets -- they're free -- but the studio only holds 325 people. The ones who don't make it in, well, they don't always take it well.
"People would line up at 4 a.m. or camp out the night before and make it their entire day, and those who came at 7 or 8 we would have to turn away." Some of these people planned their entire vacations around it. Too bad! A real fan would know to get up while it's still dark out and immediately start getting hammered while standing in line.
At one point, they actually had an employee whose job it was to talk down distraught/enraged fans. He hated it. "I think there was a family from American Samoa once. I mean, how do you tell them that despite flying halfway around the world, you got too late into the line?"
Now imagine you've got a whole crowd of people made up of the zealous and/or drunk, only to have to turn all of them away. "One Monday it was a three-day weekend due to a holiday, but over 500 people showed up to be on the show. Since it wasn't taping, people began yelling and huddling around the pages, and finally every employee ran into the ticket office and locked the door, with people running behind them and banging on the door. Security was called out, and when THAT wasn't enough, the LAPD had to come in ... I literally remember one woman screaming, 'I flew all the way from Oklahoma City to be here!' right before a cop swung her around and did a sort of walking push with her back to the crowd."
Remember that dumb incident where obnoxious Rick And Morty fans created a mess for McDonald's over a McNugget sauce promotion? Alright, now imagine the mindset of someone who's maintained that level of fandom for three or four decades, flies out to see the show in person, and finds out it's never going to happen.
"After the show, people would be crying and felt like they were owed it ... they felt we were denying their 20- or 30-year dream. I saw some people who said they spent their entire life savings to get out to California to win money -- they felt it was like a lottery ticket."
That's the other part. Remember, everyone in that line knows that once they're in the door, they could be a contestant. And when there's money on the line, well, things get weird. "[W]e had people repeatedly try to get in. Former contestants who didn't win, and then there were also people who tried dozens of times that we said no to because they were unpredictable."
And they were proved right: "[Contestants] would come back wearing wigs, with a lot of makeup, fake mustaches. We didn't keep their name or ID on file or anything, so they'd continually try. After a while, we got to know some of them well enough that we could see through their disguises. One woman who tried for years (but would refuse to not shout at the top of her lungs every time) always had new wigs, but had the same damn tattoos that we always called out ... she never made an attempt to cover them or put them under makeup."
Every reality and game show is fake to a degree. On the same channel where you watched The Price Is Right, you could then see Jerry Springer staging fights, or "judge" shows that clearly aren't depicting actual courtrooms (how those work could be a whole separate article, and maybe will be). But if a game show tried to pull that shit -- like if they wanted to make sure the most likable contestants won the cash -- they could expect a squad of federal agents to kick down the door.
That's because in the 1950s, there was a huge quiz show called the The $64,000 Question, which turned out to be rigged (one contestant got all the answers in advance). Today, every single game show is monitored by the FCC. There are lawyers, standards, and practices -- the whole shebang behind each show. And if things aren't perfectly on the level, all hell breaks loose.
"One time a female contestant said '859' for a bid," Ned says, "and [Bob] Barker heard her as saying '809,' so '809' went up instead. The next guy went '810' and won the round with the highest correct bid. I was up in the control booth at the time and everyone was freaking the hell out. Lawyers were shouting into phones, people over the radio we saying, 'He said the wrong number! What the hell are we going to do!'
By happenstance the woman won the next round, eventually won the entire showcase, and walked out with a ton of money, so she didn't complain. After that, everyone got together and decided not to air the episode, as it would make the show look like there was some sort of cheating or favoritism involved, so they scrapped it so the FCC would not hammer down."
Some of you may have seen an infamous clip from a 2008 episode in which a contestant guessed the final Showcase Showdown exactly to the dollar (the first time in the 38 years the show had been on the air). It's "infamous" because Drew Carey barely reacts to this incredible feat:
The reason for Carey's nonchalance is that he assumed the guy had cheated somehow, possibly with the help of an audience plant, and that the episode would simply never air. (In reality, the victory was the result of the show using the same items over and over and the contestant spending hours memorizing prices in advance.)
"It's crazy how much they fear being called out for cheating," says Ned, but there's a reason for it. "Everyone on The $64,000 Question was pretty much blackballed ..." Still, when you think about what's going on elsewhere in reality TV and daytime shows, this steadfast dedication to integrity is kind of inspiring. Don't forget to have your pets spayed or neutered.
Evan V. Symon is an interviewer, journalist, and interview finder guy at Cracked. Have an awesome job/experience for a Personal Experience? Hit us up here today!
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